Tech Trends That’ll Change Showings

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Imagine a new way to transport your out-of-town buyers to the living room of a home for sale without them ever having to leave their desk. Or how about ways to show the expanse of a property from above rooftops? Maybe you dare to dream of a easier way to move smoothly from property to property as you work with your clients. Technology has the potential to shake up the real estate business and overhaul how you conduct showings in the future.

CES 2016, the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, kicked off Jan. 6 in Las Vegas, touting some of the potential game-changers coming to market in 2016 and beyond.

This year’s conference breaks records in terms of size and scope: Companies show off products in 2.4 million square feet of exhibit space throughout Las Vegas convention centers and hotels (the equivalent of 50 football fields). About 20,000 new products are expected to launch during this year’s conference.

What developments at CES 2016 could potentially shake up your real estate business? Here are four big tech trends coming out of CES 2016 and how they could affect you.

1. Virtual reality headsets

These offer the capability of transporting you into a 3-D world, which could even include a home that’s for sale thousands of miles from where you are. You’ll feel like you are there as you look around the space. While virtual reality headsets have mostly been geared to the gaming industry in recent years, that could change in 2016.

Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s VR Gear, and HTC Vive are among the VR products debuting at CES this year. More than 40 VR exhibitors are present at this year’s conference.

As these headsets are paired with more smartphones and other tech tools, businesses likely will unlock more practical applications for them. For example, some VR headsets could be used in conjunction with 3-D video cameras to capture virtual reality content, which could then be viewed with a Google Cardboard VR viewer or Samsung Gear VR.

2. Drones

In real estate, unmanned aerial vehicles could soon help you market your listings from above rooftops, offering aerial photos and videos of homes and the surrounding property. While FAA rules regarding the commercial use of such drones have not yet been released, some real estate professionals have obtained Section 333 waivers permitting them to use drones in their business. For more on this evolving topic, check out NAR’s frequently asked questions on drones.

FAA guidelines for commercial use are expected to be released this summer. While the industry waits for the FAA’s full approval, drone manufacturers have been sharpening their line-ups. Those at CES this year are showing off more sophisticated models that can be controlled by smartphones, offer longer flight times, are easier to pilot, and boast cameras capable of recording high-definition photos and videos.

Some manufacturers are also touting drones that could one day become your showing buddy too. For example, the Lily Camera is a $799 drone, available in February of this year, that tracks you and then films you as you move about. Throw the 2.9-pound drone into the air and it’ll instantly take flight and start recording in high definition. It flies itself and could even follow you and your buyers as you tour a space.

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3. Smarter homes

Home showings of the future may be more about demonstrating what a home can do than showing the spaces that comprise it.

Appliances and other home components are getting more intertwined. Nearly half of 4,000 U.S. adults recently surveyed by Coldwell Banker say they own smart-home technology or plan to invest in it this year. The main factors driving adoption rates, they say, are safety and security, temperature control and monitoring, and the ability to control the lights, usually via a smartphone.

Several companies will be launching systems at CES this year that hold promise for communicating with various products from one central command post. For example, LG’s Smart ThinQ hub connects the home’s appliances and monitors, controls, and collects information from home appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, ovens, and more, displaying the information on a central LCD screen. Samsung’s SmartThings hub allows control over lights, locks, and temperature all from a home’s TV.

Also at CES, tech companies are showing off smarter appliances. For example, Samsung wants the refrigerator to become a central hub in the kitchen with its new Family Hub Refrigerator, which features a 21.5-inch HD monitor and stereo speakers on the fridge door. The display can show recipes, the family’s calendar, and photos and can even use the refrigerator’s interior camera to show what’s inside (a view also accessible via smartphone).

4. Self-driving cars

Hands-free driving may be closer to reality than you think. That would allow you to take your eyes off the road and focus on your prospects as you prepare them for the next home to tour. The technology already exists, but testing, refinement, and public acceptance will likely keep autonomous vehicles from becoming mainstream for the next four years.

Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and director of research at the Consumer Technology Association, said at a session on Tuesday that he expects full self-driving automation to be available to consumers by 2020. By 2030, he says he expects 1 million autonomous vehicles will be on the road, and between 2040 and 2050, about half of all vehicles sold will be autonomous.

More than 115 auto tech companies and nine automakers are debuting products at CES this year. The car technology at this year’s show is showing off not only driverless capabilities but also new advances in energy-efficient vehicles and even home-car connectivity.

But the ambitions to get a driving-free era underway are stealing most of the center stage again at CES. On Tuesday, Ford announced that it’s tripling its fleet of autonomous vehicles in development and testing its Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles on roads in California, Arizona, and Michigan. It will add 20, totaling 30 autonomous vehicles — the largest autonomous vehicle fleet of all automakers. The company is promising a wide range of options as well. “When we do come out with an autonomous car [for consumers], it won’t be something just for luxury buyers,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said at a CES press conference Tuesday.

 

Credit to Melissa Dittmann Tracey
Contributing Editor

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® magazine.

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Understanding Cooperative Compensation

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Q. I am representing a buyer for a property listed in my MLS. The full-price offer my client submitted was countered, and the listing agent lowered the cooperative compensation listed in the MLS by half a percent. I made a copy of the MLS listing showing the cooperative compensation when the offer was first submitted. What is the rule on making changes to cooperative compensation after a purchase offer has been submitted?

