July 31, 2014

Speaking of Real Estate

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Updated: 14 min 4 sec ago

Taking Real Estate Photography to a Whole New Level

3 hours 13 min ago

Rooftops in New York are dotted with HVAC units, surrounded by webs of electrical wires and decorated with mechanical appendages, which can sometimes “photobomb” the ideal listing shot. But one photographer is willing to go a little higher to get the perfect angle.

Photo by Elizabeth Dooley

Elizabeth Dooley of VHT Studios in New York has been dubbed an “extreme real estate photographer” because she’s willing to climb out on ledges, rooftops, and fire escapes several stories high to get the shot. From the apartment lofts of Manhattan to the townhouses of Brooklyn, Dooley has ventured up rickety water towers to shoot a skyline view and across beams in a split-level home to make sure her photos highlight the best a property has to offer.

Photographer Elizabeth Dooley climbing a water tower for the perfect shot.

“It’s about finding every angle, view, and unexpected advantage on the property, especially in luxury real estate in Manhattan,” says Dooley. “In today’s digital world, a first impression seen on an iPad can make the difference between crickets at an open house and a bidding war.”

Dooley shoots about five properties a day, five days a week, traveling only with her Nikon D700, 12-24mm lens, tripod, and flash; she improvises the rest.

“A lot of my clients just think I’m insane because to get a shot, I’ll need to stand up high or out on a ledge,” she says. “I was a gymnast as a kid, and it’s second nature to me to go a little further. I go beyond what other photographers do.”

She’s paid between $100 and $300 per shoot, which is a bit of a higher wage than most real estate photographers receive, simply because she works in the New York market.

Dooley has been studying photography since her high school years in Sioux City, Iowa. She moved to New York after college and worked briefly as a photo assistant before discovering her niche in real estate photography. With a natural inclination for interior design, real estate photography fulfills her interests in design, architecture, and history.

Photo by Elizabeth Dooley

“It’s like anthropology in a way,” she says.

Because every listing has its own challenge, hiring a professional photographer is how real estate practitioners are going to maximize resale value, Dooley says. She advises salespeople to have their listing “open house-ready” before she arrives. Some may bring in a stager, but they also have to be willing to let her make rearrangements and adjustments because staging for a walk-through is different than staging for the camera.

Photo by Elizabeth Dooley

Of course, not all listings require a high-climbing balancing act to attain a great shot. What is required is either an experienced photographer who knows how to shoot interiors, or a capable real estate pro who has invested in the appropriate gear and education for the job.

Want more photography tips? Check out REALTOR® Magazine’s latest Cameras & Video Product Guide, which explains how to hire a good photographer and outlines the exact gear you’ll need if you take on photography duties yourself.


NAR Looks at Future Real Estate Risks at Environmental Summit

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 11:33

NAR CEO Dale Stinton and NAR President Steve Brown

Real estate represents a fifth of the U.S. economy, so there’s little that doesn’t impact what you do in some fashion, especially when it comes to environmental issues. Carbon levels in our air and water, how much rain we get in the arid West. what’s going to happen when hurricane season blows in again later this year. Even though these aren’t real estate issues per se, they impact the owning and transferring of real property, and that makes it NAR’s business.

That’s why President Steve Brown yesterday kicked off the association’s first environmental summit in Washington, and it’s safe to say that, if the 40 or so REALTORS® who participated came away with anything, it was a sense that all environmental issues are inter-connected and they all intersect with real estate. As Brown pointed out in his welcome message,”Under all is the land,” as the preamble to the NAR Code of Ethics states, and that makes it necessary for REALTORS® to look ahead because environmental issues are only going to grow in importance.

Former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge

NAR invited REALTOR® leaders from every part of the country to participate in the meeting. Among them were the heads of NAR committees whose jurisdiction touches in some manner on environmental issues. Former U.S. Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge and former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman were the keynote speakers and they shared with REALTORS® a two-pronged message: First, regardless of what one’s views are of climate change—whether it’s man-made or the result of a natural cycle–today’s climate patterns are not the patterns of yesterday, so it takes responsible leaders of goodwill to plan for and set aside resources to deal with catastrophic weather events, longer and more intense droughts, and the possibility of a rise in sea level, among other looming events.

