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How to instantly make any home smart (even on a budget)

(TECH NEWS) Make it a point to upgrade one dumb aspect of your home to a smart device this year as we all move toward smart home living.

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Budget-friendly ways to go smart

Now that smartphones are in our pockets 24-7, we are closer than ever to a fully-automated smart homes without the unsettling plot twist of the eponymous movie. Maybe your pre-war ranch home doesn’t have the wiring or power for a full smart home remodel, but with a few tools, here are a few products you can buy today to make your home much more intelligent by 2018.

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Safe and secure

Virtual doorbell
Imagine your doorbell rings, and you get a notification on your phone. Not only can you see the person at your door, but you can talk to them too. You can protect your castle without actually being home. Also, it can help keep track of those pesky Amazon deliveries (we know you’ll be buying a lot of new smart home stuff soon!). Ring does all of that, and more!

Security camera
Not only can you watch out for intruders with the Nest cam but you can keep an eye on Fido while you’re at work. You can even talk to intruders and pets with Nest’s new talk and listen system. “Hey Fido – Get off the couch!” or “Hey Robbers! I’m calling the cops!” are just two examples of this tool’s usefulness. You’ll also get smart phone notifications when motion is detected in your home and go back through ten or thirty days of footage to see what you missed. It works inside and outdoors.

Smart locks
The day of keyless home entry is here. Never again will you have to fumble for your keys with your arms full of groceries on the front porch. Smart locks are a game changer. Controlled from your smart phone, smart locks like Kwikset’s Kevo Touch can be locked and unlocked remotely, temporary digital keys can be issued to house guests or home workers, all of which makes entry for homeowners is a breeze. Some locks even lock behind you once you’ve gone a certain distance away and most options have an additional keyed backup just in case something goes wrong. Smart locks vary in tech and style so do your research to figure out which is best for you.

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Smart entertainment

Smart TV
The TV is the hub of the home, and making it smarter is one of the easiest ways to upgrade your life. Either upgrade your existing model or use Chromecast, Googleplay, or Apple TV to make it easier to interact with your biggest screen. You can even use a gaming device like the Xbox to smarten up your TV. Cast images from your smart phone to the TV, or use built-in apps to watch Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime,. Apple TV lets you stream your own purchased content on the big screen, which makes a wide range of iTunes purchases (and your weekly binge of Real Housewives) easily accessible. With a new smart TV you can get the same wide range of apps, and in some cases, even Skype! I will say, the smaller plug-ins are more easily upgradable and way more affordable.

Google Home or Alexa
For the latest in smart home tech, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Google Home and Alexa. Prime competitors in the smart home world, both devices can be summoned with a word, can search the web, make shopping lists (or any other kind of list) and even play games with you. These are the in-home assistant hubs that truly make your home feel smarter. And isn’t that the most important thing?

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Save some green

Smart switches
Control any overhead light or fan with a smart switch like the Caseta. It works like a normal switch but can be operated remotely via smartphone. Lights can be dimmed, fans can change speed, vent hoods can be summoned with a voice command while you’re ducking beneath the kitchen smoke. Anything that has a connected switch in your home can be turned on or off from anywhere at anytime.

Smart lightbulbs
Smart lightbulbs are a game changer in any smart home. Hue can go into any light fixture, be any possible color, and can be controlled by your smart phone or smart home assistant. Set up preset times for lights to turn off and on, set up different lighting modes (movie mode, sleep mode, reading mode) and control it all via voice with your smart phone. http://drift-light.comDrift bulbs will dim once you flip them off, and slowly lull you to sleep as they dim to black over thirty-seven minutes.

Thermostat
The smart thermostat is a no brainer for smart homes. Heat up the house from your warm bed, or cool it down before you get home, smart thermostats like the Ecobee can make your home more comfortable. Remote sensors can tell if you’re gone or sleeping, and some thermostats can even learn your habits and fully customize the climate zones of your home.

Smart plugs
Control anything that plugs in with a smart plug. A couple of needle nose pliers is all you need to install one of these babies. Go ahead and turn off your computer all the way from the other room, or plug your iron into it so when you’re at work you can make triple-sure you didn’t leave it on. Or if you did leave it on, with the tap of a screen it won’t burn your house down. Plug in your crockpot and turn it on at the exact right time to have dinner ready when you get home. You can even update your plugs to have motion sensor capabilities, so that the fan tursn on when you enter your office, or goes off when you leave. Try theWemo switch or Summit Link’s budget-friendly version.

