Extreme Real Estate: Homes With Brains

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- The 21st century house doesn't have a Star Trek food replicator or George Jetson's robot maid just yet, but "smart-home" technology available today can text you if there's a break-in or scold toddlers who get too close to the hot tub.

"It's generally not techie people that are buying this stuff -- that's maybe 10% to 15% of the market," says Peter Shipp, a Winter Park, Fla., smart-home installer and board member of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association. "Buyers are usually people who have the money and are willing to spend it to simplify their lives."

Smart-home systems start at around $2,000 and top out above $1 million, offering homeowners remote-controlled lighting, window shades, swimming pools, door locks, thermostats and security cameras -- not to mention cutting-edge sound systems and home theaters.

"You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on big lighting systems or motorized shades," Shipp says. "And when you add in an entertainment system, the sky's the limit."

The latest trend involves tying your smart home into an Apple (AAPL) iPhone or other smart device, letting you unlock the door for the plumber or check security cameras from halfway around the globe.

"The Apple iPhone has singlehandedly raised the bar for smart homes' ease of use and aesthetic quality," Shipp says. "You used to just control systems with touch panels, and the client's reaction was 'This is adequate' or 'This is good.' Now it's: 'Wow -- this is great!'"

(AAPL) Today's smart homes typically include:

  • One central system that allows you to press a single button and get lights in multiple rooms to dim, brighten or turn on or off for supper, movie night or other daily activities. You can even program in your home's longitude and latitude so the system knows exactly when sunrise and sunset occur throughout the year, turning lights on or off accordingly.
  • Computerized thermostats that let you turn the heat or air conditioning on when you're heading home from the office or an out-of-town trip. These systems can also shut off the heat or air if someone accidentally leaves a door to the outside open.
  • Pool and spa controls that let you crank up the water temperature via your iPhone when you're out for the evening, allowing you to swim comfortably when you return.
  • Burglar alarms that call your smartphone if there's an intruder, allowing you to view remotely whatever your security cameras are seeing.

Customers can also augment basic systems with everything from 20-foot video screens to in-home discos that turn on with the touch of a single button.

"You can relatively easily put a pressure sensor in your refrigerator to find how much milk you have left, sending you an email when you need to buy more," says Dave Pedigo, CEDIA's senior technology director. "And in the next five or 10 years, you'll be able to monitor pretty much everything in the house. You'll know when a light bulb is about to burn out, or when your daughter is watching TV when she's supposed to be grounded."

Click below for a look at what smart-home technologies you can buy at various price points, from $2,500 to nearly $2 million.

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