Dan Glickman

“Regardless of what the science is showing, something’s happening,” said Ridge, who is also a former governor of Pennsylvania and served six terms Congress. “Water levels are rising, and that could be a challenge, because a third of Americans live along the coasts.”

The second part of the message was upbeat. It spoke to the resilience and innovation of the country but also the constructive engagement of groups like the REALTORS®, whom Glickman singled out for their consistent and responsible leadership on community issues.

“Our problems are reasonably solvable if people of goodwill–people like you–work through them,” said Glickman, also a former congressman. “REALTORS® have clout because you’re all key citizens in your communities. You are a very important part of the political system.”

REALTORS® at the summit heard from policy experts who are in the thick of today’s most critical environmental debates, including David Miller, a top official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Ben Grumbles of the U.S. Water Alliance, and Megan Susman of EPA.

(L to R) Jeff Harris, Alliance to Save Energy; Chris Guith, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Megan Susman, EPA; Henry Green, National Institute for Building Sciences; and Steven Weisbart, Insurance Information Institute.

Lori Weigel, a pollster with Public Opinion Strategies, walked REALTORS® through the mixed views the public has on the environment. On the one hand, about 60 percent of people say climate change must be dealt with, but only about 10 percent think it’s important enough to deal with now.

Ben Grumbles, U.S. Water Alliance

The public is also split on whether we’re getting a straight picture on climate change from scientists. About 48 percent think scientists are being objective in their assessment of climate change risk and causes, while 43 percent say they don’t trust scientists on the issue.

Distrust in a key institution like science is a disturbing trend, Ridge and Glickman both said, because any responsible response to big issues like the environment must start from a place of trust.

Today is the second day of the summit and its focus will be hands-on. President Brown has asked the participating REALTORS® to start sifting through the mountains of information to identify where the interests of real estate lie and to put the association on the right footing for protecting home owners, buyers, sellers, and the industry as lawmakers and policymakers take on environmental issues in the years ahead.

Learn more about the summit.

Latest issue of NAR’s On Common Ground magazine, which looks at environmental issues.

NAR’s policy agenda by issue areas.®’s First Economist: I’m Anything But Typical

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 16:53

Jonathan Smoke

While real estate portals like Zillow and Trulia have long had their own economists providing insights to consumers about the industry, a similar leading figure interfacing with the public has been missing from®. Under the agreement between the National Association of REALTORS® and Move, Inc., operator of®, the real estate site has been barred from hiring its own economist. But that changed in February, when NAR — with its own stable of economists — gave® the green light to go on the hunt for its own economist, saying at the time that “two heads are better than one.”

And last month, the hunt ended:® hired Jonathan Smoke, it’s first economist in its 18-year history. Smoke, who came to® after serving six years as chief economist, senior vice president, and other executive roles at real estate marketing firm Hanley Wood, immediately caught the eye of the media. What would he bring to the table that economists at®’s competitors haven’t already? How would he be different? And how will his presence impact NAR, which already has powerhouse economist Lawrence Yun?

REALTOR® Magazine chatted with Smoke to find out all this and more.

REALTOR® Magazine: Why was® an appealing choice for your next career move?

Smoke: I always have been motivated by challenges, but I also measure my success by the impact I can make on the organization and stakeholders around me. I’m in my 20th year focusing on housing, and® and Move provide an incredible opportunity to learn, do something challenging, and also have a positive impact on the industry.

You’ll be tasked with being the public face of®. What should its voice be?

I’m still in the learning mode to understand all of our constituents’ needs, but I know that it is critical to be authentic and capable of conveying meaning to consumers and the professionals who serve them. I believe it’s my job and my mission to promote understanding about what is going on and why.

How do you see®’s role in the real estate industry evolving as competition with Zillow and Trulia (which Zillow is acquiring) heats up?
Part of the reason that I considered this “move to Move” is that I believe that® is the industry. I see our role as helping all stakeholders improve the overall experience of buying and selling a home that inherently leverages REALTORS® to deliver the value only they can provide.

What information do you plan to supply to consumers that they can’t already get from competitors?

