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How long it takes to break even on smart home upgrades

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Smart home features can spruce up any house but when you’re upgrading to these features, where does the spending end and the savings begin?

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Smart home devices are primarily marketed as adding convenience and luxury to your home. They allow you to interconnect your appliances with your smartphone and to monitor and control your utilities remotely. But do smart home devices actually save you money?

Smart devices like speakers and music players are obviously designed to allow you the convenience of playing whatever music you want, wherever you want it. But smart devices that monitor or adjust utilities like heating and water could also save you money on your bills.

Joel Lee over at MakeUseOf has crunched the numbers. He’s published a rundown of the most money-saving smart devices, and how long it will take for the devices to “pay for” themselves.

Smart thermostats are perhaps the most obvious devices for saving you money on utilities. Nest says that their thermostat will save you 13 percent on heating and cooling; ecobee3 claims an even more impressive 23 percent.

Comparing these numbers with U.S. Department of Energy statistics on average household utility costs, Lee calculated that a Nest thermostat will pay for itself in just over two years, while an ecobee3 will pay for itself in just one year.

Rachio is a smart sprinkler device that maintains your lawn watering schedule. It makes sure that the sprinklers turn off on rainy days, conserves water when it’s cold out, and optimizes the watering schedule for maximum absorption.

Rachio claims it can help you cut your spending on water for the lawn by 50 percent. Lee estimates a more conservative 30 percent, but even so, says that the device will pay for itself within 15 months.

Plus, he adds, a smart sprinkler system will also increase the overall value of your home, letting you set a higher price point should you decide to sell it.

Lee wasn’t particularly impressed by LED lightbulbs, pointing out that it will take almost the full lifecycle of the LED bulb to recoup the expense of buying them in the first place. The savings are a bit better, he says, if you compare them to the costs of running incandescent bulbs, and if you skip over the big brand names in favor of lesser known, but also less expensive LEDs.

Lastly, Lee recommends smart moisture sensors. These devices can warn you of leaks, roof damage, and other water damage long before you might notice the effects. If these sensors can give you a heads up on even one potential water-damage disaster, the device will clearly have paid for itself.

It appears that smart home devices could be worth the investment, although it’s important to note that these devices are notoriously insecure. While you may save money on your utilities, one bad hack could easily cancel out these money-saving benefits.

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Real Estate Technology

Need a scheduling tool that can do it all? SavvyCal has you covered

(TECH NEWS) There’s new scheduling software tool that helps people schedule meetings with you and doesn’t put the burden completely on the recipient.

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Computer on a desk in open office with SavvyCal, a scheduling tool, open on the computer.

One of the worst parts of meetings is setting up the meeting itself. Figuring out who’s free and when can sometimes be a time suck. In the past, we’ve written about several scheduling tools that say they will make things better. Now, here is another new tool that says it can do more than what other meeting software tools had to offer.

Meet SavvyCal, an indie SaaS company whose “mission is to cut the friction and awkwardness out of scheduling time with people.” Founded by Derrick Reimer, a full-stack developer and co-founder of Drip, the company is solving the age-old problem of scheduling meetings.

“There are a hundred and one scheduling tools to help you avoid the awkward dance of finding a time to meet. While most of them are convenient for the person sending a link to book a time with them, are they actually convenient for the person receiving the link?” said Reimer.

Unlike other apps, the scheduling tool makes it easy for both the sender and the recipient to schedule meetings. It also has valuable features that other tools do not.

So, what features set SavvyCal apart from other scheduling software?

Personalized Links
SavvyCal says it’s an alternative to Calendly because it’s picking up where the pioneer left off. While Calendly lets you schedule appointments, it doesn’t offer the personalization that SavvyCal does. SavvyCal prioritizes personalization by letting you create individual scheduling links for your recipients. For instance, instead of having a string of numbers that don’t offer much information, you can add names to the link titles to create custom URLs.

Overlay Calendar
The scheduling tool quickly lets you find a time that works for everyone, and the company says it does more than what Doodle can do for you. Doodle is great for group scheduling, but it falls short when scheduling 1:1 meetings. SavvyCal improves upon Doodle by allowing your recipients to overlay their calendar over yours so a mutual availability slot is easily found.

Multiple Calendars
SavvyCal says it wasn’t just made for internal meetings, like scheduling software Woven. With Woven, you can keep track of your digital calendar by tagging and labeling events. However, all the events live in the same calendar, and it doesn’t take into consideration external meetings. SavvyCal solves Woven’s problem by having multiple calendars that can be cross-checked for conflicts.

Ranked Availability and Limit Scheduling Frequency
With the tool, you can set preferred times and rank them in a certain order so people are encouraged to pick a time that you secretly want them to choose. And, the tool protects you from having a “meeting overload” by letting you set booking limits. For instance, you can set limits on the number of meetings that can be booked per day, week, or month.

In addition, SavvyCal offers more features like availability presets, multiple meeting durations, and customizing availability on the fly.

Overall, the company says the scheduling tool makes “scheduling collaborative instead of a nuisance.” It’s a good alternative to start getting people to schedule meetings with you while not placing all the burden on the recipient.

So far, it’s getting good reviews. If you’d like to check it out, the interactive demo on their website is a good start.

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Real Estate Technology

Realtors and agents, take advantage of your proptech

(TECH NEWS) As the pandemic makes proptech even hotter, savvy real estate pros need to know what tech tools can do for their business.

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Realtor outlining a home using Proptech to potential homebuyers.

Real estate industry experts have a message for Realtors and agents: Get with the proptech program.

Yes, the industry reacted to the pandemic-fueled market crash in the spring by jumping on video conferencing platforms and ramping up virtual tours, but there’s a lot more tech that real estate pros could be taking advantage of.

