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Archive for May, 2011

Me and my iPad: Slouching toward a still-more-mobile style of mobile real estate representation.

I got an iPad 2 Friday, my spiff for hitting my earnings goal ($1,000 per day, if you’re keeping score at home) in April. The dogs have written a ton about the iPad since its introduction, and my plan is to write a ton more as I get used to this little box.

Here’s my deal: How can I make a grand a day every month? How can I push that up to five grand a day? I’m on the move all the time. And I’m tethered to my desk all the time. And I need a way of reconciling that contradiction.

My MacBook went a long way toward dealing with this problem — and may the lord rain his blessings down upon Ronald MacDonald and all the other providers of free WiFi linkage. But a laptop wants too many resources to be universally useful.

How so? If I’m away from free-WiFi-land, I need to plug in an air card and wait for it to initialize. Not only that, I need a flat surface, and I need to give the laptop itself time for house-keeping. Plus which, I always need to nurse the battery, which makes me reluctant to use it for blue-sky purposes, for fear I’ll be powerless to deal with mission-critical problems later on. Still worse, I have to schlep the damn thing around — which makes it much too easy to leave behind.

The iPad takes away all of those problems:

  • WiFi plus 3G means instant-on internet virtually everywhere.
  • I can actually use it in my lap in my car — without moving to the passenger seat.
  • Ten hours of in-use battery life leaves me at little risk of running out of power — and the two iPhone power cables I already have in my car will both fit the iPad, as well.
  • And the iPad is almost too easy to carry: The size and weight of a magazine.

All that’s great, but it’s not as if the iPad does not introduce complications of its own. I’ll be going through everything in detail as I integrate the new machine into my praxis, but I’ll touch on a few difficulties now.

Here’s what I’m looking for from the iPad as my day-to-day front-line computer:

  • Email: This is job one, and I’ll be fully satisfied if the iPad takes away my enduring email paranoia. What I want is a way of dealing with my email as quickly as possibly, all through the work-day. The iPhone was inadequate for this chore, and the laptop too cumbersome. I’ve set up our mail servers so that every incoming email addressed to me is echoed to the iPad, while still being sent to its intended email account. I see everything I should see, and I can take action on most of my mail almost as soon as it comes in. This not only makes me much more productive in junk time, it makes me much more efficient at staying in touch with my clients.
  • MLS: This is a small problem that promises to get smaller over time. FlexMLS is just using its main web site for the iPad, rather than building a mobile site or a dedicated iPad app. This is not great, but it’s far from awful. Many less-used functions don’t work properly — and I’ll document these going forward — but saved searches and shopping cards work as expected, and it is possible to use a skein of listings as the paperless “planos” for a showing tour — as I did on Saturday. Location Services is unavailable, so there is no easy answer to the dreaded “What about that one?” question. But the simple ability to vector directly from the MLS listing to the tax records or the terrain map or whatever — having the live MLS in my hands as I show — this just kills.
  • FTP: My camera is always with me, and my file server never sleeps. Link the two together, and I can build engenu pages from the road, without having to wait to get back to the office. Even better, an assistant can build engenu pages from the car, while the buyer and I are looking at the next house. I have an FTP client for the iPad, and I like the way it works, but I haven’t tried the whole procedure yet: Photos to the server by FTP, then engenu in Safari to make the pages, then email out to the client. I have zero doubt this will work, I just haven’t done it yet.
  • ZipForms: Ugh. Urf. Ick. They have an iPad client, so the web site does not work from Safari. Just that much is stoopid, since it would be nothing to distinguish the iPad from the iPhone and let the iPad run on its own hugely-web-adept web browser. That’s bad enough, but the iPad client itself is beyond lame. It’s a bullet-point product, a piece of junk cobbled together so the ZipForms marketing reps could say, “Oh, yes, we support the iPad, too, just like the other guys.” Bill Gates himself could not have engineered a more useless piece of shitware. I will have more to say about this, but this one (lack of a viable) product will prevent my MacBook from being able to stay home as I had planned.
  • DocuSign: Very robust iPad client, very smart use of the technology. Alas, the utility for me will be limited by the clusterfrolic cited just above. Even so, for follow-up stuff — and for my never-ending broker-initialing chores — the DocuSign client will be a big win. An Bui, if you’re looking in, I will be happy to help y’all put the ZipForms dipwads out of business.

