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Agent Advice 101: The smart-home upgrades that will improve your life — and the ones that won’t

Take it from our agents: Smart-home products give you the incredible opportunity of managing your home remotely using your smartphone, tablet or computer. They can make your life more comfortable and efficient by controlling heating and air-conditioning systems, lights, alarms and locks. But, just because you can doesnt mean you should. With the enormous variety of smart-home products on the market, deciding which ones are actually beneficial can be overwhelming. 

Our recommendations are based on devices that will help you, personally, and add some value to your home. If you choose to add smart-home features, research highly recommended installers in your area your Briggs Freeman Sothebys International Realty agent may know some, too  who can make product recommendations based on their proven experience. Weve witnessed our clients experiences with smart devices and weve researched the options on the market. The result? Below are our top eight smart-home upgrades  and five you could avoid.

1. Thermostats that save energy and money

Todays smart thermostats can learn your schedule by tracking your patterns over time. Others are programmable so that you can choose the temperature for different periods during the day. Research proves that smart thermostats yield an energy savings of 9 to 15 percent annually. Theyll also give you the ability to adjust your homes temperature remotely so that you have an optimal room temperature when you walk through your door. Price range: Expect $70 to $300.

2. Detectors that may save lives

Smart carbon dioxide and fire detectors can help keep your family and house safe. If they detect smoke or abnormal Co2 levels, theyll send an alert to your phone, and they can notify the authorities. They also take on the responsibility of battery checks and they self-test to ensure theyre in proper working order. (No more seasonal checks required.) Price range: About $40 to $60 each, plus installation

3. Speakers that can help around the house

Uttering voice commands that control smart devices was once the stuff of science fiction. A smart speaker such as Amazon Echo or Google Home gives you access to a computerized assistant that will obey your wishes and control your smart-home devices, while Amazons Alexa, Googles Assistant or Apples Siri provide the ultimate convenience to manipulate your smart surroundings. Price range: Think $30 to $150.

4. Smart locks that can keep things safer

Goodbye, keys. Hello, smart locks. These devices offer many advantages. They have multiple programmable functions, such as automatic locking within a certain period after youve left the house. Or, say youve forgotten to lock the doors and youre already settled in bed: Lock them remotely from your phone. Whats more, if unauthorized access ever is detected, a siren will sound in your home and a message will be sent to you instantly, as well as to a security-monitoring service if youre subscribing to one. A side bonus? A keyless entry gives a stylish, modern first impression to anyone coming to your front door. Price range: Typically $150 to $400, plus installation

5. Doorbells that show you whos calling

When the doorbell rings, you can eliminate any mystery of whos standing outside by simply checking your phone or tablet. Smart doorbells have cameras that will live-stream video to your phone, revealing who is waiting at your door. Some devices allow you to communicate directly with the visitor. Footage can be recorded in a cloud or on a hard drive. Price range: $100 to $2,500, plus installation

6. Lights that can really set a mood

Smart lighting is a blend of style and substance. You can display changeable ambiance in your rooms using multicolored, dimmable LEDs, which allow you to control the luminance and temperature of the lights. Smart LED bulbs are controlled remotely, which could eliminate the need for light switches, and they can last for years. Did you forget to turn off the bedroom lights when leaving home? Not to worry, just tell Alexa or Siri. Exterior smart lighting offers similar convenience and style, while adding another layer of security: You can turn any lights on at any time, or program them to come on and off. Price range: Expect $1,000 to $4,000 for a system, depending on size of plan.

7. Garage doors that do more than open

You drive up to your garage and the door opens, sensing your presence. No fumbling for the opener or getting out to enter a code: Smart garage-door openers track your location so that when you arrive, the door begins its rise. Some even have laser guidance to assist you in parking perfectly. And, once again, full remote access ensures that this important point of entry can always be kept secure. Price range: Typically $200 to $500

8. Shades that can help heat  or cool

Motorized smart shades and drapes offer some money-saving and comfort advantages. They can be programmed to automatically adjust according to the time of day and level of sunlight. Working in unison with your HVAC system, electronic shades can help warm your home by allowing sunlight in, or help cool it by blocking out hot rays. Saying goodbye to cords on blinds and shades also means one less worry when it comes to children and pets. And lets not forget the convenience of controlling the shades at the tap of a button  with your head resting on your pillow! Price range: Plan on $100 to 250 each, plus installation.

smart home

The flip side: When easy gets complicated

While smart technology can be a great investment for many homeowners, its easy to get carried away. Some improvements can downgrade your lifestyle with complicated, expensive solutions to problems that dont really exist. Many of these fall into the kitchen-appliance category. Weve put together a shortlist of smart-home upgrades you could skip.

