Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Books, Bookstores, and Economics

Books, Bookstores and Economics


The Macrotots blog will never make me rich. I'll never have thousands of followers on my Twitter account. I'm Ok with that - because I understand that the small bits of the world that I find fascinating are not really mainstream (sorry, no puppies, kittens, or Kardasians here).

What I blog and Tweet about are Politics and Economics. Feedly consolidates the content, and for the most part the daily collection of articles are routine. This morning I am really ticked off!

San Francisco Politicians Killed a Bookstore




Here is the story: Minimum Wage Maximum Sorrow for San Francisco Bookstore
Here is Borderlands Books homepage with the closing announcement.

Politicians in both Seattle and San Francisco believe they can dictate minimum wages, and that everyone will be more prosperous, that social inequity managed by social justice will be more "just".

Once again, reality conflicts with the plans of the pie-in-the-sky touchy-feely do-gooders.

Do the politicians understand that BIG BUSINESS really doesn't care about a minimum wage increase? Why would it? Smaller competitors get wiped out when political, regulatory, and economic barriers are raised. 

In the end all that is left is BIG BUSINESS and the GOVERNMENT. 

/EndRant

~Tot1



Monday, February 2, 2015

Realtor Newsletter Suggestions

Realtor Newsletter Suggestions


Are newsletters effective or are you just spending time and money? If relationships are initiated by content, and content is "King”, what would I suggest for an agent - or a Realty office that is willing create a newsletter to support their agents?
 
I’m not a Real Estate Agent
Have you read my disclaimer?
 
The average agent completed 7 transactions in 2009, based on the 2010 Realtors Member Profile, reported by tampamoves.com. My wife and I met in 1999. Since then we have
bought and sold 2 condominiums, bought and sold four houses, and are living in the most recent purchase – a fifth house.

A decade ago the one bedroom condo in California was under $75,000. The house we bought in 2012 (around $400k), was remodeled and sold in 2014 (over $600k). We moved from California to Ohio, to Texas to Washington, and back to Texas. That may sound like a lot, but I am an Army brat, we moved every 2-3 years growing up. So, I’m not a real estate expert, but will I claim plenty of life experience when it comes to moving, buying, and selling.


About Your Newsletter Content


Reporting national trends is interesting, but it does not engage me more than reading the mainstream media, or watching the local news. You can try to compete with Community Impact - a local newspaper with real estate sales data, but providing the same data… is pointless. Your newsletter can go direct to the circular file, or it can be a valuable resource. Their data does not reflect the underlying story – WHY did something happen?


What Do You Know, Specific to my Neighborhood?


Homes in my HOA sell from about $100 to $125 per square foot. Why? What should I be doing to my home to make it sales ready - next week, next month, or next year? I want to sell at the best price possible, and usually I have a timeline. You have a professional opinion about the market – why aren’t you sharing it?

Does your office see specific issues that impact closing? Are appraisals coming in strong or weak? Is a particular problem, specific to my neighborhood or region, common enough that a homeowner needs to resolve it before listing? Our 20-year old neighborhood is sprinkled with 20-year old pools, 20-year old kitchens, 20-year old bathrooms... What does a homeowner need to consider prior to listing? What specifically makes the $25 difference - other than you?
 
Our biggest find in Washington was a local hardware store that had everything (and I mean everything) for our 30 year old home. We were able to replace 17" round sinks from their on-hand inventory - and even had a choice of manufacturers. We also found a garage door company that had our wood panels in stock. We were able to replace a single panel ($200) compared to an entire door ($1000).

A contractor explain the three shingles theory - as the economy got tight, contractors (first shingle) shed employees. Many hung out a shingle (second) by opening their own shop. As things got worse, many more were cut, and opened shop. The first shingle had capital and expertise, the second, expertise, the third - who knows. (Same idea, different framework: Master - Disciple - Epigones)

What is your opinion about the new school that opened, the two new principals, the new superintendent and change to the feeder pattern? Maybe you don't have an opinion, but you probably know somebody that does.

Interest Rate Trends - A Picture is Worth 1000 Words...

...but I don't understand your Language

 
Click on Image for larger version.
Dozens of charts show interest rate history.

