Alexis Rivas opens his Mac laptop and zooms in on a 3D rendering of a house in Echo Park, a hip neighborhood in Los Angeles. Set off from the main house, there’s a small, modern structure that his company, Cover Technologies Inc., hopes to build. “You’ve got the kitchen here, a little stovetop, fridge,” Rivas says as he navigates around the 502-square-foot unit with his cursor. “And then we can take a walk around and go into the bedroom.”
It’s the kind of design that would typically cost a few thousand dollars in architecture fees, says Rivas, who co-founded Cover Technologies in 2014. The Los Angeles outfit can put together a proposal for just $250, using software to determine whether a specific property meets local and state requirements for adding a backyard unit. If building is allowed, the company designs one of its modular, factory-built structures to fit the plot. Homeowners often hesitate to take on a project like this, Rivas says over the whir of a drill in his company’s workshop, because “they’re expected to put a lot of time or money into the process without really getting a clear picture of what they can build.”
The housing crunch in many West Coast cities has revived interest in an old idea: the granny flat. Often called “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs, the free-standing structures can be manufactured off-site and plunked in a backyard for about $150,000, including permits and site work. Some housing experts are promoting ADUs as a small way to address the affordability crisis in high-cost places such as Seattle, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles.
Lawmakers are warming to the concept, approving legislation to make it easier and cheaper to install ADUs. And unlike some other efforts to increase housing density, these measures generally haven’t been met with fierce opposition from antidevelopment groups. Perhaps that’s because ADUs can blend into single-family neighborhoods and let homeowners profit by owning rental units. “They might be the single most promising means of upping the housing supply that is also politically feasible,” says Issi Romem, chief economist at BuildZoom, a company that mines building permit data to help homeowners find contractors.
Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland, Ore., have all seen applications for ADU permits climb after issuing rules relating to their construction. California is playing catch-up: The state’s legislature passed laws in 2016 and 2017 removing parking requirements for ADUs, eliminating some utility connection fees, and streamlining the approval process. Los Angeles issued 721 permits for ADUs last year, a fivefold increase from 2016, according to Attom Data Solutions. San Jose, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Oakland also saw upticks last year.
While that interest is notable, ADUs aren’t a panacea for a state that for years has failed to keep pace with housing demand. California’s economy added 2.3 million jobs over the past five years. But the state issued permits for fewer than 480,000 new residential units over the same period, or about one home for every five additional workers.
Building enough backyard units to narrow the gap between supply and demand in any noticeable way will be challenging. An ADU is “a construction project that needs to go through zoning, regulation, financing,” says David Garcia, policy director at the University of California at Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation. “The typical homeowner’s not prepared for that.” Many who are considering a backyard unit, he says, will want a “one-stop shop.”
A Portland-based startup offers a turnkey solution. Dweller Inc. covers the upfront costs of installing an ADU in return for a 25-year ground lease on the land where it sits. The company is responsible for finding a tenant and captures 70 percent of rental income. “We have the potential for this to be a very commonplace thing,” says Chief Executive Officer Patrick Quinton.
Dweller’s business model is untested—the company won’t install its first company-financed unit until June—as are those of several startups targeting the market. Seattle’s CityBldr started a service in March that streamlines the design and permitting process for ADUs. Cover, which has raised $1.6 million from Khosla Ventures, General Catalyst, and Fifty Years, has built only one of its backyard units, though Rivas says it has several in the pipeline.
As these businesses ramp up, they’re likely to run into a problem vexing more experienced builders: competition for materials and labor. Steve Vallejos, whose Valley Home Development has been installing prefabricated units in the Bay Area for more than a decade, is building his own factory after his manufacturing partners got busy with bigger projects. Studio Shed, a Boulder, Colo., company that’s installed more than 1,000 backyard units, including dwellings and workspaces, is concentrating on developing a network of builders, electricians, and plumbers to install ADUs. “There’s almost no upper limit in terms of the available places where people could put them,” says Jeremy Nova, the company’s co-founder. “That’s an opportunity for our business, but it’s very hard to find contractors right now.”Read More
As part of Marriott’s announcement on Monday that it would hybridize the Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs this August, the company also relaunched its Moments marketplace, which sells everything from zip-line excursions to sumo wrestling tutorials and cooking classes with master chefs.
For the first time, loyal guests can both earn and redeem points by shopping for these experiences—110,000 of them in all, across 1,000 global destinations. But anyone, regardless of their participation in Marriott Rewards, will also be able to buy a sunset cruise off Marriott’s shelf with good, old-fashioned dollars.
“The opportunity for us is to expand the travel experience for our members,” David Flueck, Marriott’s senior vice president of loyalty tells Bloomberg. “They’ve come to rely on Marriott for incredible brands and hotels; now we can deliver more to them.”
