May 25, 2015

Weekly Book Scan

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Updated: 1 hour 30 min ago

A Source for Summer Reading Lists

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 13:51

With Memorial Day weekend coming up, our minds turn to the unofficial kick-off of summer. While the market heats up in many locations across the country, real estate pros may be too busy to consider what reading material to pack in their beach totes.

Credit: Refe 2015

However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have time for a new book in your mental arsenal at some point this season. Below is a quick look at the business section of the most recent New York Times Best Sellers list for your consideration. I could see No. 1 being helpful for folks looking to hone in on the senior market. The second on the list is perfect for you international types looking to take advantage of the surge in interest in U.S. real estate from foreign investors. And there are certainly several meaty selections for brokers looking to redefine how they operate their businesses.

But how about you: See anything worth picking up?

  1. GET WHAT’S YOURS, by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller and Paul Solman. (Simon & Schuster.) A guide to deciding when to claim Social Security benefits and to getting all you’re eligible for
 when you do.
  2. DEALING WITH CHINA, by Henry M. Paulson Jr.. (Twelve.) The former Treasury secretary and onetime head of Goldman Sachs
 discusses how American business and political leaders can work 
with China.
  3. BECOMING STEVE JOBS, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. (Crown Business.) How Jobs, who started out as a brash young genius, developed a more mature management style.
  4. MONEY: MASTER THE GAME, by Tony Robbins. (Simon & Schuster.) Seven steps aimed at finding financial security and creating an income for life.
  5. THE POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg. (Random House.) A Times reporter’s account of the science behind how we form, and break, habits.
  6. WORK RULES!, by Laszlo Bock. (Twelve.) A Google executive’s insights on team building and improving company-employee relations.
  7. THINK LIKE A FREAK, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. (Morrow/HarperCollins.) How to solve problems creatively, from the authors of “Freakonomics.”
  8. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux.) The winner of the Nobel in economic science discusses how we make choices in business and personal life.
  9. OUTLIERS, by Malcolm Gladwell. (Back Bay/Little, Brown.) Why some people succeed — it has to do with luck and opportunities as well as talent.
  10. DO THE KIND THING, by Daniel Lubetzky. (Ballantine.) Ways of weaving compassion into your business dealings and personal

Midyear Reading List

Wed, 04/29/2015 - 08:51

On your way to the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo this May? I’m always curious to hear what you guys are packing in your carry-ons as reading material. If you still need to grab something, allow me to bring your attention to six books from a few of the presenters who will be in Washington, D.C. this spring (along with information about where you can find them at the May meetings).

Ryan McGuire/Bells Design

Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics, by Donna Brazile (Simon & Schuster, 2012)
See the Democratic political strategist, commentator, and vice chair of voter registration and participation of the DNC at this year’s federal legislative and political forum, titled “Spin, Gridlock, 24-Hour News Cycles and Legislative Priorities.”

Winning Right: Campaign Politics and Conservative Policies, by Ed Gillespie (Simon & Schuster, 2007)
The former counselor to the president, U.S. Senate candidate, and chair of the RNC will join Brazile at the federal legislative and political forum linked above.

The Well-Spoken Woman: Your Guide to Looking & Sounding Your Best, by Christine K. Jahnke (Prometheus Books, 2011)
Jahnke will be one of four experts featured in the Women’s Council of REALTORS® Game Changer Sessions.

The Option of Urbanism, Investing in a New American Dream, by Christopher Leinberger, (Island Press, 2009)
This land use strategist will be one member of a panel examining changing dynamics and new perspectives in the U.S. and Canadian Markets.

Monday Marketing Tips: 52 Tips to Energize Your Business, by Pili Meyer
The former real estate professional will be teaching a WCR class on effective negotiating as well as being featured in one of the group’s Game Changer sessions.

Dog Eat Dog & Vice Versa: 9 Secrets to Put the Bite in Your Marketing, by Jerry Rossi, (Charter Publishing, 2006)
The humorist and speaker will be presenting one of the leadership express sessions for association executives.

What book(s) are going in your suitcase? I’m way behind on my reading list, so I might still be working my way through Steven Pinker’s latest, which I still highly recommend.

The Search for the Perfect Kitchen

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 15:53

I’ve seen a lot of ugly kitchens the past few weeks. My husband and I recently started searching for a new home, and let me tell you, folks: It ain’t pretty.

Now, let me preface this with a few facts. First, I’m the cook of the family, so my listing-weary eyes lead me to the kitchen right away for a critical look at the stove and prep space. Meanwhile my husband, who has to clean up after me in the kitchen, is scouting for a decent sink and dishwasher. Oh, and he’s also on the lookout for storage for all the new pots and kitchen gadgets I keep bringing into the house as if they were homeless kittens. Finally, the two houses I grew up in as a kid both experienced near-complete kitchen overhauls. Therefore, I’ve been conditioned to understand that grownups don’t always get what they want in this space, and sometimes they just have to build it themselves. So, while I’m still looking for the perfect house with the just-right-for-us kitchen, I also have a constant eye on the listing price, to see if there’s room for a renovation in the budget.

Photo credit: Bob Narod

That’s why it’s been just the right time to curl up with The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Full disclosure: The book is co-written by a frequent contributor to REALTOR® Magazine, Barbara Ballinger, along with help from writer Margaret Crane and designer Jennifer Gilmer.

