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They are questions that can upend a workday without warning: did you remember to turn the stove off? Did you leave the air-conditioning on? Did the house burn down? These quotidian worries, banal but sometimes all-consuming, have nagged at generations of homeowners and renters.

Now, both supergeeks and mere mortals are using the Internet and high-tech solutions to deal with the challenges of home life, from finding a landlord to prevailing in a battle with one, as well as receiving reassurance from afar that, yes, you remembered to close the garage door.

In San Francisco, a homeowner gave his house a Twitter account that posts an update when there is unanticipated movement on the first floor, and welcomes him home when he walks through the door. A tech-savvy renter in Philadelphia programmed a gadget to chart how often the temperature in his apartment changed, and proved to his incredulous landlord that the air-conditioner was not, in fact, functional.

In New York, apartment seekers are turning to a website that lets them remotely hire people to do the tedious work of finding a livable apartment in a city not long on them.

And, in what may seem a surprising twist, here social technology is working the way it should. For those who rely on them, new gadgets and apps are lessening — rather than causing — the many anxieties associated with real estate.

So it is with Tom Coates’s San Francisco home, which live-tweets the movements of its many gadgets. The account, bearing the dignified title @HouseofCoates, updates the world, and the house’s more than 1,000 followers, on the lighting in the kitchen, the temperature in the sitting room and the frequency with which Mr. Coates weighs himself. For a time, it also tweeted the result. “I have stopped doing that recently because I’ve put on a ton of weight,” he said.

A self-described early adopter, Mr. Coates, 41, became obsessed with the idea of web-connected sensors several years ago, and outfitted his home with more than he can count. He has light switches that are controlled by his iPhone, a device that measures whether his plants need water, a motion sensor that informs him, via Twitter, anytime someone unexpectedly enters the sitting room, and, of course, that tweeting scale.

These gadgets belong to a category of machines that perform rudimentary tasks, like measuring the temperature or detecting motion, but also connect to the Internet. The idea that unifies these products is known as the Internet of Things, and their broad ambition is to be just like everyday appliances — except smarter.

Start-ups aimed at solving problems in the home with artificial intelligence have multiplied in recent years. And Google’s recent purchase of Nest, which produces smart smoke detectors and thermostats, was widely viewed as a sign that the connected home is pushing its way into the mainstream.

“All this stuff,” Mr. Coates said, “has made me feel like I have a sense of what’s going on in my house from a distance, and that it’s O.K.”

He has programmed the gizmos in his living space to talk to Twitter every time they do something of note, such as turning off lights when it’s bright outside or turning them on when it’s not. This was partly to put all of their incessant jabbering in a central location, but mostly, he said, for fun. “It’s a toy that I have,” he said.

The people who follow @HouseofCoates on Twitter sometimes respond to the house’s tweets, and occasionally Mr. Coates logs into the account and responds to their messages directly.


“Oh Christ, I’m tweeting at a house,” one follower said.

“Talking to a human is so weird!” came the reply. “You use those little fleshy blobs on your ‘hands’ to type your thoughts into Twitter, right?”

When friends who are staying with Mr. Coates return home unexpectedly, he receives a tweet from the house: “@tomcoates, is that you?” Mr. Coates then logs into an app on his smartphone that shows him a live video feed of the apartment. When he sees houseguests, he tells them, through the device’s speaker, to help themselves to anything in the fridge.

More than just giving him peace of mind, Mr. Coates said, having a tweeting house has fundamentally altered the way he conceives of his home. “This may seem really weird,” he said, “but I feel like it’s deepened my emotional relationship with my house.” He says hello out loud when he gets back from work, and said cleaning the house had become an act of nurture. “It’s sort of weirdly pleasant to come home and feel like when you tidy up, you’re caring for a thing.”

Of course, not everyone would be comfortable living among bots that record and transmit the minutiae of day-to-day activities, and regulators have expressed concerns about how to secure the personal data generated by the Internet of Things. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission settled charges against a company it said was using its Internet-connected camerasto stream Baby live not just to Mom and Dad, but to anyone with the right web address.

Still, it seems that as long as consumers are on the winning end of the cost-benefit analysis, the Internet of Things will continue to bulldoze its way into America’s living rooms. Especially if the rest of us can make the technology work as well for us as it did for Thomas Murray, a tech-savvy designer who tinkered his way into a brand-new apartment.

Mr. Murray, 34, configured a rubber box filled with sensors to take the temperature in his home regularly, record the results on an online chart, and thereby convince his landlord that the air-conditioner was broken. (The box had some help from Mr. Murray in the persuasion department.)