I’m just getting started surveying what we can produce, and I need to hear from consumers and REALTORS® first-hand about what is missing and needed that no company is producing today. Certainly, I will continue our unparalleled commitment to accuracy, so some of what we may provide may simply be the assurance that the metrics our audiences see are accurate and timely. A home purchase or sale is an extremely important transaction in a person’s life, so we need to ensure we’re helping consumers and the REALTORS® serving them make the best decisions by supplying the best insights possible.

There have been criticisms of the “now is the right time to buy or sell” message that many economists have touted. Do you agree with that messaging, or will you take a different approach to communicating housing data?

You will come to appreciate that I’m not your typical economist. I’m known for helping folks cut through the noise and understand what is going on. As a result, I often have different views than my counterparts.

While many economists regularly talk about housing because it’s so central to the economy, few economists actually have real, detailed data helping them to know what’s really going on. My experience has been grounded with a real-world, street mentality — but always driven by data. Two of the most important philosophies I hold dear are, first, that all housing is local — and hyper-local at that — and that behind each buying decision is a household with its own context for what’s right or best at that given time as well as for the future. And secondly, fundamentally, life drives housing. Overall market conditions can influence the volume of activity, the balance of supply and demand, and the resulting price behavior, but it’s the neighborhood level of households forming and going through life events that determine the need to buy or sell. I’ve personally never made a decision to buy or sell a home based on what the talking heads are saying, so I’m never going to presume that I can tell the entire market that they should be buying or selling.

I believe in the long-term value of owning a home, and that frames my view. I also believe in the role of the REALTOR® to counsel the buyer or seller on the current market dynamics.  I’m a data geek, but I know the limitations of econometric models and valuation models and the underlying housing data on which those models are based. My mission is to create insights that help us see what is happening and what’s driving the market at macro and local levels, but ultimately it’s the role of the REALTOR® to provide counsel to the buyer or seller about the right time — in that neighborhood — for that consumer to buy or sell.

The National Association of REALTORS® has Lawrence Yun as its chief economist. How will your approach to presenting housing data be different than his?

Lawrence Yun is an incredible economist and spokesperson for the research NAR produces. I will be collaborating with Lawrence and his team to find ways to provide insights that leverage what we can see with®, and to explore innovations to leverage the collective data we have or create together to inform consumers and REALTORS® about the housing market. I’m sure our styles of presenting data will be different, and we may have some differing opinions occasionally, but I know that working together will benefit the industry and consumers.

Where do you see the housing market going in the foreseeable future? Is there anything happening in the market that people don’t know about and should?

Overall, I see the market in recovery mode and moving into a much more normal scenario where you can make sense of what is going on by understanding local market fundamentals. But this also is a very interesting time of transition with major demographic waves combining. Incredibly tight credit conditions still exist, and that limits demand. We must pay attention to household formation, home ownership, and consumer confidence as they fuel demand, and we need to be aware of threats to housing finance. But happily, we are back in a scenario of positive job growth, home-price appreciation, and strong consumer confidence, all leading to a scenario of robust demand in the future.

What do you make of®’s move last year to include non-REALTOR® listings in its database?

I believe it’s great for the consumer to have an even more comprehensive view of housing options on® with the additional rental and new-home data. With a more complete consumer audience, we can create better gauges of demand and preferences, and better track how demand is shifting.

What does the term REALTOR® mean to you?

A REALTOR® is the true professional at the center of a home purchase or sale. The REALTOR® designation and the REALTOR® Code of Ethics behind that designation provide a much-needed assurance to consumers — and, indeed, to all industry stakeholders — that each transaction, each listing, and each interaction involving a REALTOR® is founded on the highest integrity. To me, an economist associated with that trademark, it means the heart of what I can analyze is truth. I couldn’t ask for a better place to seek meaning and have a positive impact.

$500,000 RESPA Fine Top Story in First The Voice for Real Estate News Program

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 09:05

You might have missed it, but about three years ago enforcement of our country’s mortgage settlement laws switched to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) from HUD. The switch is more than just a bureaucratic footnote. Several weeks ago, CFPB levied a $500,000 fine against a real estate company for not getting its disclosures exactly right under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). That half-million-dollar fine is not a typo, and more attention-grabbing fines might be on the way.