A. Changes in cooperative compensation are covered by Article 3 and Standard of Practice 3-2. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that sharing commissions, as opposed to the details of cooperation, is not itself an ethical obligation. Article 3’s duty requires that “REALTORS® shall cooperate with other brokers except when cooperation is not in the client’s best interest. The obligation to cooperate does not include the obligation to share commissions, fees, or to otherwise compensate another broker.”

Standard of Practice 3-2 provides direction on how and when cooperative compensation can be changed, both to be effective and to determine whether a violation of Article 3 might have occurred. “Any change in compensation offered for cooperative services must be communicated to the other REALTOR® prior to the time that REALTOR® submits an offer to purchase/lease the property. After a REALTOR® has submitted an offer to purchase or lease property, the listing broker may not attempt to unilaterally modify the offered compensation with respect to that cooperative transaction.”

While an ethics or arbitration hearing panel would make the decision, it seems clear from your situation that the change in cooperative compensation made by the listing broker after you submitted the purchase offer would not change the amount you were already entitled to in this transaction. It also seems that the listing broker attempted to unilaterally lower the offered compensation and would be in violation of Article 3. Once you have submitted the offer to purchase, the cooperative compensation in that transaction can’t be changed without your agreement. That understood, it’s equally important to remember that simply asking selling agents if they’d be agreeable to renegotiation of the cooperative compensation payable isn’t a Code violation.

 

Credit to Bruce Aydt
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Columnist Bruce Aydt, ABR, CRB, is senior vice president and general counsel of Berkshire-Hathaway HomeServices Alliance Real Estate in St. Louis and a former chair of the Professional Standards Committee for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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Agents: Stop Saying Buyers Are Liars

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People naturally go through buying stages as their lives change. Whether they’re aging, gaining wealth, expanding their families, or just maturing in their tastes, each potential client is going through an easily recognized cycle. That cycle puts buyers into three categories: those who are starting out and are truly just looking; the ones who have decided they are definitely going to do something, but haven’t decided what yet; and the ones who have a clear idea of what they want, including their price range and other details.

Stage one buyers are just toying with the idea of making a change. They’re not trying to be coy when they give vague answers to your questions about what they’re looking for. They legitimately don’t know. Agents can put themselves in a position to win their business down the road by taking on the role of adviser and asking them questions that move them forward mentally.

In stage two, buyers have chosen to make a change. They’ve put their houses on the market or have decided not to renew their rental agreement. They’ve already made a verbal commitment to each other or to friends and family that they are going to buy. They don’t know exactly what they want, but they do know a change is coming. Agents can distill two or three different options to help them narrow the field.

In stage three, customers come to the table knowing what they want — their price range, the features they can’t live without, and a notion of the type of floor plan that meets their needs. They are definitively in the market, and it’s only a matter of who’s going to win their business.

When agents fail to win that business, too often their response is that “buyers are liars.” They write them off as unserious people only interested in wasting their time. In truth, agents who are surprised by a customer going a different direction most likely aren’t asking the right questions to get inside buyers’ heads. When agents aren’t aware of what their potential buyers are thinking, they are the ones wasting their own time with the wrong people, losing business in the process.

On the other hand, when agents find out which stage buyers are in, they can meet them there. They don’t need to talk about price range if the prospects haven’t even decided whether or not they need a change. In this stage, buyers don’t need to hear specifics. They need to first understand the how their lives will improve if they make a change. In stage three, they don’t need to be persuaded that a change will improve their lives. They already know that and that’s why they came to the agent. Stage three buyers need to know why the agent, community, or home is the right one for their specific situation.

It’s important for agents to spend time with buyers in all stages of the process. This way, they’ll have a healthy pipeline of prospects as potential clients move through the stages. If agents are ever surprised by a customer’s decision, coach them to identify customer stages. That will allow your agents to meet customers where they are so they can move them into the next stage (and subsequently, their next home).

 

Credit to Jason Forrest

Jason Forrest is a sales trainer; management coach; member of the National Speakers Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group; and author of three books, including his latest, Leadership Sales Coaching. One of Training magazine’s Top Young Trainers of 2012, Jason is an expert at creating high-performance sales cultures through complete training programs. He incorporates experiential learning to increase sales, implement cultural accountability, and transform companies into sales organizations.

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Front Entry Tips and Trends for Every Home

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With pressure to justify every square foot of real estate and conserve energy, the larger-than-life front hall is undergoing a metamorphosis. It’s not disappearing, though—rather, it’s doing its job of welcoming in a more compact, efficient way.

Design experts may use different terms to describe the space beyond a front door—vestibule, hallway, entryway, foyer. The terms are quite interchangeable with slight variations. A vestibule is generally a small, separate air-lock that stops cold and hot air from entering the rest of the house. A hallway provides entry but also links spaces and rooms—at the front or anywhere in the home, says design guru Marianne Cusato, author of The Just Right Home (Workman Publishing). Of course there are dozens of other words you can use to describe this space. And whether you pronounce the foyer as foy-yay with a French spin or foy-er (rhymes with lawyer) really depends on how grand you or your home owners want the space to sound.

