2020's historic events have had a strong impact on our society, economy, and real estate markets. From the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying quarantines, and from the civil unrest brought about by inequality to the economic recession and its aftermath, 2020 was a dramatic year. The swings and changes were also reflected in the country’s real estate markets. The volatility re-shaped how we view our current homes, and what we look for in our next ones.
REALTOR.com asked over 2,000 consumers across the country to share how the pandemic impacted their living conditions, how the quarantine shaped their preferences, and what the coming of age of remote work meant for housing choices. The results revealed shifting preferences, underscoring a migration toward space and affordability, which benefitted suburban neighborhoods and small-to-midsize towns. They also asked how their thoughts and preferences changed on smart home technologies. The data reveal a landscape where features focused on security, energy efficiency and entertainment rose to prominence.
Consumers have become more interested in adding smart home tech
With so much time spent at home last year, two out of every five indicated that they were more interested in adding smart home features or devices to their residences. The share of men was higher than women by 50 basis points. The interest also tracked along age groups, with 37 per cent of people in the 18-34 bracket being more interested in smart home tech, compared with 27 per cent of respondents in the 35-54 age group, and 15 per cent of those aged 55 and over. Interestingly, parental status played a role in preferences, with 36 per cent of consumers having children younger than 18 showing more interest in home tech, compared with 24 per cent of those who were not a parent or guardian.
Over half of consumers have a smart home device or feature
Advances in technology have been moving into our homes over the past decade, ranging from smart thermostats to connected television sets, and algorithm-powered speakers to robot vacuum cleaners. The survey underscored this change, with 57 per cent of respondents indicating that their homes had one or more smart devices or features. Smart TVs were the prevalent technology, accounting for the largest share, followed by voice-activated smart speakers, and a connected doorbell with a video camera. The distribution of smart home features was fairly even across gender and age groups. Also, parents of children younger than 18 accounted for a larger comparative share of those with smart home tech versus parents of adult children or consumers without children.
Two in five respondents bought a smart home device since the COVID-19 outbreak
With homes becoming the centre of not only family, but also work, social, fitness and schooling life, 41 per cent of consumers purchased devices that enhanced quality of life. Topping the list of devices was a smart TV, connected to the internet. Next near the top of the list were smart speakers and a camera-connected doorbell. Further down the list, tied for fourth spot were three items: a connected thermostat, a smart home security system, and a robot vacuum. The purchases were consistent across gender, even as a slightly larger share of men bought a doorbell and a robot vacuum, while slightly more women opted for smart speakers. Across age cohorts, smart TV were at the top of the list regardless of birth year, followed by smart speakers. Younger consumers (18-34 group) had a comparatively larger share of smart home security systems, connected thermostats, smart toilets, connected gym equipment and home battery packs.
Parents of minor children have felt a significant amount of pressure from this year’s dramatic changes, having to accommodate not only their work, cooking and exercising, but also turn their homes into remote schooling hubs. Not surprisingly, they turned to technology in a much larger proportion compared with parents of adult children or non-parents. Over half of parents with children under 18 at home purchased a smart home device in 2020, compared with 29 per cent of parents of adult children, and 41 per cent of respondents without children. The top item on the purchase list for parents of small children was a smart TV, with on-demand content. The next item on the list was a smart speaker, followed by safety devices—doorbell and smart home security system. For non-parents, smart TVs, connected speakers and doorbells were equally at the top of the list.
Over 60 per cent want additional smart home features or devices
As the range of technology-enabled products aimed for homes proliferates, so do consumers’ desires to adopt them. A majority of survey respondents indicated that they want additional features or devices that enhance their home experience. Topping the list of desirable devices is a robot vacuum, followed by a tie between a connected home theater system, a smart thermostat, and a sleep sanctuary, with an adjustable bed, ambient sound and soothing music. A central voice-activated system to control home functions, along with a high-tech massage chair also ranked high on the list.
