October 2008 Archives

iPhone Demographics

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comScore, Inc. has published the results of a study that explores the demographics of iPhone owners and reveals that while 43 percent of iPhone owners earn in excess of $100,000 annually, the strongest growth in users is coming from those earning less than the median household income, particularly since the launch of the iPhone 3G. According to a new comScore report, "All about iPhone," iPhone adoption since June 2008 rose 48 percent among those earning between $25,000 and $50,000 per year and by 46 percent among those earning between $25,000 and $75,000. These growth rates are three times that of those earning more than $100,000 per year. Overall, iPhone penetration grew 21 percent.

"As an additional household budget item, a $200 device plus at least $70 per month for phone service seems a bit extravagant for those with lower disposable income," said Jen Wu, senior analyst, comScore, the report's author, in the press release. "However, one actually realizes cost savings when the device is used in lieu of multiple digital devices and services, transforming the iPhone from a luxury item to a practical communication and entertainment tool."

GPS HomeFinder for iPhone 3G and iPod Touch, via our ReData mapping services.

"What Do Agents Really Need?"

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Megan Wilber 1MB PDF:

So in an industry climate that is ever-changing, what are agents today looking for from their brokerage? Are they looking for quality? Support? Leadership?
The Hasson Company is a Virtual Properties customer.

The Next Real Estate Boom

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An Interesting Look at the Top US Brokerage Websites

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RealTrends & 1000 Watt Consulting:

Today we are proud to release a new report produced in cooperation with RealTrends, the highly regarded research and consulting organization headed by Steve Murray: "The Top Ten Real Estate Brokerage Websites in America."

You can download the full report here (be patient--the download may take a couple minutes.)

Views on website content, design, navigation and the user interface are subjective. In other words, there will be no shortage of opinions on these matters.

I hope firms do not immediately rush out and essentially copy these sites. Rather, take time to consider your market and identity. Think about adding value and the fact that less is often more. Finally, consider where the puck is going and target that (pervasive internet, everything real time, systems to support that and a dramatic reduction in system/service complexity), doing more with less and pervasive real estate information.

Finally, eliminate newspaper advertising and spend the money on high quality listing media that can be used for video, vr, slideshows, email presentations and social networks.

Owners Say Franchisers Are Passing on More Costs

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Richard Gibson:

Some franchisees say they are being forced to pay for a variety of expenses for the first time -- making difficult economic times even tough

For instance, operators of McDonald's Corp. restaurants, under pressure from the fast-food giant to install equipment and counter space for an array of new beverages, complain that they have to pay for nearly half the upgrade's architectural and engineering fees -- items the company used to cover. Franchisees put those added fees at several thousand dollars, and some say the entire project has yet to be cost-justified.

McDonald's acknowledges that in the past it has paid for architectural and engineering work done when an individual franchisee made construction improvements to a restaurant. But because the beverage project is systemwide and so substantial, those costs are now part of the expenses that McDonald's will cover at only 40%.

Franchisees of Hollywood Tans LLC, an upscale tanning salon chain, say the company is billing them for maintenance on some equipment they had purchased under warranties that covered servicing charges.

"They're reclassifying what had been normal wear and tear [and] we now have to pick up" the cost on items such as fans and booth door locks, says Jeff Wogan, who operates a salon in Ranson, W.Va., and is a member of the franchisee owners' association. He adds that it can take days for someone to show up to fix items, partly because the company's maintenance crew has been downsized.

Vultures in Miami's Real Estate Market

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Jeffery Salter:

On the 79th Street Causeway that connects inner Miami to the city's beaches, a colony of giant turkey vultures sits ominously on a radio tower, staring at the downtown skyline. Migratory scavengers, they're drawn to tall buildings.

Across the bay, vulture investors, that other breed of migratory scavenger, are feasting. South Florida is in the throes of a truly hellish real estate bust. Home prices are down 24% in the past year, with many places changing hands for less than half their height-of-bubble values. The region has seen foreclosures on more than $14.2 billion worth of property this year--a record. Developers can't sell enough units to pay construction loans. Condo boards are trying to keep the stairwells of their half-empty buildings clear of vagrants. Landlords are renting out units at daily rates to makers of porn films.

The bleak tableau is exactly what vulture investors have been waiting for. Having sat out the bubble, they're flocking to the Magic City to make lowball, often all-cash offers for numerous properties at once. Some members of this motley assortment of foreign professionals, U.S. money managers, and retired corporate executives learned how to prey by picking through the detritus of the U.S. savings and loan bust. Others earned their stripes in emerging- market financial crises. They differ in their tactics; what unites them is their absolute insistence on paying bottom dollar.

Peter Drucker

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The Economist:

The most enduring guru of them all, Peter Drucker (1909-2005) was the author of more than three dozen books, translated into almost as many languages. In 1997 McKinsey Quarterly said: "In the world of management gurus, there is no debate. Peter Drucker is the one guru to whom other gurus kowtow." But unlike some of those that might have kowtowed to him, Drucker was a guru with charm who never set out to diminish others. Some commentators have remarked that although he was firmly embedded in the human-relations school of management--along with Douglas McGregor (see article) and Warren Bennis (see article), for example--the guru he himself most admired was Frederick Winslow Taylor, the father of "scientific" management.