The iPad itself is not without problems. As an example, there is no easy way to save an attachment from an email, which again limits the utility of the DocuSign client. This is pure thoughtlessness on Apple’s part — yes, I said it! — the failure to distinguish the small email form factor on the iPhone from the life-size form factor on the iPad. Want proof that this is actual Microsoft-style thoughtlessness? Even though the iPad has no built-in phone (argghhh!), iTunes still transmits your stored library of ringtones when you sync.

I’ll have lots more to say about all of this — the Ipad, how I’m using it, what I love and what I hate, other apps I like, love or loathe, etc. — in the coming months. To that end, I’ve added two new categories, and I encourage other folks writing here to make use of them, as appropriate:

  • myPad will be devoted to using tablet-based computers for real estate.
  • Want Bigger will be concerned with identifying and correcting errors in products, software and business ideas.

This is an adventure for me. I’ve wanted all of this for a long time, and I am just that close to being able to do everything I want from the road. It will be interesting to see how long it takes me to plug the remaining gaps in my praxis.

24 comments

With the right high-end image-editing software, just about anyone can ruin a perfectly good digital photo.

If this doesn’t sell the house, nothing will.

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Brett Arends from the Wall Street Journal on Zillow’s morning gloom report: “All this bearish news makes me bullish.”

Our friends at Zillow.com have figured out the secret to getting news coverage: Bad news:

Home values in the United States fell faster in the first quarter of 2011 than they have in any quarter since 2008, when the housing market experienced its worst performance, according to Zillow’s first quarter Real Estate Market Reports(1). The Zillow Home Value Index(2) fell 3 percent from the fourth quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of 2011, and declined 8.2 percent year-over-year to $169,600. Home values have fallen 29.5 percent since they peaked in June 2006.

Negative equity reached a new high mark with 28.4 percent of single-family homeowners with mortgages underwater at the end of the first quarter, up from 27 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. A homeowner is in negative equity when they owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.

Meanwhile, foreclosures(3) rose throughout the first quarter as banks unfroze moratoriums and allowed foreclosures to resume. Foreclosures had fallen in late 2010 due to the slew of moratoriums brought about by the “robo-signing” controversy. In March, one out of every 1,000 homes in the country was lost to foreclosure.

With substantial home value declines, as well as increasing negative equity and foreclosures, Zillow forecasts show it is unlikely that home values will reach a bottom in 2011. First quarter data has prompted Zillow to revise its forecast, now predicting a bottom in 2012, at the earliest.

“Home value declines are currently equal to those we experienced during the darkest days of the housing recession. With accelerating declines during the first quarter, it is unreasonable to expect home values to return to stability by the end of 2011,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “We did expect substantial payback from the homebuyer tax credits, which buoyed the housing market last year, but underlying demand post-tax credit, as well as rising foreclosures and high negative equity rates, make it almost certain that we won’t see a bottom in home values until 2012 or later.”

My own take is that we are at or near the knee in the curve: While supplies of fire-sale-priced homes may be abundant, resale prices are by now so low as to make cash-rich investors completely nuts. In Phoenix in April, our values were up for the homes we track. Doesn’t mean we’ve turned the corner, but big drops from here seem unlikely to me.

Meanwhile, here’s a bullish rejoinder to Zillow from the Wall Street Journal:

Remember Japan’s “zombie banks”? These were the financial institutions that haunted that country’s economic recovery after the 1990 crash. They staggered on with huge losses they could never repay — the walking dead.

Here in America we have “zombie homeowners.” Millions of them. According to Zillow, a record 16.3 million families are upside-down on their home loans. Sixteen million! And many are a long way upside-down. Their homes may never be worth as much as their mortgage. But they are hemorrhaging cash to pay the nut every month.

Recovery? What recovery? This looks a bit like a depression to me.

What does this mean?

All the misery makes me think of a great French general, Ferdinand Foch. He’s the one who defended Paris at the Battle of the Marne in World War I. During the darkest hour of the fighting, he is supposed to have looked around him and said:

“Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent — I attack!”

In other words, when it comes to distressed housing, I’m finding it hard not to be a contrarian bull.

Why? Am I crazy?

Well, maybe. But I’m a medium-bull for all the reasons everyone else is gloomy.