“Videoconferencing technology isn’t new, but we’re slower to adopt technologies than we’d like to admit,” Nick Bailey, chief customer officer for RE/MAX, LLC, said during this week’s 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo. “The reason is that we don’t want to see or hear ourselves. We have to get over that and use it.” (Pro tip for Zoom users: If you don’t want to see yourself, use the Hide Myself feature. Then you won’t be distracted by any pandemic weight gain.)

The pandemic has made a couple of things sparkling clear. As panelists in the “COVID-19 – Transforming How Realtors® Do Business” session agreed, technology was a huge driver in the industry’s V-shaped recovery after lockdowns. They also said trends spurred by COVID-19 aren’t going away.

Consumers love the efficiency and flexibility of being able to virtually tour 10 homes and visit only 3 or 4 top candidates. Also, many people will likely be uncomfortable touring houses for quite awhile.

Now the pandemic has helped demonstrate the value of proptech tools for Realtors and agents, who can use them for keeping in touch with clients, as well as for marketing and prospecting.

“If every agent can take away two pieces of technology to be more efficient, it will improve their business,” Bailey said.

Just a sample of the panel’s recommended tools:

It’s remote online notarization (RON) integrated with e-signatures that could be the biggest efficiency game-changer. However, there are few hurdles, which the Texas Land Title Association outlined in April: Many lenders and county clerks will not yet accept documents notarized online; there are a limited number of RON vendors and registered e-notaries; and consumers as well as industry professionals simply don’t understand how it works.

Still, integrating a tech ecosystem to create seamless, fully-digital transactions appears to be where the industry is headed. “Embracing title companies and lenders who have that ability for full electronic signings and closings will be important,” said Andy Ambrose, practice lead at DocuSign Notary.

For all that tech can do to save time and money, panelists agreed that nothing can replace the value of personal relationships for consumers – and for agents.

“For many real estate professionals, the pandemic reminded them about how much they love working with people and not just to sell real estate, but to check on their customers and families,” said Marilyn Wilson, managing partner of WAV Group and president of RETechnology.com.

For Bailey, the proptech surge has one really bright spot: “It has reminded every agent that they are the most important part of the real estate transaction, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

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Real Estate Technology

No sympathy for cancelled app encouraging ‘rebellious’ pandemic parties

(TECH NEWS) Apple and TikTok cancel Vybe Together’s accounts to prevent the secret party organizing app from promoting pandemic parties, while its founder cries foul and backpedals mightily.

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Group of people celebrating and cheers-ing with beverages, an example of unsafe pandemic parties.

Where can you find a fun secret party during COVID-19 restrictions?

Vybe Together: We’ve got you, party people! Check out these videos of wild, private bacchanalia you can join or throw! Be a rebel.

Apple and TikTok: Not on our watch.

Vybe Together: Waaah. So unfair, jk, we were talking about small, intimate get-togethers that are totally COVID-safe.

Vybe Together, an app promising to help people find secret parties in their area, in the era when parties are a bad idea, had the proverbial rug pulled out from under them when both Apple and TikTok put the kibosh on Vybe Together. Apple pulled the app off of its platform, and TikTok banned their channel. They cited that it goes against their community guidelines and COVID-19 regulations in several cities. Founder Alexander Dimcevski and the official Vybe Together Instagram account and website are currently backpedaling to beat the ban.

Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times tweeted the app into greater public awareness on Dec. 29, reporting the large secret pandemic parties they were promoting for New Year’s Eve. Alas, the tweet and likely numerous reports of the party app going against community and recommended COVID-19 guidelines, led Apple and TikTok to ditch Vybe Together before New Year’s Eve.

Despite Vybe Together’s founder’s cries of poor, pitiful me, and the app’s claim to the contrary, the intention to help people find and attend large scale private/secret parties was what they seemed to be showcasing. For example, on TikTok, the account showed videos of unmasked partygoers, attracting more of what the founder deemed, in an LA Times article, “the coolest people in the city.”

The official word on the Vybe Together website is that they are sorely misunderstood and innocent of any wrongdoing. Vybe Together’s current Instagram account hints at what the LA Times called “its outlaw intention” with its tagline “Get your rebel on. Get your party on.” According to various sources, the TikTok account featured videos of unmasked partygoers. The mere fact that app users had to submit their social media profiles and photos of them partying to vet appears to indicate they were trying to make their partygoers prove they wouldn’t report the illegal (or at least ill-advised) parties.

The official website now claims that it was merely an error in branding, and nothing more, and that of course they were only promoting small gatherings in people’s own homes. However, they had already promoted a rooftop party for NYU students prior to getting hit by the big Apple and TikTok ban hammer. This particular party was cross-promoted on Eventbrite (another platform notoriously promoting pandemic parties).

Dimcevski claims in the LA Times that he was “canceled by the liberal media.” The word from the app’s team seems to be a mix of feeling sorry for themselves, backpedaling because they got caught out, yet still promising to come back soon. In any case, it’s a mixed message and an unwelcome one, when cases and deaths are still surging in both New York City and Miami, where the app was promoting these private parties.

Apple and TikTok are privately owned companies with some responsibility to keep potentially illegal activity off their sites, a massive and ungratifying task. Are Apple and TikTok making an example of the app? Perhaps. Is Vybe Together the only platform out there promoting pandemic parties with the potential to be super spreader events? Certainly not.

However, their flaunting and promoting parties seems reckless, callous, and dangerous in the face of CDC guidelines. With thousands of doctors, healthcare workers, local officials, and infectious disease experts worldwide pleading with the public to avoid gatherings with people outside their own household, even small ones, it’s difficult to muster sympathy for the app’s founder or team.

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