Why Amazon Is Betting You’ll Buy a Million Dollar Prefab Home
Why Amazon Is Betting You’ll Buy a Million Dollar Prefab


Behar is designing a line of Plant Prefab Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), a sort of sleek, modern mother-in-law unit fitted for a backyard. The first of Behar’s line is the YB1; it retails for $300,000 (plus another $100,000 for things like delivery and installation) and is a 625-square-feet, one-bed, one-bath that looks like a glass cube with a slatted wooden exterior. Historically, one of the challenges in designing ADUs has been to create a space that feels both open and private, so Behar has tricked it out with large windows and open interiors to help keep it from feeling cramped. Glenn is also hoping these are a desirable, practical solution, particularly in California, where the housing crisis is in full swing. “My belief is that within 10 years, all construction, not just ADUs and residential, will have prefab components,” says Behar.

Designers like Behar sell their designs to Plant Prefab, then receive royalties, plus an advance, for every home of theirs that Plant sells. Kappe, who died just a few weeks ago, had already designed several homes for Plant, the kind of glass and wood mid-century California designs that put him on the map; all of the homes sell for well over a million dollars. KieranTimberlake’s designs are boxy, contemporary dwellings that resemble more typical prefab: handsome, practical, and much more affordable — selling for about half of what Kappe’s do.

Meanwhile, Brooks + Scarpa, an L.A.-based architecture firm known as the darlings of sustainable design, has partnered with Plant to create a stackable building system that can be used to configure multi-unit housing. The design won a $1 million grant from the 2018 L.A. County Housing Innovation Challenge. It’s this design, perhaps more than any other, that may substantially contribute to solving the affordable housing crunch. In comparison, the other homes seem like glamorous, sustainable houses built for rich people.

Plant is integrating various smart home capabilities into their design, and they’ve got access, through Amazon, to the very latest in voice technology. But the investment also raises serious privacy concerns.

The other big name that has earned Plant Prefab some cache is its second investor: Amazon. Last September, Glenn announced Amazon’s Alexa Fund was participating in its $6.7 million Series A round. The Obvious team had introduced Glenn to the venture capital arm of Amazon, which invests in companies “to fuel voice technology innovation.” It’s the first modular company the fund has invested in, though Amazon already had a deal with Lennar, the country’s largest builder of new homes, to include Alexa in every unit they build. An Amazon spokesperson says they invested in Plant “because it’s created an easy way to build modern, energy-efficient, sustainable, and connected custom homes that are more efficient and affordable than traditional homebuilding.” The news immediately brought publicity to Plant Prefab, giving the manufacturing company a high-tech sheen.

Plant is integrating various smart home capabilities into their design, and they’ve got access, through Amazon, to the very latest in voice technology. But the investment also raises serious privacy concerns. Amazon today holds an unprecedented amount of deeply sensitive personal data, due to its e-commerce platform; it also stores massive amounts of data through its cloud storage business. Even if it never shares data with third parties (it says it doesn’t), the company already has its hands in so many different markets, it doesn’t really matter. One’s data can get plenty of use within the company confines.

“I don’t share those concerns,” Glenn tells me, when I ask about privacy issues. All of Plant’s homes come with Alexa; customers can opt out, though nobody has, yet. And so for most people, there will be an incredible amount of data-capturing technology inside the home. An Amazon spokesman told me that Amazon’s smart voice devices like Alexa and Echo aren’t recording all the time — only when a “wake word” is detected.

But there are several lawsuits against Amazon right now that allege the opposite, including a class action suit in California claiming that Alexa surreptitiously records and stores data that Amazon then uses for broader commercial purposes. (If all this sounds a bit far-fetched and dystopian, consider the case of Ring: It started out as a high-tech gadgety doorbell created by an entrepreneur; since being acquired by Amazon in 2018, it’s now a smart home surveillance video system being used by police departments around the country.) Glenn’s attitude on these privacy concerns, and breaches, is optimistic, if somewhat naive. “I hope,” he says, “the Amazons and Googles of the world will act increasingly responsible.”



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