Whatever you call it, it’s important to understand the potential impact the entrance to a home can have on a visitor’s first impressions, says Stephanie Mallios, e-PRO, salesperson with Towne Realty in Short Hill, N.J. “If there are too many shoes and coats strewn about and no place to put keys or gloves, many buyers will have a tough time imagining how they’ll live there,” she says.

Study these eight design details to help your clients create a welcoming space that does its job well, both aesthetically and functionally—no matter what it’s called.

Size, scale, sequence. Due to energy-efficiency concerns,an entry with a soaring ceiling and sweeping staircase is far less popular than it once was. Still, a modest entryway as small as 4 feet to 5 feet wide can convey a proper sense of arrival, says Cusato. More important than size is the scale (the space should be in proportion with the rest of the house) and the sequence (the rest of the home should flow out in a logical way), says architect Duo Dickinson, author of Staying Put (Taunton Press). Upon entering, people should be able to see other spaces and rooms and know where to go next, says architect Julie Hacker of Cohen-Hacker Architects in Evanston, Ill. In the best layouts, there may even be a view straight through to a backyard.

Height. The number of levels or floors in the structure often determines this factor, though even two- and three-story homes are moving away from entries with soaring ceilings. The location of a stairway will hinge in part on square footage and what role an architect or builder wants the stairs to play. In smaller homes, it’s often part of the foyer but off to the side, and goes straight up—being purely functional. In larger homes, the staircase might occupy its own separate hall and curve gracefully to a landing, past a window or window bank, and up to the next level. To carpet or not is a personal preference, though bare treads can be noisy; a good compromise is a runner covering painted or hardwood treads.

Millwork. To fashion a gracious entry, most design pros recommend a door that is at least three feet wide and 72 inches tall. The trend of pricey double doors is disappearing, according to Chicago-area builder Orren Pickell. Whether a door includes a glazed transom or sidelights should depend on how home owners feel about privacy and bringing natural light into the interior. The size of the glazing should be proportional to the door’s width and height. For baseboard and crown molding, simplification is the overriding trend, which keeps fussiness and costs down, except for the most traditional houses, says Cusato. Wainscoting is another way to add visual detail. Columns are helpful to screen off adjoining rooms without completely walling them off. Hacker uses two columns with space for books cut out on the back side of each on the living room side to separate areas in her home.

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Lighting. Good lighting is essential for safety, but it also sets a welcoming mood. A chandelier or large pendant is the obvious choice, while ceiling cans or sconces also work well. Whatever fixture home owners prefer, advise them to install dimmers. Not only will this allow them to save energy, but options for differing lighting intensity and color can also help set a dramatic mood for a party, a bright feel for an open house, and a low-light one for romance.

Flooring. A visually rich, substantial looking floor will reward visitors, says Dickinson. But due to the wear and tear common for front entryways, it should also be practical. Slate, stone, and porcelain meet that criteria, though they can be cold on bare feet in winter. Avoid soft woods that may dent and scratch; don’t use carpeting since it will become too dirty with traffic; and avoid vinyl unless it’s one of the more expensive, newer-looking versions. Home owners may wish to set off the area in a different material than adjacent rooms and hallways. But choosing one common material for several rooms produces a feeling of continuous flow and makes smaller rooms appear larger.

Furnishings. Depending on the entry’s size, home owners might consider adding a table to place mail, gloves, hats, and keys. Also, a mat or rug to wipe off feet and a chair or bench to put on and take off footwear can be helpful for maintaining tidiness. Finally, a mirror to check one’s appearance before heading out the door—or joining a group when entering—can be a welcome sight.

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Wallpaper vs. paint. This choice is highly personal. If home owners love color, they should go for the paintbrush, with the knowledge that darker palettes can add drama and romance. Of course, not all future buyers will have the same taste, but repainting is an easy home repair in smaller areas. If your clients are into patterns, the same rule applies, though today many wallpapers are quite easy to hang and remove. The key is for surfaces to appear clean and not look dated, which may mean banishing that old-school floral style.

Bells and whistles. A coat closet is a nice extra, as is a powder room, though newer construction may feature such conveniences at the back of a domicile where they’ll be used most frequently. An umbrella stand can hold a variety of other items—canes, tennis racquets—neatly, and niches or shelves can display collectibles. A doorknocker outside, even if rarely used, is a classy touch akin to wearing one great piece of statement jewelry. It can really give the front door a Downton Abbey feel.

If your buyers and sellers take away just one lesson from you, it should be that a well-planned front entrance—no matter the name, size, or style—will add value to their home.

 

Credit to Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

Healthy Tech, Healthy Business

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Until it slows to a crawl, idles, or crashes, you likely take for granted that your laptop or desktop computer will do what you expect it to. But it’s risky to overlook regular computer maintenance and even worse to be in the dark about whether your backup system is functioning. The fact is your computer will give out on you one day; you just don’t know when. The average useful life expectancy of today’s computers is anywhere from two to five years, says Matthew Cohen, chief technologist for Clareity Consulting, a real estate technology firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz. But you’ll likely be able to increase the longevity of your devices—and eke out perhaps seven or eight good years—by following these tips. In short, a fast, fit, and trouble-free computer requires regular updates, cleanups, and backups.

