28 January 2014, The Daily Telegraph
Car stacking systems or fingerprint recognition technology? A fizzy water tap or underfloor heating? High-techery is the future for luxury homes, but what buyers value most is security and practicality by Zoe Dare Hall
Even on Surrey’s Wentworth Estate, where exquisite mansions routinely sell for several million (only for their insides to be ripped out and re-designed), Waterford House stands out for the lengths its owners have gone to with their in-house technology.
This showcase of electronic wizardry starts with the electric entrance gates whose keyless entry pads are programmed with different codes for each person (a handy way to keep an eye on when staff start and finish) to huge rooms where every mood is controlled by Lutron electronic panels. Beside the master bed are touch screens that run the bath – from the ceiling.
“Buyers have the perception that houses should be loaded with these kinds of intelligent systems – though if you are selling a place like this, you don’t necessarily need all the gadgets, just the wiring so the buyer can bolt on whatever they want,” says Rupert Wyatt from Barton Wyatt, which is marketing Waterford House for £4.25m.
There is no doubt that high-techery is the future for luxury homes: taps that dispense not just boiling or chilled but also fizzy water, kaleidoscopic systems that play music and films from anywhere in the house (or, indeed, your second or third homes) and car stacking systems that enable you to park multiple vehicles in one space.
This week, Samsung has announced its new push into the realm of home technology so smart it could be a paid-up member of Mensa. That means touchscreen washing machines that can assess how dirty your washing is – and then tell you on your iPhone when it’s clean – and gadgets that “understand our needs and put us in control”, according to Samsung’s chief executive BK Yoon.
But how much high-tech is desirable and when does it simply become daunting? Its purpose is to make life easier. But while the next generation, who are weaned on iPads, will feel at home in a place that runs entirely on touchscreen technology, however smart and successful today’s buyers are, there are many who simply can’t get to grips with a home that has fingerprint recognition screens instead of any visible switches, knobs or buttons to push.
“As technology becomes more intuitive, the fear of it is lessening,” says Peter Mackie from Property Vision buying agency. “Fingerprint recognition technology has only been used in a handful of properties at the very top end and is generally only used as a point of differentiation to highlight the enhanced specification.”
Separate handsets and media system controls have become outdated; now everything can be managed through one iPad. In the “Smart App-artment”, a showcase home in central London designed by technology company Cornflake, there are Lutron automated blinds which memorise, and imitate, your usage pattern to deter burglars when you’re away.
“The gadget all buyers love at the moment is glass which at the press of a button becomes opaque for privacy,” says David Adams, MD of John Taylor London, who has had to provide his own retina scans and fingerprints to gain access to some of the properties he is marketing. One such seven-storey house, South End in Kensington on sale for £13.75m, has a swimming pool that converts into a dance floor, a car lift and his and hers panic rooms.
But what buyers want more than anything from their fancy technology is security and practicality. That means electronic gates and cameras, secure parking (including one instance of a suede-lined garage to prevent scratches when opening the car door, says Camilla Dell from Black Brick buying agency) and underfloor heating. “Radiators take up too much wall space and prevent the owner from hanging art,” says Dell.
And more important than any gadget, she says, are the fundamentals – the overall quality of the property, materials, fixtures and fittings. Jo Eccles from Sourcing Property agrees. “Buyers should be looking at the property’s location and potential, not focusing on the technology, which can date quickly,” she says. “A stellar concierge service will trump luxury gadgets every time.”