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How to move a smart home

Moving can be a huge headache. Throw in a bunch of connected gadgets you need to factory-reset or uninstall, and things get even more painful. Deciding what to do with your smart home when you move adds a whole other layer of complexity to an already difficult process.

Do you take your smart lock or leave it? Should you uninstall your smart lighting system or provide a detailed manual for your buyer? Is it better to replace the Nest Thermostat with a non-smart one or leave it and buy a newer version for your new home? What about sensors? Speakers? Smoke alarms? The list goes on. 

Go through your entire place and decide what should stay and what should go

You’ll need to go through your entire place and decide what should stay and what should go, all while considering your new home: where your old gadgets will fit in and where you might want to buy new ones.

In this guide, we’ll look at which devices make sense to take with you and what is probably easier to leave behind. I’ll also discuss what to do with each gadget: how to decommission it in your old place and recommission it in your new home — or how to reset it if you plan to leave it behind.

Take a smart home inventory

HomePass is an iPad / iPhone app that can track all your smart home gadgets and also store details like setup codes and serial numbers.
Image: HomePass

The first step is to figure out what you have so you can make sure you don’t accidentally leave that expensive smoke alarm behind and are prepared when it comes to reinstalling devices in your new home. Open the main app (or apps) you use to control your gadgets, and from there, create a list of everything you have installed. 

You can use a home inventory app or just a good old-fashioned spreadsheet. I recommend using a smart home backup app such as HomePass for HomeKit & Matter (iOS only). This will list all your gadgets by room and store their HomeKit, Matter, or any other numerical codes you might need if you have to set them up again in your new home. I’ve not found an Android alternative, but a password manager such as 1Password should work.

This is also a good time to collate passwords and usernames for any apps you use to manage devices and gather instruction manuals, whether physical or by downloading PDFs. Once you have a complete list, go through it and decide what you plan to leave, what will come with you, and finally, what you will need to purchase for your new home.

Should it stay or should it go? 

You’ll need to decide if you want to take devices like smart locks and video doorbells with you. If you take them, you’ll need to leave a working replacement.
Photo by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

Most likely, the new owners don’t want your old smart home gear. They may not trust you’ve fully reset a smart lock or don’t still have access to that video doorbell. But with the right steps, selling your home with its smart gear intact is possible. In some cases — particularly smart lighting and smart thermostats — you may find that your gadgets can increase your home’s value or be used in negotiations.

In broad terms, it’s expected that fixtures of the home — anything wired or screwed in — should stay, and anything plugged in or battery-powered should come with you or be sold, donated, or recycled if you no longer want it. If you choose to take something with you that’s technically a fixture, such as those listed below, either put it in the inclusion / exclusion section of your listing so prospective buyers are aware or swap it out before you show your home. 

How to transfer ownership of your smart home gadgets

If you’ve negotiated to leave any of your smart devices behind, make it clear in your sale that you are leaving them “as is.” You don’t want to be on the hook as a sysadmin for the new residents.

However, as a courtesy and to ease a buyer’s possible fears, I recommend setting up a dedicated email address for your home and transferring those devices to that email address. (This will mean factory-resetting them or transferring / sharing ownership to the email.) 

When the sale closes, hand over the email address and password to the new owner. Then, go in and remove yourself from any device and delete them from your app (or delete the app if you don’t have any other devices from that company). Do this before you leave since some devices will not let you perform a factory reset unless you are on the same network.

The new owner can use the email address to transfer device ownership to themselves and set up new accounts and passwords, all without bothering you.

Tip: Before you factory-reset or transfer a device, remove any smart home integrations, such as with Apple Home, Amazon Alexa, or IFTTT.

Using a service like Gmail means you can also create a Google Drive folder with PDFs of all the manuals and a Google Doc listing the devices and their brands, model names, and any other pertinent details the new owner might need. 

As mentioned, you must either factory-reset or transfer every device you leave in the house. However, consider how you treat each device carefully to ensure you don’t “break” the home. If you factory-reset a thermostat, it will no longer work, which could cause damage to the home in extreme temperatures. The same goes for a smart sprinkler system — you don’t want to be on the hook for a new lawn. 

If you plan to take your smart thermostat with you, make sure you install a replacement and ensure it’s working correctly so you don’t cause any damage to the HVAC system.
Photo by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

To ensure critical systems stay functional for the new owner, check with the device manufacturer for steps on how to factory-reset and / or transfer ownership. Additionally, security devices like cameras, security systems, and smart locks often require special steps, which are designed to make sure no one can take over your account without your permission. If you factory-reset them without following these steps, you could leave the new owner with a dead gadget. 

All of this is why the house email address makes a lot of sense. The new owner can still control and use the devices while they get settled and then easily factory-reset it themselves and transfer permissions to their own email, giving them more confidence that you’ve been fully erased. 

Tip: If you are leaving security cameras behind, make sure you also remove or wipe any storage systems, such as microSD cards or cloud backup, and cancel any subscriptions. 

How to pack up your smart home gear

For devices you are taking with you, be as methodical as you can about packing things up. As you uninstall devices, place them in their original packaging or containers like a Ziplock bag to keep everything together, such as screws, stands, remotes, etc. Label the bag’s contents with the device name, room, and location. This will make it much easier to set everything back up in your new home.

Do not factory-reset these devices. Just unplug them and pack them away, and remove any batteries if you still have some time before the move. Then, when you move into your new home, set up your Wi-Fi with the same SSID and password that you used previously, power everything back up, and you should see it back on the network and in your smart home app as if nothing has changed.

Of course, a move is also a great time to start your smart home from scratch. But that’s a whole other blog!

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