Mr. Murray realized there was a problem during last year’s sweltering summer in Philadelphia. The thermostat read 68, but his apartment felt like a sauna. “It was getting to 92 degrees outside and the temperature was rising in the apartment,” he said, “The A/C couldn’t keep up.”


So Mr. Murray, who works at Bresslergroup, a product design firm, turned to Twine, a device that has three sensors — for vibration, temperature and orientation — and no purpose in particular other than to monitor a living space. Mr. Murray programmed his Twine to create a data point on an online chart every time the temperature in his apartment changed.

For weeks he and his wife, Heather, watched as the chart zigged and zagged through temperatures in the low 80s and back down. The landlord sent maintenance workers in by the droves. But every time they declared victory, Mr. Murray showed them a chart bearing unequivocal proof that the apartment was still an inferno.

Eventually, the landlord gave up, and moved the couple into the apartment down the hall, which was almost twice as big as their old place, didn’t cost any more, and had a working air-conditioner to boot.

“It was the power of using something simple that I could set up,” Mr. Murray said, “and then having hard data to show them.”

On the other end of the spectrum are people who use technology not to become more connected to a virtual world, but for the kinds of tasks that only real live humans can fulfill. Like apartment hunting.

Stephanie Falcon didn’t have time and she didn’t have a personal assistant. What she did have was a Manhattan sublease that needed to be vacated, and specific requirements for her next apartment.

She wanted to be on the West Side, in a studio or a one-bedroom, with a full kitchen, for under $1,850 a month. Oh, and she needed the place in two weeks.

“I had no time whatsoever, I was working 15-hour days,” said Ms. Falcon, 27. “The idea of leaving the office to scour the streets, it just wasn’t feasible for me.”

So Ms. Falcon turned to TaskRabbit, one of a handful of websites that connect people seeking an easy way to dispense with chores with people who have signed up to run errands. She had briefly worked in marketing for the company, a San Francisco start-up that counts among its users some 20,000 “rabbits” — those who hop to the odd jobs — more than 3,000 in New York City alone.

The rabbits are hired to wait in line for Cronuts, to cook freezable meals, and, above all, to solve the Ikea problem. Johnny Brackett, a TaskRabbit spokesman, says furniture assembly is the most popular task in each of the 19 American cities where the company operates.

Through TaskRabbit, Ms. Falcon secured the services of Mary Ng, 30, a New York City native with no formal real estate experience. Ms. Ng did the dirty work of parsing Craigslist for scams and duds, visiting promising leads and sending Ms. Falcon photos of the top contenders.

One week and 40 hours of research later, Ms. Ng sent an urgent message. She had found the place. “I’m here looking at it,” Ms. Falcon remembered Ms. Ng saying, “There are five other people, five other couples. Bring the deposit.”

Ms. Ng emailed the application to her, and a few hours later, Ms. Falcon arrived. “I hadn’t even seen it and I had the application in hand,” Ms. Falcon said. She put down the deposit that day.

The total cost of the search? Five-hundred dollars, including a $338 bonus for Ms. Ng, because she had found a no-broker-fee apartment. “The bonus was bigger than her fee,” Ms. Falcon said, “because I figure if it was a broker one, it would have cost me at least a full month’s rent.”

There are advantages to hiring a stranger instead of a salesman to size up a home. “I remember once being asked to check the water pressure,” said Jeff Kirby, 33, who has apartment-hunted for two TaskRabbit clients. “It makes sense, because the broker won’t tell you, ‘Hey, the water kind of sucks.’ ”

Mr. Kirby, a lifelong resident of the Upper West Side, knows that in New York, the smallest details can turn what looks like an Eden into a personal nightmare.

He measures the distance to the closest laundromat, looks for signs that a building is sketchy, and checks to see whether the block is unkempt. He says he takes a video walk-through of each apartment he visits, and also sends his clients a digital copy of the floor plan.

“Being a New Yorker is more profitable than being an English major,” said Mr. Kirby, who graduated with a degree in English from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, but now makes a living mostly through TaskRabbit. He wouldn’t say how much he earns, but did say that in a good week, it was enough “to have a relaxing weekend, to enjoy life a little bit.”

In the last month, Mr. Kirby has delivered a bunch of balloons, picked up a sheepskin rug and hauled a roll of fabric to Midtown Manhattan from Secaucus, N.J. The one thing he won’t do? Put together an Ikea couch.

“You have these unwritten directions,” he said, shaking his head, “you have these screws shooting here, and shooting there. My brain doesn’t work that way.”




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