Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NAR Gets Behind Efforts to Restore Market

The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® on Monday gave its support to the ongoing bipartisan efforts to finalize a financial bailout plan.

The proposed plan would allow the Treasury to buy questionable mortgage loans from U.S. and foreign-owned banks. At a potential cost of as much a $700 billion, the bailout package aims to repair U.S. financial markets and keep mortgages flowing to consumers.

After a busy weekend, Congress will continue to negotiate the plan this week. "Obviously, there will be differences over some details, and we will have to work through them," President George W. Bush said Monday in a Washington Post article. "The whole world is watching to see if we can act quickly to shore up our markets and prevent damage to our capital markets, businesses, our housing sector, and retirement accounts." Bush warned that failure to pass the bill quickly, which he said is possible if too many provisions are added, would have broad consequences far beyond Wall Street. "It would threaten small business owners and homeowners on Main Street," Bush said in the Washington Post report.

NAR said it believes government intervention is imperative to restore market liquidity.

"Many securities are being valued at pennies on the dollar due to the very high leverage ratio and illiquidity of certain mortgage-backed securities," NAR President Dick Gaylord said. "Unrealistically low valuations are paralyzing the balance sheets of financial institutions and have hindered liquidity flow."

Gaylord said NAR supports efforts to stabilize financial markets to allow rational valuation of assets, expedite refinancing and relief efforts for home owners, and other measures to reestablish a level of confidence in the housing credit markets.

"NAR will work diligently with Congress and the administration to achieve these goals as well as the broader goal of reforming the housing finance system," he said.

Source: New York Times, David M. Herszenhorn (09/23/08) and CNN Money, Chris Isidore (9/23/08)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

12 Ways toExtend Your Battery Life

Mike Antoniak wrote a helpful article for the National Assoc. of REALTORS® Web site. As mobile professionals, nothing is more enoying than having your laptop's screen turn black and power down in the middle of entering a listing or instant messaging a client. Below is the tips that Mike Antoniak has listed to prevent this from happening to you the next time you are 3/4 done from activating that listing.

A battery drain could translate into a missed call, unanswered e-mails, or photos that can’t be snapped on schedule. Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to extend the life of your batteries and prevent unforeseen drains from becoming disasters. Here’s how.

1. Know your battery’s limits. How old is your battery? If you’ve had your electronics for a while, it may be time for a new battery. Over time, all batteries lose their ability to hold a charge. If the battery’s getting old, you may need a replacement. Turn to the original equipment vendor first and remember that quality matters. Some aftermarket batteries have caused problems. If it’s a no-name brand offered at an unbelievable bargain online, it might not be a long-lasting battery.

2. Turn down the screen. The brighter the screen, the more power your gadget is consuming. Turn off the camera monitor between snapping photos. With a computer or phone, learn how to control the screen’s brightness and turn the backlight off. Whenever possible, move to a darker corner or the shade where you won’t need the screen at full brightness.

3. Minimize multitasking. To economize your use of power on computers and smart phones, don’t overburden your processor. Rather than open and run several programs simultaneously, concentrate on one chore at a time as much as possible. Even when an application is open in the background and not in use, the processor requires a little more power.

4. Disable wireless. Switch off Wi-Fi or Bluetooth until you need them. Otherwise, your hardware is pointlessly searching for a connection you won’t use, reducing available power for other functions.

5. Unplug peripherals. Any peripherals powered through a USB port tax battery life. Restrict use until you can plug into AC or DC power.

6. Prioritize your needs. Make selective use of your hardware to conserve power. Your smart phone may also be an MP3 or video player, but those functions will cut into talk or Web time. You can watch DVDs on your laptop, but when you’re finished, you likely won’t have much battery life left for anything else.

7. Install your applications. Avoid using your laptop’s optical DVD/CD-ROM drive as much as possible when you’re not able to plug your laptop in. The motor and moving parts drain battery life. It’s better to work from the drive than disc.

