February 12, 2016

Weekly Book Scan

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Updated: 1 hour 52 min ago

The Biophysics of Home Ownership

Fri, 02/05/2016 - 09:19

After spending years on the sidelines of conversations between real estate professionals, I know you guys like to talk shop just as much as I enjoy nerding out about grammar and publishing platforms with fellow writers and editors. People who are passionate about their craft want to share thoughts and ideas with others in the same position. (Also, it keeps us from constantly boring our partners and non-industry friends by talking about stuff they may not be quite so passionate about, am I right?)

Photo: Greg Rakozy, 2015 (Unsplash)

That’s why I recommend picking up Matt Parker’s Real Estate Smart: What Your House Does to Your Life, and Why You Should Learn About It. From the title, it’s clear that Parker’s self-published book is targeted at consumers. He positions it as something home buyers should read when they’re trying to decide whether they should buy their own domicile, and what they should be looking for. It offers a great deal of deep thinking in terms of how our homes define our lives and bodies (alongside research references to back it up). But it’s important to recognize that the book is also something of a manifesto from Parker, as he seeks to convince readers of his points of view on purchasing real estate (don’t buy more square footage than you need, put health and well-being first, etc.)

And that’s all well and good, but I’m more interested in what makes it worth reading for you as a real estate professional. As a new home owner, of course I found myself reflecting on his points as a reference for how my home might influence my future. But as someone who writes for the real estate industry, I found Parker to be the type of thinker with whom I’d like to sit down and debate important issues facing property ownership at large. These two points of view merge when Parker emphasizes some of the smart practices you should urge your buyers to undertake before they make an offer, such as walking around the neighborhood, and paying close attention to the amount of greenery, noise, and amenities around a house. He does some really novel math with the downsizing argument, offering up equations that purport to measure the amount of money, time, and energy that each extra square foot of space will cost a person. He also makes some very interesting observations about real estate niches he’s had contact with (he explains why it’s hard to find modestly-sized new construction and why you should avoid waterfront property in areas where neighbors are likely to have inherited their property, for example). Overall, it’s fascinating food for thought, even if certain parts come off as a bit random. After all, every good conversation has to be allowed to ramble a bit!

Shakespeare and the Real Estate Investor

Mon, 01/25/2016 - 16:18

I have spent most of my life studying stories, with the exception of that brief unfortunate period as a child where math was required. (OK, by brief I actually mean the eleven years that it was required, but you know.) Needless to say, math is neither my forte nor my favorite. Upon entering the workforce, though, I realized that it is quite necessary to daily life in one specific way: finances.

Gratisography/Ryan McGuire

So when I picked up The Philosophical Investor by Gary Carmell, I hoped to learn something about making investment choices, even though I dreaded wading through math and financial information.

What I found was a pleasant surprise for my story-loving soul. With technical terminology woven into a memoir of experience, Carmell makes investment approachable. He teaches his readers through the same method he found most effective in his own fiscal education: mentoring through storytelling.

Carmell has worked in the real estate investment market for the past thirty years, currently serving as the president of CWS Capital Partners, LLC. His company is one of the longest functioning real estate investment firms to date, which is particularly notable in this period after the Great Recession. Simply surviving makes for quite the success story in that field, demonstrating deft hands in managing many changes in that have rocked the real estate investment industry in recent years.

In The Philosophical Investor, Carmell chronicles the history of CWS from prior to its founding through the present. He shares the philosophies that have made it a successful venture and demonstrates how decisions stemming from these philosophies worked out in practice. It is a very engaging narrative, weaving personal stories with those of his ideological mentors, so that the fabric of a particular mode of investment becomes colorfully clear.

Carmell doesn’t shy away from any part of his story, sharing the good times and the bad. This is incredibly important, as it’s clear some of CWS’s successes have come through learning from their mistakes. This is true for so much of life, but Carmell’s willingness to include in detail some of the negative impacts of decisions made early in the company’s history really shapes readers’ understanding of how his company grew to function so successfully.

Throughout the first half of the book, Carmell recreates the way he was thinking as he and his partners made decisions about CWS. By doing this, he is helping the reader see his investment philosophy unfold in real time. Rather than taint the storytelling by realizations he came to later in the process – insights gained that would have made a difference in the past – he takes the reader on the journey with him, letting us see the decisions he made with only the data he had at that given moment. Since his book aims to teach readers how to make decisions in the future, this narrative technique is extremely helpful in relating a philosophy and understanding how it works.