Though born in Vienna, Drucker started his professional life in Frankfurt as a financial reporter, and he never lost his journalistic eye for a witty aphorism or a memorable metaphor. His writing is never dull, but nor is it superficial, in a field where both dullness and superficiality are common. He brought to it a Renaissance breadth of knowledge, and was as likely to refer to his beloved Jane Austen as to Taylor. Rosabeth Moss Kanter once wrote: "In the Drucker perspective ... quality of life, technological progress and world peace are all the products of good management ... at root, Drucker is a management Utopian, descended as much from Robert Owen as Max Weber."

A short history of modern finance: Link by Link

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The Economist:

The crash has been blamed on cheap money, Asian savings and greedy bankers. For many people, deregulation is the prime suspect

THE autumn of 2008 marks the end of an era. After a generation of standing ever further back from the business of finance, governments have been forced to step in to rescue banking systems and the markets. In America, the bulwark of free enterprise, and in Britain, the pioneer of privatisation, financial firms have had to accept rescue and part-ownership by the state. As well as partial nationalisation, the price will doubtless be stricter regulation of the financial industry. To invert Karl Marx, investment bankers may have nothing to gain but their chains.

The idea that the markets have ever been completely unregulated is a myth: just ask any firm that has to deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in America or its British equivalent, the Financial Services Authority (FSA). And cheap money and Asian savings also played a starring role in the credit boom. But the intellectual tide of the past 30 years has unquestionably been in favour of the primacy of markets and against regulation. Why was that so?

Hierarchy of Needs

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The Economist:

The hierarchy of needs is an idea associated with one man, Abraham Maslow (see article), the most influential anthropologist ever to have worked in industry. It is a theory about the way in which people are motivated. First presented in a paper ("A Theory of Human Motivation") published in the Psychological Review in 1943, it postulated that human needs fall into five different categories. Needs in the lower categories have to be satisfied before needs in the higher ones can act as motivators. Thus a violinist who is starving cannot be motivated to play Mozart, and a shop worker without a lunch break is less productive in the afternoon than one who has had a break.

The theory arose out of a sense that classic economics was not giving managers much help because it failed to take into account the complexity of human motivation. Maslow divided needs into five:

Energy Efficient Design For Buildings - Part 1

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Social Innovation Conversations:

According to Amory Lovins, the way to design energy efficient buildings involves "thinking outside the box", or simply just giving up old ways of approaching the problem.

Lovins begins his talk with examples of three buildings in three different climes (Denver, Colorado; Davis, California; Germany) that, using imaginative design, save both energy and costs. He includes stories of opportunities to apply clever design during renovation as well as in new construction. With each success story we hear about the potential gains through air conditioning, lighting and heating, and through innovative design of lamps, windows, and ducts.

Rather than entailing higher construction costs, smartly designed buildings can often actually cost less, a phenomenon Lovins refers to as "tunneling through the cost barrier". This is part one of a two-part presentation on "Energy Efficiency in Buildings". It is also the first in a series of five talks on Energy Efficiency by Amory Lovins and is brought to you by MAP.

Credit Crunch Jokes

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Following the problems in the sub-prime lending market in America and the run on Northern Rock in the UK, uncertainty has now hit Japan. In the last 7 days Origami Bank has folded, Sumo Bank has gone belly up and Bonsai Bank announced plans to cut some of its branches. Yesterday, it was announced that Karaoke Bank is up for sale and will likely go for a song while today shares in Kamikaze Bank were suspended after they nose-dived. While Samurai Bank are soldiering on following sharp cutbacks, Ninja Bank are reported to have taken a hit, but they remain in the black. Furthermore, 500 staff at Karate Bank got the chop and analysts report that there is something fishy going on at Sushi Bank where it is feared that staff may get a raw deal.
Emma Ives, Dorking, Surrey, UK

How do you define optimism? A banker who irons 5 shirts on a Sunday.
Sara, London, UK

Redfin Reduces Staff

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Joe Weisenthal:

tartups of all stripes have been readying war plans to deal with the down economy. If your focus is on online real estate, that makes it even tougher. Seattle-based Redfin has been something of a phenom for its service that cuts out the realtor middleman, reducing transaction costs for buyers and sellers of homes. Last year it even broke through onto 60 Minutes, in a special on how furious it was making traditional brokers. But alas the party may coming to an end, for now. The company announced that it was laying off 20 percent of its staff, amid a severe slump in activity:
Even a month ago, we were raising 2009 revenue projections. All our markets, now including Chicago, contributed profits.

But the past few weeks have seen a major reversal. As the stock market wiped out prospective down-payments, tours and offers dropped 30%. Transactions that were done came undone. October will still be pretty good, then we're headed for a big dip.

Hence the layoff.