8. Increase the RAM. The more RAM you have, the less work your processor has to do to find and manage data resources. It will improve performance and overall efficiency.

9. Let your laptop sleep. Set the sleep mode to launch after a shorter duration of inactivity, and choose the sleep mode over the screen saver mode to conserve power.

10. Shop for efficiency. Next time you're in the market for new hardware, consider battery life as a compelling feature. Step up to a better battery, and buy a backup. Consider migrating to the emerging class of hardware that runs on flash drives and flash memory. With no moving parts, these devices make more efficient use of power, reducing overall size and weight in the process.

11. Charge properly. Effective power management begins with knowing the proper maintenance and procedures. Learn how to properly manage the battery recharge cycle. On some types of batteries, it is possible to over-charge. For example, with older NiCad or NiMH batteries it’s important to completely drain the battery between recharges. On the other hand, with the newer lithium-based batteries, that’s not an issue.

12. Have a solid backup plan. There will still come a time when you suddenly find you’ve run out of juice. Common sense says you should buy the rechargeable with the longest life from the outset, and also invest in and carry a fully charged backup. For highly compact handheld devices, one way to make sure a portable power source is always at hand is to buy products that can run off AA or triple AA batteries, or invest in an alternate backup power source that runs on them.

While these are all wonderful tips another solution to prevent from having to re-enter everything due to a dead battery is to create a Hardware Profile. This enables the user to "program" the computer to behave differently when mobile as it does when connected through the power supply. Examples of settings include dimming the screen, configuring the computer to display for best performance rather than for best appearance, turning off applications that run in the background freeing up the CPU and using less resources. Microsoft has a great tutorial on creating profiles for your laptop for when "docked" and whrn "NOT". Follow these steps and you are sure to get less black screens or power-downs in the middle of doing a task.

Powerful Tecnology to Fit Any Budget

Real estate professionals depend on many tools to excell in their respected fields. Technology is crucial in todays market. From digital cameras to Web sites technology is crucial to survive in almost every industry. Although technology can be frightenly expensive, you Return on Investment can be priceless. The Web is one of the greatest tools to utilize in todays market. Most of todays buyers search for listings on the Web. There are many sites that allow users to market listings as well as themselves for little or no cost. ActiveRain, Twitter, and many other Blog sites are usually a free way to utilize the power of the Web. Many of these sites allow professionals to share ideas, tools and even market listings and the only cost is the time you want to put in.

Laptop computers are essential to real estate professionals. Whether accessing email or accessing your MLS laptop computers allow REALTORS® to be mobile. When purchasing a new laptop, it can get confusing with so many brands, hardware technologies, and software packages available. which one to buy? First thing to consider is price. Prices vary on hardware, software as well as branding. When it comes to hardware it is important to know what you need. Well if you are like most real estate professionals you do not need the top shelf laptop. These usually have high-end graphics cards used for video editing and gaming (not something most REALTORS® have time for). RAM (Random Access Memory) is important to consider, most laptops today come with at least 2GB of RAM, this is probably more than enough for most professionals. The other thing to consider is software. Many retailers and manufactures bundle software packages to appeal to the customer. One thing to realize is that many of these bundles are trials and after a month or so the application will not work until you purchase a license not allowing acces to any resources created by the software.

Cell Phones and PDA's are another essential for the mobile agent. Apples iPhone is an excellent tool. With a full featured Web browser and built in tools designed for real estate professionals. Real estate technology company “a la mode” optimized its Agent XSites software for the iPhone, allowing real estate agents to manage website leads directly on their shiny new handset. To put it in other words, the real estate agents equipped with an iPhone will be able to get the complete information for all their leads, set call back reminders, route and assign leads — directly from the iPhone, while on-the-go. Basically, “a la mode” just optimized the existing web interface to suit the large touchscreen of Apple’s handset. Although it costs more than other phones with similar features, it is probably the best tool for the mobile professionals.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First Time Home Buyers Tax Credit

First-time Home Buyer's Tax Credit Fact Sheet

Who is Eligible

. The $7,500 tax credit is available for first-time home buyers only.
. The law defines a first-time home buyer as a buyer who has not owned a home during the past three years.
. All U.S. citizens who file taxes are eligible to participate in the program.

