Drone use takes off to sell homes

Real Estate Aerial pictures and video may seem cutting edge, but you should consider a number of issues before agreeing to have a drone flying over your home and neighborhood.

The Bulletin of Photography Volume 15 (published in 1914) includes an article about Des Moines, Iowa real estate agents contemplating a “scheme” of photographing homes. The photographs were to make touring homes easier for busy clients; agents were to have four photographs per home in their exclusive portfolios. Real estate photography has come a long way since 1914. Today, home sellers expect dozens of high resolution pictures and even video to market their homes. In addition to the typical media array, some agents promote aerial photography to capture different perspectives of large estates, farms, and acreage.

Aerial photography has been around almost as long as commercial photography. According to the Professional Aerial Photographers Association (professionalaerialphotographers.com), the idea of aerial photography was patented in 1855; however, the first known aerial photograph wasn’t taken until 1858. No one knows for sure when aerial photography was first used for real estate sales, but you can bet it that it probably coincided with the broad acceptance of real estate photography. Although aerial photography has been accomplished by helicopter, balloons, and even very tall poles, it is increasingly becoming the domain of drones (also known as “unmanned aircraft systems”).

Many tout the drone’s potential and value. However, as commercial and hobby drone use skyrocketed, many also began to see the threat to personal privacy and safety. There has been a dramatic increase in pilot reported close calls; compare the 238 sightings during 2014 to the 650+ sightings during 2015 – through August 9th (FAA.gov). Federal and local agencies have sought to regulate drone use by implementing rules for safe and ethical use. You may have read Rebecca Guterman’s article investigating this issue earlier this year in the Montgomery County Sentinel  (State explores new drone rules; February 25, 2015).

On February 15th, the FAA published proposed rules for unmanned aerial systems as a step forward to integrating drones in our skies. Jenna Portman and Josh Hicks reported in a June 30th Washington Post piece (New laws in Va., Md. and D.C. regulate drones, Uber, social media) that Maryland will propose drone use rules by 2018; and in the interim has prohibited counties and municipalities from legislating drones, giving “exclusive jurisdiction” to federal and state agencies.

Commercial drone use has soared, especially in real estate applications; such that Dronelife.com estimated that real estate drone use could generate $10 million by 2016. The National Association of Realtors® has been at the front of this issue, promoting and educating safe and ethical drone use to members. NAR President Chris Polychron stated in his testimony to the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet: “Realtors® have shown a consistent interest in the safe, responsible use of drones in the business of real estate… (realtor.org).

It may seem cutting edge to integrate aerial pictures and video into your marketing plan, however there are some issues you might consider before agreeing to have a drone flying over your home and neighborhood. You should ensure that the operator is experienced and authorized to operate the vehicle. Make sure the drone operator is insured, as accidents and property damage can occur. Finally, confirm that any aerial pictures and video publicized are worthwhile; poorly executed aerial photography could detract from your marketing efforts, and interfere with a buyer’s appreciation of your home’s qualities and charm. For more information, visit Know Before You Fly (knowbeforeyoufly.org).

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

The anonymity of the internet has made real estate more personal

HouseIt might not be a revelation that the initial news about Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia reverberated among the analysts as a game changer for the real estate industry. But you might be surprised that some commentaries, such as Brad Stone’s of BloomburgBusinessWeek.com (How a Zillow-Trulia Merger Could Finally Change the Business of Real Estate), expressed that the transaction of buying and selling homes has not really changed since the inception of these internet giants.

Compared to 2013, decreased sales volume has made 2014 a challenging year for many in the real estate industry. And contrary to what some believe, the Trulia acquisition may not necessarily be a sign of strength; but rather, it may be sign of continued weakness in the industry. Tim Logan comments on the acquisition in his July 28th Los Angeles Times article (Zillow deal to buy Trulia creates real estate digital ad juggernaut), “Neither is yet profitable separately, but they hope to save $100 million a year by joining forces and cutting duplicative costs.”

Regardless of the economics behind the acquisition, the significance of Zillow and Trulia (and other similar websites) cannot be underestimated. And although many believed these sites were to have changed the real estate industry in a manner similar to how the internet changed the travel and retail industries; Zillow and Trulia have been leaders in transforming the home buyer and seller experience. And instead of minimizing the importance of the real estate agent; MLS aggregators have become facilitators and part of the home buying/selling process by packaging syndicated MLS feeds and other related information to consumers in a convenient and eloquent way through the internet, while selling services to real estate professionals vis-à-vis subscriptions and advertising.

