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Home technology: What’s important when you buy or sell a smart home?

Peter Miller
The Mortgage Reports contributor

In this article:

When you sell or purchase a smart home, one equipped with lots of home technology like security systems, connected thermostats, light bulbs, and energy saving appliances, protect yourself.

  1. List all devices in the home so you don’t miss anything
  2. If selling, remove all personal data and reset the devices. If buying, reset the devices and verify the privacy settings
  3. Check all the owners’ manuals for warranty information and tech support availability

New owners should open new accounts asap and install any critical updates.

Verify your new rate (Dec 12th, 2018)

Smart home technology: The future is here

Smart homes with home technology are part of the Internet of Things – the IoT. With a smart home, you can turn on a light or perform dozens of tasks from your favorite chair or from a thousand miles away.

But what if you buy or sell? Are there specific steps you need to take with smart devices? With a growing and complex list of devices, the answer is yes.

List all devices in the home so you don’t miss anything

It seems that almost every day there’s a new smart device vying for our attention. Not just virtual assistants and alarm systems, but even Internet-connected smart toothbrushes. This means if you’re selling, you need to make a list of all smart devices in your home. Divide them into items that stay and items that go.

Fixtures vs personal property

In general terms, “fixtures” are items attached to and intended to be part of the home. A built-in microwave is a fixture, but what about a microwave that sits on a counter and is plugged into a wall? The counter-top microwave is typically regarded as “personal property” and it moves with the seller.

The catch is that any item in the house can be identified in the sale agreement as a fixture. Seemingly built-in items can be defined as personal property. So, whatever the general rule, fixtures and personal property can be defined and redefined by the agreement of buyers and sellers.

Real estate listing and sale agreements commonly have areas where fixtures are listed. Be sure to include every device and system that will stay with the house.

If selling

Smart devices and systems can hold a lot of user-supplied data and information. New privacy policies in Europe – the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR – give product users more control over their information.

While we do not have a similar law, many US companies (but not all) are adopting new privacy policies as a result of data breaches, the misuse of digital information, and the fact that they operate in both the US and overseas.

Both you and the new owner need to be concerned about security and privacy. If big companies with massive security programs can have data breaches, then why not individual homes?

Will a hacker lock you out of the house? Can a thief open a door?  Will the air conditioning be on “high” on a frigid winter night, or that the garage door will go up and down every two minutes?

Remove all personal data and reset the devices. There’s no uniform way to remove personal data.  Sellers will have to go through each system that stays with the property to see if it represents a privacy issue and, if so, what you can do to clear the system.

When systems are going to stay with the property you may need to transfer ownership and billing and to create new passwords. Owner manuals and online posts may explain how to do this, alternatively, you may need to contact tech support.

If buying

New owners should open new accounts asap and install any critical home technology updates.

If you’re a buyer and have purchased a new home with lots of new home technology devices, you need to act quickly to protect such systems. Be sure to establish replacement accounts where required and always update passwords.

Get a list of all smart devices from the seller. You may want to make that part of your purchase agreement. Reset the devices and verify the privacy settings.

Even if you are buying a newly-constructed home, do this for your own safety. You don’t know who has enjoyed access to your new home and its systems.

Check owner manuals for warranty information and tech support availability.

Disposal

You may not want to include smart devices in your home when you sell it, or you may not want them left in place when you purchase a property. A related issue concerns disposal. Contact the local sanitation department for disposal information. The problem is that electronic systems are difficult to recycle because of the toxic materials they often contain.

Verify your new rate (Dec 12th, 2018)