Keeping It Clean

Your computer is probably covered with tiny dust particles, which can severely shorten its life span. “Dust is a killer,” says Burton Kelso, owner and chief technology helper of Integral Computer Consultants, a Kansas City, Mo., computer repair company. “When dust collects inside your technology, it can cause your devices to overheat, which will cause them to fail.”

To beat back interior dust bunnies, Kelso recommends his clients—15 percent of whom are real estate agents—clean the inside of their computers once a year. If you’re not comfortable with unscrewing the housing and zapping the inside with a can of compressed air, then hire a professional. The can costs less than $10, while professional help will set you back between $50 and $100 per hour.

Aside from keeping mechanical parts of your computer clean, you should also pay attention to software clutter. Delete programs and applications you don’t use. Cohen suggests using the “add and remove software” feature to cull old files and programs. “Always keep the hard drive at least 20 percent empty,” he adds. “If you have too much stuff, it’s time to upgrade your hard drive, with technical help, or remove unneeded files.”

Don’t install another program just to find out which programs to clean up. Cohen says practitioners should avoid utility apps that promise to optimize or clean your computer. “They cause more harm than good,” he says.

Older computers used to benefit from defragmenting, which basically compacted information on your hard drive, speeding up your system. Cohen says most Windows defragmentation utilities are set to run automatically. “However, sometimes, one needs to analyze and defragment the discs,” he adds. To do this, go to the Start menu, type “defragmenter,” and locate the “disc defragmenter” utility. Mac users “generally don’t have to defrag,” Cohen notes. “It does it on its own.” Finally, check your preferences and examine which programs launch automatically upon startup and which ones are constantly running in the background. You can almost always change the settings so that they use up less of your computer’s operating power.

Staying Secure

Kelso says malware is the cause of many computer issues, so Windows and Mac users need to take protective steps. Always download antivirus software directly from the vendor site, and don’t share your account information with others.

Part of keeping your computer secure is limiting access to it. Marc Catuogno, director of information technology for Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty in New City, N.Y., oversees 200 computers for 800 active agents and 23 offices. To keep data safe on corporate computers, Catuogno suggests centralizing important information and making it inaccessible to the general sales population.

“We keep our data in the main home office,” Catuogno says. “Anything really important we keep on our extranet, [which] is password-protected and limits the harm that agents can do to each other’s data.”

Keeping information stored this way can actually help agents’ computers run more efficiently, because the hard drive doesn’t have to store data locally. “There is very little information actually on the computers; everything is Internet-based,” Catuogno says. “We encourage the agents to keep their own portable thumbnail drives if they need to access things.”

And it’s not just other users you need to be careful about; be choosy about the web applications you use as well. Read their user agreements and research past security breaches before signing up. If you’re looking for a free e-mail solution, choose Gmail, Kelso says, over the less-secure Yahoo or AOL.

Keeping Up-to-Date

Sometimes computers are slow because you’ve been ignoring that box that pops up telling you it’s time to update programs, or even to get the latest operating system. If you’re really far behind, that can mean your software and hardware don’t have the patches they need to interact smoothly and safely.

However, don’t get too update-happy. Sometimes it’s best to wait a few days on major updates to make sure they work properly. United Real Estate Scottsdale broker Byron Short, who oversees information technology for 42 agents, warns practitioners against updating immediately. “There’s no reason to be on the bleeding edge,” Short says. “Let somebody else take the damage. Then come in when it’s proven and it works.”

Having an End Game

Everyone needs to prepare for the worst-case scenario: losing your data in a crash. Store critical business data on secure servers or using cloud-based systems like Carbonite or Dropbox. Even when your computer suffers a catastrophic failure, this doesn’t mean your business has to experience it as well. Kelley Skar, a real estate practitioner with CIR Realty in Calgary, Alberta, says the last time his laptop crashed in 2012, he lost 30 percent of his data. Fortunately, he’d backed the remainder up using online storage systems. Since then he’s spent about $300 to add a two-terabyte external hard drive that uses Apple’s Time Capsule program to back up his data locally once a month.

No matter how well you manage your computers, you’ll need to replace them eventually. Catuogno’s company uses Windows and Acer machines, but it doesn’t change out its inventory wholesale. Instead, he replaces the oldest machines with new PCs every 12 to 18 months. The company does keep older models that still have life in them available for agents who prefer to stick with what they know..

 

Credit to Michelle Hofmann
Freelance Writer

Michelle Hofmann is a Los Angeles-based freelance reporter who loves all things real estate. Connect on Twitter @realestatewritr or via LinkedIn or michellehofmann@earthlink.net.

Trends That’ll Influence Homes in 2016

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Design changes, as does architecture. Trends don’t emerge as rapidly here as they do in say, food or fashion, but the economy, the environment, and demographics all spur shifts in the choices of materials, designs, layouts, and construction methods for single- and multifamily dwellings.

These 12 trends reflect ways to cope with environmental challenges, incorporate new building materials and methods, and alter the looks and functionality of our homes. Hear top designers and architects explain why these emerging trends are important and how they’ll influence real estate choices in the near future.

