Walls of wisdom
FM Magazine talks to Neil Palin, managing director of Intelligent Homes, and Mark Coombes, regional manager of Opus, about how property developers can benefit from home automation.
Home automation is all the rage nowadays. If you’re still drawing the curtains by hand every night, then you must be living in the dark ages. What do you mean the digital hi-fidelity sounds of your audio-visual system can’t be heard in every room of the house? And your kids have to suffer the indignity of manually inserting DVDs into the player? And what’s this got to do with facilities management you might wonder?
Facilities managers are much more familiar with building management systems (BMS), which are responsible for integrating, monitoring and controlling building services such as air conditioning, lighting, water, fire and security systems. Home automation systems are in a sense a micro version of a BMS, concerned with integrating and controlling the internal environment of an individual’s apartment or villa. But whereas a BMS is more complex and focused on engineering services, home automation is much more user friendly and chiefly concerned with entertainment and convenience.
Cutting-edge home automation systems typically comprise remote controls, keypads or touch panels (sometimes web-enabled for remote usage) that can control lighting, air conditioning, blinds and curtain controls, security systems, audiovisual systems and water systems (pools and sprinklers).
Such is the rising demand for home automation that the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) states that residential electronics systems professionals have emerged as the ‘fourth contractor’ in the building and remodelling industries alongside electrical, plumbing and HVAC professionals.
With around $300 billion having already been invested in the GCC to develop a number of residential, commercial and tourism projects, the potential for the regional home automation market is huge. According to the organisers of the Palme 2005 exhibition in Dubai, the size of the Middle East’s sound, lighting, audio visual and system integration solutions and equipment business is worth in excess of $1 billion, and is projected to be worth more than $2 billion within the next five years.
Since there is such a vast amount of new development coming up in the Emirates, it is going to be a buyer's market.
“Since there is a such a vast amount of new development coming up in the Emirates, it is going to be a buyer’s market,” says Neil Palin, managing director of Dubai-based Intelligent Homes, a systems installer and integrator for a number of leading home automation brands. Palin says that property developers are starting to think about incorporating home automation into their offerings to differentiate themselves from competitors. And, he says, there are two ways they are going about this: “First is to budget for it and offer it as standard. The cost is easily justified by a higher sale value and quicker sales. The second way is to at least pre-wire [buildings] and then use discounted prices offered by the solution provider as a revenue stream.”
One of the brands Intelligent Homes works with is Opus Technologies, a leading British designer and manufacturer of multiroom entertainment systems. And one such forward-thinking company to capitalise on consumer demand for home automation is Asteco, the UAE’s largest independent privately-held property management company.
In April 2005, Opus Technologies secured a contract with Asteco to supply Opus 500 multi-room entertainment systems in all 1,204 apartments of the Oceana and Jewel developments on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah. Meanwhile, Intelligent Homes has signed a contract with Opus to install all these systems as standard in each apartment. Lutron, a leading manufacturer of lighting controls, will provide and install the lighting systems.
This means that an owner of one of these properties will receive distributed audio and video smart home technology (in-built cabling, a master control unit, key pads on the walls, speakers in the ceilings and remote controls) and controlled lighting included in the price of the property.
We believe that this deal is the most prestigious multi-room project of its kind in the world today.
“In keeping with the region’s world-leading property development programme, we believe that this deal is the most prestigious multi-room project of its kind in the world today,” comments James Johnson-Flint, CEO of Opus Technologies.
In line with the build process, Intelligent Homes will begin pre-wiring in September 2005 with completion of installation due before handover on December 24, 2006. Oceana apartments are already being sold off-plan by Asteco, and Jewel apartments will soon be released for sale.
“Asteco developed a brief for Oceana and Jewel to be world-class and offer the very best specifications that are available on the market today including smart-home technologies,” says Elaine Jones, chief executive officer of Asteco. “We sought the best suppliers and installers, and found that the project-managed home automation solution offered by Intelligent Homes, Opus and Lutron offered excellence and value to the project and its homebuyers.”
While Asteco’s core business is property management, these developments will be the first where the company has actually bought the land themselves (from Nakheel, the premier real estate provider in Dubai) and is therefore the client and project manager.
Mark Coombes, regional manager for Opus, believes Asteco’s decision to provide home automation as standard will help them stand out when a large number of the ongoing major real estate developments in Dubai are completed. “Most of these buildings will be finished at roughly the same time, and I think that’s going to be around the end of next year,” he says. “You could have something like 200,000 to 300,000 apartments and villas on sale at roughly the same time. At least if yours is a little bit different, you will have a better chance of attracting buyers and retaining value.”
Coombes says that the key differentiating factors will firstly be how big the apartment is; secondly, what the view is like; and thirdly, the quality of the fixtures and fittings, which will include whether home automation is installed or not. As the GCC’s real estate market matures, residents will be less compulsive in their property purchases and will become increasingly demanding. And as people get more and more of a taste for home automation, they will come to expect a property to include it, much like fitted kitchens have come to be.
“They won’t just scramble over themselves as they did with the Emaar developments a year ago, saying ‘give me one, I don’t care what it is, please, please, just give me whatever it is!” says Coombes with a chuckle. “They will not do that in a year or so’s time. Once the property market has leveled off to a realistic point, the developer has to start putting this sort of technology in as standard.”
As far as price is concerned, Coombes says the cost to the developer of installing home automation systems compared to the prices of the properties is negligible. Oceana apartments range from 1.5 to 3 million dirhams in price, while the home automation systems are between 7,000 and 10,000 dirhams per apartment, says Coombes.
There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that in as little as five years, you will go to a developer and ask: 'What is the smart home package that comes with my home?'
“There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that in as little as five years’ time from now, you will go to a developer and ask: ‘What is the smart home package that comes with my home? Do I get security, controlled lighting, curtain control, blinds control, distributed audio and video? And it will be installed as standard, because it’s very difficult to put it in after the building is finished.”
Palin of Intelligent Homes agrees that it is preferable for the installers to be involved from the design stage, working alongside the MEPs (mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers) and interior designers. “It’s a good idea that part of the operator’s maintenance team is involved in the installation team,” he says. “Should a component fail at any time, there is someone on site who can simply replace the faulty component immediately.” Coombes adds that Opus will supply spare equipment to Asteco’s facilities management team in order for them to take care of any eventualities.
So impressed has Asteco been with the concept of installing home automation as inclusive in a property offering, that the company is implementing it in two other developments it will be managing: the 590-apartment World Trade Center Residence; and Victory Heights, 750 four-bedroom villas around the Ernie Els Golf Course in Sports City. “So Opus and Asteco made a very strong decision to partner, not only for what Asteco is building, but also for some of the projects that they are going to do facilities management for,” says Coombes.
And the interest doesn’t stop there. Sultan bin Sulayem and James Wilson, chairman and chief executive officer respectively of Nakheel, have expressed a keen interest in providing home automation as standard in 2,200 signature villas on The Palm. The pre-wiring is already under way. This bodes well specifically for the likes of Intelligent Homes and Opus, which are likely to get this contract, but also for the overall home automation market, whose numerous players are sure to take a piece of the pie.
“Dubai is growing so fast that there is room for all the integrators in the market,” says Palin. “It’s big enough for everyone.”