April 25, 2015

Weekly Book Scan

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Updated: 37 min 39 sec ago

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.

Book Clubs for the Obsessive-Compulsive Learner

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 09:06

There are so many books out there. In fact, there are so many titles to choose from that it’s becoming a problem for busy readers out there. Anyone can self-publish an e-book on Amazon or CreateSpace that claims to have a solution to your business problem, without having any experience in actually solving such issues.

Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo

So where do you go for ideas on the next book you should buy (other than this column, of course)? Do you post a blurb out on social media asking for the best title? Or do you join a book club in order to consistently hold yourself accountable for staying up the latest trends?

In this post, I wanted to share a few different book clubs that have not only vetted the work of the author, but also offer a community of like-minded learners who take their professional development seriously.

C-Suite Book Club: Senior executives determined to find the latest trends that are impacting business today find their home at the C-Suite Book Club. Many of the authors featured have written New York Times Bestsellers, including Gary Vee, Shep Hyken, Scott McKain, and Jay Baer. In addition to the public book club, the C-Suite Collective offers a private community for VPs at companies averaging more than $10 million in revenue, as well as TV and radio networks to reinforce the dialogue. Sales supervisors, team leaders, and community managers can expect to see results from the books they recommend to their associates when they join the Better Book Club. This site allows the subscriber to select books from 400 titles for their employees to read. Each time an employee reads a book from the list, they share the lessons they learned with one another and explain how it impacts their everyday challenges. In return for contributing, they get a dollar. This way, team members read what they want, when they want, and are compensated for helping to create a culture of learning.

Blinkist: This app provides a sort of CliffsNotes version of approved titles that is more comprehensive than the marketing descriptions, but requires less of a commitment than buying the entire book. This helps you narrow down your list to the books that you’ll find most interesting before you make your purchase. Key insights are shared as bullet points and act as menus for more thorough explanations. You can access one book a day for free, or pay a nominal subscription fee to get access to unlimited reading.

Goodreads: Goodreads is like Facebook for avid readers. This online community and app allows you to synchronize all of your past books bought from Amazon, add them to your own profile, and review them so your friends can benefit from your experience. There are hundreds of groups you can join, and you can use the site’s widget to display books you’ve read and reviewed on your blog, if you like.

Most people who buy books don’t get past the first chapter, but readers like you and me are different. Dedicated learners not only devour books, but they also share how reading impacts their business or life through their own community. Take the time to write reviews on the books that you read on either the title’s book review section or your own profile. Share your best takeaways, what you like about it, and what could have been better. This reinforces to the author what worked and how they can improve the next version for your benefit.

The Evolution of Attention

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 10:06

As soon as I started tracking analytics, I found myself watching the way that I browse websites and read marketing e-mails. I couldn’t help it! I began taking mental note of practices that made me want to click away from a page, or subject lines that made me more apt to open correspondence.

While it can make for an interesting method of self-analysis, this is a very unscientific and biased way of measuring what captures attention. And that’s precisely why I was so taken with Ben Parr’s new book, Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention (March 2013, Harper One).

Ryan McGuire/Bells Design

In it, the venture capitalist and former Mashable editor provides scientific reasons for the kinds of attention-grabbing phenomena we see all the time. One of my favorites is an explanation of why so many of the “Buy Now” or “Contact Me” buttons we see on websites are red. Parr explains the fascinating evolutionary reason behind why you should consider choosing red, orange, or yellow for the call-to-action button on your website. The theory behind it is that when humans were trying to survive during prehistoric times in the jungle, we were drawn to notice these colors as standing out against the green background of our daily life: “In the wild, life-giving red berries stand out against the green of grasses and forests. If leaves were naturally purple, red would be a terrible color for capturing attention. This also explains why red, yellow, and orange website buttons stand out—they contrast better against the white and gray backgrounds.”

There are tons of examples like this one. Parr explains why people can’t resist cliffhangers (and how to craft one that won’t backfire) and how mentioning well-respected people who work with you can boost your reputation (and how to do it without sounding like a name-dropper). But the part that I thought would be most useful to those in the real estate industry comes in the last few chapters. Parr explains a sure-fire way to engender trust in people who don’t know you yet. In the beginning of the book, he cites studies that show people are more likely to pay attention to someone they trust, and at the end of the book, he explains the type of behavior we as human being require from the people we trust.

Parr splits these expectations into three needs: one for recognition, one for empathy, and one for validation. His definitions of these needs are key to evaluating your relationships with clients and prospects. Ask yourself these three questions to see how well you are connecting with clients:

  • Acknowledge: What do I do to demonstrate my recognition of others? How much time and energy do I devote to remembering names and key aspects of other people’s existence?
  • Validate: Do I take the time to find out what’s special or different about the people I meet? How do I recognize what is important about them as human beings?
  • Empathize: How do I show that I care? Do I really understand what matters most to each person I encounter?

What really got me about this last section is that, while this is a book about capturing the attentions of others, Parr rightfully emphasizes the fact that you can’t get other people’s attention unless you’re giving it out yourself.

For anyone the least bit interested in learning more about how and why people pay attention, though, I recommend reading the whole book. It’s packed with the science behind how our brains work, and there are more moments of fascination than I have time to share in a short blog post. After all, I wouldn’t want to wear out your attention span.

Bring Them in With Style

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:46

In our upcoming March/April issue, we have a feature about a consumer panel we brought in to give feedback on real estate professionals’ bios. One of the biggest complaints? Sloppy grammar and spelling mistakes.

Credit: DMedina 2014, Morguefile

As a writer, I don’t need much convincing as to the power of the written word. Real estate professionals, on the other hand, are a different matter. They are trained to respond to e-mails at lightning speed, not necessarily reading over what they’ve written before hitting the “send” button. They’re encouraged to quickly get the word out about their business through blogs posts and Facebook updates, giving them little time to deploy spell check.

But what about the business proposition of good writing? We’ve often made the argument that accurate, concise, intelligible communication is valued by your clients and colleagues alike, and I think the piece in the March/April issue will really drive this point home from the consumer perspective. However, I read something this week that summed it up so well, I had to share it with readers here. I recently picked up Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (which I find to be excellent so far), and I couldn’t help but sharing his encouragement in the prologue, which seems almost to be written for the rushing real estate pro described above:

…Style earns trust. If readers can see that a writer cares about the consistency and accuracy of her prose, they will be reassured that the writer cares about those virtues in conduct they cannot see as easily. Here is how one technology executive explains why he rejects job applications filled with errors of grammar and punctuation: “If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use it’s, then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with.”

So stay tuned for our next issue (hitting mailboxes around the third week of March) to see how consumers define a successfully written bio in real estate. But in the meantime, know that I’m one of those silly writer-types who is going to be much more likely to work with someone who can string a sentence together!