1. More Resilient, Sustainable Homes

Why it’s important: Mounting climate change pressures mean buildings need to better withstand natural disasters. Similarly, because our natural resources are dwindling, it’s increasingly important that structures be designed and built sustainably. Industry professionals are finding materials and construction techniques to meet both challenges. The Fortified Home Certification standard—created by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety and Architectural Testing Inc.—represents engineering and building levels that provide sturdier structural envelopes that are more resilient against the worst weather conditions than those found in most current building codes. And the trends of making better use of natural resources and generating energy on site—for a double win of more energy and less money spent—will continue into 2016.

How this will impact real estate: Increased durability means more lives and buildings will be saved, costs to rebuild will be pared, and insurance premiums will be lowered. The trend is happening nationwide, not just in hurricane-prone locales like Florida, says Jacqueline Nunez, founder of WonderGroup LLC in Boston. Her Allandale Residences project, designed by Merge Architects in Boston, will be among the first residential developments in New England to be receive Net-Zero and LEED Platinum certifications. It will include 16 townhomes and four condos on a two-acre site in West Roxbury, Mass. “It’s responsible to build environmentally correct,” Nunez says. Such projects have the potential to change real estate offerings as home buyers ask professionals not just about square footage and amenities but also about materials and methods, especially in areas where climate change is most destructive— “where sea levels are rising and strong hurricane winds are blowing,” Nunez says.

2. Classics, Made More Affordable

Why it’s important: More home owners want quality, luxurious materials, but the finest choices aren’t always in the budget, says architect Michael Prifti, principal with BLT Architects in Philadelphia. “Home owners seem to prefer stone, for example, over brick, over clapboard, and over vinyl, but not everyone can afford stone,” he says. With construction and material costs increasing, the need has emerged for less expensive options that still look luxe and hold up well. For example, instead of solid stone facades, architects may opt for stone veneer on studs and drywall instead of plaster inside. Or, rather than go with terra-cotta, a timeless but expensive material, they can select a handsome thin terra-cotta veneer applied to manufactured panels, Prifti says. Both examples are less costly and reflect modern building methods, particularly for constructing multiunit developments.

How this will impact real estate: Smart real estate professionals should explain to cost-conscious fixer-upper clients that there are new materials out there that might better fit a tight budget. After all, architects and builders are constantly being challenged to find value for clients in both residential and commercial development, says Prifti. “We research to find new products and new ways to use existing materials, so they’re durable, affordable, and offer more colors and textures,” he says. According to colleague and BLT Senior Project Architect Jennifer Burnside, “Many of the new products, materials, and methods lend themselves to fabrication in large modular configurations in weather-controlled factories, are shipped on trucks to a site, and are erected with a crane, which saves time and labor.” Working this way also saves your clients money.

3. Drought Awareness

Why it’s important: Droughts continue to affect large areas of the U.S., making water more expensive and decreasing its availability, especially in the Southwest and California. Water-saving fixtures such as low-flow toilets and showerheads have become standard—even mandated—in many areas, but architect Gita Nandan, with architectural firm thread collective in Brooklyn, N.Y., says buyers are looking for more. In the backyard and rooftop of a four-unit Brooklyn building her firm designed, there’s a rainwater harvesting system with modular vertical tanks connected to a drain from the rooftop. The rainwater is used to irrigate the roof gardens and the yard. The building also features low-flow fixtures. Since these features were added, the building has seen a 30 percent drop in water consumption.

How this will impact real estate: Water conservation will become as important as energy conservation, and homes that collect as much water as they consume will be as popular with buyers as Net-Zero–energy homes now are, Nandan predicts. She expects that real estate professionals will see more demand for water-saving measures such as water-smart irrigation sensors, composting toilets, gray-water recycling systems, and rainwater harvesting.

4. Digitized Manufacturing

Why it’s important: Sustainable materials such as glass, in conjunction with new manufacturing technologies, are expanding the choice of colors, textures, and sizes of materials available for home design. At the same time, 3-D manufacturing, what some call the third industrial revolution, has created a new panoply of readily available, prefabricated materials as an alternative to more expensive custom choices, says architect Cecil Baker, founding partner of Cecil Baker + Partners in Philadelphia. One example Baker cites is a new manufactured technology for glass, which makes it possible to incorporate patterns and etched surfaces directly into the glass. This new process means that glass can also be manufactured with LED lighting built in, which adds sophistication and also illumination, a double win, Baker says.

How this will impact real estate: The glass-and-LED combination is just one new technique that can result in a product that incorporates a sustainable material into a sturdy, practical, energy-efficient, and glamorous new surface for kitchen and bathroom countertops. Such choices greatly personalize rooms much more than another granite, laminate, or Corian top might do, and help to distinguish listings in a crowded market.

5. Reclaimed Wood Floors

Why they’re important: Many home owners crave authenticity, no matter how durable, affordable, and convincing the imitations may be. A case in point: the increased demand for reclaimed wood boards, which wear well, show the patina of age, and reveal visual character, says Jamie Hammel whose The Hudson Co. custom mills and finishes flooring, paneling, and beams at its mill in Pine Plains, N.Y. “People like knowing the history of their materials and products — the provenance — and these materials tell a story,” Hammel says. He adds that consumers are drawn to the sustainability of reuse as well as the health benefits of choosing older materials that don’t off-gas. “There’s a parallel with what’s happening in the food industry,” Hammel says.

