This story was originally published in Builder.

Lennar plans to use mortgage-application technology from Blend to attract younger buyers.
Courtesy Adobe Stock

Many builders are now incorporating smart home technology packages into new construction homes (read more about it here.)

While the influence of Amazon, Google, and Apple over smart home tech is undeniable, and maintaining an open-source infrastructure seems to be the choice of the biggest builders today, that doesn’t mean you should just write off smaller providers or integrators of smart home technology.

“In a lot of instances, the DIY marketers make it seem easier to set it up and integrate than it actually is,” says Giles Sutton, senior vice president of industry engagement at CEDIA, a trade group representing custom electronics designers and installers. “That’s the difference when a professional is involved. Instead of six apps to control six separate products, a residential technology pro will integrate these disparate systems so you have one interface to run your entire house.”

Local low-voltage trade partners can also help you design your homes so they’re easy for your customers to use, and they’ll be there afterward to service those buyers. That was important for Dave Everson, founder and CEO of Prescott, Ariz.–based Mandalay Homes, which teamed up with Control4 to deploy a “smart” brain for its solar-powered homes in the clean-energy focused, 1,200-acre Jasper development. Mandalay’s houses will feature a 2 kW solar array, with 10 kW of battery storage to meet energy demands during peak hours.

In addition to its partnership with battery supplier Sonnen that allows for the energy storage, Mandalay teamed up with Control4 to install a central CPU in the home to help it run smart lighting, audio-video, security, and thermostats to ensure the homes operate as efficiently as possible on the clean energy they generate and store.

“We have a baseline smart home technology package that is pretty sophisticated in our homes, which we really chose for the performance benefits,” Everson says. “It’s about a $1,500 package, but it also allows consumers to easily add on, in an affordable way, the components they want beyond that. With the Amazons and Googles, everything is web-based. We ultimately needed some local intelligence to be able to build the home properly and make sure it all worked together.”

Because of the local attention, expertise, and service smaller home automation companies can offer—to both the builder and the end customer—many watchers in the space say home builders shouldn’t write them off altogether, at least not yet.

“There’s a lot of diversity in the category right now, which means there’s a lot of flexibility available to builders,” says David Seeman, director of national builder accounts at the hardware division of Spectrum Brands, the maker of Kwikset. “It’s important that builders consider all the companies operating in the space, such as ADT, Alarm.com, Amazon, Apple, Cox, Google, Vivint, and Xfinity, along with the local market service providers as potential partners. Each company brings something different to the table.”

Must-Ask Questions for a Smart Relationship

With the proliferation of home tech choices, builders have their due diligence cut out for them in choosing the right partners. As in any relationship, asking the right questions at the beginning will give you a strong understanding of the value of the potential partner to your business.

Samsung SmartThings’ Garret Van der Boom recommends asking the right questions to make sure you’re aligned from the start. He suggest looking at each business to assess whether its services will be around in five to 10 years.

Here’s a list of questions to ask:

  • How much support do you provide?
  • Will you help create marketing and sales materials for our model homes?
  • How will you coordinate installation into the construction schedule?
  • Do you offer incentives like rebates, insurance partnerships, or hardware bundles?
  • How will you support deployment of products to home buyers, such as Wi-Fi installation and account setup?
  • What is your vision for the long-term experience of the person living in the home?

This story was originally published in Builder.