Friday, February 29, 2008
Stay tuned next week for the second installment. Did you make the cut?
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Move Inc. (formerly Homestore) is a public company that operates move.com and Realtor.com through a contract with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) trade group. ActiveRain is a social networking online community with close to 75,000 members who use the site for interest groups, blogging and online networking.
Among other things, the lawsuit alleges that Move Inc. approached ActiveRain in hopes of purchasing their website, and then intentionally fell into breach of contract by engaging in fraudulent activity and unfair competition during the failed acquisition. Move has countered that they believe their actions were without malicious intent, and conducted in fairness.
The lawsuit further alleges that officials at ActiveRain were misled when they were told that the acquisition was nearly complete. They believe this is further proof that Move was trying to acquire “highly sensitive material about its members and its network or platform in electronic format, in anticipation of the supposed impending closing.”
Both parties are currently in the process of gathering data and depositions.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
The year is 1961. In the midst of the Cold War, the US government is building hundreds of Atlas-F missile silos in upstate New York in the event of a nuclear attack...which never comes. Equipped with air and land access, these silos sit, nestled underground, unused and completely unknown for several years. What the general public won’t know until many years later is that these long-abandoned silos will be prime for human occupation–in accessibility and functionality.
Straight out of a Bond movie, cousins Bruce Francisco and Gregory Gibbons purchased one of the missile silos and converted it into a multi-level underground luxury home. By renovating the 2,300 square foot control center, the cousins made a bleak and vacant space into a two-story, 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath home. Sliding ‘Star War[s]-like doors’ between the open living area and the kitchen serve as entry into a tunnel which accesses the main chamber of the silo–a 20,000 square foot, nine floor steel structure.
I wonder if Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler, could be hired to park my bat mobile the dark depths of these silos.
As of 2001, the cousins had listed the property at $2.3 million, boasting:
“(A) new well, 200 amp electrical service, phone, original 1800 gallon functional septic. Contemporary fiber optic effect lighting along with natural sunlight rendition back lighting. High circulation venting (two 18" vent tubes), specifically designed to handle the demands of everyday living as well as those that may be posed in a crisis situation. (i.e. a nuclear or biochemical attack)."I haven’t been able to determine if they sold it, and if so, for how much. I assume they purchased it from a government property auction, which avails government land and property to citizens looking to buy.
I hope we will never need to consider living in security-enhanced, nuclear and biochemically safe structures, but in the case we do, I suppose it’s comforting to know that they exist. And it doesn’t hurt that they could be kind of swanky in a post-apocalyptic chic sort of way.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Architected by KieranTimberlake Associates, LLP partners Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake, and named after the tall pines that surround it, the Loblolly house serves one simple purpose outside of acting as a residence: Design for disassembly.
Since the average home has a lifespan of less than 100 years, Kieran and Timberlake are seeking ways to build homes designed for disassembly. They believe that builders and architects should look at the future of the properties they design before building and look for ways to build responsibly using renewable resources.
Architecturally, the design speaks to my inner art historian. It has the linearity of Mondrian, paired with the sterile but natural wooden influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, polished off with the modernity of Bauhaus’ Gropius.
Perhaps redeeming the ugly ceiling fans, is the design team’s (or photographer’s?) use of the Eames chair in the interior of the house. The design inspiration for ‘Kit of Parts’ comes largely from the Eames’ aesthetic.
The Loblolly House is made up of ‘smart cartridges’, which are floor and ceiling panels containing all of the utilities needed to make the home livable including electrical, heating and fire detection devices. The exterior and interior are completely made of wood (with the exception of the aluminum framing) that is Forest Stewardship Council-approved birch, bamboo or plywood. Its finish is entirely nontoxic.
Another interesting feature is the home’s positioning and foundation. Because it is built on structural piles and raised off the ground, it does not damage the coastal land on which it rests, nor does it disrupt the animals living nearby, as they can still pass underneath it.
I was encouraged to hear that the Loblolly House will go into mass production with Steve Glenn’s LivingHomes prefabricated development company, a milestone for the efforts of green developers worldwide.
And investors take note: The idea of environmentally responsible, portable and prefabricated homes is an intriguing one, especially considering the amount of interest the Loblolly House has generated (they are producing a book in May, Loblolly House: Elements of a New Architecture). I expect we will hear considerably more about Kieran Timberlake in the near future.
*All images are courtesy of KieranTimberlake Associates, LLP
Being that the article is in tune with this week’s theme of unique housing ideas, I’d encourage you click through to read more.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
In keeping with this week’s theme of unique housing, I found Terreform.org, a nonprofit group dedicated to the preservation of ecology and the urban environment. Their pièce de résistance, among many other endeavors, is the pursuit of sustainable green development grown naturally.
