Find out what really works and what smart home updates and upgrades have proven value, from security features to cleaning products.

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As a long-time, smart home enthusiast and writer for Inman News I’ve had the opportunity to test a lot of different products here in my own home, including 17 different smart locks, but I’m always asked what I recommend.

Smart home security options

Starting at the front door, we have a Schlage lock, it’s just a tried-and-true option from a reputable brand. It connects via wi-fi, has a keypad on the front and good battery life. We like that you don’t need an extra bridge or hub and that it works with our doorbell, so if we see someone, we know we can just unlock it right from within the app.

Speaking of doorbells, this is a great purchase that a lot of people are going to want to get on their home right away. No matter which brand you pick, I recommend going with a wired version. This will give you access to activity zones and having constant power allows the doorbell to start recording earlier to capture more of an event.

The cheaper models may not work with your existing chime and will require either a plug-in or get announced over your smart speakers. Having a compatible smart display such as an Amazon Echo Show, Google Hub, FireTV or Chromecast will allow you to see who is at the door in real time without pulling your phone out.

We’ve been long-time fans of the Ring ecosystem but have recently been testing Google’s new wired doorbell and absolutely love the facial recognition that it offers.

We’ve set up a multi-layer security system which includes both power over ethernet (PoE) cameras as well as wireless cameras that are either, plugged in, hardwired, battery or solar powered. Whenever possible I recommend avoiding battery-powered cameras as they rely on a sensor to detect motion to record, often they will miss a portion of the event and it can be a hassle to keep them all charged, especially in the winter months.

We use our wi-fi connected cameras primarily for live viewing and quick notifications, whereas our PoE cameras record locally to a Network Video Recorder (NVR) that is kept in a secure location and records 24/7. Each window and door has contact sensors. The security system itself is on both battery and cellular backup. 

Smart home switches

At our last house, we started with Leviton wi-fi switches, however we quickly realized that we had too many devices on our home network so with this home we went with Lutron Caseta with connects via its propriety network. The nice thing with the Caseta switches and dimmers is that they do work without a neutral wire so they are very easy to install.

For areas with three-way switches, multiple switches that control the same light we installed Lutron Pico remotes. This gives a nice consistent look, we’ve even added some pico remotes in places where there were not switches before. 

Our one complaint about these dimmers is that they’re flat so there is not that tactile feel when you’re reaching around the corner in the dark. Recently Lutron has addressed that issue with their new Diva & Claro line of Caseta products which look and feel similar to a standard rocker style switch.

Smart home voice assistant

When setting up your smart home be very mindful of what you label the rooms and the different products. That way when you connect to your voice assistant, it’ll be very intuitive to know what room you’re talking about. For example, I use the phrase living room whereas my wife calls it family room, so I just programmed it both ways, but you can imagine how confusing it would be if switches were labeled 1, 2, 3, etc. or not at all.  

Smart home vacuums

If you ever want to test your significant other’s patience, try testing a small army of robot vacuums while they’re working from home. After extensive testing we learned that you really get what you pay for. If you can afford it, it’s worth spending the money for features such as self-navigation, auto-emptying bins and self-cleaning mops. We’ve found that iRobot and Roborock have been the most reliable. 

Smart thermostats

Smart thermostats are great because you’ll save enough for it to pay for itself within a few months depending on your climate and current habits. It’s nice to be able to adjust the temperature from the app anywhere in the world or just shout at your favorite voice assistant to adjust without ever getting off the couch or out of bed.

Just make sure you’ve got a c-wire or the appropriate adaptor and that your system is compatible. Additional sensors that work with systems like Ecobee and Google’s Nest thermostat can also help balance out the temperature in your home based on where you are.

We’ve gotten so accustomed to being able to bark commands to control devices that I’ve actually placed smart speakers in every room of the house, and yes that includes the bathroom. If you don’t mind using last year’s model, you can find great deals around Black Friday and Amazon’s Prime Days. You should never pay full retail price for these; they’re always available in some sort of bundle.

As you dive deeper into smart home technology, eventually you’ll want to upgrade your home network. Do not buy a wi-fi extender as they can actually cut your speed in half. Instead, I highly recommend purchasing a mesh network such as Eero, Orbi or Google Wi-Fi 

The amount of smart home technology available today can be quite overwhelming, but don’t feel the need to rush out and buy everything at once. Determine which platform you’re going to use and then buy one or two things as you can afford them. You can go room by room or shop by category to build out your smart home over time.

Brandon Doyle is a Realtor at Doyle Real Estate Team — RE/MAX Results in Minneapolis and co-author of Mindset, Methods & Metrics – Winning as a Modern Real Estate Agent. You can follow him on Twitter.

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