The general process of buying and selling a home is still somewhat the same as it has been for decades. Before internet access became prevalent, real estate agents mostly met with their clients in person to review available home listings, discuss financing and other related matters. Although many used the technology of the day (fax machine and telephone), the preferred meeting was face-to-face. As the internet flourished, technology adopters were able to correspond with clients via email, text messages, and Skype. And as the technology evolved, so too did the daily business of real estate. Searching for homes became increasingly streamlined, and the flow of documents became more efficient.

Some have made the argument that the internet and related technologies may have been an enabler of the real estate bubble of the early to mid 2000’s. However, the reality may be that the real estate bubble facilitated the growth of real estate aggregators and the use of internet technologies. The proliferation of information at that time, along with the effective use of new technologies, fed house hungry buyers who wanted to be the first to know about a home for sale before other buyers. Internet and cell phone applications were developed to automatically send listing alerts to buyers’ emails and cell phones (technology that is commonly used today and even useful in hot markets where homes sell quickly).

Buying and selling a home is still a personal business. Instead of eliminating the real estate agent; websites such as Zillow and Trulia may have forced the agent to evolve from the information gate keeper to the local real estate expert who can interpret information for clients into meaningful data that can be used to facilitate the buying and selling of homes.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of July 28, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

When selling a home – pictures more important than descriptions

ColonialThe maxim “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” seems to be applied universally. But the meaning that different people are attracted to different characteristics may be also applied when viewing homes online. Recent research confirms how visual cues can either increase or put off a home buyer’s interest in your home.

Seiler, Madhavan, & Liechty’s 2012 ground breaking research on home buyers’ attention to visual cues deviates from the usual valuation models that focus on the perception of a home’s features (Seiler, Madhavan, & Liechty. (2012). Ocular tracking and the behavioral effects of negative externalities on perceived property values. Journal of Housing Research, 21(2), 123-137). Their study used ocular tracking technology to follow the eye movements of people viewing internet home listings. They found that people tend to spend more time viewing a home’s photos than reading about the property’s features, agent comments and other information; study participants viewed photos 60% of the time.

They concluded that the “percentage of time a person spends looking at the photo of the home” is more indicative of a person’s interest in a home than reading about the property’s characteristics or reading the agent’s descriptions; and it could be inferred that the longer a person looks at a home’s pictures, the more they might be interested in viewing it in person. As a result, the authors recommend that “real estate agents exercise great care when taking good photos of the property before listing a residence for sale.

Additionally, the study reported some interesting findings about a home’s value relative to negatively perceived features. Negative features that can be changed easily and inexpensively (such as carpets or paint) were not viewed by the study’s participants as a reason to significantly discount a home’s value; however, viewing negative external features that cannot be changed (such proximity to transmission lines or cell towers) is perceived to lower a home’s value.

The study’s findings about visual cues seems consistent with a 2008 Realtor® Magazine article (“How Photos Help Sell Homes”; realtor.org) which indicated that a home’s days on market is drastically reduced when there are multiple quality photos: “A property with a single photo spent 70 days on the market (DOM) on average, while DOM fell to 40 with six photos, 36 with 16 to 19 photos, and 32 with 20 photos…” The same article also reports that your home will probably sell for more if your agent posts multiple quality photos compared to posting only one photo; “listings with one photo sold for 91.2 percent of the original price, while homes with six or more sold for 95 percent of the original price…

So it seems that Seiler, Madhavan, & Liechty’s findings confirm the conventional wisdom to make your home look its best prior to listing it, as well as well as having the best quality photos posted to your listing. If you’re planning a home sale, consider asking about and comparing agents’ marketing concepts – including photos and video. It is customary for many agents to hire a third party to take and post pictures for the MLS listing and virtual tour. However, even though the posted pictures are high resolution, many MLS photos are distorted and/or do not depict the best viewpoint. To increase interest in your home – ensure that your hi-res photos are high quality by using the proper perspective and highlights the home’s features.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of July 21, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

The magic of 4 to sell a home

Preparing Home for SaleFor a successful home sale, you need to focus on four areas…

Spring is rapidly approaching – are you one of the many home owners listing your home for sale this year?  Sure, last year may have seemed like a breakthrough, but the still recovering housing market is just as quirky as The Doctor’s TARDIS.  And unless you consider condition, preparation, pricing, and marketing; your home sale could fall flat.

A home’s condition can affect a home’s sale price (sometimes significantly), and is often overlooked by home sellers and listing agents.  It is not uncommon for owners to put off home maintenance, especially after the financial crisis of 2008; housing experts estimate that home improvement spending decreased about 28% between 2007 and 2011. Deferred maintenance can deter some home buyers, while motivating others to make a low offer.  You can get an idea of potential cosmetic, mechanical, and structural issues by having a pre-listing home inspection.