1. Smart refrigerators

Smart refrigerators certainly look futuristic, but youll pay a significant premium for the design. Added features usually include a touchscreen built into the front  to create grocery lists, show recipes and set expiration dates, for example  and the ability to remotely see inside the refrigerator to check if, for instance, eggs are running low. But, these improvements add little to the core functionality of this standard appliance. Furthermore, manufacturers are not providing guarantees regarding software upgrades, so todays smart refrigerator could be rendered somewhat senseless as technology advances.

2. Smart microwave ovens

Microwave ovens have added enormous convenience to our lives, and their basic functions have stood the test of time. But, ask yourself if you really need remote access. When you close the door on a bag of microwave popcorn or a preprepared meal, is it easier to press the button on the front, or does voice control make the experience better, faster or more efficient? Only you can decide.

3. Smart dishwashers

Youve loaded your dishes in a hurry and left for an appointment. Then you realize that you forgot to press the dishwashers start button. No worries: Open an app and activate. But, for this convenience, youll be spending considerably more. And, if anything does go wrong, youll be paying a premium for repairs. Also think: Do you really want push notifications that your rinse agent is getting low?

4. Smart insta-pots 

The whole idea of producing a wonderful dish quickly is what makes the new insta-pots so popular for families on the go. They are designed to operate quickly, anyway, with little prep time: All you do is add your ingredients, set the cooking time and press start. Thats it. Is Wi-Fi access to your insta-pot going to make your life easier, faster or better?

5. Smart toasters 

Toasters have always been a remarkably simple device in the kitchen. Yes, you have to keep an eye on them when toasting is underway  but attention should be paid to kitchen appliances when theyre operating, whether they are smart or not. And, is it worth paying more for a toaster with a screen display and a countdown?

The bottom line: Go smart and go home

Smart technology has produced phenomenal devices that can revolutionize how we live. If you are considering smart-home upgrades, consider the ones that will improve your lifenot complicate it. For expert advice about what improvements will benefit you, reach out to Briggs Freeman Sothebys International Realty. Our expert agents are always available to help you make smart decisions when it comes to all things home not just the house itself.

More to the story:

The smart first step: Is your Wi-Fi up to the task?

Homeowners get excited when they add smart-home upgrades. However, what they often encounter are slower connection speeds (video buffering, anyone?) caused by multiple devices simultaneously requiring bandwidth from the router. Before you implement smart-home technology in your home, having sufficient bandwidth is essential. Contact your internet service provider (ISP) and let them assess your system to determine if it is smart-home friendly, then follow their recommendations for any upgrades that may be necessary. Price range: Depends on your plan, your current system and the need for upgrades

Some FYIs about Wi-Fi

What happens if the internet goes down?

Wi-Fi-enabled smart-home devices rely on an internet connection for full functionality. If the connection is lost, most devices will continue to operate at a base level, sacrificing more sophisticated features.

Alternatives to Wi-Fi: Enter Zigbee and Z-Wave

There are two sophisticated platform options, known as Zigbee and Z-Wave, that are capable of connecting smart devices without relying on the internet. That means constant connectivity, without the worry or risk of an outage, and superior data privacy. Know that Zigbee- and Z-Wave-compatible devices are usually more expensive and they require the purchase of a smart hub.

The smartest smart hubs

A smart hub acts as the nexus to provide a connection to all your devices. Zigbee hubs work with Zigbee devices while Z-Wave hubs operate with Z-Wave devices. The good news is that if you dont want to confine yourself to one of these options, you can purchase a smart hub that is platform-agnostic, so you give yourself the widest possible product choices from both platforms.

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