As competition for market share gets tight—and nowhere is it tighter than in Southern California—investing in technology can be a boon to the production builder, no matter the size of the operation.
Offering solar power and home automation standard is just part of how one small SoCal production builder is staying ahead of the crowd and distinguishing its premier properties.
Founded in 1994, California Home Builders is now including solar panels from SolarCity and Clare Controls home automation systems in each of its roughly 200 new homes each year. Today, the majority of the company’s new builds are starter homes, and the company is also finishing up two communities in the Los Angeles County, the Capri Sherman Oaks and the El Dorado Collection, in which the Clare Controls system will be introduced.
California Home Builders started as a custom builder, which is how CEO Shawn Evenhaim was exposed to the idea of the smart home. The company eventually shifted to infill projects and now specializes in small-to-large subdivisions and multifamily homes in Los Angeles, Calif. About 60 percent of the homes built are infill, with the other 40 percent being multifamily homes.
Evenhaim claims that California Home Builders was the first company in the area to include solar as standard on all its homes three years ago. He grew up in Israel, where solar panels can be found on just about every home. When he came to the United States, he was shocked to see that it hadn’t caught on.
He chose to primarily work with SolarCity as they are dominating the market.
“I know some people perceive builders as not concerned about the environment,” says Evenhaim. “I think that life is all about balance.”
As a developer, he focuses on finding products that will have the least impact on the environment as possible while providing a comfortable environment for the homeowner.
In Search of the Smart Home Solution
Evenhaim says that cars and phones are smart, so why not homes?
For the past 20 years, Evenhaim has been looking to build smart homes to add to that comfort level. IBM began a smart home initiative 18 years ago, but the operation did not work out. Evenhaim was frustrated that in the world of smart phones and smart cars, only high-end homes could be smart. Clare Controls brought the opportunity to standard homes.
California Home Builders offers more than the basic Clare Controls package. The system controls some of the lights, locks, garage door, security cameras and thermostat. If the buyer wants more features, they can certainly add on.
“Their whole life is in their phone, so why shouldn’t their house be controlled from their phone?” Evenhaim asks.
The package takes up approximately 3 percent of the construction cost in first time buyer homes. Evenhaim explains that it is not a huge expense, especially if it is all done up front, and consumers are willing to pay for it. The installer is going to charge the builder a lot less if he or she installs it in every home, but the cost will increase if it’s done on a case by case basis, with the homeowner identifying what they want or don’t want.
After researching numerous companies, California Home Builders chose Clare Controls for its ease of use, programming and aesthetics. People of all ages are able to interface with it.
“The use that they are going to get out of it is priceless,” Evenhaim says. “For the first time buyers, they hardly expect to have that.” But their lifestyles demand this type of technology.
They are the market who wants that control. They want to be able to unlock the door for their parents, control the thermostat from bed and other conveniences. As they see this technology more and more, they will demand it from homebuilders. So long as it’s affordable, Evenhaim says there is no reason not to include it.
Other Tech Finds
Other technologies that come as standard are prewiring for satellite dish, network, LEDs and USB plugs.
“These are the things people are excited about, because it’s not something they had at their apartment that they were renting, or something they see in every project,” says Evenhaim.
As for marketing, California Home Builders relies primarily on their website and model home. The model home allows buyers to see the technology in action and get demonstrations from the sales team. The clients are also able to get hands-on experience with the systems. This also helps with upselling technology.
Evenhaim compared model homes to cars. If the dealer shows him a tricked out car, that’s what he expects to get, rather than a stripped down version. The same goes for his homebuyers.
“We want to give our buyers more than they expected,” he says. “We always want to be ahead of the curve.”
In the next few years, Evenhaim expects home automation to become standard and he will add new features to stay on top. “We always see ourselves as leaders in the industry.” If people follow in their footsteps, it must mean they are doing something right.