 

I just wanted to let you know that I got your email about falling interest rates. But, I’m not sure how this helps (or hurts). I know that you see these charts every day. What do they mean to the consumer? Can you provide a specific example to make a chart make sense?
 
Freddie Mac - Weekly Market Survey
 
 

What would you say to me if we had lunch together...?

 
 
Calculated Risk - Chart
Where is "missing" 15 year mortgage data?

 
 
The chart above from Calculated Risk (30 Year Mortgage Rates Fall to 3.68%). The article provides context: "Today is officially the first day we can say that rate sheets are at least as good as May 21st, 2013, the day before Bernanke's congressional testimony unofficially kicked off the taper tantrum and sent mortgage rates quickly higher." And, they reinforce a real estate rule: "Historically refinance activity picks up significantly when mortgage rates fall about 50 bps from a recent level."
 
Your message might look like this:

“If you secured a new mortgage in August or September of 2012 you are probably paying around 4.5% interest. Rates have moved down below 4%. Refinancing a $250,000 mortgage (not atypical for my neighborhood) would save $x. Refinance points and fees can be recovered within Y-months.” Don't forget to add a call to action if you have a recommendation.

Or: "If you got a new mortgage between May 2013 and January of this year, you might want to start watching rates".

Or: “If you purchased in early 2000 (quite possible, and certainly close enough, in my neighborhood), the original loan might be at 8% interest. Rates are half of that now. Refinancing might save you half of your interest payment."
 
Or, this: "Did you notice the blue line on the chart? 15 year mortgages weren't a big deal in 2000. Rather than refinancing to a 30 year fixed, you might consider a 15 year fixed. Your payoff date doesn’t change and your payment might still be reduced...”

What do you know about somebody that has lived in a nice neighborhood of 4-5 bedroom homes for 14 years? Are there kids still at home? Are they planning to retire, downsize, right-size? 

Can you show, in the matter of a few sentences or paragraphs, that you understand the customer? Can you uncover a need, initiate a relationship and call the homeowner to action?


Is Anything Important Changing or Likely to Change?


Have any real estate “rules” or “rules of thumb” changed? Many potential customers have been out of the market for years. Those huge draperies and Italian wall texture – that Tuscan look, were popular – with an emphasis on “were” – 15 years ago. Long term owners may pay attention to sales in the neighborhood, and may track sales data, but may be clinging to old rules.

What is changing about first mortgages, second mortgages, HELOC and other loans, or even the process of securing a loan? What political / legal issues are on the horizon? Are any changes to mortgage deductibility, transfer taxes, mortgage insurance, estate taxes, property insurance worth mentioning? Find the articles, cite the experts then call the homeowner to action - ready to discuss the topics from an informed real estate agent point of view.


Rule: Master Bathrooms Sell Homes


Well, maybe – but here is a different example: The home we remodeled in Washington had a water leak in the hall bathroom. The leak trickled down a wall between the living room and the garage and damaged the ceiling in the living room. The damage that was fixed prior to our purchase as a closing condition from the mortgage company. But the lender did not require that the leak be fixed, just that the ceiling be patched and painted.

The first suspect was a toilet with a broken bowl, and a continuous water flow. The 1970s era, peach-colored toilet was replaced along with the other two toilets in the house, and the plumber replaced all of the water supply valves, hose bibs, and supply lines for all of the toilets and the outside faucets. 

Funny thing, the toilet was on the wrong side of the room to be causing the leak. The actual leak was seeping through the floor next to the peach-colored tub. We decided to limit the use of the tub to stop further damage, then remodeled the bath. The remodel included a new toilet, new tub, a new shower mixing valve, new backer board, new tile, new sub-floor and new tile floor, new countertop, new lighting, new closet bi-fold door, and new paint. We now knew for a fact that no water was migrating through the old wall, or leaking from the old valve, or splashing out of the tub and leaking through the subfloor.

The master bathroom did get some work, but not nearly the same as the hall bath, and neither got more time and effort as the landscaping. We remediated a huge list of problems, but never fully remodeled the master bathroom.

What we learned: Fixing problems, even hidden problems, might be a better place to spend your money compared to following the "rules".


Content - Invite Experts


It’s OK to tout your agent and agency success - number of sales, number of listings, industry awards. Once you have established your credentials, what are you going to do to establish and build upon a relationship?  You probably do not have a marketing expert, social media expert, or writer on your staff. So how does an agency create, or find, or repurpose content?

