Amazon’s Alexa is to be installed in newly built homes across California, with or without the owners permission, according to controversial new plans.
The nation’s largest home builder, Lennar, announced the ‘mandatory’ installation of Alexa units last Wednesday, arguing that the voice-activated digital assistant will make things such as switching a light on or off “much easier.”
Usatoday.com reports: Each house will come with two Alexa-enabled smart speakers, an Echo Show and an Echo Dot. New homeowners will also get a free visit from an Amazon technician to help set everything up and teach them how to use it.
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“This will be the hallmark of why we buy a new home,” said David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures. “It’s an important step in the mass adoption of all these technologies.”
No other major builder has folded this still-evolving technology into all its homes. The announcement marks a major play to get what is still something of a cool, but not vital, technology into a broad swath of American homes.
It comes as Amazon, Google and Apple fight for market share in the smart speaker category. In 2018, about 18% of Americans will use a smart speaker at least once a month, digital marketing firm eMarketer found. Amazon holds 66.6% of the market and Google 29.5%. And it’s a bet that homeowners will find the convenience of a ready-made smart home outweighs any misgivings they have about giving one tech company even more information about their daily habits.
To get the word out to home buyers, Lennar and Amazon on Wednesday will open eight model homes across the country featuring the built-in technology.
“We want them to be able to walk into one of these model homes and see how it all works in a real house, so they can see how much it would simplify their lives,” said Nish Lathia, general manager for Amazon Services, who helped give a tour of one such model home in Vallejo, Calif., about an hour north of San Francisco. “It’s super addictive.”
The 3,600-square-foot model home in Vallejo was set up with an Echo Show, an Alexa-enabled smart speaker with screen, an Amazon Echo Dot (a small, audio-only speaker) and a large, wall-mounted television linked to Amazon’s Fire TV digital media player.
Alexa was linked to the home’s many smart devices. Ordering “Alexa, turn the temperature to 72,” reset the Honeywell thermostat. When the doorbell rang, saying “Alexa, who’s at the door?” turned on the Ring video doorbell and showed a view of the front porch on the TV.
The house also featured other smart devices that could be added, including a smart sprinkler system for the yard and a smart Roomba vacuuming robot.
Lennar began rolling out the baked-in capability last summer, working with Amazon to get the technology right. Beginning this month, all its new homes will be Alexa-enabled.It already has integrated Wi-Fi into its homes, which it says guarantee “no dead spots.”
Because of Lennar’s everything-included pricing policy, all its homes will come with the system installed. Customers have the choice of turning the system on but cannot buy a home that doesn’t include it.
That means this year every one of the close to 35,000 homes in 23 states Lennar will build will be a smart home, no retrofitting necessary. All the new homeowner will need to do is choose an Internet service provider and turn on the account, Kaiserman said.
Then, an Amazon Smart Home Services technician trained to set up customers’ smart home systems visits the home, for free.
Typical appointments include installing new components and teaching the homeowners how to make everything work. In the case of the new Lennar homes, the tech can connect the already-in-place devices to the home’s Internet, add any other devices the homeowner wants and then spend time walking them through it.
The Lennar show homes also offer Amazon another way to give consumers real-world exposure to its digital devices. That’s hard to do from a page on the company’s site but easy in a model home, a Whole Foods or an Amazon Books store.
Beginning Wednesday, visitors to the Amazon smart homepage who live near one of the eight Lennar experience centers will get ads telling them where they can go to see the systems in action. Lennar plans to add that feature to all its model homes over time.
The Lennar community of 109 houses in Vallejo is about half completed. The upscale homes feature other innovations, including attached private suites with their own entrances, meant for elderly parents coming to live with their children or post-college “boomerang” children coming home to live with mom and dad. Prices, even an hour away from expensive San Francisco, range from $640,000 to the $700,000s.
Not yet a must-have
How much of a draw the smart home features will be to homebuyers isn’t clear. In San Francisco, realtor Howard Reinstein with McGuire Real Estate said buyers care more about a high-tech look than high-tech features.
“It’s not worth it for builders to put the extra money into tech, because they’re going to get the money out from the look,” he said.
In Seattle, Jeff Reynolds of Windermere Real Estate says his buyers appreciate seeing Ring video doorbells (now owned by Amazon), and Millennials “love, love, love Sonos speakers.”
But Reynolds, who focuses on the condo market right around Amazon headquarters, says he’s not seeing demand for smart homes but thinks it will come soon.
He compared it to the increasingly common practice of builders putting charging stations for electric cars in garages.
“Even though the demand isn’t uniform across the country, when buyers want these things you have to start supplying them or you can quickly become second in line.”
The shift can happen quickly, so builders have to stay ahead of the market.
“It’s like that point when CDs were replacing cassettes. If you bought a car with a cassette player and everyone you knew had a CD player in their car, you probably thought ‘Wow, this car is outdated.’ “