Saturday, December 16, 2006

Go Green, go plant your own 10 trees, and stop global warming

The numbers from Thursday night’s fierce storm have finally come in and they are staggering. Four people dead, 1 million without power, hurricane force winds that reached 69 mph at Sea-Tac (a record) and an unfathomable 113 mph in the Cascades.

Last night, finally in the warmth and comfort of my in-laws’ home, I sat down to watch the appropriately scheduled National Geographic special “Planet Earth”, the theme of which was the climate change that is pummeling our blue planet. I started thinking about global warming as more than a euphemism and more like reality. Can the recent natural disasters be attributed to climate change and should we be worried? If yes, then it affects us all. The American isolationist mentality has often blinded us from the truth; we don’t believe that we could be breathing pollution from the other side of the globe. But yes, research shows that up to 25% of the LA smog is pouring across the Pacific from Beijing. Growing acidity in the ocean waters – which affects everything from food supplies to epidemics to water supplies – is perhaps the most troubling issue.

Can we really ignore these telltale signs? From the Tsunami in 2004 to Katrina in 2005 to the Storms of Seattle 2006, climate change is affecting us all. Gosh, my wife reminds me of how obsessed I have been about making sure we were prepared for a disaster, and yet this sudden storm still got the best of us. I’m forced to write this Blog via my Blackberry, being forced out of our home due to lack of electricity. Still 500,000 people without power today in the Seattle metro area; who cares about real estate when you can’t warm yourself, feed your family, find light in the darkness. I can’t focus on mortgage rates after witnessing a storm with the power of an Atlantic hurricane, as deadly as a tornado on the Midwestern plains. And I thought we were safe in our beautiful Pacific inlet.

As the climate changes become more dramatic, the consequences pack much a bigger punch. The papers report a full 1 million people were without power by Friday morning. My own home used to feel like a fortress: a strong, well-built, turn-of-the-century structure atop the hill in Queen Anne, protected on either side by similar buildings. This hearty home has survived three major earthquakes in its lifetime, innumerable Pacific squalls, scores of hard winters. So how did the power stay out for so long and why do we find ourselves at the mercy of an increasingly more violent natural world?

I assure you that I don’t have the answers to all these questions. But to find answers, you must start by asking questions. Six leading scientists, including Stephen Hawkings, contributed their viewpoints to the National Geographic special. They convinced me something important is happening. I’ll finally rent the Al Gore movie tomorrow, hopefully viewing it in the comfort of my own home. Nothing against my in-laws’ residence in Federal Way, just that I miss the beautiful view of Queen Anne. You know the view I’m talking about: the famous shot of Seattle from on high, with the Space Needle in the foreground and the blue of Puget Sound stretching out to the horizon. To me, it’s the most beautiful view in the world. Funny how it’s the peaceful face of nature that brings me such joy and it’s the violent fury – no doubt brought on by ourselves – that destroys it.

So, being temporarily transported back into the medieval era, long before the Internet was our portal to everything, I began to wonder how we ever got along in the real estate business without our precious World Wide Web. How did agents sell? How did buyers buy homes? I asked my in-laws about their first home. I thought back to my own nervous first home buying experience. I remembered the stories relayed at my first brokerage office, the oldest Coldwell Banker branch in Seattle.

And then with great fortune – the direct result of having to unplug, disconnect, and remember how to live simply – I stumbled upon that most simple and powerful of media, a book. Published in 1996 – exactly ten years ago – the best-selling ‘how-to buy a house’ volume sat humbly on my father-in-law’s shelf. It was the silver lining in those angry Pacific clouds. I pondered how a massive windstorm – which I had cursed for taking me away from my work – actually brought me closer to the truth. It made me remember for a moment that wise old curmudgeon, Henry David Thoreau, and his plea to “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” I realize now that sometimes the keys to the future lie in the past. So tomorrow I begin again to tell the tale of technology, the Internet, and the real estate industry.

And I will start by opening a book.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Come One, Come All! here comes the iMLS

Do you believe in fortunetellers? Well you should. I’ll tell you why and in the process let you take a peek into this blog’s crystal ball. Let’s start off with the anecdote:

I am a fortuneteller. I don’t read people palms, or play with Tarot cards, or summon spirits. But I can use my experience in the real estate and marketing fields, and my gut reaction to new technologies, to very accurately guess the big moves that make headlines. So here comes an iMLS and cMLS, Internet Multiple Listing Service and Consumer Multiple Listing Service, definitions below.