The two architects spearheading the ‘Fab Tree Hab Treehouse’, Mitchell Joachim and Javier Arbona of the Smart Cities group of the MIT Media Lab, are working with Lara Gredem, an environmental engineer from MIT, to develop a house that grows itself.
The intention for these homes (and all other projects on the Terraform docket) is to create a food source for some organism in each stage of its life.
Their idea is organic in origin and execution. The project starts by staking a plywood structure into a tree and growing a house out of the tree itself around the plywood, using renewable resources to feed it. Once the tree intertwines around the basic structure, the original plywood form can be removed and reused to build another structure for another house, and so on.
The interior of the house is made of plaster, mud and other building materials–all natural and eco-friendly wherever possible. The idea originally included glass windows, but the designers are researching soy-originated transparent materials that can grow and expand as the physical structure grows inside the tree. A heat source for water and air would be provided by active solar hot water pipes which heat radiant flooring.
Joachim explains it by saying:
“Our dwelling is composed with 100% living nutrients. Here traditional anthropocentric doctrines are overturned and human life is subsumed within the terrestrial environs. Home, in this sense, becomes indistinct and fits itself symbiotically into the surrounding ecosystem.This home concept is intended to replace the outdated design solutions at Habitat for Humanity. Our goal was to propose a method to grow homes from native trees. This enables these new local dwellings to be a part of an absolutely green community. Pleaching is a method of weaving together tree branches to form living archways, lattices, or screens. Templates, cut from 3D computer files control the plant growth in the early stages.”
It all sounds great, but isn’t it faster to just build a house? How long will it take to grow one?
The easy answer is five years. Joachim is looking into a particular self-grafting plant, unique for its growth speed and intertwining roots and branches.
Two issues, raised by Mike Rollins, are that of zoning and maintenance. First, any permanent structure requires a building permit, and because these treehouses are too organic to be considered permanent settlements, they cannot be built using the same permits a traditional home requires.
Second, the houses would be less resilient against severe such as storms floods and high winds.
Joachim, Arbona and Gredim are all at work researching developing these homes en masse on a farm, then transplanting them to their permanent locations. All of this makes me imagine a world where sustainable development and pristine suburbia live happily ever after. Perhaps it’s not too far off.
*all photos are courtesy of Terreform.
Monday, February 18, 2008
But for me, treehouses conjure up visions of my childhood in Salinas, California. Protected by a fortress of poison oak (I’m immune), it was my secret hiding place where no one could pester me.
As consumers become increasingly energy-conscious, builders and developers are making efforts to appeal to the ‘green’ masses.
One such effort, treehouse communities, is rising in popularity. Some consumers are choosing to live in trees to protect the environment. Others are searching for sustainable ways to retreat from the everyday hustle and bustle of the world. Many people enjoy the sense of community that these developments offer. One such community in Costa Rica, Finca Bellavista, boasts “an opportunity for a sustainable and harmonious lifestyle for property owners in a rainforest environment.”
Personally, I find some of these treehouses, especially these by co-op Baumraum visually appealing.
The dangers are numerous, of course. What happens in a drought? What about tree disease? And Bugs? Treehouses are not for the faint of heart (or those with acrophobia). In the wide world of lifestyle investments, treehouses are certainly paramount.
Would-be buyers should take notice: there is more to treehouses than meets the eye. If you can’t afford a house, or are wary to buy a treehouse, you can grow one. More on that tomorrow.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Reports out of the journal Nature suggest that scientists are close to creating a way to make our clothes work for us, beyond keeping us fashionable and warm. By using the piezoelectric effect, by which electricity is generated when normal amounts of pressure are applied to certain materials, scientists claim that simple friction of fabric can create energy in the amount of 80 milliwats (enough to charge your iPod). We’re talking about normal wear and tear, folks.
The Seattle Times explains it much better than I:
While the piezoelectric effect has been understood at least as far back as the 19th century, it is getting creative new looks, as concerns about energy supplies are inspiring quests for alternative power sources.
For example, a Japanese railway has experimented with mats, placed under turnstiles, that translate the pressure from thousands of commuters' footfalls into usable power. French scientists have proposed capturing energy from raindrops hitting a structure with piezoelectric properties.
For the research described in Nature, Zhong Lin Wang and colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology covered individual fibers of fabric with nanowires made of zinc oxide. These wires are 50 nanometers in diameter, 1,800 times thinner than a human hair.
