Monday
October 20, 2014

Weekly Book Scan

Syndicate content
Updated: 11 min 43 sec ago

Learning From the Funny Pages

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 15:27

Like a lot of people my age, nearly everything I’ve learned about building and altering websites has come to me on the fly. Sometimes I’ve had the leisure to teach myself, poking around on the back end of a site, figuring out what elements lead to this or that attribute. Other times, I just happen to be the one person hanging around who knows what a <p> tag is when something breaks, and I’m asked to dive into the HTML and fix it.

A panel from Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress.

Maybe someday I’ll go to night school and get my webmaster’s license, but for now I’m having a ball reading the funny pages. See, I just started digging into a copy of Build Your Own Web Site: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress. And I never thought I’d say this, but the comic book format may be a perfect vehicle for teaching this sort of skill.

To carry this theme to its logical conclusion, let’s imagine the authors as a classic superhero team. The knowledge base is laid down by The Deft Explainer, a.k.a. Nate Cooper, a New York-based web consultant. Cooper’s world of web construction and design is brought to life by his sidekick, The Spunky Illustrator (a.k.a. Kim Gee). They take turns in each chapter; Gee lets us travel alongside her as she traverses the route of website creation, meeting wacky characters who lead her along the way to a perfect online portfolio. Then Cooper takes over, giving the more textbook version of what you’re learning in the comic. His language is very layman-oriented, and he throws in his share of levity too, so maybe “textbook” isn’t the best description. Regardless, Cooper’s screenshots and step-by-step instructions really compliment Kim’s sections well.

To me, the most interesting stuff was the CSS information, mostly because I’m not as well versed in that as I am HTML and content management. But I also appreciate that they tackle WordPress and the basics of creating a better blog, too. So many real estate pros simply throw words up on a page and don’t bother with site hierarchy or tags or formatting. The authors share simple tips and tricks (as well as the reasoning behind best practices) that have the power to not only make bloggers look more professional, but also help their websites look better in social media and across different browsers and devices.

You could probably follow this book to the letter and build a website. But I could also see this guide being really helpful for those folks who just want to be a little more hands-on with their existing site, understanding it more thoroughly and troubleshooting when issues come up. Also, it could make a great gift for an assistant or office manager who wants to expand their list of talents to the web.

Maybe I’ll see you in the funny papers?

What to Pack for NOLA

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 10:31

I just got my travel plans in order for next month’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo in beautiful New Orleans, La., and I’m already thinking about what to read on the plane. See, each year before we get together at NAR’s annual convention or for our legislative meetings in D.C., I like to comb through the schedule and put together a reading list for the event.

© Lasse Christensen, 2009

So here’s a list of a few of the books written by authors who will be presenting at the 2014 conference, along with a link to where they’ll be appearing in NOLA this November. (That way you can go pester them to autograph your copy.)

Before I Die, by Candy Chang (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013). Artist Chang will be part of the Entrepreneurial Excellence Sessions on Saturday, Nov. 8, 11:00am-12:00pm.

Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, by Gabrielle Giffords, Mark Kelly, and Jeffrey Zaslow (Scribner, 2011). Former U.S. Congressperson Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut and retired U.S. Navy Captain Mark Kelly, will take the stage during the general session which begins at 4pm on Saturday, Nov. 8

My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2009). Besh has three cookbooks, but I thought his contribution to culinary thought about New Orleans, the host city of the convention, would be the most appropriate suggestion. He’ll also be part of the Entrepreneurial Excellence Sessions on Sunday, November 9, 1:30pm-2:30pm. In addition, he’ll be doing a cooking demonstration and book signing on Monday.

Double Down: Game Change 2012, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (Penguin Press HC, 2013). In the Federal Legislative and Political Forum on Saturday, Nov. 8 from 1:30 to 3pm, Halperin and Heilemann will discuss the outcome of the 2014 midterms, public policy debates that affect the real estate industry, and the 2016 presidential election.

The Book on VA Loans: An Essential Guide to Maximizing Your Home Loan Benefits, by Chris Birk (Veterans United Home Loans, 2011). Birk will be presenting during the regulatory issues forum on VA loans on Friday, Nov. 7 at 11am.

Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, by John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012). John D. Kasarda will talk about his concepts defining the roles of aviation and airports in shaping 21st century business location, economic development and urban growth on Sunday, Nov. 9, at 9am.