The first thing I noticed is that the book does a great job of balancing the nitty-gritty of navigating one’s way through what can be a daunting redesign task with the lovely eye candy of a well-designed kitchen. Right next to an image of the perfect counter surface or cabinet set, you’ll learn how to read design specs and blueprints. It’s like having your cake but eating the meat, too, if you don’t mind a kitchen sink of metaphors.

The book also helps you get to know yourself better as a kitchen-user. What do you need, and what’s overkill? If you only have a certain amount of dollars (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) what should you splurge on and where do you cut corners? It’s different for each person, but this book asks the questions and parses the points for each situation. The eye candy is actually quite nourishing in this case; the styles vary widely in the photos they use, helping readers get to know what they like and what does not necessarily appeal to their tastes. The book also contains visual and written definitions to help you explain your personal style to your designer or contractor, meaning you don’t have to just choose between “traditional” and “modern.”

And while I haven’t met my dream kitchen in real life yet, there’s also plenty of opportunities for a reader to use this book to get to know the kitchen they have. Does it make sense to bring the cabinets all the way to the ceiling? (Well, that depends: How tall are we talking, here? And what kind of cabinets do you have?) The authors also help identify fixes for common kitchen design challenges, such as the galley kitchen, accessibility, and incorporating dine-in or storage options. They tackle common questions such as how much space one needs in order to add an island. Because any house hunter or buyers’ agent knows that the perfect kitchen is going to be hard to find, so we might as well get ready for the inevitable remodeling questions.

The Fictional Value of Street Names

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 16:28

Back in January, I found nearly endless fun playing around with an online “tool” created by The New York Times to analyze what effect a street name might have on the value of a single-family home. Basically, you key in a street name and the tool tells you on average how much more or less valuable homes are that are located on that street nationwide, as well as how common the name is throughout the country.

It didn’t really seem worth sharing because, as real estate pros know, so many more important factors go into the “worth” of a home, and the meaning of a particular street name varies so much from city to city and person to person. Also, the underlying data comes from Zillow, and much has been made of their accuracy issues.

AimeeLow, 2013. Morguefile

But, as I said, it was fun to play with. So I decided to bring another fairy-tale element to the table and use street names made famous by fiction, listed in descending value order.

7 Eccles St., Dublin, Ireland
The clear winner here is Leopold Bloom from James Joyce’s Ulysses. According to the NYT tool, a home on Eccles St. should be worth 119 percent more than the average U.S. home.

27A Wimpole St., London, England
Next up is Henry Higgins’ Covent Garden home in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. A home on Wimpole could be expected to bring in 15 percent more than the average U.S. home.

0001 Cemetery Ln.
Cartoonist Charles Addams is rumored to have used a building at Colgate University in Hamilton N.Y. as inspiration for the mansion that the Addams Family calls home. A home located on a real Cemetery Lane might just break even on the scale, bringing in 1 percent more than the average home value in this country.

4 Privet Dr., Little Whinging, Surrey, England
J.K. Rowling placed Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs of this fictional British home. A real home on a Privet Drive in the United States would sadly bring in 19 percent less than average.

25 West 68th St., New York, N.Y.
In Judy Blume’s “Fudge” series of books, the Hatcher family resides at a location that maps reveal to be Central Park adjacent. But a real-life home on just any old 68th Street brings in 27 percent less than the U.S. average.

124 Bluestone Rd., Cincinnati, Ohio
Sethe, the main character of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, escapes slavery and finds shelter of sorts in a haunted house above the Mason-Dixon line. A real home on Bluestone Road is estimated to bring in 39 percent less than the average U.S. home.

221B Baker St., London, England
The address that Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson rented from Mrs. Hudson in the late 19 Century now houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Move this street from central London to any number of U.S. locations and you may find an address that brings a 42 percent decline in worth over the average home.

A Spoonful of Sugar

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 09:00

When I first heard about Chip Bell’s new book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2015), I was expecting the usual 200-300 page business paperback. So when a colorful, square-shaped hardback clocking in at less 100 pages landed on my desk, I was a little surprised.

Credit: violetdragonfly, Morguefile 2013

Eh, maybe real estate pros don’t need 300 pages and an index to learn how to cultivate innovative service, I thought. Maybe a spoonful will do. And as the tiny cupcake adornments Bell refers to in the title prove, good things do sometimes come in small packages.

Bell generally uses the theme of creating a “gourmet” customer experience to cajole his readers into stepping up their service game, but he reaches into other industries as well. He does appeal directly to real estate once, when he mentions “the common sense of uncommon senses,” which readers will recognize in their efforts to make listings appeal to senses other than the eyes with a well-placed scent, background music, or plush carpet.

Most of all though, it’s just fun to read. My favorite bit he employed was sprinkling (pun intended) questions in the text to get the reader thinking about how to apply what he’s writing about to their own industry. Here are a few that I thought Book Scan readers might enjoy:

  • What if you treated every customer like today was his or her birthday?
  • Is your self-service actually “you-are-entirely-on-your-own” service?
  • What would a spunky eight-year-old suggest you do?
  • Is there a “souvenir” you could bundle with the experience that would be a delayed delight when your customer later discovered it?

After a while, Bell’s exhortations to make the customer experience awesome do seem a bit overwhelming. After all, if practitioners go out of their way to be startlingly generous to every potential client, won’t they overextend themselves? But Bell says that it’s not necessary to go broke over this plan, noting that “it is the small, personalized extras that gain loyalty mileage, not the big, splashy ones.” It’s a little bit of tough love, but I think most readers will find that Bell’s colorful, spoonful-of-sugar book definitely helps the medicine go down.