How this will impact real estate: The type of wood flooring found in many homes will take on greater importance for many segments of the homebuying population, and it may be that soon not just any wood will do. The crème de la crème of wood flooring —reclaimed boards—may become the equivalent of once sought after granite and now quartz or marble. You may also see more home owners favor this option when they replace existing floors. Finally, be aware that the latest generation of reclaimed boards displays a lighter, Scandinavian matte finish that looks better with contemporary furnishings that are becoming more in vogue than traditional furniture.

6. Softening Modern Severity

Why it’s important: With so many home owners now favoring modern design, yet not wanting a harsh, laboratory look, designers search for alternatives. Architects Ada I. Corral and Camille Jobe, of Jobe Corral Architects in Austin, Texas, are among those with a solution: Select materials that offer a handcrafted, warmer style rather than an “off-the-shelf,” cold, mass-produced look for their modern settings. “We’re trying to bring craftsmanship back while maintaining a clean, crisp overall look,” Corral says. One favorite choice is burnt wood, a Japanese technique that works well with cypress and cedar and makes the wood look older, yet also strengthens its resilience against rot, pests, and fire. Another favorite is metal that’s shaped into thin, elegant veneers for shelving, beams, drawer handles, around doorframes.

How this will impact real estate: Keep this trend in mind while staging modern-styled properties or alerting buyers and sellers to new decor ideas. These types of materials and new applications add surprising touches and warmth in modern dwellings — a feeling of a more lived-in, loved setting. And their appeal will only grow, pundits predict. “So many people have tired of having their houses look like spare hotels. These choices differentiate — and warm — rooms and homes,” Jobe says.

7. The Tiny House Movement on Wheels

Why it’s important: Downsizing is big, reflected in part by the growth of the tiny house movement. But flexibility and mobility are also sought after, and many desire a hipper method of attaining this than RVs can offer. Enter the “Escape Sport”, an 8 1/2-foot-by-20-foot, 170-square-foot house on wheels that meets these challenges and more. It can comfortably sleep up to four people and can withstand bad weather with its steel frame, aluminum siding, and weather-resistant wood. It’s also environmentally friendly with a solar power system, composting feature, incinerating toilet, gray water irrigation hook-up, rainwater integration, advanced electric fireplace, and energy-efficient induction cooktop. And its toilet and sink are full sized, which is not always the case with RVs. Developer Dan Dobrowolski says this option will appeal to home owners who want to travel in smaller spaces, but don’t want to feel claustrophobic or give up the comforts of a bigger home.

How this will impact real estate: The design profession keeps looking for options beyond traditional, stick-built houses, hence the uptick in prefabricated, manufactured housing. This brand-new example offers shelter to those who are keen on smaller houses, but don’t like the idea of always staying put, Dobrowolski says. It also offers other possibilities for the real estate industry. It allows some home owners to “test drive” small-scale living. And if the trend continues to expand, landowners may find empty lots in vacation areas to be the perfect spot to rent out to these home owners on wheels.

8. Walk-In, Universal Design Pantries

Why it’s important: Currently there are 78 million baby boomers and the aging population is increasing — in fact, it’s expected to rise by 50 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to Aging in Place, a state survey of livability policies and practices. A deep, wide walk-in pantry allows a walker or wheelchair to maneuver through easily. If the pantry also has a flexible shelving system that can be lowered through special hardware that’s another boon for home owners seeking to remain independent, says Rosemarie Rossetti, an expert in universal design who constructed a demonstration home and garden with her husband in Columbus, Ohio, after she had a spinal cord injury at age 44, 11 years ago. “A pantry with proper shelving has a lot of benefits for seniors lacking mobility and not able to open folding doors or reach high items,” she says.

How this will impact real estate: Walk-in pantries and pocket doors, which are easier to open and close than traditional doors and save 10 square feet of floor space, are just two of many universal design features becoming more desired and even edging into the mainstream. “Children and those who are shorter also will be able to reach shelves easier, and when outfitted with better lighting, pantries are safer,” Rossetti says. Homes that have universal design features will be in greater demand by both the senior market and younger informed home buyers, says Joseph Mezera, a Seniors Real Estate Specialist who focuses on this niche through his Seniors First Realty in Columbus, Ohio. “Some may not want big doorways and high toilets that they associate with nursing homes, but those who are smart will listen to trained salespeople explain that it’s better to take preventive measures.”

9. Better Integration of Indoors and Outdoors

Why it’s important: Screened porches once were the prime quasi-outdoor space in a home that could protect occupants from bad weather yet offer a feeling of the outdoors. But many porches block daylight and views, and they can only be used part of the year in some climates. Now, well-designed, large-scale door panels that fold up like garage doors or open into a home’s walls via big pocket doors are becoming more readily available at affordable prices, says architect Elizabeth Demetriades of Demetriades + Walker in Lakeville, Conn. Some have highly functional, retractable insect screens, too.