Alternating fibers are coated with gold. As one strand of the fabric is stretched against another, the nanowires on one fiber rub against the gold-coated ones on the other, like the teeth of two bottle brushes. The resulting tension and pressure generate a piezoelectric charge that is captured by the gold and can be fed into a circuit.
Now that is an investment I could support.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
It enables users to search for open houses by zip code or state, giving buyers the ability to plan and schedule around the times of the open houses they’d like to attend.
Buyers are able to browse pictures, virtual open houses and videos of properties. Even better is the feature that lets users plan a route of open houses–optimal for the investor looking out of state.
After trying a few searches, I learned that searches for properties are optimized by searching by city rather than zip code. While this could be a useful tool in the future, the site is just too new to list a concentrated number of properties in one zip code.
A search for Las Vegas, Nevada brings up 37 listings, all showing this weekend.
I also quite appreciate the site’s simplicity. It’s refreshing to see a site do one thing, and do it well. I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
This theft is not only expensive, but loud. When a car loses its converter it can sound like an airplane taking off in a parking lot. Trust me; you’ll know if yours has gone missing. The repair is a pricy one, too, many parts costing over $1,000 to replace and install. Even after victims submit claims to insurance companies, many are still responsible for high deductibles.
Those who know me know that I’m no mechanic (though I can proudly change my oil), but here’s how it works: small amounts of platinum, palladium and rhodium are thinly coated on composite materials inside the converter (which is affixed to the undercarriage of your car).
When heated exhaust passes through the converter en route from the engine, the metals convert the harmful gases inside (carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides) into safer ones.
With the prices of palladium on the rise, platinum nearly tripling in value (selling for more than $1500 per ounce) and rhodium selling at 18 times its 2003 value, stealing converters is an easy target for thieves seeking fast cash. Palladium is worth about 40 percent more now than it was five years ago.
Because instances of theft have risen so quickly, anti-theft devices haven’t been able to keep up. One device auto owners can consider purchasing sounds like a kitty-hostile torture device: the CatClamp. The device went on the market nine months ago, but it has only sold about 200 units. The piece locks in place like a cage over the catalytic converter with wire, putting a stumbling block in front of would-be thieves.
As disturbing a trend as this is, it points to a positive trend: prices of these precious metals—as well as gold and silver—are on the rise, and investors should seize opportunities to purchase them.
Monday, February 11, 2008
The issue for those buying second homes is not usually affordability–more likely it is the challenge of finding the right property to fit their needs. Do they want a house on the water or in the mountains? Overseas or within easy travel distance? Maybe they simply want raw land to build their second (or third or fourth) home on. All tough questions for the discerning buyer.
Through ResortScape, a user is able to go in and survey properties based on price range, type of property and physical location. A simple search for a property in an "ocean/seaside" lifestyle, for $400 to $800K in an unspecified location quickly brings up 63 listings varying from condotels to single family vacation homes–all for purchase.
Even tougher, some may argue, is what to do once the property is purchased. Many require renovations, maintenance and upkeep. SecondSpace claims to easily connect buyers with service providers able to assist them with their needs while they are away from their homes.
SecondSpace is aiming to establish itself as the preferred site for those looking to buy second homes worldwide. In partnership with their two other sites, ResortScape and LandWatch, SecondSpace recorded well over $1M in revenue in 2007.
Backed with $6.6M from Ignition Partners, the company employs people from Seattle-area companies such as Microsoft, RealNetworks and Amazon.
Keep your eyes out for more from SecondSpace–while they aren’t the only ones catering to consumer lifestyle needs, they appear to have the resources and partnerships to do it right.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Today’s post, however, is going to be a little different. I suppose you could categorize it into "interesting things."
In my position at NuWire, I’m always looking for ways to engage investors, service providers and people who just want to learn about alternative investments. It’s a bonus if I get to do it in a way that’s exciting and new and helpful. That being said, I’m always looking around for the next best thing. I’m always looking for ways to educate readers.
I’m about to scoop you on something (sense the buildup).
One of my top informants for the past year has been the Rain City Guide, a contributor-run blog out of Seattle. Not all of the contributors write about Seattle-related topics; in fact, some of the most compelling information about the newest and biggest and best within real estate is in this blog. Many of the contributors have their own websites and blogs, which I also enjoy keeping up with. Dustin, who also writes 4realz, is a favorite of mine to read.
I think aside from Top Pot Doughnuts and my favourite guilty pleasures, Impulse and Lambs Ear, Rain City Guide is one of the best-kept secrets in Seattle. (And you thought I was going to say Starbucks).