So what's changed?

Website Survey Tools

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Century 21 has added a survey tool to their franchise website, according to MarketWatch.

Main Street includes a rules engine that automatically applies followup/feedback plans based on survey/feedback results. All activity is stored in Main Street's contact/webleads system, which means you have a complete picture of customer activity, rather than disperse data silos.

The Digital Company: 2013

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Economist Intelligence Unit:

As employees master the use of collaborative technologies to interact with customers and partners, as well as with other colleagues, business information will come to flow more freely over the next five years, both within and outside the firm. Enabling and acting on such flows will be necessary if companies are to transform how they innovate products, services and business processes (through, for example, the integration of customers and third parties into the innovation process).

Realising the benefits of such expanded collaboration in 2013 will require business leaders to come to terms with autonomy: for employees, in how they access information and spend their work time; and for business units, in what technologies they purchase and how they use them. Above all, it will require from executives a great deal of courage--to allow technology to bring customers and other third parties into the company's operations--and trust in their employees to access and use information freely.

This is the main finding of the second paper [640K PDF] in a wide-ranging research programme conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, The digital company 2013: Freedom to collaborate, which is sponsored by AT&T, Nokia, PricewaterhouseCoopers, SAP, Concep, Return Path and WebEx. The goal of the programme is to determine how technology will impact businesses five years from now. The analysis is based on a survey of more than 600 senior executives from around the globe, as well as in-depth interviews with business leaders and independent technology experts.

June, 2008 paper [280K PDF]: The digital company 2013: How technology will empower the customer.


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Gregg Keizer:

Last week, a pair of security researchers spread the news that a new class of vulnerabilities, called "clickjacking," puts users of every major browser at risk from possible attack.

Robert Hansen, founder and chief executive of SecTheory LLC, and Jeremiah Grossman, chief technology officer at WhiteHat Security Inc., spilled some beans last week after they gave a semi-closed presentation at OWASP AppSec 2008 in New York.

Maybe because of the catchy name, or perhaps because it's actually serious stuff, clickjacking got some press. But that still leaves open the question: Just how spooky is it? Are we talking run-for-the-hills scary, or is this just another theoretical attack vector? And what should you do to protect yourself?

We have questions, as usual, and fewer straight answers than we'd like.

What is clickjacking? Good question. Getting to an answer, though, is a little tough, since Hansen and Grossman are keeping virtually all details confidential, at least for now. Here's how Grossman put it to Computerworld last Friday:

The Paperless Office: On its way, at last

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The Economist:

STEPHANIE BREEDLOVE and her husband founded Breedlove & Associates 16 years ago to help families who (legally) hire a nanny with the crushing burden of paperwork that this entails. There are pay stubs to be sent, federal and state tax returns to be filed, pay schedules to be updated and other trails of exceedingly boring paper. Much of the firm's small office in Austin, Texas, is taken up by 100 paper-filled filing cabinets. An office manager spends 25 hours a week shuffling paper between desks and drawers. At peak times, says Ms Breedlove, the office becomes "a sea of paper," with colour-coded stacks on conference tables, floors and chairs.

With luck, this will soon be a thing of the past. Last year Breedlove decided to go paperless. It is now about halfway there, says Ms Breedlove. The constant flow of information between Breedlove and its clients now goes via e-mail, with forms attached as PDF files. The next step is to roll out an online service so that clients can log on to manage their accounts. Only the Internal Revenue Service still insists on paper for some things, says Ms Breedlove, but even it claims to be going electronic soon.

Our Main Street software supports electronic forms, document and transaction information sharing.

Dave Stark Speech on the Local Real Estate Market

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Dave Stark spoke [transcript] on the local real estate market at a recent Madison Club luncheon sponsored by WisBusiness and Madison Magazine.

Watch (below), listen [25mb mp3] or download [350MB .m4v for iPhone, iPod, iTunes] the speech (CTRL-Click to Download).

Neil Heinen and Jeff Mayers moderated the event for a crowd of about 100. Beef was served.

Photos, audio and video by Virtual Properties.

SNL Skit: C-Span on the Bailout

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Eric Reguly:

Take Realogy, formerly Cendant, the world's largest real estate franchisor, whose businesses include Century 21, Coldwell Banker and Sotheby's International Realty. Its debt trades at about 75 cents (U.S.) on the dollar, a level that implies a fairly high chance of default.

This is bad news for Leon Black's Apollo Management, one of the world's biggest private equity firms. Its purchase of Realogy, completed in the spring of 2007, when the buyout frenzy was at its height, valued the company at $8.5-billion. It's safe to assume Realogy is worth considerably less today as real estate values go into the tank.

While the partners of private equity firms were built up as swashbuckling captains of capitalism, the reality is that their business model was dead simple: Goose investment returns by buying an asset with as little equity as possible.

They could do so because loans were cheap and plentiful, and rising markets kept the credit spigot open. Typically, private equity firms financed LBOs with one-quarter equity and three-quarters debt, though many were done with much thinner equity layers.

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