Self-driving cars and home buying

self-driving cars
Self-driving cars (infographic from crowdcompanies.com)

Technology has made homes more efficient and environmentally friendly, while also making them more comfortable.  Technology has made the business of real estate become increasingly easier through electronic communications and electronic signatures.  Technology has also made finding a home much easier too.  It’s obvious that the real estate industry has been greatly impacted by technology, but will the self-driving cars technology impact real estate?

A curious article that appeared in a recent issue of Appraisal Journal suggests that self-driving cars will eventually influence real estate (A Largely Unnoticed Impact on Real Estate-Self-Driven Vehicles; Appraisal Journal; Winter2017, Vol. 85, No.1, p51-59).  The authors, Levine, Segev, and Thode, discuss how self-driving cars will likely become a standard on our roads, as well as likely changing the way we think about where we live.  There is a suggestion that the wide spread adoption of self-driving cars could bring about a suburban renewal.  As self-driving cars become more abundant, some suggest that would influence some home buyers and their decisions on where they choose to live.  The concept of owning a self-driving car could make the choice a little easier to opt for the less expensive suburban home with more land.

However, you should consider that owning a self-driving car might not make your suburban commute more convenient.  For many home buyers, a reason to move closer to an urban area is to reduce the commute time to their jobs.  For some, the thought of increasing their commute time even by ten to fifteen minutes (by virtue of an extra metro stop) is unacceptable.  Sitting in your self-driving car is not much different than sitting in a metro car or bus.  So the notion that owning a self-driving car could spawn suburban growth may not hold water.

Owning a self-driving car won’t make the suburban commute less expensive.  Many home buyers decide to live closer to their jobs to save money and energy.  The self-driving car is like any other car, such that there are operating costs.  Regardless whether your self-driving car is electric, gas or hybrid, there are fuel costs.  There will be maintenance costs too.  And of course, you need to a place to park it like any other car.

Even the value of commercial real estate may not necessarily be affected by self-driving cars.  These vehicles won’t reduce travel time to the store, nor would they make any business more convenient than another.

Let’s face it, self-driving cars isn’t the internet.  These vehicles are a convenient way to travel for sure, but they won’t change how we communicate.  Nor will they change the basic requirements we seek from our homes.

However, a government policy shift, much like the policies favoring designated car-pool vehicles and mass transit, could tip the scales in making the self-driving car the vehicle (no pun intended) to changing the real estate landscape.  Creating special lanes for self-driving vehicles could reduce commute times, thus reducing fuel costs.  Requiring dedicated parking for self-driving vehicles could also influence commercial real estate.  However, like the impact of designated car-pool vehicles, a major impact to our lifestyle is unlikely from self-driving cars.

Choosing where you live is a personal decision that is impacted by many external factors, including quality of life.  Of course the self-driving car is a technological advance that is surely to affect how you travel.  However, it is doubtful that owning a self-driving car will largely impact your quality of life and how you decide where to live.  In fact, the authors of the above mentioned article point to a 2016 Kelly Blue Book survey that indicates that a majority of Americans prefer “cars that are not fully autonomous and retain some ability for individual control.”

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Domestic robots in home

domestic robots in home
It’s time for domestic robots in home (infographic from tumotech.com)

Today’s smart homes are still a far cry from the futuristic visions of the last century.  Home automation has certainly advanced over the last one hundred years.  Think about the washer and dryer, and even the personal computer.  It’s time for domestic robots in home.  If you’ve seen episodes of the 1960’s TV show The Jetsons, you remember how Rosie the Robot cooked, cleaned and was a companion for Elroy.  Rosie’s legacy has set the bar very high for domestic robots – and we are approaching that standard rapidly!

Many home automation tools that were developed through the 1960’s were not available to the average person because of costs and/or technological limitations.  Consider that remote controlled television was developed in the 1950’s, and color television became widely available during the 1960’s.  The personal computer as we know it was developed in the 1970’s, but wasn’t widely available until the 1980’s.  However, as home automation rapidly progressed with the technological jumps of the last half of the twentieth century, devices became more affordable and common place.  Fast forward fifty years, virtual reality is the home entertainment trend and many refrigerators have more computing power than the PC’s developed in the 1970’s!

Today we take for granted many of the automated systems in our home.  What takes minutes with the help of our modern appliances, took hours with early rudimentary counterparts; and most likely an entire day without any automated assistance.  Certainly the average person fifty years ago would not have imagined their home being automated by programming their appliances, and certainly not on a cell phone.  The 1962 and 1964 World’s Fair introduced the futuristic smart home to the average person; and to some extent, we’ve already surpassed those expectations.  We were introduced to the idea of a centralized “brain” that controlled the home in 1962; and computerized appliances and time saving devices in 1964.