I’d encourage you to check it out. Multiple posts are made daily, and I bet that soon you, too, will be adding RCG to your blog roll.
Now, go tell all of your friends my little secret.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
I just received a call from my friends’ cousin Mikey, who was planning to move into my basement in the wake of a condo conversion in his apartment building.
Cousin Mikey, I just found out, isn’t moving in after all. His landlord informed him and the other 100 tenants in his downtown pre-war apartment complex that they could, in fact, keep their homes. The developer changed their mind, deciding that condo conversions are just too saturated in this market.
Apparently Mikey isn’t the only one living with the tug of war between tenants and developers.
Seattle’s real estate market has seen condo conversions drop sharply since a peak in 2006 because of changes in our housing market, including demand for rentals, housing costs and developers’ ROI.
This week, the House is considering a bill that proposes three things for Washington state:
- Developers must give tenants 180 days notice prior to development and are not allowed to start construction during the notice period.
- Monetary assistance would be granted to qualified tenants--qualifications would be determined by the tenants' earnings. Developers would have to pay tenants up to three times the monthly rent to cushion moving out and into a new building.
- Local governments would be given the faculty to put a cap on the number of apartment/condo conversions in the city.The city of Seattle is supporting this legislation.
I’d like to make one point clear before discussing this any further. I agree with the first two proposals. It’s the last that I take issue with, and it’s the last that deserves serious discussion.
Seattle is notorious for being one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. in which to buy real estate. It’s also one of the best cities in which to live, in my humble opinion, but still one of the most expensive.
Why, then, would our local government seek to put a cap on how many condominiums the city can build/convert? Because, in their minds, the city needs to stabilize the increase in development and give the market back to renting tenants who cannot afford to buy.
I suppose I see both sides of the argument, but as a single girl living in the city, if the condo shoe fits, I’ll wear it--just as soon as I find that right shoe. Er, condo.
What happens to the person who enjoys the benefit of home ownership but doesn’t want to move to the suburbs? Or can’t afford to buy in the suburbs? They are stuck renting.
There is a huge and stable market here for (semi) affordable homes among gen x and gen y-ers alike– and those (semi) affordable homes? They are condominiums, not single family suburban residences.
Investors should keep a close eye on this legislation because if the local government adopts this cap, it will not only affect landlord/tenant state laws, but limit the amount of properties available to purchase.
But, good for Cousin Mikey. And, good for me. I mean, I’m a Led Zeppelin fan, but...c’mon.
There’s always talk in the blogosphere about the elimination of the MLS. While no one can say for certain that it’s going to happen, there are several websites stepping up and launching platforms to provide many of the same resources as the MLS–some even bigger and better.
One such site, Seattle-based Estately offers functionality that users may be accustomed to: area comps, saved searches, listing details, neighborhood specs (including school information) and maps.
But pay attention. Estately's unique features could play a small part in the eventual wave of sites that may eventually overtake the MLS.
One such feature caught my eye: the ability for (forgetful) users to tag properties for the future. “Keeper,” “watch this one” and “no way--stinky cat pee” are all terms that one may find useful in remembering specific details about properties. Users can then search Estately’s database of homes as well as their own archived lists by using these tags. This is useful for people who like sticky notes and strings on fingers and things of that nature (ahem).
Additional search functionality allows users to search by selling term. For example, the search term "short sale" will bring up several Seattle short sale listings. Try the same for the term "motivated seller" and you’ll see 10 times the amount of listings. Pretty cool for the niche investor.
Agent match is a great tool that they are developing for buyers to be matched with the right type of agent for their needs.
Another two reasons I like Estately:
- One of the owners (and resident blogger) and I share an affinity for the best bar in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood.
- No ads. How refreshing.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Excuse me? Did you say real estate?
Coverage within the past month about Baghdad’s real estate market–a result of Iraqis' mass exodus from the city–has investors worldwide buzzing. Rents and home prices dropped significantly as Iraqis fled the city in search of more stable living conditions.
With supply declining, Iraqis are stuck between a rock and a hard place, many searching for homes that simply do not exist. In the face of over 46,000 Iraqis returning to Baghdad from places like Syria, demand is high and supply is null.
What does this mean for U.S. investors?
Some may argue nothing and say that investors willing to risk buying in such a volatile market may as well invest in San Diego, or Seattle, for that matter, and call it good.
The market contains everything from small homes which sell quickly, often after bidding wars, to larger multi-million dollar homes.
Others say Baghdad's real estate market is significant. Rising population and real estate prices in any city equal more development, more development means more jobs and more jobs mean…well, you get the point.