How this will impact real estate: These new bigger openings permit better views of the outdoors, greater enjoyment, and easier access between indoors and outdoors. “Blurring the distinction seems to be a leitmotif for many of our clients these days,” says Demetriades. And the trend may further increase interest in landscape design since the greater connection will make yards more a part of homes rather than separate entities, only to be enjoyed in prime weather.

10. Softer, Layered Color Palettes

Why they’re important: Color trendsetter Pantone typically debuts only one superstar color of the year. But in 2016, two are taking center stage: “rose quartz” and “serenity.” Both reflect the rise of softer colors, along with the continued use of whites and creams. Some designers think this color direction and its layered palettes lead to a more personalized, sophisticated design. Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla., is a fan. “I like the layered approach since it evokes a more emotional response and doesn’t read as a single, stark color,” she says. Clendenon attributes the situation to current affairs as much as to design. “When people get more nervous, which many are because of what’s happening in the world and [it being] an election year, they want colors that aren’t wild and crazy but calming, which these are,” she says. Time will tell if a non-election year and fewer terrorism threats may inspire a return to bolder hues.

How this will impact real estate: These new colors are already turning up inside homes in countertops and backsplashes, as seen by Prexury by Cosentino’s “rose quartz,” a durable, easy-maintenance manmade aggregate of semi-precious stones. Elsewhere in homes, the more complex color palettes will inspire buyers and sellers when making selections for everything from paint to fabrics and furnishings. But pairings are key. Clendenon suggests using Prexury’s rose quartz with off-white or cream cabinets. Along with this approach will come more textures and patterns, but again in subtle combinations, she says.

11. Copper Chic Surges (Even More)

Why it’s important: The old standby of copper—think of those pots your parents, grandparents, or Julia Child used—started its re-emergence last year. And the reason that it’s becoming a more widespread alternative to stainless steel, wood, and other materials isn’t all surface. Yes, copper can add sheen, sparkle, and a 1940s Hollywood glamour. But an equally big impetus is that it reduces more than 99.9 percent of bacteria in between routine cleanings, important because antibiotic-resistant superbugs are on the rise, according to The Copper Development Association, based in New York.

How this will impact real estate: This shiny, goldlike hue will become more prevalent in homes as concern grows about buying healthy houses without mold, toxins, and bacteria. To help, U.S. manufacturers are producing more options in copper than just refrigerator, oven, and other appliance fronts, the developments that initially helped revive the trend. Throughout homes, buyers can add copper sinks, door handles, light switches, and trim. To enhance its appeal, manufacturers are also expanding the types of hues available. Already, there’s a copper-penny color, brushed nickel, yellow brassiness, and bronze on the market.

12. Enhancing Entertainment Space With Niches and “Back Kitchens”

Why it’s important: Living keeps getting more casual, and this is certainly the case in the kitchen. “Everything happens in the kitchen, and people don’t want to be closed away from interaction with their families,” says Chicago kitchen designer Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design, author of Kitchen (Pointed Leaf Press, 2015). Consequently, they’re willing to put more into their kitchens — more space (500 square feet is not uncommon, he says), bigger budgets, better design, more windows and light, and the types of detailing, like moldings and beams, once reserved for more formal spaces.

How this will impact real estate: As open plans that incorporate more important kitchen space become commonplace, finding ways to keep the workspace neat becomes key, too. This may mean more niches and elements that hide small appliances built into the main kitchen. Home owners with more room and a bigger budget might consider adding a “back kitchen,” where preparations take place and small appliances like toasters and coffee makers are stored. To maintain the interflowing social feel, the spaces remain open to one another. A growing number of home buyers may be willing to forgo a dining room, says De Giulio.

Be on the lookout for these trends in 2016. You’ll be in better tune with buyers who are searching for these features in their new homes or want to add them as space and budgets permit. And staying aware of the latest trends can help you guide sellers to differentiate their listings beyond location, size, and amenities.

 

Credit to Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space. Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman

Improve Your Way to the Top

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In King of the Mountain, if you aren’t fighting hard, you aren’t really playing. And if you aren’t playing, you’re losing. In this children’s game, where the goal is to push whoever is occupying the high ground out of the way and take his or her spot at the top of the mountain, the only person whose success doesn’t depend on improving in position is the king.

But maintaining the status quo doesn’t benefit anyone besides the king. And even the king can’t just cruise along — when everyone else’s full energy is directed toward taking you down, you won’t last long if you aren’t constantly defending your territory. If you want your brokerage to end up on top, you have to make sure your sales associates are playing to win.

What percentage of agents on your team are sincerely playing to improve rather than playing to cruise? The answer is a telling indicator of your team’s potential. People who are cruising stick with what they’ve always done. They’re content with where they are. In contrast, those playing to improve constantly ask themselves “What can I do to get better?” They’re focused not on maintaining but on looking for the next opportunity and stepping into it. Just as King of the Mountain players can’t depose the monarch of the moment without stepping up their game, a team in cruise control is in no position to grow and reach new heights.

If you’re leading a team that has an abundance of cruisers, it’s time to shift to a new gear. Make it your 2016 goal to change people’s mindsets so that at least 80 percent of your team is operating in “improvement” mode at any given time. You won’t hit that target overnight, but you’ll start seeing rapid and sustainable improvement by making the following three adjustments to your team’s culture.