The pivot, he says, is about growing from a hotel brand to a lifestyle brand—something that Airbnb has already done with its own Experiences platform.
“Every brand in the travel space has to be more full-service,” explains Deanna Ting, hospitality editor at the travel industry website Skift. “It’s not a question of should they do this. For Marriott to compete, they have to do this.”
Here’s what it means for you.
Scale, Not Exclusivity
Marriott’s overhaul of Moments—a platform that previously existed on a much smaller scale—is a direct result of the company’s spring 2017 acquisition of Place Pass, a meta-search site for local experiences.
But of the 100,000 plus experiences it now offers, only 8,000 are exclusive to Marriott and of the company’s own design.
Some of those include VIP access or front-row box seats at venues around the world, which Flueck says will be available “at every show.” Another subset are what Flueck describes as “once in a lifetime” experiences: a cooking class with Daniel Boulud in his private test kitchen, for instance, or surf lessons with legendary wave-chaser Laird Hamilton. Only a few dozen of these opportunities are available globally at any given time on an auction-only basis, selling for anywhere from 7,500 to 352,500 points; they cannotbe purchased with dollars.
From a business standpoint, Marriott hopes that the “once in a lifetime” experiences will drive people to plan purpose-built trips, while such “local experiences” as the walking tours will cater to travelers planning a vacation or already on the ground.
It’s scale, not exclusivity, that sets Marriott apart. According to Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor at NYU’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, it gives Marriott “a positioning advantage that exceeds any other company I could conceive of as a challenger.” Partnerships with Hertz and StubHub expand the scope of Moments further—travelers can use it for everything from their rental cars to private dinners and opera tickets. They can earn points on each of those purchases, whether they use a co-branded credit card or not.
Still, Hanson expressed skepticism that Moments would change consumers’ behavior. “It doesn’t have enough urgency to it,” he says. “I’m not sure this will drive people to make reservations that they otherwise wouldn’t have made.”
Skift’s Ting says the program will be most successful if Marriott can make it adaptable, such as targeted marketing—a critical concern when the same platform is meant to serve guests of both budget brands like Courtyard by Marriott and such luxury ones as St. Regis. “I would hope they’re not going to steer a top-tier elite member to duck tours,” she jokes.
Harnessing consumer data for personalized service, as Starwood Preferred Guest has always done adeptly, will help. Artificial intelligence could, too. If deployed elegantly, Marriott may algorithmically know where you want to take your next trip—and what you want to do there—before you do.
“That’s the nice thing about our members,” says Marriott’s Fleuck. “We have 110 million of them, but we have gotten to know them very well over time.” He adds that “being able to deliver the right experience to the right members at the right time” is “absolutely the direction that we’re going in.”
For now, personalization is limited, which means that it’s still cumbersome to sort through Moments’ 110,000 offerings. The company has started to group activities by types within each destination—family fun, great for couples, good eat, and nightlife—but luxury travelers looking for a fully private experience, for instance, may have to sort through clutter before finding what they want.
The End of the Concierge?
The biggest short-term impact of Moments may be how you, as a traveler, think about concierges and, to a lesser extent, travel agents.
If trustworthiness of concierge recommendations was already an issue, thanks to kickbacks, this will only intensify; Marriott is encouraging its staff to prioritize Moments in their recommendations, despite the fact that the company hasn’t actively vetted or quality controlled the experiences it purchased in the Points Pass acquisition. According to Fleuck, the company will look at user reviews to determine which experiences get cut from the roster.
“The luxury hospitality sector seems to be in an identity crisis right now, because so many traditional markers of luxury are not as essential anymore, including the concierge,” Ting explains. Hanson agrees. “Does the average 27-year-old want to go to a concierge—the person they think of as a white-haired gent in a tuxedo behind a desk—to find out where to go to dinner that night?” he asks, drawing attention to the fact that concierges today are more reservation-makers than recommenders.
Marriott’s Fleuck sees it less as the end of concierges than an opportunity to redefine the role.
“The expectation is that we can bring our concierges’ immense and extraordinary local knowledge into the Moments platform,” he says. “It’ll take time to get there with 6,500 properties around the world, but we’d like them to really become our partners in this program.”
Travel agents will also have to prove their added value, or risk losing the customer to a seamless, online shopping experience—especially if loyal members believe they can get better value and earn points by booking their entire vacation through Marriott. And with Marriott-owned cruising on the horizon, the potential to book multiple types of vacations, and even port excursions, on one website may well become a reality. (Fleuck did not say that the company would be able to offer a best-price guarantee of activities as it does with direct hotel bookings.)
“It will be an education process,” says Ting about shifting consumer habits. “But gradually, travelers will start to think differently about how they book and plan their trips.”
