Is The Home Automation Business In Foreclosure?

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Ask any good custom installer or top high end AV dealer what is their favorite brand to sell and it almost always is the same answer. Crestron. Home automation and system control offered the custom installer not just profitable hardware to sell but lucrative, non-user-friendly programming that provided sexy results for the customer and respectable profits for the reseller. Drapes went up and down, lights dimmed, music gently poured in from distant servers and life was good. That is until the real estate market went into the crapper.

There is no denying that Crestron and other top high end home automation products have "WOW" written all over them but with a reported one in eight homes currently in foreclosure, many of the homes that would be wired for sound, video and other trickery are now selling for half or less of what they were worth or would have been worth in 2006.

One dealer told us that their "Master Crestron programmer" quit to take a job in another field and that the design firm had no intention of replacing him and his nearly six figure salary. Three years ago, I had dealers personally calling me asking me if I knew of anyone who would go to work for them at $100,000 a year programming high profile home automation systems. That's a mighty fall.

What's hot today is the more user friendly system. While not as sexy as industry leader Crestron, products from the likes of say, Control4 can accomplish many of the same feats at one quarter of the price than the more lofty systems, which for the $1,000,000 house that used to be $2,300,000 a few years ago - make perfect sense. Moreover, on the more affordable side, products like Harmony and Pronto remotes offer user-programmable, hand-held remotes that ,with the help of a PC and $300 of your hard earned cash, can make one hell of a system controller. For those with more time than programming money, they can take stock programming for a product like a receiver or a Blu-ray player and customize the experience beyond the already good stock programming.

The world of home automation isn't going anywhere. It's just suffering from the collapse of the real estate market and the deep recession worse than other sectors of consumer electronics. The good news for high end home automation is that it can be used to manage a "green" home including HVAC control, lighting scenes, power consumption, window shades and more. Green sells and will sell even better when the real estate market stabilizes. For that reason alone, home automation will be fine, especially on the high end. The good news for those who don't have $7,000 for a wireless touch-screen remote for their theater: there are far less expensive system control products out there that do the job at a fraction of the price.

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