When Shari Abramson’s Tesla gets within 70 feet of her North Bethesda residence, her garage door opens automatically, as if to welcome her home after a long day of shuttling her two young boys to and from school, sports practice and playdates. As she crosses the threshold into her 10,000-square-foot house, the push of a single button on the palladium keypad mounted in the foyer can activate her ambience of choice by simultaneously raising lights, opening blinds, setting the temperature and turning on the TV.
“It’s really as simple as pressing a button,” Abramson says of operating the advanced systems that run throughout her family’s smart home. “The technology is intuitive.”
This past June, Abramson and her husband, Brian, moved their children, ages 7 and 9, and two dogs—a Great Dane and a Bernedoodle—into the technologically forward house they had spent a year and a half building. After the family’s previous home burned down in an electrical fire in 2016, the Abramsons decided to rebuild on the same 1-acre lot, constructing the home of their dreams with all the bells, whistles and gadgets that the market had to offer.
“When young girls are growing up, they are imagining what their wedding is going to be like; I always imagined what my house was going to be like,” says Brian Abramson, a Potomac native and third-generation builder whose grandfather founded The Tower Companies, a Rockville-based real estate development firm that Abramson co-owns.
Abramson describes the style of his dream house as “chateau chic,” but while the exterior may have an “Old World, French country” feel, the inside is decidedly modern. In addition to six bedrooms, five full bathrooms and three half baths, an indoor basketball court and an elevator, the sprawling house boasts state-of-the-art lighting, security, sound, entertainment and heating/cooling systems, all of which the Abramsons can easily control through their smartphones.
The Abramsons’ house is one of millions of smart homes across the country. To qualify as “smart,” according to a definition created by Coldwell Banker Real Estate and the technology media outlet CNET, a house must have a reliable internet connection and a smart security or temperature system, plus two other smart features, such as lighting or appliances. Smart technology ranges from Bluetooth devices and virtual assistants such as Alexa that can be purchased at stores like Best Buy to fully integrated home systems that can cost as much as $300,000 to install, depending on the size of the home, according to vendors. By 2022, more than 60 million North American homes will be designated as “smart,” according to the Swedish research firm Berg Insight. The popularization of smart homes dates back more than a decade, says Christian Vives, chief operating officer of A.B.E. Networks, a technology integration firm in Rockville. “The advent of the smart home as it’s known today came about with the introduction of the smartphone,” says Vives, whose company serves hundreds of clients throughout the Washington, D.C., region. “Prior to that, you had remote controls [that weren’t integrated]. Once the smartphones were in everybody’s pocket, you had a remote control in your pocket—all you had to do was put an app on. The market exploded at that point because the interface is what was missing.”
This interface can be seen in its most advanced form through smart home automation systems that integrate technologies in a way that doesn’t require homeowners to spend time accessing individual apps to control their environment. The Abramsons use the Savant system to create “scenes” that tap their various smart systems to produce customized ambiences for dinner parties, outdoor entertaining, slumber parties and other family events. For example, when the Abramsons want to watch a movie with their children on the weekend, they select the “movie night” scene on their smartphones or one of the four iPads mounted throughout their home, and with a push of a button the blinds go down, the lights dim and Apple TV turns on.
Today’s sophisticated home technology has left some homeowners intimidated. “The biggest misconception that customers have with home technology is, ‘I don’t want it because it’s going to be overly complicated,’ ” says Ray Sobrino, executive vice president of construction at Sandy Spring Builders, the Bethesda-based custom home building company that worked on the Abramsons’ home and where Brian Abramson is a partner. “It takes a little education to explain that the technology has come a long way, and it’s all very simple. If you can use your cellphone to make a call, you can use everything in this house. Technology shouldn’t be seen as overwhelming.”