Income Limits

. Home buyers who file as single or head-of-household taxpayers can claim the full $7,500 credit if their adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $75,000.

. For married couples filing a joint return, the income limit doubles to $150,000.
. Single or head-of-household taxpayers who earn between $75,000 and $95,000 are eligible to receive a partial first-time home buyer tax credit.
. Married couples who earn between $150,000 and $170,000 are eligible to receive a partial first-time home buyer tax credit.
. The credit is not available for single taxpayers whose AGI is greater than $95,000 and married couples with an AGI that exceeds $170,000.

Effective Dates for the Tax Credit

. First-time home buyers would receive a $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of any home on or after April 9, 2008 and before July 1, 2009. To qualify, you must actually close on the sale of the home during this period.

Tax Credit is Refundable

. A refundable credit means that if you pay less than $7,500 in federal income taxes, then the government will write you a check for the difference.
. For example, if you owe $5,000 in federal income taxes, you would pay nothing to the IRS and receive a $2,500 payment from the government.
. If you are due to receive a $1,000 tax refund from the government, your refund would grow to $8,750 ($1,000 plus $7,500 from the home buyer tax credit).
. Buyers can take the tax credit in their 2008 or 2009 tax return.
If you purchased the home in 2008, the tax credit is taken on your 2008 tax return. If you buy in 2009, you have the option of taking the credit on your 2008 or 2009 tax returns.

Types of Homes that Qualify for the Tax Credit

. All homes, whether single-family, townhomes or condominium apartments will qualify, provided that the home will be used as a principal residence and the buyer has not owned a home in the prior three years. This also includes newly-constructed homes.

Payback Provisions

. The tax credit essentially serves as an interest-free loan to be repaid over 15 years.
For example, a home buyer claiming a $7,500 credit would repay the credit at $500 per year. However, the buyer doesn't have to start repaying the credit until two years after the tax year in which the credit is claimed.
. If the home owner sold the home, then the remaining credit would be due from the profit of the home sale.
. If there was insufficient profit, then the remaining credit payback would be forgiven.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Digital Photography and Real Estate

The digital camera is an essential tool for real estate agents, architects, designers and others who regularly take photos of real property. A digital camera can also be an important tool for individual sellers who must photograph their own home.
Whether a professional or not, the importance of taking well-composed and exposed photos of real estate can not be understated. Using a few tried and true techniques can produce near-professional looking images without the need of buying expensive equipment.
Wide angle lens for real estate photography
While a wide angle lens isn't required for taking photos of real estate, it is certainly a plus. Cameras and lenses with wide angle capability capture more of a scene than a normal lens.
Not only can a larger area of the scene be photographed with a wide angle lens, but wide angle allows you to stand closer to the main subject. As a result, it's often possible to take photos free from unwanted objects in the foreground such as trees and poles.
If you haven't purchased a digital camera, consider one with a 28mm (35mm equivalent) lens. Or check if the one you already own accepts a wide angle converter lens.
Composing real estate photos
Make a habit of checking the composition in the viewfinder or on the LCD before taking a photo. There are no hard and fast rules for composing real estate shots, but do keep in mind a few principles.
Do some staging. Temporarily move distracting items from the scene such as a car in the driveway or a For Sale sign on the lawn. For interior shots, tidy up the room so it looks uncluttered.
Highlight positive areas of property.
Before snapping the shutter button, review the scene so vertical or horizontal line are perpendicular.
Take shots from different angles so nothing obstructs an important part of the scene.
Moving slightly to the left or right, or back a few steps, before taking a photo can improve composition. Check the composition on the LCD.
Editing photos can be as important as taking the photo. If you feel you have done everything possible from adjusting the lighting, angles, etc. and photo still has poor quality, you may have to edit the photos manually. This can be handled through many available editing software. There are so many different software and tools available, Which one do I use?
Unless you already have commercial software, there are many free alternetives. With the market the way it is, it is always good to hear the word "FREE". The GIMP, Paint.Net, and FastonePhoto are all freeware or Open Source software that are available downloads free of charge. Sites like FotoFlexer and Picknik allow you to edit photos on-line (FREE) without the need of installing software.
Lets face it, photos are one of the most important tools when marketing listings. Since Web2.0 the Web is a critical marketing tool to be utilized in any industry, especially real estate. Pictures do say a thousand+ words, and it is up to you what words your photos are saying about you.