Build a Culture That Rewards Going For It

Too often, team cultures promote the “safe play”—put in your time, don’t rock the boat, follow the script, and, after x years, you’ll be in line for a payout. But you didn’t get into real estate to play it safe. Such a culture stifles innovation and puts your team in prime position to get lapped by the competition. Shake things up by finding ways to publicly praise your outside-the-box thinkers and doers. Make sure agents understand that the way it’s been done before probably isn’t some magic formula that’ll always work. Empower them to bring you any idea they’re willing to own — and to pitch the ones you approve to colleagues.

Challenge People to Set Big Goals

Use every coaching opportunity you have, whether a formal performance evaluation or a hallway high-five on a big sale, to lead your team members to dream boldly about what’s next. Let them know you’re pleased when they hit a home run, but don’t let them milk previous successes. You’re leading a team of people who have chosen a career in sales, so it’s safe to assume they’re okay with competition. Use that fact to snowball individual aspirations and successes into teamwide goals and big-time wins.

Only Add Team Members Who Raise the Bar

Building a team that’s fully on board with what you’re working toward is never more important than when you bring on someone new. Only hire people who will raise the bar. Think of each hire as an opportunity to add a piece you don’t have yet, and you’ll stimulate everyone to step up.

These three enhancements to your team’s culture aren’t rocket science, but they require a strong commitment to continuous improvement that starts with you. The results you’ll see aren’t hard to interpret, either. Your team should be either on top of the mountain or striving to get there. And either way, the fight to improve continues.

 

Credit to Jason Forrest

Jason Forrest is a sales trainer; management coach; member of the National Speakers Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group; and author of three books, including his latest, Leadership Sales Coaching. One of Training magazine’s Top Young Trainers of 2012, Jason is an expert at creating high-performance sales cultures through complete training programs. He incorporates experiential learning to increase sales, implement cultural accountability, and transform companies into sales organizations. Learn more at

8 Tax Breaks for Homeowners

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Mortgage interest

You can deduct all of the mortgage interest (not principal) payments you make on your home, up to a $1-million loan for a couple filing jointly. This applies to your home equity line of credit (on a loan up $100,000) and second mortgage as well.

If you own a second home, such as a vacation cottage or mobile home, you can deduct the mortgage interest for it as well, so long as you reside there for the longer of 14 days per year or 10 percent of the time it is rented out.

Mortgage points and insurance

In addition to the mortgage interest, you can also deduct the points you pay on your mortgage for your main home in the year you pay them, as well as points paid for a home equity loan. Points paid for refinancing your home mortgage generally have to be amortized over the length of the loan.

You can also deduct any premiums paid for private mortgage insurance (PMI) on your loan if you earned less than $109,000 in 2015 and the policy was taken out after 2006.

Property taxes

As strange as it sounds, you can deduct taxes on your taxes! Your property taxes are a deductible expense. Keep your property tax bills and proof of payment.

Home office

If you have some sort of home-based business, you may be entitled to a home office deduction on your taxes. There are several hoops to jump through to qualify for the deduction, the two biggest being that your home must be your primary place of business, and that you use the office space only for work. (The IRS spells out the rules for claiming the home office deduction in Publication 587.)

There are two ways to calculate your deduction. Under the simplified option, you can deduct $5 per square foot of your home office’s area, up to a maximum 300 square feet.

The more complex (but often more advantageous) option involves dividing the square footage of your office by the total square footage of your home; this yields the “business percentage” of your home. You then multiply allowable home costs — namely mortgage interest and utilities — by the business percentage to arrive at the deductible amounts.

Energy credits

If you implemented energy-efficient improvements to your home, you can get a credit of up to 10 percent of the cost of those improvements, to a maximum of $500. This covers expenses like new windows and doors, insulation, and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems. You could also get a credit for 30 percent of the cost of renewable energy systems, like solar power.

There could also be state tax credits for these items as well which you can stack on top of your federal credit.

Medical home improvements

If you have a medical condition that necessitates home improvements, such as adding a stair lift because you have arthritis or an air filter because your spouse suffers from allergies, you may be able to write off some of these costs as part of your medical deduction.

However, you can deduct only that portion of your medical costs that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (7.5 percent if you are 65 or older).

And in most cases, you can deduct only the difference between the cost of the equipment and the increase in value to the home from this improvement. Some improvements (such widening doorways to accommodate a wheelchair) add no marketable value to the home but are fully deductible if you meet certain income requirements.

Home sales

If you sold your home in the last year, you could be eligible for some tax savings resulting from that transaction. The costs of your real estate agent’s fees, advertising, and title insurance are deductible expenses. You can also deduct improvements you made to the home in order to sell it, but only if you have a taxable capital gain from the sale.

Home damages

If your home was damaged by weather, fire, theft, or another disaster, you’ve suffered a casualty loss, a portion of which may be deductible. If your loss was greater than 10 percent of your income and was not covered by insurance, you can deduct the loss. You’ll need to be able to document the value of what was lost, however.

 

Credit to Brette Sember

Brette Sember is a former attorney and author of more than 40 books, including The Divorce Organizer & Planner, The Complete Divorce, and How to Parent with Your Ex. She writes often about law, parenting, food, travel, health, and more. Brette also writes for AvvoStories