The second half of his book consists of a compilation of the many great sources he used to form his philosophy of investment. From playwright William Shakespeare to philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer to physicist Richard Feynman to Depression-era Federal Reserve Chair Marriner Ecles to his own family, Carmell has steeped his ideas in the same waters as some of the greatest minds to create truly interdisciplinary thought. I particularly enjoyed his chapter exploring lessons from Shakespeare, as a heart-warming tribute to human nature with all of its amusement and challenges, from which he draws principles applicable to both investment and his personal life.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to a great variety of readers. It’s targeted to those seeking to learn more about investment, particularly in the real estate sector. But it is also helpful for those working in real estate who might want to better understand some of the factors that led to the recession of 2007. Either way, it’s a good read for the beginning of a new year, with financial dreams simmering and bright hopes for the future.

Um, We Need to Talk.

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 14:18

I’m ready for the day. My iPhone, iPad, laptop, and back-up batteries are fully charged, apps are updated, and cache is cleared. I’m ready to have an awesome day, positive that technology is not going to get in my way.

Gratisography/Ryan McGuire

But then again… I sit at my desk wondering if the conversations I have with others through technology have the same meaning as they do in real life. Am I superimposing the technology on top of the relationship in order to justify its expense? I sometimes wonder, “How many more devices and social networking sites do I need to be connected to in order to have a meaningful connection?” And therein lies the rub: Should you try to tame technology for its intended purpose, or descend into in solitude with your devices?

Sherry Turkle, in her new book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, masterfully spells out how we as a society are losing our sense of connection with others because of roadblocks technology puts in our way. As an author of a recently published book about how to use technology to communicate in sales, this book hit me like a ton of bricks. So I wanted to share some takeaways that struck me here.

Disruptions during dialogue

The need to be instantly connected electronically has caused us to become somewhat schizophrenic. Take this scenario for example: Friend receives text message. You get upset and check your phone. Your friend is done and now waiting for you to be done with your phone. Rinse and repeat a few cycles and 10 minutes go by before you can continue where you left off. Sound familiar? These disruptions happen during get-togethers, remote meetings, and conference calls alike. Curb this self-induced behavior by powering off the device until the conversation is over so you can focus on what the other person is both saying and communicating via nonverbal clues.

Lost in the Facebook zone

It’s as if when we log into Facebook we enter a different world where we self-edit our true being for the self we want to represent online. This slot machine of posting updates and checking notifications for self-gratification has become more of a game to “see what’s missing” than nurturing real relationships. It’s easy to get lost in the daily minutiae of other people’s lives, and how you reflect upon it is a path leading directly to solitude. Instead, put in place rules for your participation: Implement an app that blocks usage for certain times of the day and ask someone to hold you accountable to use social media sparingly.

Lack of empathy when communicating

Terse typing is getting worse with technology. Time pressures with task assignments are leaving out the tact necessary to demonstrate your empathy for the other person when establishing a meaningful connection. Stepping outside your own inbox, it’s easy to see that “Thanks for sending me the notes on the presentation. Can you please send me the details on the final report?” is better than “Send me the details on the final report.” In real life, take that extra second to ask yourself, “How would I feel if I received this message?” before you hit send. It’ll help you add the empathy your recipient deserves.

Man against the machine

I’m fascinated with the psychology of how we humans interact with technology as opposed to interacting with one another. Those who struggle to form relationships with one another will find it easier to develop a relationship with a device enabled with artificial intelligence and machine learning. It’s happening right now in toy manufacturing, driverless cars, and the replacement of professional advisors who can simulate almost identical experiences that involve the human touch. The challenge for us in the future as these technologies become widespread will be to separate ourselves and our feelings from that which a technology can replicate.

The human touch in our industry

Real estate is primarily a face-to-face business, but when it’s appropriate much can be facilitated screen-to-screen. However, as you would let the buyer beware, I must warn you that too much of any one method has its disadvantages. I suggest that, as you examine how you relate to technology, always keep in mind the emotional connection with your customer. When that happens, your customer will know it, you will know it, and it will reveal the way to reboot and reclaim conversation as it happened before technology ever existed.