High-tech advances hold out the promise of home computers that can adjust the thermostat, control the lights, start dinner, track appointments, entertain the kids, mow the lawn, let the dog out -- the possibilities are endless. In its housing forecast for this decade, the The National Association of Home Builders predicts new homes will include more and more high-tech features. Still, does everyone want technology to control that much of their lives?
That's the question the Oakland, California, market research firm American LIVES set out to answer with a survey of recent homebuyers. The company found homebuyers fell into three groups, which they dubbed Bona Fide Tekkies, Maybe A Tekkie and Not Really a Tekkie.
Research Director Gabrielle Kuzsel says there were "no major surprises" in the survey -- but the findings provide some "concrete examples" and confirm a lot of suspicions about what homebuyers mean when they talk about going "high tech."
Only 24 percent of the respondents could be classified as Bona Fide Tekkies -- those who openly embrace what new technology has to offer. People falling into this category made more money than those in the other two groups, and they already owned more computers, used more phone lines and spent more time on the Internet. A third said someone in their household had their own Web page.
Bona Fide Tekkies view technology as "a positive force that will make lives easier and more productive." However, they are more willing than people in the other groups to work a little at learning how to operate new technology or products. American LIVES says this group is "excited by the possibilities of smart homes, smart appliances and all sorts of wiring."
The largest percentage of buyers, 43 percent, fall into the middle group -- the Maybe Tekkies. These are the folks who like what technology offers, but they're willing to let others work out the kinks and wait for prices to drop before running out to buy the latest gadget. The survey found "92 percent believe that technology will eventually make our lives easier and 91 percent are excited about the possibilities of technology in the home." Members of this group have mastered programming the VCR, but "their patience level is slightly lower than that of the Bona Fide Tekkies" when it comes to operating new technology.
A third of the respondents were classified Not Really a Tekkie -- the type of person who still sees 12:00 flashing on that VCR. American LIVES found the majority of people in this group "believe that technology will eventually make our lives easier." Still, Not Really Tekkies have "substantial trepidation surrounding computers and the effect they will have on our lives." Fifty-seven percent agreed that "the last thing they need in their homes is more technological stuff." Demographically, people who fell into this group had slightly lower incomes than those in the other groups, and they tended to be slightly older.
Across all three groups, about 60 percent of those surveyed think "houses should be built like new cars with computerized controls." Nearly 64 percent said they would be interested in having "an integrated 'smart house' system." However, close to 18 percent think "high-tech homes are a silly idea."
The American LIVES findings are based on a survey conducted last summer, results of which have just recently been made public. The company sent surveys to people in eleven states who had purchased their homes within the previous calendar year. The surveys went to buyers of new and resale homes priced between $100,000 and $500,000. The firm received back 498 surveys.
Carol Ochs is a Washington-based reporter who covers new home trends.