Archive for July, 2008

A real estate sign of the times: Our first custom yard sign printed in both English and Spanish

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link).

 
A real estate sign of the times: Our first custom yard sign printed in both English and Spanish

We do things that other brokers in the Phoenix area don’t do. We’re not the busiest listing brokerage — not by miles — but we’re among the most aggressively innovative in our marketing practices.

Our yard signs have always been very big, to try to grab as much attention as we can get for our listed homes, but for the past two years we have been building custom signs for our listings.

Working with Signs By Tomorrow in Peoria, we have been able to build huge, custom, four-color signs for our listed homes — featuring giant photographs of the interior and exterior of the house and custom descriptive copy about the property.

Our signs stop traffic. I know because I will often sit in my car a block or two away and watch passing cars as they slow down and stop to take in the sign, look over the house and grab a flyer.

We have a home listed in Peoria right now, and we took things one step further for this property. We know that a significant number of people in the surrounding area speak Spanish as their first language, so both the flyer and the custom sign are printed with one side in English and one side in Spanish.

Working from the English version of the Flyer, Enrique Lopez of YourPrintSource.com prepared the Spanish translation. This copy was typeset for both the flyer and the sign. If you approach the home — 7813 West Beryl Avenue — from the East, you’ll see the sign and flyer in English. From the West, you’ll see the sign and flyer in Spanish.

Just because there’s no reason not to, the photos on each side of the sign are unique. Instead of four pictures, we were able to use eight.

We also added a Spanish version of the flyer to the MLS listing so that Spanish-speaking buyers can read about the features of the home.

Regardless of our endlessly-debated border policies, as a matter of pure demographics, Phoenix is becoming a bilingual city. Doing real estate promotional material in both English and Spanish just makes sense.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

4 comments

What’s the obstacle to a paperless, iPhone-able real estate transaction? The sclerotic real estate industry itself

This is my column for last week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link).

 
What’s the obstacle to a paperless, iPhone-able real estate transaction? The sclerotic real estate industry itself

I carry my digital still camera and my Flip video camera with me wherever I go. I have belt-mounted camera cases, so they’re easy to carry, never in the way. I keep those two cameras with my car keys, along with everything else I take with me when I put my keys in my pocket: My wallet, my business cards, my watch, my phone, my Bluetooth headset and my MLS key.

All of these things are small and portable, either pocketable or belt-mounted, but I have almost all of the tools of my trade upon my person when I leave the house. I look like a cop — not always a bad thing — but I have my stuff with me so that I can work when I need to.

This is what I want for the iPhone or for some later iteration of the idea of a hand-held computer. A laptop or a notebook computer is luggable, not portable. Even rechargeable printers are luggable, not portable. I might have a laptop and printer in my trunk — absorbing damage from every bump in the road and cooking in the summer heat — but I don’t have that computing power on my person.

My dream is simple: Everything that I might do on a desktop or laptop computer, I want to be able to do from a hand-held computer. I’m perfectly happy to give up printed documents if I can shoot PDFs in all directions at will. This sounds almost implausible, but I think we might be down to the sclerotic real estate industry itself as the obstacle: Realtor associations, lenders, title companies, and all of the many branches of government.

It’s common, when discussing ideas like this, to throw up technical issues. The technical problems are truly trivial. The problem we face in real estate is the dinosaur mentality of our leadership. Properazzi.com has an iPhone interface, as do Zillow.com and Trulia.com. The National Association of Realtors doesn’t even have a clue, much less a plan, even though the importance of the iPhone has been undeniable since January 2007.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

3 comments

Don’t learn all the wrong lessons about creative mortgages

This is my column for last week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link).

 
Don’t learn all the wrong lessons about creative mortgages

Arguably, the Phoenix real estate market is in a state of incipient recovery. Will there be more bad news? Certainly. There are still thousands of homes stuck in the foreclosure process. But prices are low enough, by now, that our surplus inventory will be absorbed — by investors, new-comers and second-home bargain-hunters.

The bad news is that, at the end of all this, we will have learned all the wrong lessons from the real estate market downturn.

Are Adjustable Rate Mortgages a bad thing? People learned to hate the first generation of ARMs, so lenders built in guaranteed flat starter rates, fixed adjustment periods, maximum adjustment caps. But even with all that, ARMs came through the down market with a sullied reputation. With fixed rates still riding so low, ARMs don’t make a lot of sense right now, but that doesn’t mean they never make sense.

How about stated-income loans? Many of the foreclosed homes in the Valley were bought on stated income. But the problem wasn’t the loans, it was the buyers — who lied about their income — and the lenders — who let them get away with it.

Negative-amortization loans were another source of foreclosures, even though the idea behind the loan product itself is perfectly sound — in an appreciating real estate market.

The problem with all these loan products — and other “exotics” — was not the particular loan program. The problem was the profligacy of a surging real estate market — coupled with the securitization of mortgages.

Everyone acted as if the party would never end, that home prices would continue to rise indefinitely. Still worse, lenders had socialized the risk of their poorly-vetted loans to securities investors. Ultimately, lenders didn’t have to care if their loans were properly secured by good credit, steady income and valuable assets.

You can blame the people involved if you want, but don’t blame creative mortgage programs. Everything’s a trade-off, and it could make sense for you to get a stated neg-am ARM for your next home. But this time around there will be a hefty down payment.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

3 comments

Musical chairs: You can buy a home on leased land for a bargain price, but you must be prepared to sell before the music stops

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link).

 
Musical chairs: You can buy a home on leased land for a bargain price, but you must be prepared to sell before the music stops

We’re preparing to list a condominium that sits on leased land. Land leases aren’t common in the Phoenix area, but they do exist.

The most common way to own real property in the Valley is in fee simple: You own the land and all the structures on it, plus any mineral, water and air rights that haven’t been alienated by legislation or previous sale.

A very distant second way of owning property is the condominium plat: You own the airspace described by your interior walls, and you and all of your neighbors own the land and structures in common. Most often you will also own the air conditioner, and possibly also the roof. These are expensive to replace, so crafty developers and their HOAs socialize the risk to you.

We have a few co-ops in the Phoenix area, but very few. In a cooperative, you and all of your neighbors own the land and the structures in common, and you have a right to occupy your living space.

In a land lease, the structures can be owned in any one of these three ways — by individuals, by a condominium HOA or by a cooperative corporation. The important difference is that the land is owned by a landlord, and the landlord will be taking that land back someday.

What happens to the structures? They revert to the landlord’s ownership, and the former owners of those structures are left owning nothing.

In essence, it’s a game of musical chairs. The structures on the leasehold pass from owner to owner, but, when the music stops, no one then on that land has a place to sit. This tends to depress property values on leased land.

But land leases are written for very long terms, and a lot can happen in that time. If the landlord gets a huge offer for the land, the people who own the structures could get bought out early at a huge premium.

In the mean time, in exchange for taking the downstream risk of a depressed resale price, buyers can purchase a home for a bargain price.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

No comments