Real Estate - Wired to Sell, New York Times
Wired to Sell
WHEN Parimal Pandya, a 32-year-old network consultant at AT&T, walked into the sales office at Liberty Harbor, a mixed-use waterfront development going up in Jersey City, the sales agent launched into a standard pitch: the layouts, the finishes, the amenities.
Mr. Pandya wasn’t listening. “I’m thinking, ‘I’ve heard this a million times,’ ” he said. “Then I notice the blinds going up and down, and I think: ‘Who’s controlling that? I want to know more about that.’ ”
What captured Mr. Pandya’s attention was the home automation system. Residents at Liberty Harbor — 10,000 in 250 buildings when the complex is fully built out in 10 or 15 years — will be able to do this from touch screens in their apartments or from any computer with Internet access, enabling them to make adjustments from miles away.
It may sound space age, but sophisticated smart-home technology is increasingly available and includes automation systems that allow residents to control lighting, raise and lower window shades and change a room’s climate, via computers. In many instances, they can manipulate a variety of audio and visual functions, allowing users to listen to different types of music in different rooms or transfer a movie from one plasma-screen television to another.
In apartment buildings, automation systems can link to concierge services, enabling residents to make restaurant reservations or reserve a Zipcar, without picking up a phone. Enhanced systems with integrated closed-circuit televisions allow residents to see what’s going on inside and outside their homes from another location. Such security applications provide convenience, too: diners can see if there’s s a line at the restaurant down the block, parents can receive text messages when their children arrive home and executives can admit repairmen to their homes via cellphone.
In some buildings residents can go online to see if there are washing machines available in the laundry room, or to monitor their off-site wine cellars and order up bottles.
This sort of technology may be most familiar to buyers of new houses in the suburbs, but it is now becoming the latest must-have amenity in condos at every price level that are being built in and around New York City.
At Liberty Harbor, smart-home technology is standard in all apartments, from the rentals and studios that start in the mid-$300,000s, up to the single-family town houses that cost as much as $1.6 million.
Mr. Pandya, who bought a two-bedroom apartment for $500,000, was so excited by the electronics that he said he forgot to consider anything else about the apartment. So despite leaving a deposit the day of his visit, he had to call the sales agent and ask for pictures of the kitchen and bathrooms.
“I didn’t know what the finishes looked like,” he said. “I figured it must have a kitchen for the price I paid.”
The plummeting cost of bandwidth — the amount of data that can be carried in a given amount of time — and of home technology components and an increase in the types of applications available are making electronic amenities much more common.
“Technology is the fourth utility,” said Herb Hauser, the president of Midtown Technologies in Manhattan, a company that designs and installs systems in new and existing apartments. “We wouldn’t move into a building that doesn’t have water or electricity. Within a relatively short period of time, we won’t move into an environment unless it has good information services.”
Call them “technomenities,” a term Mr. Hauser favors. In some cases, the technology is offered buildingwide. In others, the systems are available as optional add-ons, and they are usually showcased in model apartments to impress potential buyers.
“I think housing and technology are synonymous,” said Peter Mocco, the developer of Liberty Harbor. “The kinds of things that can be done with technology to enhance your quality of life are such that it’ll be like the transition from washboards to washer/dryers, from iceboxes to refrigerators.”
At an April open house in a model apartment at North8, a Toll Brothers building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, buyers checked out the spacious rear garden, they admired the white-oak floors, and they fiddled with the built-in iPod dock installed in a living room wall. Toll Brothers has offered some home-theater options in its suburban developments, but this is the first time it has included high-tech options like the iPod dock, which is part of an audio system that can broadcast music throughout the apartment.
“We wanted to demonstrate what people can do in terms of upgrades,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a vice president at Toll Brothers. “There was a really good response. Anyone who has been to that model really thinks it is a great idea. We’ll have to consider it in future projects.
“As there’s more and more product out there, and the competition is steeper and steeper, it’s something you can do to distinguish your project,” he added. “It shows really well — you hear it, you see it. When you walk into a model, it’s impressive.”
Shige Suzuki, the first person to buy an apartment at North8 after visiting the open house, chose a technological upgrade that cost about $7,000 and includes the iPod dock and a wireless touch screen that controls the speakers hidden in the walls, the lights and the heat and air-conditioning.
“I like clean and simple,” Mr. Suzuki, a 32-year-old brand manager, said in an e-mail message, noting that innovative technology was more common in homes in his native Japan. “I sometimes watch the celebrity show ‘Cribs’ on MTV. They have wonderful homes, but sometimes they show us messy wires and unprofessionally installed AV systems. I like wireless AV systems and invisible speakers.”
Happily for Mr. Suzuki, his preferences are becoming affordable enough for the noncelebrity market.
