Some new homes are built to house computers, too

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Computermakers try to make their software more ''user friendly.'' Now from trend-setting California comes a developer who thinks that homes too should be more user-friendly.

Besides the dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, and garbage disposal, the modern suburbanite has a new need, insists a California home developer. To keep up with the neighbors, the suburbanite now must have a spot in which to put his computer.

The Southampton Company of Menlo Park, Calif., is using the computer-ready home to woo potential residents to its project in Benicia, a small town some 30 miles north of San Francisco.

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Southampton, which bought a 2,450-acre subdivision in Benicia a dozen years ago, already has been a trend-setter in developing the first mass-produced solar community at the site. After this successful and ongoing effort the firm debated the next major need of homeowners - and settled on computers.

''We've seen the computer age explode,'' declares Rod Herman of Southampton, ''and now computers are being marketed for families. There's a nontechnical orientation.''

Noting a poll's finding that 4 percent of all American families already own computers and more are buying all the time, Southampton decided to build its new homes as ''computer packages.'' The company is anticipating, Mr. Herman says, the time when people will bank and shop, among other things, via the home computer terminal.

The result is a house with a prewired family room as well as a bedroom closet that can house a computer, printer, and whatever else the owner might want.

Since research indicates that ''the future is in two-way communication,'' according to Mr. Herman, dual phone lines have been installed along with extra electrical outlets nearby to allow computer use and phone conversations simultaneously. Such a feature, he feels, is particularly attractive to someone who wants to avoid commuting to work by linking up to the office computer and working at home.

Critics suggest, however, that outfitting a home for a computer is not difficult, and that a ''computer ready'' home is not significantly different from a conventionally wired home. Mr. Herman disagrees.

''It's much less expensive for us to do everything right now in the framing stage,'' he asserts. ''Extra phone lines later on can be costly. And cosmetically all the wires and everything that are needed won't be as clean.

''What we're providing,'' he claims, ''is a house that won't become obsolete.''

So far six of the homes, which came on the market in May, have been sold and 30 more are under construction. Southampton offers the extra lure of $3,500 added to the mortgage so as to allow the new homeowner to buy his computer.

The company is aiming at the 25- to 55-year-old market.

Solar-heated computer-ready homes start at $112,500, while conventionally heated homes start at $131,500. The additional phone lines and electrical outlets, according to Herman, run around $200.

Herman notes the advantage of being located near California's Silicon Valley, from which the company expects to draw buyers. But this plan is useful no matter what the location, he insists.

''We feel the technology is here and people are starting to want computers. So homes should accommodate those uses, not limit them,'' Herman concludes.

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