Emerging Market Real Estate Investment: Investing in China, India, and Brazil by David J. Lynn and Tim Wang (Wiley, 2010). David J. Lynn will address the Top 10 Issues Affecting Real Estate on Sunday, Nov. 9, at 9am.

So, what’s in your carry-on?

Super Sad House Story

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 14:39

This may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t just read real estate books all day. In fact, from time to time I like to highlight fiction books on the Weekly Book Scan blog—sometimes with no relation to real estate whatsoever—and share a passage or two that reflects on property ownership in some way.

A few weeks ago, I read Super Sad True Love Story (Random House, 2011), a dystopian novel about a near-future America that is crumbling economically and culturally. Set mostly in New York City, the story centers around a doomed love affair between the middle-aged and nervous Lenny Abramov and the young but damaged Eunice Park. Author Gary Shteyngart’s clever language and excellent sense of humor allows readers to feel at home in this pre-apocalyptic setting, and it’s a rollicking-though-slightly-depressing read overall. I admit to a bit of disappointment over the ending; it seemed somehow both overwrought and anticlimactic. Still, it was a good beach read for cynics such as myself. If you want to read it and don’t appreciate spoilers, stop reading now and go buy yourself a copy.

Photo: bosela, 2010. Morguefile

Aside from the characters themselves, architecture functions as a tidy literary device, and it struck me that I thought Book Scan readers might best appreciate way Lenny regards the structures that surround him. As the nation begins to crumble on all sides, he hugs tighter to the material items he loves dear, particularly his slice of the American Dream on Grand Street. Early on, Lenny makes an effort to celebrate what he has left in life, and writes at the top of the list: “the 740 square feet that form my share of Manhattan Island.” The near-constant repetition of the square footage is a great place-setter for a world that is increasingly rating Lenny and everyone around him, placing people into categories of worth based on their assets and credit rating. Though he calls the building an “ugly co-op,” he’s clearly proud of his stake in the city, and often compares his building to that of others surrounding him in the doomed city.

His description of his workplace offers an interesting commentary on commercial repurposing projects. His company, which specializes in gene therapy to help wealthy people reverse the aging process, is ironically housed in an old synagogue:

The Post-Human Services division of the Staatling-Wapachung Corporation is housed in a former Moorish-style synagogue near Fifth Avenue, a tired-looking building dripping with arabesques, kooky buttresses, and other crap that brings to mind a lesser Gaudí…

…We had enough employees at Post-Human Services to repopulate the original Twelve Tribes of Israel, which were handily represented by the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary. How dull we looked in their ocean-blue glare.

As the country begins to truly collapse into a police state, Lenny and Eunice are forcibly removed from the condo. They’re made to move to Uptown, into what Lenny describes as “a boxy 1950s nurses’ residence on York Avenue that resembled a jigsaw puzzle left out in the rain” (which is one of my favorite similes in the novel). He describes how seeing his co-op building destroyed to make way for foreign investors and tourists reduces him to tears:

“On the day Media showed the Grand Street co-op buildings, my sunburned brick beauties, coming down in a cloud of red bricks and gray ash, I started crying.”…

“Eunice,” I said. “My apartment. My home. My investment. I’ll be forty in two weeks and I have nothing.”

In the end, the United States appears to have turned into a playground for wealthy foreign nationals, and Lenny has fled the country alone. The final scene opens on Lenny visiting with friends in Italy, where he bids farewell to the life and country he’s known through a meditation on his surroundings:

Last winter, I visited my Roman friends Giovanna and Paolo at their country home, a fourteenth-century stone barn in the direction of Orvieto. I spent the first night beneath the wide-beamed timber ceiling of the redesigned living room, drinking my allotted Sagrantino di Montefalco, marveling at the recently built alcoves and wooden shelves, which with their rough-edged simplicity complemented the barn’s age…

…I realized what was happening to me. I had begun to grieve. For all of us …and for the land that still shudders between Manhattan and Hermosa Beach…

…They stared at me, at each other, and then at the beautifully laid wooden floors leading out to the pergola, beyond which a tableau of olive trees and grain fields, arrested by winter, dreamed of a new life.

