The Future is Now

smart home LR

//by Matt Shaw

With his head of spiky silver hair, grey pencil thin goatee and mustache, John Prince looks like he would fit right in to some Hollywood version of a technologically advanced future. Fittingly, Prince owns Atlantic Home Technologies—a company that works with developers and buyers to outfit homes with automated (or Smart Home) technology.

Prince’s Orange Park showroom (called Five Smooth Stones) is filled with futuristic speakers, paper-thin televisions, and other electronics that have functions not immediately discernible. He pulls an iPad from the wall and uses it to turn down the music, open the blinds and adjust the lighting.

“One of the best things about [automated technology in the home] is that, in the long run, it can save you money,” Prince says, opening an application on the tablet that reveals a multitude of lighting controls. “I’ll ask [the homeowner], ‘Do you want to save 15-20% on your light bill?’” he says. “Then we can set these dimmers to a max of 85% so that you are not only creating ambiance, but also saving energy. And still illuminating your home.”

For his next trick, Prince opens a security application on the tablet that quickly displays a half-dozen live images, a few of which are immediately recognizable as security camera feeds from inside and outside the store. The other moving pictures give a bird’s eye view of cars coasting across the highway. “Let’s say you have a regular commute to work,” Prince says. “This application can help you plan your route.”

The demonstration continues this way for the next half-hour or so, with Prince posing a hypothetical scenario and then offering up the technology that can lend some efficiency to said scenario. Prince acknowledges that a lot of this will be unnecessary for the average homeowner. “This is all about lifestyle,” he says. “When we meet with customers, we want to talk about things that make their lives easier.”

Chris Wood, vice president of Riverside Homes, stands inside one of his unfinished model homes. The concrete foundation has been laid and a wooden frame erected. The drywall has yet to be mounted, exposing a substantial amount of blue and white wiring emanating from all directions. Wood focuses in on the point where all the blue wires converge.

“This is the spot that will house the routers and cable boxes and everything that has to do with the technology in the home,” Wood says, pointing to a part of the frame where a mass of blue wires is attached to an ordinary vertical 2 x 4. “And all the technology can be controlled by a tablet.”

All the technology in this model home, located in the new Atlantic Beach Country Club development, includes the thermostat, controlled lighting throughout the house, surround sound in virtually every room, flat screen televisions and all the security features from the four cameras to the remote locks on the front and back doors. Everything, as Wood mentioned, is managed with touch screen technology.

Riverside Homes has 30 lots in the Atlantic Beach Country Club and buyers will be able to consult with the builder on many of the features of the home, from countertops to cabinets—which is typical in a new development like this. What is new and different is that each and every one of the 30 consultations will include decisions about automated technology in the home.

“It’s funny, typically when we work with buyers, women are kind of dragging the men to go look at tile and countertops,” says Wood. “And with these smart home packages, we see the men get really excited about the speakers and surround sound and flat screens.”

The four bedroom, four bathroom model home—measuring just above 3,500 square feet—will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $800,000. The technology will be tacked onto that bill. The most basic package—which includes automated security, heating and cooling, and the wiring for entertainment upgrades like flat screens televisions and surround sound—will start at around $5,000 to $7,500.

For affluent buyers looking to purchase homes in this development, tacking an extra five grand to three-quarters of a million in order to make their home more efficient and technologically advanced, won’t be unmanageable. What about buyers in other markets?

“Soon, these packages are going to be offered in the majority of our developments,” Wood surmises. “It’s mostly older folks who may not see a need for [the automated technology packages], but most of our younger buyers are going to invest in some combination of technology for their new homes.”

Wood says that the costs of automated technology in the home have come down substantially in the last few years. But he says it’s the buyers who are really driving the trend. “This is the way the market is going,” Wood says. “We are just responding to demand.”