Is smart home technology a smart upgrade for your home?

Hand controlling a stove with a smart home app
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Smart home technology is like sci-fi brought to life. Thermostats can learn our daily habits and predict our climate needs. Speakers can answer questions and respond to voice commands. Apps can control everything from turning on the lights to locking the doors.

There’s no doubt smart home technology makes life easier. But is it a smart investment?

Choosing how to spend your home improvement dollars isn’t easy, and homeowners are often torn between the luxuries they crave and the practical upgrades that offer the best return on investment. With the recent explosion of smart home devices, many are wondering how much this technology should factor into their renovation plans.

Thinking about including some smart features in your next home improvement project? Here are a few things you should know:

It might not increase your home’s value.

Built-in electronics typically don’t pay off when it’s time to sell your home. In fact, home improvement guru Bob Vila named them the number-two upgrade to avoid. Why? Partly because buyers prefer to choose their own technology, and partly because it becomes outdated so quickly.

“Once the next gizmo lands on the market, today’s shiny toy quickly tarnishes,” Vila says. Smart home technology is still relatively new, and product designers are still working out the kinks. Today’s smartest devices might be considered dull as a post three years from now.

“How much—if any—of that technology investment pays off three to five years down the road in added value? Given the pace of change, probably none,” says real estate expert Bruce Ailion.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, however. If a smart home is something you and your family would enjoy, it might be worth it. And you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars upgrading your home to genius level, either. Devices like Nest thermostats, smart locks and voice-activated hubs such as the Amazon Echo cost around $200 each, leaving plenty of room for costlier renovations with a higher ROI.

But it might help your home sell faster.

Demand for smart home technology is skyrocketing. According to a Coldwell Banker poll, four in five buyers say smart home devices would make them more likely to buy a home, and more than half would consider an older home updated if it had smart home technology. Of the seven in 10 buyers who want a move-in ready home, 44 percent list smart devices as a must-have.

Buyers may not want to pay a hefty premium for smart home technology, but they are more interested in homes that have it. Some realtors report smart home features help homes sell significantly faster. Others predict buyers will consider them standard alongside stainless steel appliances and granite countertops within three to seven years.

Which smart devices have the most allure on the market? Locks and alarms top the list, along with thermostats and fans. Lighting and safety devices such as carbon monoxide detectors are also in demand. To get the most leverage out of your smart home, choose your upgrades wisely.

  • Opt for energy-efficient devices that will save future homebuyers money.
  • Install a user-friendly system even non-techie buyers can figure out.
  • Avoid high-maintenance systems that are expensive to operate.
  • Make sure your home will still function properly if the system is removed or turned off—just in case buyers don’t want it.

You could be putting your home security at risk.

Convenient and life-enhancing it may be, but smart home technology also has its drawbacks—the biggest being vulnerability to hackers. Any device that’s connected to the internet is at risk of being hijacked, and smart home devices are still new enough that most don’t have sophisticated built-in security features. Their default passwords are easy to hack, and many homeowners never bother to change them.

Since security systems top the list of most-wanted smart home features, this leaves many smart homes at risk. For example, researchers were able to infiltrate a top-tier home automation system using a malware app to retrieve the PIN code to the front door. They concluded that smart home security is “currently too flawed to be used where a security system is absolutely vital,” says cyber security expert Arun Ganesan. In another experiment, hackers were able to tap into a leading smart thermostat and gain access to sensitive information, such as when people were and weren’t home.

These and other high-profile security breaches have been a rude awakening for technologists, who are even now working on fortifying smart home devices to resist hacking. Some experts advise holding off on any major smart-home renovations until the next generation of products hits the market. If you do opt for a smart home installation, simply changing the passwords on all your connected devices can go a long way toward protecting your home.

Is smart home technology a smart way to spend your home improvement dollars? It can be—as long as you make smart decisions about how you use it.