Smart Home Products Make Self-Guided Tours A Reality

Clever use of technology can help create interactive home tours that are safe, easy, and exciting

By Chris Allen

As we take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s clear the physical buying experience may never be the same, no matter the industry. That, of course, includes single- and multi-family residential.

Staff-guided tours of model homes and apartments present safety issues in today’s new reality. They can also put employees and potential buyers in an uneasy situation, which isn’t conducive to selling. Even when restrictions loosen up, some buyers won’t be comfortable meeting face-to-face.

Enter smart home technology and creative new services that turn the smart products you already offer — or should be — into interactive guides, allowing you to set up contact-free tours of your model homes and units.

A Guiding Voice

While I’m talking about a self-guided tour experience, you still need a way to pitch customers and show off the best elements of a home. Virtual tours help, but aren’t close enough to the real thing; people prefer to see for themselves before making such an important decision. A voice assistant like Amazon’s Alexa is the perfect solution.

Alexa can be custom programmed to greet visitors as they arrive, fill them in on the top features of the model home or unit, and answer questions about a living space on-demand. It’s not all on you, either.

Just imagine a customer entering a model home. They open the door and a sensor detects their presence, triggering an Alexa device to welcome them: “Thanks for visiting our model home, I’d like to tell you about our favorite features. You’ll find breathtaking views in the backyard, but let me tell you about the kitchen appliances first.”

Customers may have questions about the floorplan, or even what schools are nearby. Your interactive guide can provide the answer, and gently ask, “is there anything else I can help with.”

Besides rolling out the red carpet with your guide, you get a chance to wow your customers with the smart home products they can enjoy as standard amenities or an upgrade package.

Voice assistants come in smart speakers you can plug in, as well as a variety of other household devices. A version of Alexa in a smart light switch provides reliability and security, as something wired into the wall can’t be easily removed.

It also allows for hands-free lighting control, bringing me to my next point.

The Touchless Experience

The less a visitor or member of your staff needs to touch in a model, the better. With the right mixture of smart home products, your staff can easily manage self-guided tours from afar. They don’t even need to drop by to adjust the thermostat or make sure the lights are off.

Smart doorbells and locks allow your team to open up a model remotely at a scheduled time, and lock it up once the tour’s over. Smart light switches, thermostats, and wall outlets further the hands-free experience, allowing high-touch items to be managed and scheduled remotely with an app or adjusted on site with voice commands. As an added bonus, this will reduce energy costs and add efficiency; a selling point your interactive tour guide can highlight.

Products should all tie into the same smart home platform — Amazon, Google Home, or Apple HomeKit. This allows your staff to control everything with one app and one voice assistant — Alexa, the Google Assistant, or Siri.

A New Audience

While the safety benefits of self-guided tours during a pandemic are clear, the convenience and informal concept of self-guided tours allows you to tap into a new audience. This isn’t just a short-term fix; it’s the way you’ll do business in the future. Buyers can schedule tours whenever they want, making it easier than ever to shop for a new home or apartment. You can also reach shoppers who may have been hesitant to meet with a member of your sales team right away.

It’s not just a safer experience; you’re creating a more accommodating atmosphere that can bring in more prospects.

Innovation Born out of Necessity

The technology to conduct self-guided interactive tours existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, but there wasn’t an immediate need. That’s where innovation and forward-thinking comes in. We tend to keep doing things the same way until we’re forced to adopt new processes out of necessity. Often, the new processes are actually easier and work better in the long-run, even when the immediate need falls away.

So, while I’m positive things will return to normal and you’ll be able to confidently offer guided tours again, think ahead. Use the self-guided tour experience as an immediate option to keep business going, and a long-term play to reach the next generation of homebuyers and apartment renters.

Chris Allen is president and founder of iDevices, a company that develops and markets smart lighting, power, and HVAC solutions to both homebuilders and homebuyers. He founded iDevices in 2009 with the invention of iGrill, a product he then sold to Weber Grills. iDevices transitioned to smart home products before being acquired in 2017 by Hubbell Incorporated. Chris enjoys staying hands-on with the company he founded.