Reader’s Special

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 10:28

One of the privileges of my position at REALTOR® Magazine is introducing our print stories to the Internet every two months. Tomorrow is the day that the September/October issue hits the web, and there are a lot of reasons to be excited. We were able to chat with some of the hottest speakers coming to this year’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo, and we compiled some great risk management tools when dealing with everything from website accessibility to fiduciary duties to meth homes.

Photo: Paodoruvel, 2014; via Morguefile.

I’m always on the lookout for places where books and real estate collide, and the commentary in the upcoming September/October issue from Steve Murray is one of those places. Murray, editor of REAL Trends and president of REAL Trends Consulting Inc., explains why real estate professionals who are frustrated with listing issues surrounding the MLSs should read Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.

When you think of the U.S. stock market, it’s the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ that comes to mind. But as Michael Lewis’s new book, Flash Boys, reveals, there are more than a dozen exchanges—and that doesn’t even count the “dark pools,” the private systems operated by most major U.S. investment houses for the benefit of their big-money clients…

…Cooperation and compensation were baked into the MLS. Want to know how important those practices are? Think about commercial brokerage, where everything is subject to negotiation right up to the closing, and imagine fighting over commission splits in front of home owners at a closing table. Then read Flash Boys to find out how securities traders game the system.

OK, so that puts Lewis’ latest officially on my ever-growing to-read list. But I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read it yourself.

And just because I take care of my loyal Book Scan readers, you can go ahead and read Murray’s full commentary on REALTOR® Mag Online, a whole day early. To the readers go the spoils!

Home: A Deep-Seated Need

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 09:18

Sometimes one can find intrinsic truths about the human condition in the most mundane of places. Like the introductory chapter of an architecture textbook.

That’s what happened to me this week when I was skimming through Invitation to Architecture: Discovering Delight in the World Built Around Us (Taunton Press, 2014). The book’s authors—Max Jacobson and Shelley Brock—both teach introductory courses in architecture, and though it is a well-designed tome with a decidedly non-academic flavor to it, the book is essentially a primer. I was digging into it as I usually do, with the intent of finding out how useful it might be for our readers. Imagine my surprise when I was confronted with a love letter to the notion of home ownership!

In the first chapter, the authors talk about how important ordinary buildings are to children, especially the structure of home. Like the best poetry, their writing contains a revelation that is both surprising and self-evident at once. These architects then proceed to delve into the following features humans crave from built world, and the psychological reasons behind them.

Shelter: Ever since emerging from the womb, we as human beings are constantly looking for a place that will keep us warm and secure. “This experience can include the pleasant feeling of being safe inside during a storm, or gathering together with others in a space made for that purpose, or in the simple satisfaction of owning a space that one has created for oneself,” the authors note. They go on to assert that the reason a child enjoys building forts is “because he or she is actively creating, or designing, the small-scale space that is so vividly felt as satisfying.”

Vantage: A room with a view may seem more like a luxury than a necessity, but the authors insist that the desire to be up higher than others is part of our evolutionary make-up. “Our ancestors sought out high, protected places from which to apprehend approaching danger and to have a height advantage to either attack or defend,” they write, adding that this is also why kids love spying on the adult world from high balconies or tree houses.

Ownership: As a child, did you ever paste a sign on the door to your room proclaiming exactly whose room it was and who was allowed in? Or maybe you and your friends had some sort of clubhouse you could call your own. This exclusivity easily transfers to home ownership and other structures of adulthood. These feelings are also especially strong when applied to a place with a height advantage, such as a porch or stoop.

Creation: Whether it was with blocks or a deck of cards or a dollhouse, most of us spent some time creating imaginary structures to suit our childhood desires. According to the authors, working in miniature also gives children’s little brains the opportunity to experiment with the world in a safe environment, exercising “the mental skills of attention, imagination, creativity, and intelligence, allowing them to grow and develop.”

That last item contained a curious footnote at the end, noting that as kids today “spend less time with creative play” they are not as prepared “for the form and space-making aspect of architectural design.” For a moment, this worried me. I wondered if the proliferation of the iPad as teaching toy would mean a lessened love for home ownership. I thought about it for a bit and decided it probably wouldn’t have much effect. After all, the authors have clearly established that the need for shelter and home ownership are traced well into our evolutionary past, and we crave security right out of the womb. There’s not much a new toy can do about that.