As smart homes advance, robotics will be an integral part of your life.  In fact, you can buy a robot today.  Of course, you’ve heard of Roomba the floor cleaning robot.  Roomba’s parent company, iRobot (irobot.com) also sells a pool cleaning robot and other robotic devices for the home.  There is the Litter-Robot (litter-robot.com) to clean after your cat.  And although they’re not like robots portrayed in the movies, there are humanoid robots for sale today that can be programmed for simple tasks.

Tumotech (tumotech.com), the online magazine about future disruptive technologies and innovations, declared the rise of domestic robots in a May 12, 2014 article The robot revolution – The rise of domestic robots.”  Initially, it is thought that advances in robotics will allow robots to clean homes, take care of the lawn, be a security patrol, and even tend to those who are ill.

As robotics and other technologies rapidly develop and merge, it is conceivable that we will have humanoid robots doing much of our daily tasks and interacting with us as companions in twenty years!  However, having humanoid robots in the home may not be as wonderful as we anticipate.  In their chapter “If I had a Robot at Home… Peoples’ Representation of Domestic Robots,” psychologists Scopelliti, Giuliani, D’Amico and Fornara suggest that robots taking over our daily tasks and moving in to our homes may be detrimental to our self-esteem and personal identity (Designing a More Inclusive World. Edited by Keates, Clarkson, Langdon & Robinson, Springer, 2004).

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Real estate agent robots

Are real estate agent robots the future of home sales?
Are robot real estate agents the future of home sales? (infographic from techspot.com).

Many erroneously describe Gordon Moore’s prediction as the doubling of computing power every two years.  “Moore’s Law” is more accurately described as the doubling of transistors on a chip every two years.  The point is that computer power is on steep path of improvements; and the prediction has been accurate since Moore’s 1965 paper “Cramming more components onto integrated circuits” (Electronics; April 19, 1965).  What does Moore’s Law have to do with real estate? Everything.  Many industries have benefited as computer processing power increased – including real estate.   Will we see real estate agent robots in the future?

It is often said that a smart phone has thousands more computing power than the Apollo guidance computer.  Consider how far computing power has increased over the last fifty years; common computer processors today exceed 1 billion transistors per chip with average clock speeds over 2.5 GHz (the Mac Plus I had in graduate school had an 8MHz processor with only 68,000 transistors!).  The ever growing processor power has allowed major developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic applications we are witnessing today.  And the promise of quantum computing is expected to make our current computers seem like abacuses. A cutting edge 2013 paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, of the University of Oxford, discussed the effects of advancements computerization and robotics on employment and the labor market (The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation? Oxford Martin School – University of Oxford; September 2013).  The authors concluded that about 47% of the US workforce is at risk of being “automated soon” (which is in the next ten to twenty years).  Workers expected to be affected include, “…transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations…” The service industry, including real estate, was singled out as being affected by AI and robotics.  Included among the top occupations most at risk included: real estate broker, real estate agent, property manager, and real estate appraiser. The increasing reliance on automated property valuations by lenders, real estate agents, and consumers is a testament to the advancement of AI in the industry.  Back in April, Inman (a leading real estate information publisher) devised an experiment to see if a computer algorithm would best a real estate broker in choosing homes for potential home buyer.  The results announced May 10th revealed that the computer program did a better job than the real estate agent (Broker vs. bot: And the winner is…; inman.com; May 10, 2016).  Of course, there were limitations to Inman’s test; but still a notable result nonetheless demonstrating how AI is affecting the real estate industry. Robotics is making significant advances too.  Recent developments have made self-driving cars real, along with Honda’s Asimo; and even artificial companions.  You can now purchase your own service robot, if you can afford it.  Just like AI, robots may also take over real estate agent tasks in the near future.  Imagine walking into an open house and being greeting by a friendly and helpful robot! We often talk of how quickly the internet has developed and its impact on the real estate industry.  And it’s partly due to rapidly increasing computer processing power and Moore’s Law.  Imagine how AI and robotics will change home buying and selling in ten or twenty years.  And once quantum computing becomes commonplace, you may even experience a real virtual tour via a holodeck. Copyright © Dan Krell If you like this post, do not copy; instead please: reference the article, like it at facebook or re-tweet. Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Resurgence of solar power

House Solar Once considered too costly, solar is getting hot (pun intended). Many factors are making it easier for consumers to choose solar; including lower installation costs and tax credits. Solar energy has also become a selling point for some home builders in sunny states such as California; where builders have offered the option of solar panel installation during construction.

Solar technology has come a long way. Manufacturing advances have not only made the technology more affordable, it has paved the way to new applications as well. Besides the panels with which we have become accustomed, photovoltaic (PV) technology is now available as roof shingles and windows; and some companies that can even apply the PV to other exterior home surfaces.

