The home was like hundreds of others located in planned communities across the state of Texas. Limestone and wood on the exterior and browns and beige throughout. But if you lived there, you could open your front door by simply touching its hardware. If you walked into the media room and called out, “Alexa, party time!” the lights would turn red and Stevie Ray Vaughan would start playing.
I was on a tour of a four-year-old Lennar model home just south of Austin to see what new homeowners might get as part of a spate of new packages homebuilders are offering buyers. I was there to see what builders thought mainstream American wanted in a “smart home.”
From my perspective, it wasn’t much. A Ring doorbell and Kevo lock technology (in a Baldwin fixture) graced the front entrance. Lutron lights, Sonos One speakers, Honeywell thermostats, and Echo Dots filled the home. The shades rolled up and down on command. It wasn’t an intuitive smart home, but its set-up was easily comparable to high-end pre-programmed home automation systems from Creston, Savant, and that ilk.
Lennar offers these as a base feature. And instead of your CEDIA installer, Lennar works with Amazon’s experts, who aim to be the equivalent of Best Buy’s Geek Squad. David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, says that the homebuilder went with Amazon as a partner because it was a brand associated with excitement.
This was a relatively recent switch. Lennar had announced it would work with Apple to build a HomeKit-compatible home as far back as 2016. But last September, it switched to building with the Amazon ecosystem as the brains behind its automation.
Lennar now offers these features as part of all its new homes, and it’s not interested in keeping the data generated by your connected devices to build any sort of add-on service. The devices are yours; aside from connecting the homeowner with Amazon’s experts, Lennar doesn’t want to get involved.
But it does have a really interesting opportunity. Kaiserman told me that two-thirds of Americans live within 50 miles of a Lennar model home, which gives Lennar a chance to introduce people to home automation in the environment in which it will be used. Much like B8ta, a retail store for connected devices, Lennar sees its model homes as a potential new place to sell the smart home.
Consumers might not buy a Lennar home, but after touring one, they might decide to pick up some Hue bulbs or a Sonos One. For those that do buy a Lennar home, its partnership with Amazon means that when a consumer decides to add more products to their home ecosystem, they can order them on Amazon and they’ll arrive preconfigured to their account.
All of which will help people see the value in connected devices and get those devices online — two hurdles that have so far held people back from buying smart home devices. It also takes care of the installation challenge associated with installing light switches or locks. Finally, in a conversation with the homeowners, the Amazon expert will figure out what kind of priorities the homeowners have and which automations to program.
I have been waiting for AI to solve this challenge of figuring out good IoT use cases, but it seems Amazon’s willing to throw people at the problem. And Lennar’s willing to introduce those Amazon experts to as many Americans as it can.