Present It Like TED

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 08:53

When you watch a TED Talks video, you might learn how to tie your shoes more efficiently. You could also learn whether or not humans can prevent the end of the world. In other words, the group’s motto of “ideas worth spreading,” is a pretty broad one. But regardless of your viewing choice, you tend to come out of it at least a little bit smarter, which is something you can’t often claim after emerging from the typical YouTube binge.

A sampling of topics from TED.com

That’s why I was so eager to pick up Carmine Gallo’s book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds (St. Martin’s Press, 2014). A public-speaking coach himself, Gallo watched some of the most popular TED Talks from over the years and interviewed the people who gave them, ranging from diplomats to supermodels to neuroanatomists. He came out of the experience with tips for ordinary folks to incorporate into their speaking duties. I thought I might extract a few that could help you bring your next listing presentation to a viral level.

  • Start strong. Whatever your plan, make sure your first action is not opening up your presentation software to the first slide. Connect with your audience before you begin. If you start off with what Gallo calls an “emotionally-charged event,” your presentation has a far greater chance of being remembered.
  • Demonstrate your passion. Your task here is not to simply ask for the chance to sell these peoples’ home. You need to show how much you love doing what you do, and how passionate you are about their property. After all, they probably bought it because they loved it (or something about it, at least!). Show that you understand their connection to the place, and demonstrate that you are ready to pass your passion off to the perfect buyer.
  • Tell your story. Yeah, it’s not all about you. But here Gallo references some pretty powerful evidence from a variety of behavioral and biological studies showing that personal stories can cause listeners to form a sort of “mind-meld” with the speaker, causing deeper and more meaningful connections than other kinds of communication can.
  • Gesture with purpose. It’s important to move when you speak, but you should always connect your words and your body language or you’ll risk having your movements distract from what you’re saying. Gallo suggests the best way to identify useless mannerisms and replace them with purposeful movements is to tape yourself giving a presentation and watch it back, noting all your movements and making an effort to change them where they’re not connecting directly with your words.
  • Be innovative. Gallo notes that humans love to be taught new things, and encourages readers to offer “a fresh and novel way to solve an old problem.” Find out what the issue is for your audience, and then figure out how to solve it in a way they haven’t heard from other real estate professionals.

Now, I’ve just scratched the surface here; Talk Like TED has far more tips in it for successful presentation than just these. And while I do think Gallo’s book is helpful to the average real estate salesperson, his thoughtful, well-researched words are indispensable to someone looking to get into training or public speaking, or for the broker hoping to connect more deeply with her team.

What’s New in the New-Home Market?

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:05

Boyce Thompson’s The New New Home aims to “demystify” the factors in play when it comes to building a new home in the current market, with special attention paid to environmental and economic factors that many buyers might want to consider when purchasing or building a new home.

Credit: Will Scullin

In general, The New New Home proves a useful guidebook for people looking to build the home of their dreams. Thompson offers tips on making homes more energy efficient with careful planning: “Basic decisions—like whether you want a one- or two-story house, whether the garage will be attached, the height of ceilings, or whether you use dark or light colors on exterior or interior surfaces—profoundly impact energy consumption,” he writes.

Thompson urges those planning to build a new home to consider everything from what kind of lifestyle they want to lead in their new home (is a formal dining space necessary? How often do you entertain visitors?) to whether anyone in the family plays an instrument (will you need space for a large grand piano? Is a sound-proof area a requirement?). Tell buyers to collect pictures of design elements features that appeal to them, so that they can approach designers and builders with ideas already in mind (the book even highlights some homes—with pictures!—that have desirable features).

There’s also plenty of advice throughout The New New Home for those hoping to build environmentally-conscious homes, although an index or a glossary with a breakdown of the convoluted industry standards that determine whether a house is eco-friendly or not would have been a nice touch for real estate agents, home buyers, and builders alike.

Thompson also predicts what’s coming next for sustainable housing, so if you have clients who are really ahead of the curve, you’ll be able to understand what they need. For example, he says smart metering systems that can tell you the best time of day to do a load of laundry or run the dishwasher are coming. And recent news supports his position: Just this year, Google purchased the startup Nest Labs Inc., a company that produces smart metering systems and smoke alarms.

If you work frequently with clients looking to build their own homes, or want to get a good idea of what qualifies as an eco-conscious home, keep The New New Home on hand.