First, prices in many areas are now cheap. They have corrected a long way since the bubble began to burst five years ago. Of course, it depends on where you are. I’m still skeptical of the real-estate markets that have held up best — prime stuff like Manhattan, San Francisco or Beverly Hills. It’s hard to get a deal there.

But in the places that have fallen the furthest, there are deals aplenty. Zillow found only four metro areas in America that have leveled out, or risen, lately. Notably, two of those are in stricken Florida — Fort Myers and Sarasota. Have they fallen so far they’ve hit bottom? Maybe.

Look at this chart. It shows Miami real-estate prices, adjusted for inflation, over the past quarter-century, using Case-Shiller data. The picture is pretty remarkable. The gigantic bubble has been completely wiped out. We’re back to prices seen in the 1980s — when “Miami Vice” was on the air.

The second reason: There are tons of foreclosures and short sales on the market. And there are plenty more sitting in the wings. Banks are holding back big shadow inventories of homes. And that means you can get a great deal. They have to sell. You don’t have to buy. You hold all the cards. Remember, the name of the game isn’t “let’s make a deal.” It’s “take it or leave it.”

Third, in many places rental yields are terrific. It’s cheaper to own than to rent. There have been some forced sales in my building in Miami. Based on my math, the latest buyers have bought condominium units for six times gross annual rents, and maybe 12 times net rents. We’re talking net yields of 7% or more. And rents are rising, because so many former owners are now renters.

The fourth reason I’m bullish is that you can get a very cheap mortgage. Thirty-year conforming loans are going as low as 4.3%. Throw in the tax break on the interest, and you are talking cheap finance. See latest weekly mortgage-rate update.

The fifth reason is that, as painful as this collapse has been, real estate has historically proven to offer very good long-term protection against inflation. Returns have typically averaged about 1% or 2% above inflation. At a time when everyone has been piling into gold, commodities and TIPS bonds to protect themselves against the possibility of inflation, it seems odd that the most popular and successful hedge, namely real estate, goes a-begging.

Thirty-year TIPS bonds are yielding just 1.6% over inflation, and shorter-term bonds offer even lower returns. Short-term TIPS are actually offering negative real yields. How holding TIPS may actually make you poorer.

The sixth reason I’m bullish is perverse, but I’m sticking by it. Everyone else is bearish. You cannot find a real-estate bull anywhere. No one wants to own this asset. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to hear about it. Everyone seems to agree it’s just going down, down, down — forever.

They said much the same about stocks in 1987, 2002 and 2009; Treasury bonds in 1982; and gold in 2000. I cannot prove this is capitulation, but it sure smells something like it.

As ever, if you aren’t disciplined and patient, this probably isn’t for you.

I have absolutely no idea when real estate is going to hit rock bottom. It may take several years. I suspect it will do so in different markets at different times. But there are good homes out there going really cheap. If you hunt down the bargains, you’re disciplined about price, you get the right financing, and you hold on for five years or more, you’ll probably do pretty well from here.

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Which home is the right one for you? Coldwell Banker says it’s the property for which Coldwell Banker will get paid double.

Is this home the right one for you and your family?

No, sorry. That’s an exclusive listing. Your trusty, ever-faithful Coldwell Banker broker won’t get paid if you buy that house.

So is this the perfect home for you?

Oh, no! This home has serious systemic defects, the worst of which is… it’s a fizzbo… Not only will there be no doughnuts at the closing table, your trusty, ever-faithful Coldwell Banker broker won’t get paid if you buy that house.

But this — this is the ideal home for you and your family:

Why? Because your trusty, ever-faithful Coldwell Banker broker will not only get paid, she’ll get paid double, once for suckering the seller into listing with Coldwell Banker and once more for suckering you into a dual agency.

Here’s the full clip:

When you say “yeah” you are conceding my argument. When you say “but” you are contradicting yourself. If this commercial is not a sleazy hustle, what is it?

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Has anyone else noticed…?

…a certain theme in Century 21’s latest attempt to make consumers care about a real estate brand?

Considering that the average age of a real estate agent is like 73, the women in these ads should look like this:

Blanche is even wearing a gold jacket!

Memo to Bev Thorne, CMO of C21: If you are going to cougar route, go full cougar. Why beat around the bush? :

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Repeal The PATRIOT Act. Bin-Laden’s Dead.