Squeaky clean

Roomba
Keep that new smart home clean with the ever-popular Roomba, and get rid of those dust bunnies you’ve grown to love. With iRobot’s new Home app, scheduling your top-of-the-line vacuum service is easier than ever. Summon the Roomba immediately with the clean button or schedule a dead-of-night service and wake up to the smell of an allergen-free home. Also, DJ Roomba!

Shower controls
Control shower temps, monitor usage and save water all at the same time. Smart shower controls work with your existing set up and can monitor specific water temperature settings so you never get too hot or too cold. Evadrop adjusts shower pressure depending on where you are in the shower, so you don’t have the water on full blast while you’re just shaving your legs. Some come with an app, like SmarTap, so that you can monitor temps and usage with your phone that keep everyone comfortable, keep your home leak-free, and save our greatest natural resources.

Go forth (and prosper)!

Smart homes are it. And we all have the tools to make our home more accessible, save more energy, and impress more of our friends. Make it a point to upgrade one dumb aspect of your home to a smart device this year. I promise you won’t be sorry.

#BudgetFriendlySmartHome

C. L. Brenton is a staff writer at The American Genius. She loves writing about all things, she’s even won some contests doing it! For everything C. L. check out her website

Real Estate Technology

Hackers target associations – how to protect your brokerage, yourself

(TECHNOLOGY) Hackers are increasingly targeting associations, and while they set their own policies to protect themselves, here’s how to do the same for you and your company.

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It all seemed so routine. For officials of both the Henderson (TX) and Boulder Valley(CO) public school districts, the email that they received from an existing construction vendor asking them to update their automated payments to new bank information was nothing seemingly out of the ordinary.

Only when vendors began to inquire about the status of payments that the districts had sent did the districts come to realize that the routine change had made themselves the victims of a scam known as a BEC, or a Business Email Compromise.

In each case, the losses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars before being discovered. Henderson ISD lost approximately $610,000 to the hackers and Boulder Valley Public Schools lost approximately $870,000. The fiscal hit was accompanied by reviews of and changes to their operating procedures to ensure that such a loss wouldn’t happen again in the future.

While the districts tied their losses to public transparency, with information about the vendors and the scope of work that each was involved with available on their websites, government officials said that such schemes are typically quite sophisticated and ongoing long before any request for money, in order to establish a level of trust with their victims.

Secret Service Agent Bill Mack, speaking to the Tyler Morning Telegraph, noted that “[w]e’ve seen an uptick in the number of cases…Contact is often made long before the request for money. Criminals will use a compromised network to gather information about the target. Then, appearing to be a legitimate representative of the vendor, they will often request a simple change in account numbers.

With FBI estimates as to the annual cost of cybercrime reaching over $2 billion dollars annually, and those losses only partially recovered through either the efforts of law enforcement or insurance, it’s important to recognize the fact that as scammers and hackers expand beyond the tired trope of the 419/Nigerian Prince, they’re now targeting new avenues, such as governmental entities and private associations (perhaps even your local real estate board/association).

While professional associations have been the targets of hackers since at least 2010, according to Ed Schipul, they’re coming under increasing levels of attack.

As a professional member of an organization, we depend on their advice, counsel, and information about upcoming trends and events. We rely on the communication that we receive from them to be timely, accurate, and most importantly, not be harmful to us, professionally or personally.

Assuming that the associations themselves are taking steps to protect their cybersecurity, how do we, as members protect ourselves from hackers?

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has tips on staying safe from hackers in an ever-connected world:

• Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information.
• Only open emails that look like they are from people or organizations you know, and even then, be cautious if they look questionable.
• Be especially wary of emails or websites that have typos or other obvious mistakes.
• Verify the validity of a suspicious-looking email or a pop-up box before providing personal information.
• Don’t immediately open email attachments or click on links in unsolicited or suspicious-looking emails.
• Install good anti-virus software that periodically runs to search for and remove malware.
• Be diligent about using spam (junk mail) filters provided by your email provider.
• Don’t visit untrusted websites and don’t believe everything you read.
• Criminals might create fake websites and pop-ups with enticing messages intended to draw you in and download malware.

In the case of officials at the districts, one measure that was implemented in each is worth remembering in a click-and-send era; they promised to have their respective staffs pick up the phone and call the vendor when any type of banking information was requested, to verify the request before providing information.

