Real Estate 2.0

Electronic Document Signing Makes Life Easier for Home Buyers (and Realtors)

Many many home buyers in Sonoma County live out of the area--they buy second homes here, they are relocating for work, or want to experience life in the wine country first hand. Many home buyers, even if they are local, conduct much or their search on line. Why not have as much of the purchase transaction paperwork be conducted on line too? This struck home this afternoon as I prepared an offer for out of town clients to sign. Their scanner was older and it was not easy to assemble the pages to fax back to me--believe me I had the same problem before I got a new scanner. What a tedious process for them! Or I have had illegible faxes come through as a result of too many generations of faxing and scanning of counter offers and counters to counters, ad infinitum. Every one involved tears their hair out and runs around wasting time on mechanics of the paperwork, when it is the content of the documents that is most important! Pretty silly. Enter the paperless transaction, beginning with the electronic signing of contract documents. It is easier than it might sound! What is an electronic signature? An electronic signature is any legally recognised electronic means that indicates that a person adopts the contents of an electronic message. There is a better way. Our new paperless transaction system at Prudential California Realty will be rolled out company wide in the first quarter. Hallelujah!!!!!! So many trees will be saved and countless hours chasing paperwork with also be saved by realtors and their clients. My client asked me about electronic signing--what does it mean? What does it look like? What are the basic facts? You can click on the link above for a Wikipedia article about the concept of electronic signatures. For more specifics, here is a link to the system we will be using, Docusign by Ziplogix. Here is a brief (2 minute) and not too fancy overview of how you, as a buyer or seller, would use Docusign to sign documents electronically. I'll have more posts about the whole process of greening the real estate transactions and preventing grey hairs for all the parties involved! ...

Selling your Home? Make Sure you Know How it Looks in the "Cloud"

A Photo of a Google Tricycle scanning a neighborhood for Google Street View And I am not talking about the weather. Increasingly, information about US homes lives in the cloud, served up over high speed internet connections. For example, the National Association of Realtors is rolling out its own real estate database (directory) called Residential Property Resource--its goal is to provide comprehensive data on 150 million homes in the United States. (For a description and first take to the recent announcement, click here.) Google has been moving in this direction for several years. I recently wrote about Google Map's 3D Modeling Tool, Sketchup, and the ability to search real estate listings in Google Maps. Also, Google Street View in Google Maps simulates a 2D drive-by of many properties. Google Maps gives satellite views of most properties and their goal is to have a place page for individual structures. So even before your home is on the market--there is already a lot of data about it on-line. As a practical matter, if you are selling your home, make sure your agent knows how to take advantage of these tools and at the very least, is aware of how your property presents online already and that it is accurate. I have used Google Maps to look at aerial views of country property for example, and sometimes the pin indicating the property address is literally a mile or more away from the actual location and put it in the middle of a flat vineyard rather than a scenic hillside. I know that but a potential buyer may not. Or on one country property listing I had, the pin gave a very misleading view of the house's location in relation to the neighbors. I was able to relocate the map pin to the home site, which gave a more accurate view of the home in relation to the acreage surrounding it. Google Street View adds a whole other dimension, literally, to the cloud view of your home. Google actually sends people out in cars (lots of hybrids supposedly) and on tricycles to photograph neighborhoods, as in the photo above. Kind of creepy actually. Unfortunately, sometimes the photos on Google Street View are not very current, as a I discovered on one of my listings earlier this year. The home had be re-roofed and painted a year earlier but the Google Street view...

Google gets deeper into Real Estate but Offers Inaccurate Results

Google has added property search of current real estate listings to Google Maps. You can go to Google Maps and search a community, even add in your criteria in terms of beds/baths/etc. and the map will highlight current listings and display detailed listing information on the left hand column--Google provides a video overview below. I thought I would check it out for accuracy. I ran a search for Healdsburg and found a property listed for $639,000. which was news to me as I have clients looking for something like that--I follow all the key markets in Sonoma County regularly on the search for new inventory and sold results. So I clicked through to the property info and it turns out the listing was on Piper Lane in Sonoma! Somehow Google pulled the listing info, stripped the town of its Sonoma address (about an hour away) and added Healdsburg to the property address! That's one way to get new inventory! (not) Very misleading. It also picked up a listing in town on North Street which had four lots of about 25 acres each. Not possible--that would swallow the whole town of Healdsburg. When I clicked through the property links I found an empty page on a local broker's site. And these are only the first two errors that I saw. It appears that data is pulled from a variety of sources, including print magazines and other listing aggregators such as ListHub. All I can say is don't go to the bank on what you find because it can be very erroneous. Obviously the search itself is not ready for prime time but also the data being searched is unreliable. Garbage in Garbage out. Until there are agreements with regional MLS's (don't hold your breath) take the real estate information offered on Google Maps with a grain of salt. ...

Google Sketchup allows you to Create 3D Views of your Home and Community

Stephen Fells of Agency Logic, a real estate marketing company in the East Bay, has been blogging up a storm lately, and he recently drew my attention to some amazing new tools by Google. Recently a FREE 3D modeling tool called Google SketchUp made its debut--this will allow anyone to create a 3D model of any image. Imagine a 3D flyby of your home for sale, or a virtual fly by of the town you want to move to! Check out the tour of LA and San Francisco, below. (The song is great too!) And oh! Imagine your home for sale here! (Note: the second video talks about the community effort involved in rendering the images. I wonder how much of these were done with the free tool and how much with the Pro Version?)...

