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How long it takes to break even on smart home upgrades

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Smart home features can spruce up any house but when you’re upgrading to these features, where does the spending end and the savings begin?

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Smart home devices are primarily marketed as adding convenience and luxury to your home. They allow you to interconnect your appliances with your smartphone and to monitor and control your utilities remotely. But do smart home devices actually save you money?

Smart devices like speakers and music players are obviously designed to allow you the convenience of playing whatever music you want, wherever you want it. But smart devices that monitor or adjust utilities like heating and water could also save you money on your bills.

Joel Lee over at MakeUseOf has crunched the numbers. He’s published a rundown of the most money-saving smart devices, and how long it will take for the devices to “pay for” themselves.

Smart thermostats are perhaps the most obvious devices for saving you money on utilities. Nest says that their thermostat will save you 13 percent on heating and cooling; ecobee3 claims an even more impressive 23 percent.

Comparing these numbers with U.S. Department of Energy statistics on average household utility costs, Lee calculated that a Nest thermostat will pay for itself in just over two years, while an ecobee3 will pay for itself in just one year.

Rachio is a smart sprinkler device that maintains your lawn watering schedule. It makes sure that the sprinklers turn off on rainy days, conserves water when it’s cold out, and optimizes the watering schedule for maximum absorption.

Rachio claims it can help you cut your spending on water for the lawn by 50 percent. Lee estimates a more conservative 30 percent, but even so, says that the device will pay for itself within 15 months.

Plus, he adds, a smart sprinkler system will also increase the overall value of your home, letting you set a higher price point should you decide to sell it.

Lee wasn’t particularly impressed by LED lightbulbs, pointing out that it will take almost the full lifecycle of the LED bulb to recoup the expense of buying them in the first place. The savings are a bit better, he says, if you compare them to the costs of running incandescent bulbs, and if you skip over the big brand names in favor of lesser known, but also less expensive LEDs.

Lastly, Lee recommends smart moisture sensors. These devices can warn you of leaks, roof damage, and other water damage long before you might notice the effects. If these sensors can give you a heads up on even one potential water-damage disaster, the device will clearly have paid for itself.

It appears that smart home devices could be worth the investment, although it’s important to note that these devices are notoriously insecure. While you may save money on your utilities, one bad hack could easily cancel out these money-saving benefits.

Ellen Vessels is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily, and is respected for her wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when she’s not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Real Estate Technology

What can Amazon Echo do that Google Home can’t?

(TECH NEWS) For those of us who weren’t good enough to receive an Amazon Echo from Santa, now is the time to put in the research for next year’s letter.

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Amazon Echo

A tough decision

This holiday season an unprecedented amount of home assistants were sold across the U.S. Google Home and Amazon Echo showed up in tons of households. For those of us who weren’t good enough to receive one from Santa, now is the time to put in the research for next year’s letter.

Here’s some reasons you should ask Amazon Echo to prom instead of Google Home.

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Major considerations

Price point
The Echo costs $180, but cheaper versions in the Amazon family are available if you don’t need all of the fancy-pants features.  Google Home doesn’t currently have any less expensive options.

To control the Echo when you’re out of range, you can purchase a $30 remote. The Google Home equivalent is around $130.

Speakers
If you don’t like the Amazon speakers, you can use third-party speakers. Right now Google doesn’t have any official options for non-Home speakers. Google Home also can’t pair with Bluetooth speakers (not that you need to, but it would be a nice option).

Voice Control
With the Echo, you can change the wake word (what tells the device to listen) to either “Amazon” or “Echo” if “Alexa” isn’t suiting you. Google Home requires you say “OK Google” or “Hey Google,” so Amazon offers a bit more variety.

Additionally, you can order millions of things via Amazon with only a voice command. One-click billing: a blessing and a curse.

Where Alexa really shines

Smarthome controls
Alexa has more smarthome partnerships than Google Home, making it a better home assistant if your main focus is on running your house via immobile robot. While Google is sure to add to its pairings, right now Amazon is the smarthome winner. Amazon offers control of dozens of products whereas Google only works with, like, three things right now.

Skills
Alexa has the skills to pay the bills. For real. You can make payments on your credit card or mortgage. Alexa has “skills,” allowing the Alexa Voice Service to control devices that don’t have native Alexa support.  Skills are akin to apps on your phone, and Alexa is constantly acquiring more.  Amazon definitely has the advantage when it comes to third-party integrations.

Bonus
Uber and Domino’s are Echo compatible.

Hello, pizza every night for as long as I have a voice.Click To Tweet

Overall, Alexa has been praised as a much better home assistant than Google Home in terms of secretary capabilities. Third-party app support and streamlined voice shopping make Amazon Echo a great choice for those of us that want the futuristic luxury of a robot running your life.

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#Alexa

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Real Estate Technology

What can Google Home do that Amazon Echo can’t?

(TECH NEWS) Home assistant devices were all the rage this holiday season, with millions of Amazon Echo and Google Home units sold. So who should you look to as your new robot overlord?

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Google Home

Get your research on

A pretty decent chunk of Americans are now asking Google or Amazon to turn up the air for them if they’re chilly. Home assistant devices were all the rage this holiday season, with millions of Amazon Echo and Google Home units sold. So who should you look to as your new robot overlord?

