07 May 2019

The #1 Tool for Consumers to Find a Home

Modern Florida Homes, your specialist for buying and selling modern homes in Florida

Home buyers have an incredible array of sources at their fingertips when looking for a new home, thanks to websites such as Homes.com, Realtor.com, local broker websites with search capabilities, and of course the 800 pound gorilla in the room: Zillow, which had gobbled up Trulia.com and now offers identical searches on both websites.

What is it like to search?

I recently researched property in another state, and had an educational experience using above sites and a few more.

Educational insofar, as I am – being a real estate broker and Realtor*– so used to the multiple listing service (MLS) with all its options that I very quickly discovered: not one single consumer website gave me everything I needed to conduct my search.

Three examples:

• Only two sites allowed me to draw a map outline of the area I was interested in. Realtor.com once had that capability, but inexplicably took it away. – Shame on them.
• Second example: I was searching for property with garage OR carport (which typically can easily be enclosed and converted into a garage). Not one of the consumer sites I used can perform an EITHER-OR search.
• Third example: Homes.com until recently allowed filters to be applied as “must-have” or “nice-to-have”. However, that clever feature was deleted a month or two ago. – F, sit.

And Zillow? Most of our residential clients also search that site. But what is not known to home-buyers is that Zillow recently went out of the frying pan into the fire. Voluntarily.

Modern homes for sale in Florida – ModernSouthFlorida.com 
What happened?

Previously, a few unethical real estate agents posted bait-and-switch properties on the internet, even after they were rented or sold. To stop that unethical and infuriating practice – a laudable endeavor – Zillow decided to switch from manual property entry for Realtors® to an automatic feed from MLS data.

That idea was good, but not great: any brokerage wishing to participate now has to grant a blanket authorisation for all of the firm’s listings. Note: a blanket authorisation. Many brokers, including me, do not agree with that policy. But: Realtors® represent over 90 percent of all residential properties for sale.

As a result, all of a sudden Zillow's number of Realtor-listed properties dropped substantially. Consumers looking for homes or condos on Zillow now see only some part of what is actually available for sale. No disclaimers on the page: understandably, the site does not publish what percentage of homes dropped out, so not tick off consumers. I wouldn’t even dare to guess how many homes a consumer is missing when looking on Zillow.

So without intention, the big Z strengthened its competition, namely Realtor.com. That site now should have the most complete list of properties for any home buyer, since:

1)  it represents the most property inventory – Realtors and all of their listings
2) with the most accuracy – Realtor.com is automatically fed multiple times every day from every MLS system in the country.

Unfortunately its filtering capabilities are sub-par, though similar to most consumer real estate sites. But: filtering becomes an issue when you, the consumer, are looking for something specific, such as a modernist home among 22,000 single family homes for sale in Southeast Florida alone (wink wink).

What to do?

You may know the saying “the best boat you ever have is your friend's boat”.

In this context, it translates into “the best home-searching website is your friendly Realtor’s MLS”, running a search for exactly the home you want.

And to stay in the marine analogy: while it’s good form to bring beer or wine when invited to a boat outing and help hosing the boat down afterwards, you are not expected to hose down your real estate agent. Buying the property he/she found for you through him/her is enough. Of course, wine or beer is always a nice addition.


* a Realtor® is a real estate agent or broker who has MLS access through his/her membership at the local Board of Realtors®. Every Realtor® has a real estate license, but not every licensee needs to have MLS access, for example commercial practitioners. 

Photo © Tobias Kaiser, illustration © learntospeakthai.net

18 April 2019

Sun Power in the Sunshine State: Worth it?

Today’s thin solar panels hug this modern home’s roof, unseen from ground level.

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Who do you think said that? If you don’t already know, you’ll never guess.

It was Thomas Edison. In 1931.

Well, Mr. Edison, we didn’t have to wait for oil and coal to run out. Scientists and engineers have tackled solar power -- the natural energy of the sun to produce electricity -- and dramatically improved the technology it involves over the past two or three decades. Today, the prospect of running our homes on the power we generate from our own, stylistically unobtrusive solar energy system is not “futuristic” or “weird” but pretty much mainstream.

Here's a statement from the National Council for Solar Growth (NCSG) that will amaze and, we hope, delight you -- unless you're the CEO of a coal or oil producer:

"Recent renewable energy reports suggest that by 2050, solar energy will be the most widely used source of electricity across the globe."

The solar energy industry has also created two new professions: solar installers and solar engineers. If you’re considering a solar energy system for your renovation or new home, you will meet both pros as you work together to answer three key questions:

1.     What kind of system will I need?
2.     What’s it going to cost up front?
3.     What’s my return on investment?

Many factors will determine what type of solar system you need, from your house’s form and orientation on your property to whether you want to generate part of your energy needs from your solar system or an abundance.