How many experts are in your rolodex: pool people, landscaping people, contractors, decorators, mortgage brokers, local city resources. Will they trade a few paragraphs, or a couple of sentences of “expert opinion” for a referral in your newsletter?
 

Bottom Line:


  • Use the newsletter to point back to you and your online content - you don't have to spell out every detail of your expertise
  • Cover a variety of topics – tailored to your audience
  • You do not have to provide all of the content yourself – learn how to curate content, and ask others for help
Create value in yourself by sharing, by providing expertise, and by positioning yourself as the point of contact to reach other experts.
 
~Tot1
 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Garmin Vivofit 500000 Step Review

Garmin Vivofit - 500,000 Step Review

Click any graphic for
a larger view
The Garmin Vivofit that I purchased in November has been tracking all of my steps - with the exception of a single day when it stayed on the side table and I stayed in bed. 

Garmin Vivofit - 400,000 Step Update 
Garmin Vivofit - First 300,000 Steps


What I Have Learned

First, you need  a few measured loops, simple walking loops where you know the exact distance. 

  • 500 steps to the bus stop and back
  • 2000 steps to the lift station...
  • 4000 to GH Street...
  • 7000 to the elementary school...

At the beginning of the day when the Vivofit picks the target, these numbers are not overly useful. After all, a 9000 step target is not going to be satisfied by any of these. But at the end of the day, when you just need  a few steps to meet your goal, having a few pre-measured loops will keep you from wandering the neighborhood like a hobo.

Second, comfortable shoes matter. I switch back and forth between a pair of mid-weight hiking boots and a pair of very light-weight running shoes. The running shoes allow for a faster pace, and the extra heel cushioning is terrific. The boots give great ankle support, at the cost of a more jarring stride. I still rotate between the two because I wear the boots when hiking (not on paved roads or sidewalks) so I need to feel their weight and support. But, for the longer loops I try to go with the running shoes. 

Third, you have to have good music on your MP3 player. Hit "Random" and start walking. 


What I Need to Work On

I need to work on a strategy for crappy weather. I was able to bundle up (layers) for cold weather down to 32 degrees. But cold and windy and damp are not my favorite combination. Once you get warmed up, the layers start working against you, and any attempt at relief was rewarded with chills. 


Did I really miss my December target by 315 steps?
Yes, Yes I did... 
I need to figure out how to relate to the Garmin Vivofit. Sure, we have come to an agreement on daily targets (the Garmin picks). And, I know that I am going to miss my daily target - my longest streak in 11 days, all during the Christmas and New years Holidays. In fact, I only surpass my target 69% of the time. 

But, I missed my December monthly target by 315 Steps! The sum of the daily targets for the entire month is recorded and reported. Imagine my surprise and disappointment. In January I had a couple of very busy days and missed my daily target. I have been working to catch up. 

I have not found a way to reset the daily target - which is randomly picked, but seems to trend higher every few days. My goal requires 8440 steps per day, which is well below the random picks. 

Finally, I need to find time for the additional steps. I have increased my pace from 1600 steps per 15 minutes to 1800+ per 15 minutes - which is about 3.5 MPH. Much faster and I would need to start jogging. My morning routine and typical work day scores about 3500 steps. So I need to find reliable time for the other 6000 steps or so -- after taking care of wife and kids, and sports and band and scouts and... 

I don't always have an hour a day to dedicate to the road. 


Green Bar = High Activity
This chart shows pace of 1787, 1830, and 1828 steps per 15 minutes.
Click for larger view. 


Bottom Line

I started tracking my steps with the Garmin Vivofit during the week of November 23. Since Thanksgiving I have lost seven (7) pounds and my blood pressure and HbA1C are back to normal. 

I have recorded >535,000 steps, with no injuries - not even blisters. It takes me about 2071 steps to cover a mile (my score today: 14,522 steps, 7.01 miles). 

Aches and pain sure -- because: old and fat. But, I suspect that jogging ~260 miles in 65 days would have been physically traumatic. Injuries limit exercise.  

Walking is working for me. The Garmin Vivofit is keeping me honest and working hard.

~Tot1