“The bar has risen in terms of people’s expectations of home entertainment systems,” said Cyrus Claffey, the president of Clareo Networks in Manhattan, the company that designed and installed the automation systems at North8. “With plummeting flat-screen TV pricing, advertising by Bose on TV, people’s expectations are completely different than they were five years ago.”
“No luxury developer would build a kitchen without a Sub-Zero fridge,” Mr. Claffey added. “It’s the same thing with technology. Our model is to align ourselves with real estate developers. Our goal is to help them sell units using technology.”
Other developments that have home automation systems include 995 Fifth Avenue, at 81st Street, once known as the Stanhope. Its touch screen will allow residents to control the heating and air-conditioning but also to make restaurant reservations and to ask the garage to deliver their cars.
At the Ikon, a condo rising at McCarren Park in Williamsburg, every apartment comes with a video intercom system that allows residents to communicate with the concierge. There are also optional upgrades, costing about $3,000 to about $18,000 or more, that include heating and air-conditioning controls, audio controls and a “nanny cam,” which allows parents to monitor what’s going on at home.
Though the technology may sound complicated, the operation is intuitive, users and designers insist. Most companies offer continuing support and service, and when things do break down, there are no moving parts to fix, they say.
As Mr. Hauser of Midtown Technologies put it: “It’s all application-based, which means that a problem is all inside the computer software. Correcting the problem is usually a matter of reloading the software or finding a virus. They’ll never have to tear up the wall — the plumbers will do far more damage to your walls.”
New technology is enabling new buildings to enhance their security systems, including keyless access, digital surveillance systems and in the not-too-distant future, biometrics, in which camera recognition of residents’ faces will be needed for entry.
“All the developers are doing this type of stuff,” said Jon Ecker, the president of Peace of Mind Technologies in Manhattan. “A lot of it ends up being a marketing solution and an amenity for prospective buyers and tenants. When they know there’s video intercom or card access, that’s looked at as a special feature of the building.”
Then there’s the wow factor that technomenities can provide. The Ritz-Carlton Residences in North Hills, on Long Island, will be chockablock with technological innovations, said Dan Pfeffer, the president of Midtown Equities, its developer.
Before his company begins a project, he said, he assembles his technologically savvy staff in his office. “We start by talking about things that bother them in their day-to-day lives,” he said. “We take these problems and try to create solutions.”
One such problem, Mr. Pfeffer said, is the seemingly interminable wait for the front gate to open — something that won’t happen at the new Ritz-Carlton. “There’s no reason to wait,” he said. “We’re going to give you a device, a chip, that goes in your car. As you get closer to the gate and enter the deceleration lane, it’ll judge your speed and open by the time you get there.”
Then, when residents enter that gate, the valet will automatically be notified. He or she will be there to meet them, along with the concierge, who will be ready to help with packages. As residents walk into the building, the elevator will waiting to whisk them to their floor, eliminating the need to push a button.
Such technology “differentiates our product from other products on the market,” Mr. Pfeffer said. “It’s not just about what the place looks like anymore. As developers, we spend a lot of time designing our units. I’d say we spend almost as much time now designing the technology that goes into our properties.”
The same goes for sales centers, which are increasingly high-tech, too. The soon-to-open sales center for the Ritz-Carlton in North Hills, for example, “has the ability to adjust the rooms based upon who you are and what you like — the style of music, the temperature, the lighting,” Mr. Pfeffer said. In the model’s media room, a single male may find baseball games and high volume, and older couples may get softer lighting and old movies.
Technology can also power special features, like the off-site wine storage available at the Element, a condo rising on West 59th Street. Residents will get a password to allow them access to a virtual cellar; they can buy wine online, request delivery and see real-time calculations of their “liquid net worth.”
And at the Archstone-Clinton, a rental building on West 52nd Street, a high-tech laundry room allows residents to log on to a Web site to see if a washing machine is available; it will also send an e-mail or text message when their washer or dryer has stopped. (When residents log on, the machines being used are shown in red and even vibrate a bit.)
Though technology like this may seem up-to-the-minute and urban, it actually grew out of a suburban phenomenon. “The trend started in stand-alone homes,” said Kunal Shah, the vice president for strategy and sales at Clareo Networks. “We found that when baby boomers sell their suburban homes, they want the same things they had there, here.”
That was a big selling point for Mr. Pandya, the buyer at Liberty Harbor, whose current home in Princeton, N.J., is tricked out with a remote-access climate control system he installed himself, multiple plasma-screen TV sets and digital picture frames, which are connected to the Internet and can be automatically updated with new pictures from friends and family. “I’ll have suburban convenience with an urban lifestyle,” he said. “I want to be a New Yorker, but I still want to have my toys.”
Labels: home automation