When dealing with our associations, if we receive an email or other outreach that seems out of character for them, it’s a good reminder to call and ask them if they’d intended to send it out before we take electronic action.

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Real Estate Technology

Your home or office needs this $20 smart camera

(TECHNOLOGY) Whether for your office, home, home office, or listing, this $20 smart cam is a great secret weapon!

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Home security cameras are becoming standard equipment in many homes and offices these days, but some of the more popular ones still come with a hefty price tag. That’s where the Wyze Cam comes to the rescue. This simply designed device hit the market for $19.99 in 2017, and now the company offers an upgraded option for $29.99. (You can still buy the lower-cost version.)

Does this relatively cheap security camera hold up to pricier security options like Nest, Ring, and Amazon’s Cloud Cam? Tech experts seem to think so. Cnet appreciated features such as timelapse, the ability to turn off alerts, and its built-in carbon monoxide and smoke alarms. TechCrunch gave a thumbs up to its easy installation, software, and video quality.

So, if you’re a real estate agent, should you consider installing these affordable security tools in properties you’re trying to sell, especially empty homes that could be easy targets for vandals and burglars? The simple answer is yes: Wyze Cams are a low-cost way to protect these properties when no one is around. The longer answer is yes, but make sure you’re following the law in your state.

In Texas, for example, the so-called “one-party rule” requires at least one party to consent to recording conversations. In the case of a home listing, the person most likely consenting would be the seller. However in many states, including Texas, if the seller is not participating in the conversation being recorded, they cannot record the audio, only video. And they cannot install cameras in areas where the potential buyers would expect privacy, like the bathroom.

To protect yourself, buyers, and sellers, NAR advises that listing agents ask sellers if they’re using any kind of cameras or other surveillance equipment. If so, they should tell the buyer’s agent or include a notice in the listing so everyone is aware before entering the home. If you want to take it a step further, you can require sellers to inform you of any surveillance equipment in the home as part of their contracts.

A good rule of thumb if you’re a buyer’s agent: Assume you and your clients are being recorded anytime you tour a home. Some buyer’s agents are even directing clients to keep any opinions — good or bad — to themselves until safely out of any cameras’ reach so sellers don’t get the upper hand in negotiations (just make sure it’s done legally).

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Real Estate Technology

Google’s creepy new patent to watch your every move at home

(TECHNOLOGY) This new patent confirms that Google’s technology is as creepy as you suspected…

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As if we needed another reason to squirm, it’s been revealed that Google has just applied for patents on devices that would place sensors and cameras in every room of your home. Why? To watch and analyze your every move, of course! EWW.

Some of you out there with the tape over your laptop cameras might be going, “Duh, dummy. I told you so,” but for the others of you who have welcomed smart home devices into your humble abodes, well, we’re telling you now. You probably won’t listen because even your toddler’s addicted to making demands of the Alexa and Siri, but better late than never?

So here’s the skinny:

Using the excuse of “all the better to send you targeted ads, my dear” Google has filed a patent that would allow the company to mount sensors and cameras in our homes which would be attached to smart devices we already use.

The patent states that Google can “use smart-devices to monitor activities within a smart-device environment, report on these activities, and/or provide smart-device control based upon these activities.”

For example, if you’re wandering around your house wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt, the sensors could capture this image and report it back to Google who would then start sending you targeted ads for the upcoming final season.

No, Google isn’t reading your mind, they’re reading your shirt because they can see you and now they know you’re amped to see who wins and more susceptible to ads.

If this doesn’t creep you out, it should because it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Google can also hear you – your conversations of an intimate nature, your crying jags, your fits of laughter. All of it. And what do they do with it? They sell your information to the highest bidder.

What’s more, the information they gather is for Google to use however they see fit and if you’re wondering “how the hell is this legal?” wonder no further, it is. There are no laws keeping them from peeping.

And just how are they planning on doing this, you ask? Well, the patent was awarded to the development team associated with Nest thermostats. So, maybe you want to rethink that smart thermostat and cool and heat your house the old-fashioned way.

Look, we’ve already given up our privacy. Facebook and Instagram track our every move, Alexa is listening to us, and way too many people in tech have tape over their laptop cameras for us to be surprised by this overture. As sure as winter, it was coming.

However, we may balk and say, “Well, this is a bridge too far!” and it is, but it’s too late. We did this to ourselves when we unwittingly invited them into our homes. Did you really think these corporations had your best interests in mind? 

Remember, if the product is free, you are the product. 

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