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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Green Tips - Take care of our pollinators

Did you know there is a crisis with pollinators?   

Agriculture and biodiversity depends on pollinators, so we need them to thrive as much as they need our help to do so!

Honey bees perform about 80% of all pollination worldwide.  While grains are primarily pollinated by the wind; fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops — which supply about 90% of the world’s nutrition — are pollinated by bees.  Scientists know that bees are dying from a variety of factors—pesticides, drought, habitat destruction, nutrition deficit, air pollution, global warming and more. 

The monarch butterfly is also in crisis.  They pollinate the many of the wildflower species that support us.  Today’s monarch butterflies face challenges that collectively have contributed to a decline in the size of the overwintering population compared to the long-term average. The declining numbers call for action – not only are monarchs beautiful and special creatures, they are also pollinators. 

What can you do?

Plant gardens that support pollinators.   Pollinators gardens should:

  • use plants that provide nectar and pollen sources
  • be situated in sunny areas with wind breaks
  • create large “pollinator targets” of native or non-invasive plants
  • establish continuous bloom throughout the growing season
  • eliminate or minimize the impact of pesticides
I planted one last summer -- it didn't look very good then, but I can see it has taken root this year and is beginning to look fabulous.  

As you work on your gardens this summer, consider different perennials -- perennials that support pollinators.  Get some ideas with this article: 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How Smart is Your Home?

My brother loves technology.   He is always an early adopter of any type of device imaginable.   In fact, the rest of the family lets him buy the newest thing from an iPod to flat screen TV; we let him test the problems with the alpha version and let us know whether it's something we want to own.

Given his love of gadgets, it's no surprise that when he and wife built their summer home twenty years ago, he wanted a "smart home."  At the time, it was a novel concept and the technology was still not fully embraced - or tested. My poor sister-in-law had to contend with alarms that went off in the night and systems that didn't work as advertised.   In time, they disconnected a number of the features, because it became pretty annoying.

Smart homes have improved a lot in the last ten years, and some of the new technology is pretty amazing.

In 2015, market reports valued the “smart” home automation market at $4.4 billion. But by 2020, experts estimate that the smart home industry will be worth over $21 billion.  A 2016 study found that nearly half of Americans either already own or plan on installing smart home technology. And 70% of these folks said they’d be more likely to buy another smart home product.

Most interesting is that 72% of homeowners aged 18 to 34 would actually pay more — thousands more — for smart home features.

So what are some of these smart home technologies?

Security has always been around a long time, but smart home security includes smart locks and alarm systems that connect to your smart phone.

Smart lighting is often seen as a security feature, but those who have it in their homes can attest to its value in everyday living. Many systems can wirelessly control lights with a single button touch. Users can create schedules and control their home’s lights from anywhere.

Smart appliances (a refrigerator in this example) can show you, via your phone, what you have on hand in the way of groceries. You can also access your favorite online recipes from the front panel. Smart appliances include everything from your microwave to your washer and dryer.

Homeowners can control their home’s temperature via their smartphone. These thermostats also learn when no one is home and adjust the temps accordingly, reducing energy bills.

Smoke detectors: 
Smart smoke detectors are designed to let homeowners know if an alarm goes off while they're away from the house.

Check out these Smart Home Tech Innovations from this years from the Consumer Technology Association (CES) convention this year.

And here is an inside look at some of the industry's trendiest products at the International Home and Housewares show in Chicago. 

I wonder how many of these gadgets will make an appearance at my brother's house?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The house sells the house

I got a call from some homeowners to come and make a listing presentation.   I looked up the house in the MLS and realized these folks had had a number of agents working for them over the last few years.

There's a saying in real estate.   It goes something like this: In life, you want to be the first child, the second wife,  and the third realtor...

You may laugh, but there is some truth to this.   Sellers have so many expectations from their realtors that are usually unachievable.   The first and second agents spend a lot of time educating and/or arguing with the client.  By the time the third realtor comes along, the sellers realize that there is only so much an agent can do to get their home sold. 