Here’s an example. Last week, before the ZMLS (the new Zillow MLS online search database, NOT IT's official name-but What I am calling it) debut was announced, I was telling a local real estate pioneer about my uncanny fortunetelling abilities. I predicted that Zillow was going to take this step and that it was going to revolutionize the real estate industry. The gentleman I was speaking with is a big time exec owns and has managed over a half a billion dollars of real estate transactions. Let’s put it this way, he’s no spring chicken. But even he was dumbfounded by my prediction. He wasn't alone. Most people I told didn't believe that Zillow would take such a bold step, so quickly. Two days later and the shockwaves of the formal announcement are still rippling across the industry.

Another anecdote. In 2004, I wanted to write a book detailing the ins and outs of real estate negotiations. Despite my passion, a broker of mine convinced me to hold off on the project. I took bad advice rather than listening to my gut. So I passed on the idea, on another instance I suggested to a nice couple who wanted more real estate leads for her business, to use a blog as the medium for getting more traffic to her real estate agent website. They took that advice and now Dustin and Anna Luther have one of the most successful real estate blogs in the country, They have done an amazing job and set a trend for the distribution of information that only now are others catching up to.

Oh yeah. I also called the craze a couple months after they launched. Good hunch, huh?

So where is all this bragging leading? I’ll tell you. I sat down by myself one morning and decided that it’s time to stop using this foresight for parlor tricks and use it to inform, excite, and enliven the real estate community, by sharing my thoughts and predictions with all of you.

I’m returning to the great idea I buried long ago and will write the book about everything in the real estate industry that the trendsetters won’t tell you and the fat cats don’t want you to know. This blog will be a medium for organizing my thoughts, and I strongly encourage all of you out there to chime in with your own experiences, questions, and epiphanies. The end result will be a published book, name TBD; a narrative, if you will, about the rise of the real estate Internet revolution and its effect on buyers, sellers, and agents. I’ll include a rough outline below and I hope that this skeleton of a book will be fleshed out with real, true-to-life stories (many of which will come from you) that we come across along the way.

1. A historic overview of the real estate market; how did things used to be and how has everything changed in the past decade.
2. The Internet beyond the hype and how it is used today. Basically a primer on the most advanced technology, what has happened, and what will happen along the road to the web 10.0.
3. The nuts and bolts of buying/selling a home. The roles that real estate agents, banks, title insurance companies, appraisers, and inspectors play.
4. How does everyone get paid? Better yet, how you make sure you get a piece of trillion-dollar industry.
5. The myth that buyers win over sellers by using the Internet.
6. The reasons why sellers work cheaper by using the Internet and walk away richer.
7. The reason why some agents go BIG with the Internet and others go BUST.
8. A primer on how to develop real estate investments, via renovation or development.
9. Win/win, lose/lose real estate negotiations and the larger implications.
10. And finally, I get to peer once again into my crystal ball. What’s the future look like? Forget virtual tours, we have home video tours, ZMLS to CMLS, and using less paper than a ticker-tape parade. In summary, we will help you develop a plan for buyers, for sellers, and for agents to make those millions!

Let this be your formal invitation to return to this blog often and bring friends. In the world of the information revolution, ideas can be worth more that gold. So come often and fill your pockets and maybe even leave a few nuggets of wisdom behind.

I’m here to cut through the smoke and lights and read you a fortune that is absolutely real and may shake the cobwebs out of this stuffy ol' industry. What you do with the fortune I tell is completely of your own choosing.

Definition of MLS: For those non-real estate insiders, a MLS is a real estate agent and broker association that allows all parties to share the Listing of the Homes for sale. It is a collaboration of these associations that makes it easier for consumers to sell homes via one company, but get the exposure to all companies. Traditionally speaking the MLS's in each metro area were heavily controlled by it's members, but more or less too heavily influenced by large companies who run the National Association of Realtors. We favor NAR and Realtors, but want ultimately consumers to win.

As always these are my opinions and as you all know, I have my biases, as I am in the Real Estate IDX web solutions industry.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Have that ‘Condo’ Attitude

While recent numbers show real estate sales in the Seattle area are staying just ahead of the national curve, looking closely shows that the real boom is in condo sales. Agents and buyers can find the area’s hottest listings using our real estate website and idx tools.