Whether or not you choose to address deferred maintenance and repairs prior to listing, preparation is required to get ready for home buyer viewings.  One of the most important things to do to prepare your home is to declutter.  Decluttering is often overwhelming because sellers expect to make the home immaculate; but really, the purpose to decluttering is to give rooms a neat and spacious feel.  Decluttering will make you decide which items to keep, what to throw out, give away, or put in storage.

Home staging is a way to create a “vision” for home buyers.  Home staging can get pricey if you hire a staging professional and rent furniture.  But it doesn’t have to be expensive; “do it yourself stagers” can often transform a home with little or no money.  If your home is vacant, inexpensive rentals can be used as room “place holders,” to help convey a room’s size and use to buyers.

Pricing your home correctly can mean the difference between a successful sale and languishing on the market.  A common mistake that occurs in a recovering market is the eagerness to price high; but buyer push back can be an abrupt awakening to the realities of the housing market – making you wonder why your home is not selling.  Be careful of the listing agent who intentionally over-prices your home, this is an old technique to persuade you to sign a listing agreement; the flip side is listing with an agent who intentionally prices the home too low, promising a “quick” sale (which only makes the sale easy for the agent).

Marketing a home sale has changed significantly in the last five years.  Gone are the days of “set it and forget it.”  Creative agents are constantly seeking avenues to publicize and promote listings.  A sales strategy can determine the correct positioning for the home; while implantation of a marketing plan can include new and imaginative methods, such as placement in specialty magazines and websites, video, and even open house “parties.”

Many don’t realize that the internet is where a majority of home buyers now congregate, viewing your MLS listing across hundreds of websites.  To bolster online appeal, make certain your agent uses professional pictures, inspired home descriptions, and complete MLS information.  Be wary of new marketing technology, which often has mixed results; for example: “virtual staging” is a technology than can enhance online appeal by electronically staging a home, but can flop when buyers expect to see what is pictured.

by Dan Krell ©
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of February 10, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

Private, pocket listings surge during housing recovery

luxury real estateThe recovering housing market has brought to light the controversial practice of the pocket listing. Although pocket listings are more common in the upper bracket and luxury real estate market, pocket listings tend to increase during hot markets when there are few available listings and increased home buyer competition.

by Dan Krell © 2013

Sometimes called “off-market” listings, or “private” listings, the pocket listing is a home sale that is not openly marketed in the multiple list service. The listing is kept “quiet” and is only known to the listing agent and/or broker who typically market the home to a select network of contacts and clients.

Pocket listings are common among the utra-wealthy because of privacy concerns; anonymity is an often cited reason for a home seller to choose to have a pocket listing, typically because the seller has some celebrity status. Private listings may also be promoted as a way to limit home viewings to those who are financially qualified to purchase the home; the focused buyer pool reduces the number of showings, which may be less disruptive to the seller’s daily schedule.

However, critics of pocket listings often point to MLS concerns, dual agency issues, and housing laws as reasons to be wary of the practice. Agents are not the only ones who have access to an MLS listing; MLS listings are often syndicated throughout the internet and available for anyone with internet access to see. Clearly, one of the obvious issues of a pocket listing is the reduction of marketing exposure that is lost from not having an MLS entry. Another issue that arises from a pocket listing is that it skews home sale and price data that appraisers use for valuations.

Consumer Advocates in American Real Estate (caare.org) cites the possibility of dual agency (where the buyer and seller’s agent is from the same real estate company) as a major concern for pocket listings. Because dual agents do not act exclusively in the interests of either the seller or buyer, the possibility of a conflict of interest may arise. Additionally, CAARE states that a seller who agrees to a pocket listing may exclude 70% or more of qualified buyers who are actively searching for homes.

A recent Maryland Real Estate Commission newsletter (The Commission Check; Summer/Fall 2013), reprinted an article from the August 2013 ARELLO® Boundaries discussing pocket listings, that stated; “pocket listings may run afoul of federal fair housing laws that not only prohibit readily apparent or intentional housing discrimination against protected classes, but also practices that have a “discriminatory effect” that “… actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin…”

Unbeknownst to some home sellers, their home sale may be marketed as a pocket listing during the period between the signing of listing paperwork and when the home is entered into the MLS. Although this time is often used to prepare a home for sale; it may also be privately marketed by the listing.

Although the National Association of Realtors® has “not defined what constitutes a pocket listing, nor do they have an official policy regarding the practice” (“What is a Pocket Listing”; Realtor Magazine, May 2013); potential housing law issues and ethical concerns of pocket listings should be addressed with your real estate agent/broker.

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Disclaimer.  This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice.  Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction.  This article was originally published the week of October 28, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.