I looked at who the other agents were for these particular folks and was impressed... good agents.   I wasn't really sure, that I could do a significantly better job than they could.   Clearly these were sellers, who had pretty high expectations of their agent.

I figured I just needed to be, shall I say, brutally frank with these particular potential sellers.  
As we sat down to talk, they shared with me their frustrations about the house not selling and how their previous agents hadn't done their job of getting the house sold.  

With that, I asked them, "What do you think the job of listing agent is?"

"Your job is to sell our house." 

I smiled and said, "If that's what you think my job is, then you need to interview another agent.  I can't and I won't promise you that." 

They were a little shocked by that response.

There is a lot of confusion about what agents do.   

For starters, there is confusion about who the listing and selling agents are.  

Even I was confused when I first started out in the business.   When I got my first listing under contract, other brokers would ask me, "Who sold the house?"

I assumed I did.  But what they were asking me was, who brought the buyers to the transaction.   I was the listing agent.  The agent representing the buyers was the "selling agent."

Before the mid-90s, it was a pretty common practice that agents would sell their own listings -- after all, unless buyers studied the want ads or looked at pictures in the Pioneer Press or saw signs in front of a house, they had no idea what inventory was available for purchase.   Further, ALL agents technically worked for the sellers as either a listing agent or as a "sub-agent" to the listing agent.   Agents could steer their clients to their own listings and put deals together without showing buyers many homes.  I know that was what my realtors did when I bought my first two condos.   Buyers had no representation.   I, like many other buyers, had no idea that my agent was working for the seller and not me.   I have no idea what other properties I could have purchased... I had no access to listing information.  The brokers held all the data. 

Illinois law changed about that time. The concept of the "buyers' agent" was put into the licensing law and buyers were given the right to equal representation. That change was profound and made a big difference about how brokers did their job.   Buyers and sellers had the right to say, they didn't want their agent representing both sides of the deal (i.e., dual agency).   It created a new industry of buyer brokers who ONLY would work with buyers and never have any listings.  What evolved was listing agents needed selling agents in order to put deals together.

But the bigger change came a few years later with the Internet.   With that reality, all buyers were able to know what listings were currently on the market.  The role of the listing agent changed even further.   Their ability to "sell homes" was diminished again.  Buyers can now preview every property online and select what they will or WON'T tour.  

So back to my original question:  "What do you think the job of listing agent is?"

Firstly, the listing agent needs to effectively position the property within its market and then to promote and market the property.   Secondly, they work with the sellers when offers are presented and help negotiate the best possible terms for them.  Finally, they provide assistance and advice throughout the real estate transaction.  

Occasionally the listing agent may be working with a buyer who might be interested in that particular property -- but I find that happens pretty rarely.   The listing agent may "sell" the house -- but it doesn't happen often.  I think I've been involved with dual agency twice in all the years I've been doing this job.  

Because well over 90% of buyers find their home in one of two places: either from their real estate agent or from the Internet, the good listing agents tend to promote and market their properties to the brokerage community and they work to create a visually exquisite online experience for the consumers.

As confusing as it may seem, the listing agent really can't promise that they can sell a house.  For that matter, even the selling/buyers' agent can't sell the house.  While they can influence the decisions of their clients, buyers chose the properties they want to buy.  And their choice is driven by three things:
  1. Do I want to pay this price for this property?
  2. Is this property in a location, where I want to live?
  3. Does this property have the features and requirements and that I want or need?

The reality is this: 
The house has to sell the house.  

The house has to be seen as both desirable and a fair market value for buyers to make offers. 

The listing agent does many things and works with sellers from the beginning meetings through to the close.  But the most important activities that the listing agent does for their clients are to:

  1. Help the sellers to understand the current status of the housing market in their specific location.  This means sharing with them market statistics, current sales and new listings, etc.
  2. Help the sellers to set a list price, so that the home can effectively compete within their specific housing market.
  3. Promote the property to the brokerage community so that they will get the information to their buyers.
  4. Create a visually impactful online experience for the buyers.   
It's these four things that I promise to deliver to my clients.  

I don't promise to sell their house.   I can't sell it, because I simply don't have the power to make a buyer buy it. 

The house has to sell the house.