But why the sudden interest in real estate in this war-torn city?
Many of the larger homes have inflated prices because buyers, who have made money off government contracts, corruption and looting, are willing to pay 10 to 15 percent more than the home's value.
Some homes are dropping in value–owners desperate to unload properties in less-than-safe neighborhoods. Those homes sell, too–and fast. Both factors are resulting in serious opportunities for investors willing to take the risk.
As an investor, would you consider Baghdad?
I’m quick to say no–but stopping to think twice.
Monday, February 4, 2008
With home sales slowing, sellers are trying to find more creative ways to list their properties and save on selling costs. One of those ways? Getting rid of the middleman.
2006 and 2007 brought an onslaught of online real estate companies designed to automate the buying and selling process as a broker, saving both the buyer and the seller money.
Four of the most well-known companies in this category are Trulia, Zillow, Terabitz and Redfin. Despite the slump in the real estate market, all four have received great amounts of funding from large VCs within the last two years.
All of this got me thinking...
The idea that a product could sell even in a market slump is an interesting one. And even though real estate has cooled off in most parts of the world, these companies are still trending upwards, though not as quickly as first anticipated. They provide a cheap alternative to selling and marketing in an otherwise deteriorating market.
The clear benefit that buyers and sellers alike see in these companies is the elimination of the middleman. And some of these sites, specifically Trulia, are becoming more and more user-friendly.
Case in point?
Trulia launched their new Trulia Publisher Platform in January, allowing publishers use their search technology, with listings, under the umbrella of a publisher’s co-branding, all at no cost to the publisher. This is essentially the real estate world’s equivalent of using Google AdSense to advertise properties, but in a much more cost- efficient way.
It’s a win-win. Publishers get real estate-related traffic back from Trulia, and users get the benefit of co-branding with larger publishers. Mark my word, this will change the game of web marketing and advertising for real estate.
Zillow’s answer to Trulia’s Publisher Platform is a new feed format that will work in conjunction with Trulia – but stay tuned -- more on that tomorrow.
Friday, February 1, 2008
This practice, involving one essay, one entry fee (normally less than $150) and a tenacious attitude has been around since our ancestors in New England have had a need to disperse property.
Two modern–day examples:
In 2004, Claudia Johnsen, a 79-year-old resident of Alexandria, Va., offered to give away several plots of land and pre-existing homes in Virginia to essay contest winners. The prizes? Two condominiums in Alexandria, a waterfront strip in Stafford County, a vacation house near Hot Springs, Va., and one-third interest in a Temple Hills apartment complex.
One day, while watching Oprah, Johnsen witnessed a guest telling a story quite similar to hers, except the guest had profited from selling an inn. She thought it was a fascinating idea, and contacted Oprah's guest. She bought the contest rules for $750 and after making a few small changes to the policy, she organized her own online raffle.
Contestants would have to submit a $100 entrance fee along with an essay of 75 words or fewer explaining why they wanted to own one of the estates.
Wesley Ludlow and his wife, J.J. Rodgers, were unable to sell their 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house because of the dormant real estate market in their hometown of Red Feather Lakes, Colo., the Washington Post reported.
They decided they needed a solution to the problem of having a second mortgage, and wanted to sell the home that had been sitting by its lonesome since they built a newer home closer to town. They chose to try and raise $200,000 by asking for essays of 500 words or fewer and a $100 entry fee.
They determined that if they could not get over 2,000 entries they’d return to selling their home the traditional way.
Why is this interesting--aside from the oddity of it all?
At first glance, while this may look like a gamble, the end result is in the hands of the seller. They stand to profit from the entry fees at a price far beyond what many of these homes could originally appraise for. Of course, the risk lies in how the contest is marketed. Websites have been established to market and advertise these contests, but many are out of date and don’t target the right types of people.
In the end, Johnsen could earn several million dollars more than it’s appraised value for her estate as a result of her marketing efforts. The estate has been appraised at $3.7 million.
Johnsen is unsure how much money she will make at the end of the deal because overhead costs are often unpredictable. State Government determines the maximum number of entries that can be accepted, but Johnsen determined the minimum and holds the power to cancel the contest if she chooses.
The jury is still out for Ludlow and Rogers, who have not yet chosen an essay winner. If they meet their requirement of 2,000 essay submissions, they plan to put the surplus money towards their children’s' college educations.
The clear benefit for investors is the ability to simply settle their estate issues and potentially profit from selling real estate in an otherwise fairly stagnant market without picking up the phone to call a real estate agent.
The question? Who's keeping Uncle Fred from winning the house?