Adds Hanson, “It redefines the relationship of the traveler with the hotel brand in a way that has never been done before.”Read More
Don’t worry: Technology may come and go, but some things never change. In the not-so-distant future, cars will drive themselves and men may become obsolete (sorry, guys), but home will always be home. It’ll just be a heck of a lot smarter.
Granted, some tech is better than other tech. No one needs a Wi-Fi-connected juice press that doesn’t actually juice anything. Gadgets that offer real utility—like a smart oven or open source furniture—stand a better chance of becoming ubiquitous. If you’re skeptical, think of it this way: In-home refrigeration was the crazy, newfangled invention of 1913. Now, few among us can imagine living without it.
What will the home of the future look like? We took stock of the most exciting tech-forward home products on the market. It’s only a matter of time until at least some of these come standard in every American home.
The High-Tech Living Room
Thirty-nine million Americans now have a smart speaker in their homes—that’s 1 in 6 people—and all signs indicate this figure will only creep higher with time. In the living room of the future, smart speakers will be a central feature, with newer models connected to every element in your home, from the lightbulbs to the lock on your front door to the thermostat. They will become so essential you won’t think twice about plunking down $400 for one.
Watching TV and movies will be a wildly different experience. Why devote precious square footage in your living room to a giant screen when you could have one that effortlessly rolls up away and out of sight, like the one LG Display debuted at this year’s CES? Or you may choose not to have a TV at all and opt instead for a superhigh-resolution short-throw projector that turns any white wall into your own personal movie theater. Sony’s new $30,000 model would fit the bill, assuming the price tag comes down.
In the coming years, it’ll be much easier to design your living space. Apps and online platforms such as Modsy and Hutch will use virtual and augmented reality to help you visualize how a couch or chair will look in your home. You’ll have lots of options: Modular, open source furniture will dominate interior design trends, taking the lead from Ikea’s Tom Dixon-designed Delaktig couch, which has more than 97 different configurations. Choose wisely, because you’ll be spending more time on the couch than ever: Facebook Inc.’s forthcoming living-room-geared video chat device will reportedly use smart camera technology to make people on both ends feel like they’re sitting in the same room.
Also, expect your living room to be even more of a central hub than it already is. Deliveries will arrive here instead of on your front porch, thanks to Amazon.com’s new Prime service, which will let verified delivery persons carry goods right into your home.
And don’t for a minute think ultramodern gadgetry is only for the younger set: Homes for the elderly will be outfitted with internet-connected gear that allows adult children to monitor their aging parents.
Smart Cooking in the Kitchen
Ultimately, the goal of kitchen technology won’t be to do the cooking for you. It’ll just make you a better cook. Smart ovens such as those from June will be outfitted with cameras and digital thermometers, helping you monitor your food as it bakes. And instead of just hoping the “medium-hot” setting on your gas range is hot enough, smart skillets will take guessing out of the equation by sizzling food at a precise temperature, which you’ll set on a connected app.
Smart refrigerators will help reduce waste by letting you know when the carrots in your fridge are about to go bad, and offer up several recipes for them to boot. The smart fridge from LG will even send cooking instructions to your smart oven. Meanwhile, 3D food printers will help you create intricately shaped pasta, and smart-technology-equipped ice cream makers will automatically sense the hardness of the mixture within and keep it ready until it’s sundae time.
Tech Enters the Bedroom
The latest wave of home-focused technology is about making everyday life better and easier, and that begins with a good night’s sleep. Sleep trackers such as Eight’s smart mattress and smartphone apps Sleep Time and Sleep Cycle will use sensors to measure your sleep metrics, while smart alarm clocks like Amazon’s mini Echo will help you begin your day on the right foot with time, weather, and news.
Need a gentler wake-up? The smart aromatherapy alarm clocks from Nox Aroma will sense when you’ve reached your sleep cycle’s lightest point and release a wake-up scent of your choice.
Once you’re up and moving, it’s time to get dressed: Your closet will be filled with clothes you don’t just wear. They will actually interact with you, tracking health markers and habits. Among them: MadeWithGlove’s still-in-development smart gloves, which promise to detect skin temperature and provide heat accordingly. Your clothes might even change shape or color based on your feelings, as will the Sensoree mood sweater, now available for preorder.
And if you want a new wardrobe, you won’t have to even leave the house to find the best-fitting clothes: Amazon’s patented mirror will let you virtually try on outfits from the comfort of your own bedroom.
Yes, Even in the Bathroom
In the future, spa-like experiences at home will be the norm. No need to draw your own bath—your digital assistant can do that for you with smart shower systems like those from U by Moen. High-tech tubs such as those from Toto will induce relaxed brain waves, while nose-geared gadgets like Olfinity will let you program and control your own aromatherapy session from your iPhone while you soak.
Sound far-fetched? Remember a decade ago, few of us could have imagined being so attached to our smartphones, let alone ordering groceries off the internet or barking commands at a digital assistant. With time, even the strangest things can become normal.