MLS Data to Your Website


There is some confusion among developers and Realtors® alike as to what the difference of RETS and IDX are. So I figured that I would write a short blog entry on this, to help clear up the confusion. First, lets start by looking at IDX and what that term means. IDX stands for Internet Data Exchange, and was a mandate from the National Associations of Realtors® that said the “Associations of REALTORS® and their Multiple Listing Services must enable MLS Participants to display on Participants’ public websites aggregated MLS active listing information subject to the requirements of state law and regulation.”

Typically this mandate was answered by providing the MLS participants with access to a FTP feed of the data, which is commonly now referred to as the IDX feed. The other method used to meet this mandated was to provide a link that the participants could frame into their own site. Both of the above solutions pose problems for Realtors® and their website developers. Almost every single MLS’s FTP feed is different, requiring custom coding or custom configuration for each MLS. FTP feeds are also generally only upated once per 24 hours. The framed solutions on the other hand povide little to no customization in looks or services differentiation between Realtors. Framed pages also have negative impacts on a websites search engine ranking, causing it to be very difficult to market a website.

RETS has been getting so much attention lately. RETS stands for the Real Estate Transaction Standard. RETS is an attempt by NAR and the MLS vendors, to standardize the way that IDX and other real estate data is provided. Why still not a perfect solution, it does offer many benefits over providing the IDX data via FTP. First, RETS is typically setup as a near real time access to the MLS data, meaning that when Realtor® Rodney enters a listing into his MLS, it is provided out almost instantaneously to REALTORS® via the RETS server. RETS also provides a standardized way to determine what data the MLS is providing you, allowing for easier an less time consuming setups for website developers. The RETS standard is still maturing however NAR realizing the potential for RETS to improve their members access to the IDX data has mandated that all Realtor® Associations and their MLSs adopt RETS in 2009. So if your MLS does not yet have RETS, they will in the near future.

Although RETS is still in the early stages, the ability to standardize the method of transferring MLS data is important. Standrdazation allows a unified method of transferring data to Web sites making it easier for vendors and programmers to design sites with a uniform method of providing MLS data to real estate sites. Standards can eliminate some overhead for Real Estate professionals by allowing vendors a standard in the way the data is transferred, which means less code and "hacks" to be needed. Also allowing real-time updating for member sites.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Real Estate Technology

As a communications officer for my local board of REALTORS®, it is important to reaearch the many technologies available for marketing listings, various mobile technologies, as well as marketing tools to promote agents and their listings.

Social Sites like FaceBook, ActiveRain, Twitter and Trulia are great tools for real estate professionals. These sites allow agents and brokers to share tips and trade secrets to others in the real estate communities. Also potential buyer and sellers visit these sites, making these sites wonderful free marketing tools as well. Although many REALTOR® boards provide tools to their members for surviving in down markets, there are many sites with great information for the proactive agents trying to succeed in these trying times.

Many know that there is a cycle in real estate as in many sales professions. With the housing markets and the economy on a decline, it is a matter of time until the cycle starts to turn for the better. The recent tax stimulous program as well as the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, Washington is giving many incentives to turn the market around, and for many regions it has had a quick (positive) impact on home sales.

For the latest real estate news NAR (National Association of REALTORS®) and Inman News have great resources for finding news, technology, law changes etc. for real estate professionals. Also check your state baoard as well as local boards for news in your area.