Dhyana Levey depends on Alexa, Amazon’s virtual personal assistant, to listen to music, as a timer, and to get answers to random questions. Her daughter Audrey often asks Alexa for a joke “and we get terrible knock-knock jokes,” the Oakland resident said.
Alexa is one of the most widely used, but by no means the only, smart-home gadget to be gaining traction on the market. It is now possible to whip out your phone at work and fire up your crockpot, turn on the lights and heat, unlock and re-lock the front door, play music and watch what’s happening in real time in every room at your home.
The latter function, which is accomplished through video-streaming cameras from companies like Nest, has proved especially helpful for Valerie Crowell of Concord.
“I check in on Bubba every day,” Crowell said, referring to her 85-pound Doberman. She could even speak to Bubba if she so chose, but “he gets freaked out that he can hear my voice but can’t figure out where I am,” Crowell said.
Mishaps with home gadgets can happen, though, as Berkeley resident Kimberly Kradel discovered.
Kradel was housesitting for some out-of-town friends when she got an unsettling surprise. She discovered three Nest cameras streaming activity in the house live to the friends — but only after she had walked to her bag from the shower naked.
“I ripped out the cameras when I found them and put them in a brown paper bag and gave (the friends) a lecture when they got back,” Kradel said.
Such an unwelcome incident is unlikely at 905 Hearst Ave., a West Berkeley home that has recently found a buyer and is pending sale. Usually, homeowners add their own home gadgets, but Red Oak Realty agents Derrick Tyler and Mark Lederer, gadget geeks themselves, decided to offer the home complete with a smart system.
“I ripped out the cameras when I found them and put them in a brown paper bag.”
Lederer said his team included the tech package “because we saw it as valuable to the high-tech homeowners who are prevalent in the Bay Area.”
The house has a wireless router stashed in the closet, connected to a Sonos music system, an August locking system and a Nest thermostat, Lederer said.
The August locking system provides keyless access that lets homeowners control and monitor their doors from their phones. It attaches to an existing deadbolt, so owners can still use their keys when they choose.
The Nest thermostat can be controlled remotely through a smartphone and also shows the time, temperature and weather.
With the Sonos system, it’s possible to have speakers in every room, each one of which can play different music.
“The beauty of Sonos is that it integrates into the wireless,” Lederer said. “You plug the speakers in and can play any music, from Pandora or Spotify, you have access to. Each of these speakers acts as a separate zone. You could play rock in the cottage and classical music in the house.” The house at 905 Hearst is a single-family dwelling with a separate cottage.
The wireless router is attached to the Comcast cable system. To operate the various gadgets — the Sonos music system, the thermostat and the August locking — the homeowner can either download the apps on his or her cell phone, use a free app called HomeKit that combines all three, or use iPads that come with the house, Lederer said.
The agents installed a wireless iPad charger in the kitchen. The charger is magnetically attached to the wall and charges through the magnetic system. The iPad can be detached and used anywhere in the house, Lederer said.
There’s also an iPad wall panel in the upstairs bedroom and one in the cottage so people can unlock or lock the front door, turn sound on or off or control the temperature from the bedroom and cottage.
Should the new homeowners choose to purchase Amazon’s Echo smart speaker, they could also use voice commands to accomplish these ends. Alexa lives inside the speaker and offers users the ability to dictate orders to control products throughout their homes.
“Technology is moving in the direction of scalability and versatility,” Lederer said. This means that if the homeowner wants to add new gadgets — say, a crockpot that can be controlled remotely — it’s much easier than adding new elements has been in the past. “If you want to add devices, it’s just through the Wi-Fi network. You don’t have to run a wire,” Lederer said.