As a prospering city with an incredibly livable downtown area, Seattle is the prime example of how overall real estates numbers can be positive, even during one of the slowest home sales seasons of the decade. With the condo market sizzling, supply simply cannot keep up with demand, prompting further renovation and development projects in the city and suburbs.

Condo sellers are receiving an exceptional 94-99% of their asking price in the Pacific Northwest, a positive trend during a housing slump in which it’s common to see sellers slashing prices by up to 40% in other cities. For up-to-the-minute status of the market, visit our Seattle real estate news website.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Out with the New, In with the Old?

The National Association of Realtors just released its ‘official’ predictions for 2007. Take from it what you will, but some overarching trends seem to be right on the money.

Numbers aside, the NAR predicts that while sales of new homes will continue to decrease dramatically (in some areas as much as 10%), the sale of existing homes should begin to jump. One reason for this may be the overzealous development projects started during the building craze that are only now entering the much chillier market.

So, in the interest of making money even when times are tough, the smart investor, home buyer, or realtor would be wise to invest in established or renovated communities. The use of real estate website and idx tools and other real estate development solutions will therefore become all the more important for both the amateur and professional real estate investor to stay in the black.

As always, learn more about what’s going on in the market, here in the Pacific Northwest and around the country with our exclusive Seattle real estate news.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Silver Lining in Pacific Clouds

A new report from the Associated Press shows some positive trends in the Northwest real estate market, a positive departure from the doomsday panic that has been sweeping the country. (For more information on real estate trends, visit our Seattle real estate news site)

The recent slump of buyers and real estate values in California prompted the AP to dig into recent trends in the industry in the Western US. In San Francisco and San Diego (as well as Sun Belt cities including Phoenix and Las Vegas) prices have seemed to hit an affordability ceiling, where middle-class buyers simply cannot afford to buy new homes. Toss in the overzealous development programs in these areas and you find thousands of homes with big price tags, but no shoppers.

However, the bright note in the West is the Pacific Northwest market. While the number of houses sold in the third quarter of 2006 dropped by 16%, the median appreciation of home prices increased nearly 12% since the previous year. Some hot spots such as King County saw appreciation values as high as 14%.

So what makes the Northwest so different? For one, the dot-com busts that ravaged the area in 2000 seems to have a silver lining after all. As other areas of the country were wrapped up the housing bubble of recent years, Northwestern cities tended to allow only conservative appreciation, making the ensuing bust a mere love tap rather than knockout punch.

Add to that the fact that more people are moving into the area than out of it. The US Census Bureau calls this phenomenon Net Domestic Migration and Washington State is consistently located in the top ten nationwide. California, however, is stuck in a spiral of population loss – with many Californians moving north.

So amidst the swarm of souring news we find a plus for both homeowners and investors in the Pacific Northwest. The market is waiting, get a jump at it with the best and brightest real estate website and idx tools.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Turning the Tide in a Forgotten Neighborhood

The dynamics of the real estate market are much like the waves of the ocean: forever rising and falling, ever changing. Whether you consider yourself a professional or amateur in the industry, the intimate knowledge of the ups and downs of a neighborhood’s pricing and desirability can mean the difference between getting a leg up on the competition or being last to the scrap pile. As always, Seattle real estate news is a great tool for knowing where to strike when the pan is the hottest.

One of the headlining up-and-comers in the Seattle area is an area that ten years ago many experts would have abandoned as a lost neighborhood. In southwest Seattle, the Delridge area has seen and incredible transformation in the past few years, thanks in large part to a non-profit community development association dedicated to restoring the historic neighborhood.

The Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association, founded in 1996, has sparked amazing urban renewal in what is proving to be a hot spot for home buyers. Not only has the Association prompted the remodeling of current properties and the development of new town homes, but also a complete renovation of the red-brick Cooper Elementary School (closed in 1989) into the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, among other natural and architectural renewal projects. The Arts Center is scheduled to host an array of dance, music, and theatrical events, including the Seattle Symphony and the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

But the real draw for many home buyers are the low housing prices and proximity to downtown Seattle. The time is now for Delridge, as impressive appreciation estimates have made this area the current hotspot to invest, relocate, and grow.

As always, stay on the forefront of critical changes in the real estate industry here in Seattle, and around the country, with our premier real estate website and idx tools.