Not every homeowner wants nor appreciates a “smart home.” Many have no idea what that term even means. In a worse-case scenario, the term invokes images of AI run amuck, Alexis and Siri conspiring to take over the world…or at least take over the kitchen. Home builders know this isn’t close to a problem but converting a prospective buyer to a smart home devotee can be a challenge.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a great deal of economic pain across the world. States and the federal government saw the need for relief to mitigate the impact on citizens and companies alike. After four years of a steady, upward trajectory, rent growth flattened in 2020. Due in part to pandemic-related issues, rent growth in December 2020 was up just 0.4% from 2019. One approach was to offer eviction protection, preventing landlords from evicting tenants who were behind in their rent due to the pandemic’s effects.

For example, in California the governor and legislature moved to protect millions of tenants from eviction and property owners from foreclosure due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. These protections apply to tenants who declare an inability to pay all or part of the rent due to a COVID-related reason. Tenants are still responsible for paying unpaid amounts to landlords, but those unpaid amounts cannot be the basis for an eviction.

Workers beware: robots are building houses, onsite, and on time. According to SQ4D, homes built by robots will help solve the affordable housing crisis and they have proof. SQ4D has listed for sale the first 3D printed home in the United States, a residential property printed on site using SQ4D’s ARCS (autonomous robotic construction system). They say this is the first 3D printed home slated to receive a certificate of occupancy and is listed on MLS for sale as new construction for $299,999.

The 3D printed home, on Long Island in Riverhead, NY, features over 1,400 square feet of living space plus a 750-sq.ft. 2 ½ car garage on a ¼ acre. The home includes 3 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, and features an open floor plan. Built with concrete, it delivers more strength and durability than conventional wood-frame construction and includes a 50-year limited warranty on their 3D printed structures.

With most convention halls shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic, trade shows have gone digital, many for the first time. Gone is the opportunity to touch the metal, sit in the seat, or participate in the live demo of the latest tools and equipment. But all is not lost, virtually speaking, as video and news releases are popping up in droves from events like the IBS (Intl. Builders Show).

For example, Schneider Electric showcased its Wiser Energy Monitor, Square D Energy Center, and new connected wiring device ranges for builders seeking ways to drive efficiency and sustainability. These new smart solutions allow builders to differentiate their homes through increased electrical system connectivity, transparency, and enhanced energy control.

With apologies to Jerry Lee Lewis, the pandemic seems to have generated at least one new approach to affordable modular housing, one with a whole lot of shakes going on—on the outside. Coventry Log Homes is now offering Tando’s Beach House Shakes for the exterior of their “hybrid” Adirondack Willow log home style. This concept allows homeowners to customize the exterior to fit their style and budget. Coventry Log Homes believes demand is skyrocketing due to the pandemic, with a 50-50 split between permanent and second homes.

It was very interesting to learn from the (virtually) giant CES (Consumer Technology Assn.) in 2021 that many of the exhibited, virtually of course, products will find their way into homes around the world in the coming months. Some will be purchased by consumers directly while others will be incorporated in new home construction. Many will help owners to manage energy use and aid in the fight against emissions and environmental damage.

It is critical to cut down on emissions as homes are expected to become the single largest consumer of electricity, surpassing industry, and therefore the largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. This has been accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic as more people stay at home or work remotely from home causing home energy usage to increase an average of 20% in 2020.

Obviously, 2020 was a bad year for many people and industries. Among the few positive elements was a strong market for low-interest mortgages, and that led to housing starts ending the year on a strong note. Led by a solid, double-digit gain in single-family starts, overall housing starts increased 5.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.67 million units, according to a report from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The December reading of 1.67 million starts is the number of housing units builders would begin if development kept this pace for the next 12 months. Within this overall number, single-family starts increased 12% to a 1.34 million seasonally adjusted annual rate. The multifamily sector, which includes apartment buildings and condos, decreased 13.6% to a 331,000 pace.

We’ve come a long way from the ancient practice of hand copying manuscripts. There was movable type (Thanks, Gutenberg), and hot metal type (Thanks, Mergenthaler), and typewriters, both manual and electric (Thanks, a lot of people), leading up to computerized typesetting and, of course, the ubiquitous computer-connected ink cartridge or laser printer we have today. Oh, and now printers are not just for words on paper; printers can generate physical products, as well.

The additive manufacturing 3D printers that were creating small parts in the 1980s, under the term “rapid prototyping,” have developed into large machines that can create buildings. Indeed, 3D printing technology for construction has significantly advanced in the past 5 years, with innovation in robotics, material science, and software. After years of R&D, the market is nearing the stage where companies are moving beyond pilots and demonstration projects to selling their products, including 3D construction printers, full buildings, and building components.

Retail giant Amazon has established itself as the go-to site for…everything. Its CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, has been buying up smaller companies for years while building out the core business of online marketing and retail selling. Amazon has been dabbling in so many markets, from newspapers (The Washington Post) to cloud computing (AWS), that hearing they are expanding to housing shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The new Housing Equity Fund Amazon has established will preserve and create equitable housing through below-market loans and grants to housing partners, public agencies, and minority-led organizations, initially in three cities with strong present and future Amazon connection.

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