Technology preferences showed additional nuance across gender, with more men opting for a home theatre setup. Conversely, larger shares of women placed a robot vacuum, sleep sanctuary, and a home gym at the top of their must-have list. For younger consumers (18-34), robot vacuums, sleep sanctuaries and home theatre systems were on at the top, similarly to those aged 35-54. Consumers aged 55 and over ranked robot vacuums and smart thermostats at the top of the list, followed by sleep sanctuaries, along with a tie for home theatres, central voice-activated control system, and high-tech massage chair.
Parenting status also played a role in technology device preferences. Likely reflecting the intense demands of juggling competing schedules and long to-do lists, parents of minor children voted for robot vacuums, sleep sanctuaries and high-tech massage chairs. Meanwhile, consumers without children placed robot vacuums, home theatre systems, and smart thermostats at the top of their lists.
Smart home technology would motivate consumers to pay more for a home
A large share of consumers would be willing to pay more for a home (renting and/or buying) if it featured additional technology devices or systems. In a nod to rising energy costs, topping the list of items were solar panel roof tiles, along with a home battery pack to store extra energy. Technology which enhances a home’s security was also rated near the top, with a security system and smart doorbell, capturing a large share of responses.
Across gender, men ranked home theatres, solar panels, and smart speakers in every room comparatively higher. Meanwhile, comparatively more women would pay extra for homes which featured smart doorbells, touchless faucets, and a connected kitchen.
Across age cohorts, a larger share of younger consumers (18-34) would pay more for homes with home theatres, smart speakers in every room, and connected kitchens. For consumers in the 35-54 age group, a larger comparative share would pay more for solar roof tiles and home battery packs. Consumers aged 55 and over ranked solar roof tiles, smart doorbells and security systems as worthy of a home price premium.
Parenting status did not make a noticeable difference in willingness to pay more for certain technologies. Both parents and non-parents found similar items worth paying more for: solar panels, connected climate controls, home theatres and security systems.
Energy efficiency ranks near the top of desirable smart home technologies in 2021
When asked to rank which smart home features would make a home purchase more desirable this year, those aimed at energy efficiency ranked at the top. Larger shares of consumers selected solar roof tiles, home battery packs and connected climate control systems as appealing features. Also ranking high were devices designed to enhance a home’s security, such as a smart doorbell and a high-tech system. These preferences held across gender, with a few nuances. A larger proportion of women chose smart doorbells and touchless faucets, while a comparatively larger share of men opted for home battery packs.
Age and stage of life also seems to play a role in technology preferences. Comparatively-speaking, larger shares of younger consumers (18-34) found smart speakers, connected kitchens, smart toilets and automated cocktail makers more appealing. Conversely, for consumers aged 55 and over, smart doorbells, home security systems, and home battery packs ranked comparatively higher.
Parenting status led to a preference for entertainment technology for 2021 purchases. Parents of minor children placed a higher comparative weight on home theatre setups, TVs that slide from cabinets or ceilings, and smart speakers.
Remote workers want faster Internet connections
With 2020 seeing remote work become a mainstay of employment, technology played a crucial role in the transition. For people working from home, the top technology feature for a more effective environment was fast wi-fi network connection, followed by a dedicated workstation setup, with large monitors, high-definition camera, headset, adjustable keyboard and ergonomic chair. These features were even more important for younger respondents (18-34 group), and for parents of minor children.
Green and energy-efficient homes represent the future
Respondents were asked what type of a home represents the future, and provided five main options: “green and energy efficient,” “automated,” “adaptable,” “fortress of safety,” and “portable.” Each category featured specific smart home technologies. Based on responses, 35 per cent voted “green and energy efficient” as the top choice, with tech such as solar panels, water filtration, high quality insulation, and self-sustaining. The second choice, with 22 per cent of responses, was the “fortress of safety,” featuring fire-, wind-, water-, and all around climate-proof technologies. Coming in third place, the “automated” home is expected to be voice-controlled with on-demand responses and content. “Adaptable” and “portable” homes garnered 17 per cent of responses, combined.