Is the investment worth it? A recent Washington Post piece (March 26, 2014; Real Estate Matters: Are solar panels worth the investment?) explores the value of installing solar panels – and concludes that it depends on your individual costs and savings. Authors Glink and Tamkin take into account the installation costs, tax credits and a monthly power bill of $120. Assuming that their system would supply all of their electricity needs, they applied the $120/month savings to repay the loan taken to cover the solar panel installation; and based on their calculations – there would be no savings for the first ten years.

However, your actual utility savings can vary on a number of factors, including (but not limited to): the amount of solar power produced; system size and placement; and available sun energy. Additionally, the cost of maintaining your solar panel system can vary; regular maintenance is required to ensure your system is producing power efficiently. Maintaining your system typically entails cleaning the panels (debris, dust, bird droppings can collect on surfaces) and testing other components. Furthermore, because the average life expectancy of a solar panel is about 30 years (depending in manufacturer), you should consider the time you intend to live in your home and resale. Home buyer attitudes on existing systems and possible replacement costs is not entirely clear.

If you’re considering a PV system, Energy.gov offers these tips: measure the amount of sun available; calculate the size of the system to meet your needs; predetermine the best location for the system, as well as making sure it will fit; decide if the system is a standalone or connected to the power grid; and how will the safety needs be met (energy.gov/energysaver/articles/planning-home-solar-electric-system).

Before choosing a contractor, energy.gov recommends due diligence. Ask about the company’s time in business and experience installing the type of system you have chosen (technical differences can exist). Check the contractor/company for complaints, judgments or liens. And, of course, make sure the contractor has appropriate valid licenses; according to the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation website, “a home improvement contractor or subcontractor license is required to install solar panels for a homeowner, regardless of whether the panels will be installed on the home or an outbuilding adjacent to a residence, or will be attached to the land next to the residence. A licensed master electrician is required to hook the panels to the electric system.”

Finally, energy.gov also recommends getting multiple installation quotes because panel efficiency can vary depending on the manufacturer. The estimates should include the total cost of getting the PV system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting, sales tax, and warranty.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

The pros and cons of smart home tech

home techDecades of futurists have dreamt and designed their vision of a “smart home” intended to make living easier and more comfortable.  The 1933 World’s Fair envisioned that all homes would have helicopter pads; the 1962 World’s Fair highlights an electronic central brain in the home; the 1964 World’s Fair was about computerizing the home with time saving appliances.  And of course, who can forget Disney’s “House of Tomorrow?”

Retro-futurism seems almost cartoonish today, much like watching an episode of the Jetson’s.  However, like the retro-futuristic home, today’s smart home is meant to make life easier.  Filled with devices and appliances that are connected to the internet, remote access to your home’s systems and appliances is becoming increasingly commonplace.  There is an increasing ability for you to control your home, even when you are not there.  You can remotely monitor cameras in your home, change thermostat settings, and even program the DVR.

Realtor Magazine (Homes Are Getting Smarter, More Connected; January 09, 2014) reported that smart home tech is a growing sector showcased at the annual Consumer Electronics Show.  Besides the growing number of devices that can be remotely controlled, there is also a trend for appliances to send text messages and email.  Although smart home technology today is about producing individual gadgets that are programmable and controlled by smart phone apps, it appears that there is a trend toward integrating devices as well.  As smart home technology advances, home appliances and systems will be integrated with each other allowing them to communicate with each other; which expected to make the home function more efficiently.

All this technology is great, but there appears to be a downside as well.  Although there have been warnings about hacking smart home devices for a number of years, the recent report of hacked smart refrigerators that sent spam has attracted and focused attention on the hackers’ ability to take control of a smart home (phys.org/news/2014-01-cyberattack-hacked-refrigerator.html).  A Forbes article published July 2013 (When ‘Smart Homes’ Get Hacked: I Haunted A Complete Stranger’s House Via The Internet) discussed the ease of identifying and gaining access to smart home devices via the internet. Security specialist indicated that they were able to access and control smart devices (such as lighting, thermostats, garage doors, and security systems); more importantly, they were able to access personal data (including names) and device IP addresses from these devices as well.  The consensus among security specialists about protection from such intrusions is to basically stay “unplugged.”

While we wait for the perfect smart home, we can continue dreaming of the home of the future.  “1999 A.D.” (A 1967 Ford-Philco production; the video featuring Wink Martindale is posted above) is one of the best retro-future depictions of a home that incorporates technology considered to be state-of-the-art by today’s standards, as well as technology that we have yet to perfect.  Central to the home is a computer that collects and maintains information from all home devices, including biometric data that is sent to the medical center for analysis.  3D television, a “home post office” (email), push button meals, and shopping from a home computer is standard in this home.  As technology advances, there seems to be a post-modern sentiment exclaimed in the video that may ring true, “…if the computerized life extracts a pound of flesh, it has some interesting rewards…”

by Dan Krell ©
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of March 10, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.