Excuse Us While We Are Under Construction

We don't have the same construction budget as Cal-Trans and any possible shut-downs to traffic won't cause the same commute complications as recently experienced in the San Francisco Bay Area, but we are undergoing some technical maintainence over the next couple of days.  So if you notice some odd behavior on our pages, or some missing links, our apologies in advance as we update our blog platform.  After nearly 2.5 years of existence, a little software overhaul is due.  It will enable us to improve our services and the look and feel of the site.  If you need to reach me please call or email or find me on Twitter or Facebook....

Are you a Property Virgin? $8,000 $Reasons to find why now might be the time to buy your first home

I have got to give credit where credit is due..Krisstina Wise is an Austin real estate broker, head of the Good Life Team. Earlier today she followed me on Twitter. I decided to check out the website of her self-described "hip" Austin real estate brokerage. I found it engaging, well-thought out, informative and professionally done. They use video judiciously and well and have some good tools for buyers and sellers. Their blog had a post on the new federal tax credit for first time home buyers. It wasn't the feds who coined the "Property Virgin", nor did I, so I MUST give credit where credit is due. Thanks to Krisstina and the Good Life team. Here is a bit of their post: No joke. The 8,000 reasons to buy today are quantified in terms of real dollars — $8,000! That’s right. As part of the stimulus package, Uncle Sam is offering “First-Time Homebuyers” (Let’s call you Property Virgins) up to $8,000 in the form of a tax credit for purchasing a home in 2009. If you have been on the fence or if you are considering buying a home in the next year or so – you must learn about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – The First-time homebuyer tax credit. This is a special opportunity that enables you, as a Virgin, to be one of the few who can BENEFIT from this crazy economy. What is it? As part of the Stimulus package, a Property Virgin who purchases in 2009 is eligible to receive up to 10% of the cost of the house –up to $8,000– in the form of a tax credit on their tax return (did we just use stimulus and virgin in the same sentence?). A tax credit means that the $8,000 is a dollar for dollar reduction in what you owe in taxes. This means that if you owed $8,000 in income taxes and you received the $8,000 tax credit, you would owe nothing to the IRS. If you are owed a refund of $1,000, after the credit you would receive a refund of $9,000! And no, you don’t have to pay it back if you live in your new home for at least 3 years. Actually both the term property virgin and first time buyer are not really accurate. Eligibility for this tax break really focuses on your...

Maps and Craigslist: an interesting Real Estate Mash-up

Mashup is one of those great Web 2.0 terms which sounds intriguing, and is derived from the music industry. It means a hybridized application which includes data of different types from different sources.  I sometimes use it to apply to my improvisational cooking techniques but that is another topic! Today’s real estate professional can take a service from one Web site and pair it with the data from another site, creating a hybrid Web application whose value surpasses the original components. Web designers call this form of content publishing a "mashup," borrowing a music industry term referring to songs containing parts of other songs. Today’s real estate mashups often include maps, listings, and community news. Realtor Magazine One of my new year's resolutions is to overhaul this blog and to add some new functionality. The rainy winter months should provide some time for me to take a look at my technology tools as I go into my third year of blogging. A recent article in Realtor Magazine drew my attention to a neat mashup of Google Maps (one of the most popularly mashed applications) with Craigslist. It is called HousingMaps.com and it offers a map based interface for searching Craigslist ads. I am currently evaluating map-based tools so that I can offer my clients the ability to use the map interface to search the MLS, but this is a handy tool for getting started and would be really useful for rentals. Let me know what you think! and Happy New Year! ...

Do you know what your home's Walkscore is?

One of the most appealing things about living in Sonoma County is the tremendous range of fantastic amenities for such a rural community.  People come here for the scenic beauty and they stay, moving from large cities in the San Francisco Bay Area or Southern California because there is so much to do, from great dining and wine tasting (of course!) to a thriving small theatre and music scene to a large arts community.  Granted, it's not Manhattan, where the world is at your doorstep, but we pack a surprising amount into a scenic package. One of the things I enjoy most about working with Sonoma County real estate buyers, is sharing with them the personal discoveries I have made and my favorite haunts in communities from Sebastopol to Sonoma, Glen Ellen to Healdsburg, Santa Rosa to Windsor, Occidental, Graton, Kenwood, etc.  One of my goals with this blog over time is to collect some links and tools that will serve as my personal guide to Sonoma County.  Over the coming months, you will see more community pages with my personal recommendations and links to handy resources for Sonoma County residents and would-be residents of the Wine Country. In the meantime, I have found a great tool to help you get started learning about any home you might consider buying:  Walkscore.com.   It provides a Walkability score for any given address.  What is that?  From the Walkscore Home Page:Walkable Neighborhoods Picture a walkable neighborhood. You lose weight each time you walk to the grocery store. You stumble home from last call without waiting for a cab. You spend less money on your car—or you don't own a car. When you shop, you support your local economy. You talk to your neighbors. What makes a neighborhood walkable?A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a discernable center, whether it's a shopping district, a main street, or a public space. Density: The neighborhood is compact enough for local businesses to flourish and for public transportation to run frequently. Mixed income, mixed use: Housing is provided for everyone who works in the neighborhood: young and old, singles and families, rich and poor. Businesses and residences are located near each other. Parks and public space: There are plenty of public places to gather and play. Pedestrian-centric design: Buildings are placed close to the street to cater to foot traffic, with parking lots relegated to the back. Nearby schools and workplaces: Schools and workplaces are close enough that...

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