STARDATE:  22 February 2002

Borrower:  Why do you need my driver’s license to secure me a mortgage?

Brady:  I’m required to by the new law, the USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act.  We mortgage originators have been enlisted in the GWOT, as the first line of defense.  I’m proud to do my part to help protect America and hunt down Osama bin-Laden.

Borrower:  That’s jacked up.  Did you know the PATRIOT Act also allows the FBI to execute it’s own warrants, tap your phone, read your email, intercept your written correspondence, and instruct your banks to not inform you that they are spying on you?

Brady:  You don’t have to be an agitator. I’m just doing my part.  In fact, the President said it not only is it our duty to protect the Homeland against marauding borrowers, he wants us to lend you more money… to get the economy moving, you see.

Borrower:  So..I can borrow ABOVE the value of my home?

Brady:  Absolutely.  It’s your patriotic duty.

Borrower:  Heil, baby.  Where do I sign up?

Geronimo is down.  Repeal the PATRIOT Act.  I know that freedom ain’t free but I now know tyranny can come disguised as tuxedo-clad theater goers.

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MY SENIOR MOMENT

A couple of weeks ago I joined millions of other Americans in the last minute ritual of rushing to the post office on April 15th and filing… my tax extension.  Brimming with pride over not procrastinating this year, a reward was in order.  Now this is normally the realm of chocolate frozen yogurt, but I wanted something more appropriate, maybe even a little dangerous; so I went down to the local Tea Party Rally.

Though a newbie to the whole “Astroturf” experience, I felt I had some idea what to expect thanks to the fine, unbiased reporting of our main stream media.  I braced myself for loud, selfish people who didn’t give a damn about the less fortunate.  I girded myself for cynical young radicals.  I steeled myself for the subtle racism reportedly running just beneath the surface. In short, I entered the raucous Public Square of the Tea Party by embracing the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.

Ha!  Somebody – I’m not sure if it’s the Boy Scouts or the Fourth Estate – owes me an apology.  I didn’t hear any loud, selfish rhetoric.  In fact, the speeches mainly concerned the social justice of liberty and even saving public employee pensions!  I did not see young radicals (though this was Oceanside, CA so distinguishing between subversive radicals and skateboarders is tricky).  And any “subtle racism” must have been drowned out by Ted Hayes’ standing ovation.

I spent hours looking out over the nearly two thousand people who attended, and it’s what I did see that surprised me: the predominate, if not prototypical, Tea Party activist is a woman in her early fifties who is, or soon will be, a grandmother.

Surprising, right?   I wasn’t prepared either.  (You see why I’m looking for an apology from the main stream media… or is it the Boy Scouts?)  The more I thought about it though, the more sense it made; who else would it be?  The Tea Party, at its heart, stands opposed to the generational transfer of financial devastation.  Now granted, parents are generally more protective of children than anyone else.  But most moms and dads are focused on immediate threats: food, shelter, education… and maybe little league baseball.  When it comes to our children’s posterity, however, no one holds a candle to Grandma.   The “Mama Grizzly” concept is popular right now, but who do you think taught them to become Grizzlies?  Heck, I remember being disrespectful to my grandmother once… once.  How about you?

I guess you could say a “funny” thing happened to me on Tax Day.  I went to a Tea Party Rally, and had a Senior Moment.  I left with more optimism, less worry, and a very different understanding of the Tea Party.  You might want to sit-up and pay attention.  I have a hunch the political elite, with their pandering and their self-serving spin, are not prepared for the powerful force coming their way.  They are messing with her grandchildren, and grandma’s not happy.

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Pieces of April for a morning in May: Set goals, attain them, record your progress, do better over time, repeat month-by-month.

I nailed down a house this morning at 6:50 am. It’s a hard dance to get the right house at the right price, but the world of email permits miracles to happen at any hour of the day or night.

We had a totally rockin’ April, more than three times our monthly nut. But the first check in April didn’t hit the bank until the 15th of the month, and, until this morning, we had zero dollars on the board for May. Even so, I told Cathleen that April 15th was our last day of poverty. We’ll see if that’s a prognostication I can defend.

Here’s a goal-getting calendar for May.

This is a simple procedure: Set goals, attain them, record your progress, do better over time, repeat month-by-month. It works. So get on it.

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