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So you are looking to buy a home or facility with custom electronics installed inside? There are MANY questions to consider before you negotiate that final price because what you think you may be getting may be worth nothing. Even worse, it could cost you a considerable amount of money to update the system. How can you navigate this possible money pit you did not think may exist? Follow this advice from a Consultant who has seen it all.
Unless you are in the industry, it is very difficult to know the systems that have been installed in that property you are reviewing. For instance, below are 4 different control GUI's (Graphical User Interfaces) for 4 different automation systems we designed for our clients. Can you name each automation system in under 5 seconds and identify their use? We can identify them immediately.
Many of our clients hire us if they are purchasing a property where there are integrated custom electronics and an abundance of unknown wires. This would be like a property inspector, but for technology. Our clients want to get an unbiased view of what is there and what it would take to get their technology needs solved or what does it cost to get the existing system working for them.
When we complete a technology audit we are looking for a number of items from the seller:
Who originally installed the system? Do they have the contact information?
It is important that the seller has maintained a relationship with the original firm. Many times we have seen jobs were there were differences in the installation of systems or even after they were installed. When a new installation company comes in there is loss of continuity and most importantly paperwork of what is in the home or business. This can add dollars when you are wanting to add new services.
Is it maintained by the original company or does another company service the system. Do they have the contact information?
Again, knowing that the seller has a relationship with the same firm that installed the system originally is usually a good sign. When they are also the company that services the system it means that there are tech's that know the infrastructure wiring and systems in the home.
Is there ANY schematic documentation of the wires that are in the walls?
Tech Tonic Consulting creates documentation, like an architect, all systems we design. You cannot drive to a place you do not know without some kind of roadmap. Having wire schematics of the place you are considering purchasing means that 1. The system was usually completed by a better than average firm. 2. You now have an easy way to make changes and additions to the system because you or others will know if there are wires capable of not only new technology but what is just standard for todays needs. Without it, you could be paying for a costly audit.
Is there any schematic documentation of how the system is wired together?
Just like above, if you do not know how the system is interconnected, you are going to need an audit to know if the system was designed correctly. As well, if the equipment is still suitable for today's technology needs, you want to know how to add product or is it even capable of doing what you desire when you take possession.
Does the seller have the latest version of the programs for all of the systems?
We have been on too many projects where entire facilities or homes have had to be programmed from scratch because the installed system does not allow you to extract the existing programming out of the processor and the installation firm has not given it to the owner. As well, if the various systems are older, some versions of software running on processors do not allow you to extract the program to make any changes. Depending on the size of the system, reprogramming could go into the 10's of thousand of dollars.
Usually the seller will not have this information. However, it is important to know what the latest version of software some systems are running. This is extremely important as many manufacturers have abandoned their product lines when it cannot run latest versions of software. Therefore, you could be spending thousands to update to new hardware.
When was the system installed?
This is a big indicator of how much work may have to be done. TV's now have a life expectancy of less than five years. This is NOT because they are made cheaply and will not last like your parents Zenith Console. It is because the may not have the resolution, Apps, or processing power necessary for your needs.
When was the last time someone worked on the system?
If no one has worked on the system for years, it may look like it. A maintained system is neat and polished like a nice car and usually has all the latest technologies and works! When you see rusted outdoor speakers and a VCR be very careful.
Look at the wiring that is visible and in enclosures.
Ask to see where the incoming service originates and distributes throughout the space. Does it look like a rats nest or is there beautiful wiring? Just like above this could be a sign of a poorly designed system that is going to cause you a lot of future headaches and money. If it looks bad, the system probably is.
Can they show you what works and what does not?
If the seller seems confused on how to operate the system, you will be as well. Have them give you a demo. Ask what they like AND dislike about the technology they currently have. Usually, this makes things very clear.
Does the seller have all the manuals, remotes, and receipts of the equipment?
If they do not have a file folder or box with this important info then many times the system has not been maintained. Sometimes these remotes or manuals are a must have to make changes to your system. As well, see if they kept all the spare parts and pieces like rack rails to be able to pull out the equipment and have serviced.
Is there still a warranty for some of the equipment or with the Installation firm?
This can save you money later for items that need service. However, many times these do not transfer to the new buyer so always ask!
What is the Seller taking with them?
We have seen clients not ask what the seller is taking with them and it ends up being the pivotal piece that is the "Glue" to the system or is the most amount of money to have replaced. Get a list!
Are there any external contracts that need to be transferred or do you need to by new items?
Some electronics require that you have a contract to control the systems remotely or have capability of offsite service. Some systems require you to buy new apps for your Smart Apple devices that can be in the $100's of dollars for each user. Some cable boxes like Tivo have agreements with their users.
What to do?
This is a lot. That is why our firm Tech Tonic Consulting is around. A home or business technology inspection is just as important as the standard inspection. We have saved our clients hundreds of thousands of dollars and have even recommended that they do not purchase a property. (This has happened when we found that it would take a tremendous amount of new wiring infrastructure to accommodate their needs.)
As well, we recommend NOT having a firm that is a dealer of the main automation technology installed into the property perform the technology inspection. Why? A dealer wants to sell new devices. Many times we have reviewed proposals from clients who were suspicious that they were being charge too much for their needs to have a basic system operating. Usually they are right.
Do not use the Manufacturers Dealer Locator to have a technology Audit of a property. Locate a trusted Consultant!