If you produce more energy than your house needs, you can use it to power an electric car, for example. Or you can feed it back into the grid for credit from the utility company. This is called Net Metering. For example, both Duke Energy in North Carolina and Florida Power & Light have Net Metering programs. A solar aggregator will have to handle this for you for a small fee, but you’ll still come out on top. Imagine the utility companying owing you money instead of the other way around. To see the average cost of a system and its installation in Florida city by city, check out EnergySage.com.

Obviously, the type of system you choose will determine the up-front costs. But here’s where the up-front savings, via rebates and tax credits, kick in. Solar rebates, paid by the State, can be as much $2,000 right off the top. Also in Florida, residents don’t have to pay sales tax on their systems. That’s a seven percent savings right there. Here’s another perk from the Sunshine State: Adding value to your home via a solar energy system will not increase your property tax.

Now add the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to those perks and incentives. The ITC allows you to deduct 30 percent of the entire cost of purchasing and installing a rooftop solar energy system from your federal taxes. (Unfortunately, under the current policy that percentage will start to drop as of January 1, 2020, but not to the point of discouraging the process.)  

These are a few ways to offset the up-front costs of a solar energy system. What about long term costs and ROI?

According to the NCSG, five years is the average time it takes for a solar system to pay for itself. After that, the more energy you generate from your system, the less money you pay to a utility company. The solar engineer who will come to assess your home and energy needs will help you make sure free or nearly free energy is in your future. 

But don’t forget another reason for choosing solar: the environmental impact. Unlike fossil fuel power, solar is clean, renewable, and sustainable, relying upon one of the most natural resources in the world: the sun. It has no negative impact on the planet whatsoever. Even the energy used to produce photovoltaic cells is paid back soon after. And as this billboard asserts:

15 March 2019

Changing The Way We See

Award-winning modernist architect Frank Harmon shares his delight in ordinary places and everyday objects in his new book.
ORO Editions, publisher

Four months ago, ORO Editions, Publishers of Architecture, Art and Design, released Native Places: Drawing as a Way to See, a new book by celebrated North Carolina architect Frank Harmon, FAIA, that has been called “a masterful legacy on all levels,” and ”a delightful book, destined to charge the way we see the world,”  among other statements of praise. 
Now in its second printing,
Native Places is a collection of 64 watercolor sketches with which Harmon has been filling small sketchbooks for decades, paired with brief essays about architecture, landscape, everyday objects, and nature. The sketches convey the delight he finds in ordinary places and objects. The 200-word essays, inspired by the sketches, offer his fresh interpretations of what his readers probably take for granted. His mission, he says, is to “change the way we see.”

Frank Harmon alone with his sketchbook.
Architect, author, professor, lecturer, mentor, and Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Frank Harmon is well known for the sustainable modern buildings he has designed across the Southeast for 30 years. His work engages pressing contemporary issues, including “placelessness,” sustainability, and the restoration of cities and nature.

Harmon’s buildings are specific to their region and sites and use materials such as hurricane-felled cypress and rock from local quarries to connect his buildings to their landscapes. Airy breezeways, outdoor living spaces, deep overhangs, and wide lawns embody the vernacular legacy of the South while maintaining Harmon’s distinguished modernism.

When his wife, landscape architect Judy Harmon, succumbed to cancer five years ago, Harmon began searching for something to focus on besides his grief. The idea for using an existing watercolor sketch from one of his sketchbooks to inspire a 200-250-word essay soon emerged. That idea became his now-popular online journal NativePlaces.org, a online assemblage of thoughts and hand-drawn sketches that illustrate the value of looking closely at buildings and places.

Along with publishing the sketch-essay pairings online, he emails them every two weeks or so to his thousands of subscribers across the U.S. and beyond “to give people something quiet in their morning inboxes amongst the deluge of emails, he says.

On the book’s back cover is a supporting comment by nationally renowned architect Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, of Fayetteville, Arkansas: “Native Places provides a reflective pause in my busy day to consider the humanity in buildings and places I find my sense of hope and possibility renewed in these simple, evocative drawings and the wisdom that accompanies them.”

A vase, a vine, a sketch by Frank Harmon
When asked why he decided to create a book out of the sketches and essays, Harmon smiled. Because so many people kept asking me, When are you going to make Native Places into a book?’ ”

Native Places also promotes Harmon’s belief that hand drawing is not an obsolete skill that sketching offers an opportunity to develop “a natural grace in the way we view the world and take part in it.”

During his presentation at book-signing events, Harmon relates how he discovered “a long time ago that if I took a photograph of a place I would forget it. “But if I sketched it, I remembered that place forever.”

Native Places: Drawing as a Way to See is available on Amazon and in many independent bookstores. For more information on the book and its author, visit the website – nativeplacesthebook.com – and Facebook page.