That RESPA fine is the lead story in a new twice-monthly video news program NAR launched this week. The program is called The Voice for Real Estate, and the goal is to give you thumbnail sketches of the top four or five issues NAR is working on. REALTOR® Magazine is the producer and we’re excited about the program, because it gives you a way to stay on top of real estate news without spending time searching for articles or videos. Stephen Gasque, NAR’s director of broadcasting, is the host of the show. You might be acquainted with Gasque’s work already; he’s the producer of Real Estate Today, NAR’s consumer-facing radio show.

In addition to the RESPA fine, the first show features quick sketches of NAR’s efforts on the growing student debt problem, what’s happening on net neutrality and why that issue is of the utmost importance to you (net neutrality is about keeping the Internet open equally to all), and what’s the latest on existing-home sales (they’re up solidly).

In a few months the program will increase to three times a month. You’re encouraged to post the show on your website or blog. Just go to the video on YouTube, cut and paste the URL—it looks like this:–and you’re all set; the video will be embedded on your site.

Your customers and clients should find the information of interest as well, because the issues the video covers ultimately impact them in their pocketbook and the quality of their buying and selling experience.

Learn about the RESPA fine and the other issues of importance to you and your customers in this first show of The Voice for Real Estate:

How Much Retirement Are Your Commissions Buying?

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 11:45

From a safety standpoint, it makes sense to set aside a percentage of your commissions in a reserve account. That way you can cover your obligations come tax time and have back-up money for when business is slow. And since the time horizon for these funds is short, it makes sense to deposit them in the safest savings vehicle you can find. The return won’t be great, maybe 1 percent, since that’s about what federally insured savings accounts are getting these days. But the point isn’t about making big gains; it’s about having the money available when you need it.

But for your long-term retirement savings, the calculation is different. You want something with a little more risk because your goal is to get a little more gain. If you put your money in a super-safe account, you can’t expect to earn much more than that federally insured 1 percent. Considering that inflation historically runs at about 3 percent, your 1 percent is unlikely to cover your loss of buying power as the years mount.

In REALTOR® Magazine’s latest Your Money Matters video, Victoria Gillespie of REALTORS® Federal Credit Union, a division of Northwest Federal Credit Union, suggests you invest your money in a mix of safe and slightly less safe investments. That way you can cover your principle risk with your safe accounts and cover your inflation risk with your slightly riskier accounts.

To help you make sense of it all, Gillespie suggests you think of investment options as levels on a triangle. Put a portion of your money in the safest investments, which are at the base of the triangle, put some in the next level up, where investments are a bit riskier but still conservative, and so on up the triangle until you get to the top, where the riskiest investments are found.

Gillespie also suggests you save your riskiest investments for those with the longest time horizon, maybe seven to 10 years. That way you can ride out the inevitable ups and downs of the market.

Watch and share the 7-minute video, the sixth in the Your Money Matters series, in which Gillespie walks you through the financial triangle as a tool for weighing risk vs. reward as you make your long-term investment decisions.

Watch all Your Money Matters videos:

 YMM6: Investment triangle

 YMM5: Dollar cost averaging

 YMM4: Budget planning

YMM3: Credit unions

 YMM2: Reserve accounts

 YMM1: Tax preparedness 

Your Marketing Budget Should Be $0

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 10:45


“You absolutely do not need to spend money in this business to make money,” says Joshua Smith, an agent with RE/MAX Professionals in Surprise, Ariz. He would know: In his first year in real estate, he did 48 transactions without spending a dime on marketing. That’s the kind of wherewithal that landed him on REALTOR® Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in 2011, as well as on The Wall Street Journal’s REAL Trends list of the top 1,000 agents in the country.

So how on earth can you do so many transactions without spending anything on marketing? Listen to Smith’s story in the podcast below with founder Toby Sagado.

In the podcast, you’ll learn, among other things:

  • Why you should never get comfortable with your business
  • Why you should be a prospecting machine
  • Why you should know your numbers and truck everything to build a predictable business
  • Why you should have your scripts down
  • Why you should dig in and do lead-source analysis