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 Builders Speak Out 

Tony Crasi of Crasi Homes Inc. has built a long career through professionalism and hard work. He is a Licensed State Energy Auditor, a Certified Green Building Professional and an Aging in Place Specialist.

Tony is also the State Code Chairman 2016 of the Ohio Home Builder’s Association, an AIA Associate and the National Director of the National Association of Home Builders, Washington DC. Connected Design sat down with Tony to find out what today’s homeowners deem important in a new dwelling and how design and technology professionals can work better together.

Connected Design: Please tell us about yourself and your business.

Tony Crasi: Our company, Crasi Homes Inc., is a residential design-build firm that takes clients from a napkin sketch through move in day. We work both in the high-end new housing/renovation markets as well as with very affordable inner city housing.

Our approach is simple. When we meet with our clients for the first time, we find it is more important to listen than to talk. That way we get a feel of what they’re trying to accomplish and what challenges they face. Then we organize their thoughts and guide them through the design process hopefully meeting their needs and resolving their challenges. It’s my opinion that the key to a successful construction project is thoughtful and thorough planning, which we strive to do on every project.

While we’re capable of designing and building very high-end historically correct homes, we try very hard to offer practical and affordable solutions that everyone can afford. We take the same approach when it comes to home technology, trying to offer more for less through thorough planning.

CD: How is the current state of your business?

TC: Right now we are very lucky to have too much work and are finally looking to expand our management team. Like most businesses that made it through the recession, we found ways to do more with less to keep our doors open during the tough times. What that translated to is 100-hour weeks and a few more wrinkles on my face, but, we made it through and now we’re busy again, which is a very good problem.

CD: Would you say that some form of home technology is ubiquitous in the projects you currently see? What is most important to your clients?

TC: Without question home technology in some form or fashion has become part of every project, even affordable housing. Whether it’s a simple security system or a fully automated home, home technology has become part of what we do.

The example I like to use when a homeowner asks why I feel home technology is important, is resale. I ask them if they would buy a new car without power windows or power steering? When they look at me like I’ve lost my mind, I remind them it wasn’t all that long ago when those features weren’t standard but rather some fancy extra that most people could do without. Try to sell a car today without those very common features!

As for what’s important to my clients, I like to first look at what they present as problems or challenges during our question sessions. Then I look for solutions to those challenges within the world of technology. Here’s an example. I had an elderly client a number of years ago who was a retired art teacher and was the walking definition of frugal. During the initial phase of design, I asked her if she had any interest in home technology and she promptly answered that she didn’t need such a luxury.

When we started designing for her, I asked if she wanted nice lighting to highlight a lifetime’s worth of her work, she, of course, said yes. Then I asked her if she wanted to fumble with eight different switches and settings or would she rather have one or two switches that could set the mood with one touch she said of course, but none of that fancy technology. I said, of course, no fancy technology, just a stock item from one of our lighting manufacturers.

The key is to offer technology as a solution to a problem rather than having it just to have it. You put a roof on your home to keep the water out, that’s a solution to a problem just like eliminating the frustration of fumbling with eight switches for an elderly client.

CD: When it comes to burgeoning technology in the home environment, what is the best way NAHB members can work with CEDIA members?

TC: The best way for both associations to benefit from working together is to constantly meet and discuss how they can best interact. NAHB members should be discussing their challenges with CEDIA members and then hopefully our CEDIA members will offer different forms of technology to meet those challenges.

CD: What mistakes do you most commonly see on the job site that people are making in regards to incorporating smart home technology into the project? How can these be avoided?

TC: It’s not just a missed connection or an overlooked item that’s the problem. The problem is much bigger. Many builders, not all but quite a few, miss opportunities to set themselves apart from their competition because they don’t take the time up front to plan. A simple sound system or one room of decorative mood lighting could make the difference in a sale but becomes a missed opportunity because of a lack of planning. Even if the initial budget doesn’t allow for anything extra every person building a home today should at the bare minimum install wiring in areas that will become inaccessible once they’re covered with drywall. It’s all in the planning.

The way to avoid missing these opportunities is to first take the time to research what’s available in home technology and to see what other people are doing around the country. Builders should also attend trade shows like the International Builder’s Show where they can sit through countless classes that will open their eyes to what’s available.

I had a builder tell me he didn’t have time to do research, he was way too busy trying to make money. So I told him he should try this new and fairly obscure research tool called Google. I said maybe he might get an idea or two that just might help him make a little more money.
Once they have a general feel for what’s available, they should meet with someone who specializes in home technology and discuss options and pricing. It’s really that easy.


CD: What is the one thing that home technology professionals can do with builders to ensure a smooth working relationship and hopefully be pulled into future projects as “a team”?

TC: “Communication.” Because this is all so new, there’s a natural tendency to be skeptical. Will the system fail and will I get a call that I have no idea how to answer? Will I look foolish in front of my customer? You need to communicate with the builder and help them understand that technology isn’t any different than any other part of the house. Do I know how to fix the furnace when it stops blowing hot air? No, I call my HVAC guy or girl, and they come out to fix the problem. It really is that simple.

Like any other supplier or subcontractor, the goal should be to become the go-to person when the topic of Home Technology comes up. You need to become the person the builders rely on like the plumber of the framer. Someone they know they can trust to get the job done on time and within the budget and most importantly because this is something new, that you’ll be there when there’s a problem. Happy and satisfied customers = repeat business.

CD: Anything else you would care to add?

TC: I would emphasize that when you’re trying to sell technology to the average person, you should offer it as a solution to a problem and not a nifty or shiny toy. Most people are smart shoppers and will spend a little extra if they see value. You create value by understanding the needs of your customer and then filling those needs.