Tom Flanagan is widely regarded as one of the premiere leaders in the the real estate tech industry. He currently serves as Vice President of Technology at Alain Pinel Realtors in the San Francisco Bay Area and is the writer behind Real Estate Things; a blog that explores Real Estate, Technology and the Internet of Things. Given his credentials and his close proximity to Silicon Valley, Tom is a part of the leading edge of the emerging technologies in the home space. In this Q&A Tom discusses some of his favorite smart home products.
Q: What is one of your favorite smart home tech products for summer?
A: I recently visited b8ta in Palo Alto, CA. B8ta is an interactive retail store that sells IoT (Internet of Things) devices. The store believes that IoT devices are best experienced in-person as opposed to online. Interactive retail isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s the foundation of Apple’s retail success. However, each product station includes sensors that track the products usage, which is truly unique. Customers are encouraged to test and spend quality time with each product. Analytics are provided back to the product creator. Consignment is another interesting component. If you’re a maker and have built a product, you can sell it at the store.
I spent some time in the store playing with “Click and Grow,” a connected home device that allows you to easily grow vegetables, herbs and spices inside your home. It’s essentially a smart garden. The device is compact and can sit right on your countertop. Sensors make sure the plants get the appropriate water and oxygen. The starter kit is priced at $59.95 – It’s a perfect IoT device for the summer.
(Photo courtesy of Click and Grow)
Q: What home device do you think has the potential to realize the greatest amount of savings for homeowners?
A: Nest (the learning thermostat) is a device that features a elegant design, is easy to use and has truly resonated with consumers. Additionally, Nest can save customers 10-12% on their heating bills and about 15% on their cooling bills annually. Not a significant savings up front but it certainly grows over time. Google acquired Nest in 2014 and the product line now includes a smoke and CO alarm and a security camera.
Google has developed another interesting product that can potentially save homeowners money. Project Sunroof measures the amount of sun your roof can absorb and will estimate how much money a homeowner could potentially save if he or she installed solar panels. The app now supports 42 states and the ability to analyze 43 million roof tops. The app was created by Carl Elkin who developed the tool as a 20% project, a popular Google program that allows team members to dedicate 20% of their resources on side projects. You can learn more about the potential price savings here.
Q: Is there a device out there that could have a significant impact from an environmental standpoint?
A: I am originally from New England and there is a saying, “if you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago, I quickly discovered microclimates. The weather in Silicon Valley is completely different than the weather in Santa Cruz, which is completely different than the weather in San Francisco. I learned, “if you don’t like the weather in the Bay Area now, just drive a few minutes.”
I have become fascinated with environmental data. I purchased the Netatmo indoor and outdoor weather station. The stations allow me to capture: indoor and outdoor temperature, humidity, CO2 and even noise pollution. These environmental elements (particularly air quality and pollution) directly impact one’s quality of life. They dictate where people live, the water they drink, the clothes they wear, where they play and more. Weather stations, sensors and beacons make environmental data accessible, which can empower everyday people.
(Photo Courtesy of Real Estate Things)
Q: What smart home device do you think is destined for mass adoption within the next few years?
A: I recently covered the Bay Area Maker Faire, which is the largest Maker Faire in the world. The event drew 150,000 people a day and the faire was quite amazing. There was a ton of technology in the real estate space on display. I had the opportunity to ask Dale Dougherty, the founder of MAKE magazine and creator of Maker Faire, how connected home devices were impacting the real estate industry. Dale had interesting perspective and noted that building a connected home device yourself was like building a new deck for your home. It improves your quality life and provides personal satisfaction. It was such a great answer and premise I hadn’t thought of before. There could be 50 billion connected devices deployed by 2025. Apple and Google will certainly build its share but I believe individuals (makers, hobbyists and tinkerers) will contribute as well. This is the adoption we’ll see in the next few years.
(Photo Courtesy of Real Estate Things)
Q: Finally, what is the funniest or most “out there” home device product that you have come across?
A: I recently came across a smart egg tray. The tray notifies your phone to tell you how many eggs you have left. Now, one could certainly argue that the tray provides remote access to your egg quantity at any given time and could potentially save you a trip to the grocery store. However, I was immediately reminded of the scene in Jurassic Park when Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) so elegantly declared, “scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
For more info on smart home devices and the internet of things check out Tom’s blog Real Estate Things.