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Here’s where Google Home takes Echo to the parking lot after school and metaphorically beats it up.

Major considerations

Price point
At $130, Google Home is less expensive than Amazon’s top-tier Echo option. Its Chromecast add-ons are also less expensive than Amazon’s TV options.

Speakers
You can set up Chromecast Audio to speakers throughout your house and play music in specific rooms. You can achieve this through grouping speakers, a feature only available with Google Home. And friends, this is one hell of a quality speaker, beating out standard home audio systems in our opinion.

Voice Control
The Google Assistant is more conversational than Alexa, with the ability to learn from your questions. Natural conversations are likelier due to its “memory” for things you have previously brought up.

You can ask Google Home a question like, “OK Google, what is the real name of the singer in Blondie?” then “OK Google, where is she from?” and it will remember the context of your previous question.

Where Google takes home the prize

Music
Unlike the Echo, Google Home has access to YouTube. It also seems to have a better understanding of more complicated commands regarding music. For example, CIO reported that asking both Alexa and Google Home to play Indian music left Alexa baffled, even though it definitely had access to that music. Google Home was able to process relatively vague requests and access a wider variety of music.

Search
While the Echo is understandably Amazon-centric, shopping with Google Home allows users to research more in-depth information about products they’re interested in purchasing.

Google Home’s search capabilities surpass Alexa’s, because duh, Google is Home’s parent. Of course a device filled with the knowledge of an omniscient creator is better at searching things, not just shopping.

Privacy
You can tell Google Home to stop listening in addition to using a physical button. Right now, Alexa only offers a physical button to turn off listening. Additionally, you can see all the data Home has sent by checking your Google activity.

Appearance:
Although it is a matter of personal preference, I think the Google Home has Amazon beat in terms of appearance. Where the Echo looks like a small tubular fan, the Google Home is sleek and customizable. Ability to customize appearance of Google Home with optional bases purchasable in variety of colors and finishes.

On the whole, Google offers more in terms of a robot friend you can ask semi-complicated questions and hold a conversation with. The Google Home also seems like a better bet for those who are more interested in the “I’m sick of typing things into Google” vibe.

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#GoogleHome

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Real Estate Technology

These password managers can protect you and your clients’ info #DoItNow

(TECH NEWS) Identity theft is nothing new, but what are you doing to protect yourself and your business? Have you considered these simple password managers?

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Online safety is often discussed after data breaches, hacking scares, and identity theft, but it shouldn’t take an event of this magnitude to get you thinking about your online safety.

Passwords are used for everything; from email to doorways, banking to business terminals, entering passwords has become so common, we hardly ever give it a second thought, but we should. Every single time you get online, people are lurking, waiting to hijack your accounts and steal not only your money, but your reputation and access to your personal information.

The first thing most people tell you to do when your account seems to be compromised is “change your password.”

In essence, this is meant to foil hackers and re-secure your account, but if your password isn’t “strong,” this option won’t work for long.

“Strong” passwords consist of a random mix of numbers alongside upper and lowercase letters (and oftentimes symbols as well). However, coming up with something that meets this criteria, but is also fairy memorable is a pain for one site, not to mention for the 20-30 sites we regularly access. Before you use the same password on multiple sites (which is a HUGE no-no), consider online password generators.

Online password generators are magical devices that generate one of these complex passwords for you.

You can set the parameters such as length of password, upper/lowercase letters, symbols, numbers, and even ambiguous letters. A few reliable generators you can try:

Once you’ve generated your password, you’re going to have to remember it and every other password you create.

Impossible you say? Well, you’re right. With as many sites as we regularly access, remembering all our passwords is darn near impossible without help. Writing them down in a day planner is fairly common, but not exactly 100 percent secure.

Instead, give password managers a chance. While all online repositories have some vulnerabilities, most modern storage sites are very secure.

Browsers like Firefox, Chrome, and even Internet Explorer offer to store your passwords for you. Sure, it’s convenient, but is it secure? Most tech experts say no.

Sean Cassidy, chief technology officer of Defence Storm, states, “Browser-based password manager extensions should no longer be used because they are fundamentally risky and have the potential to have all of your credentials stolen without your knowledge by a random malicious website you visit or by malicious advertising.”

What do these password managers do exactly?

Traditional password managers live in your computer and act like digital assistants, gatekeepers if you will, your first line of defense standing between your accounts and the hackers looking for access. The manager will fill in your vital information (login and password) when you arrive on a site, meaning, rather than remembering 40 different unique site passwords, you’ll only need to remember the master password for your chosen password manager.

While there are several reliable managers on the market, there are three that have emerged as most popular:

All of these managers have the ability to safely store and recall your passwords and login information. You simply need to remember your single master password to log into the manager site you’ve selected.

Password managers are so heavily encrypted, storing your information is considered safe, but keep in mind everything you do online comes with a risk. I do not believe any site is completely hack-proof, however, a password manager is another line of defense against hacking and with their use of top-level encryption, it makes hacking a little bit harder and that’s exactly what you want.

Regardless of whether you choose to use a password generator or manager (or both), one thing is crystal clear: online data safety is of paramount importance. Keep your data safe, starting with using a strong password and a different strong password for each site.

Keep your personal information safe, and more importantly, safeguard your clients’ data.

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