January 11, 2014

Online Realty Pricing Sites: Do They Work?

Yes, they work. But are the prices valid? That’s another story. Let’s listen in as the San Jose Mercury News (motto: We’re a newspaper just like Burbed is a real estate blog, haha!) explains why the valuation models don’t agree with each other.

Online sites can help tell you what your home is worth

141010-avm-unioncityBy Pete Carey, San Jose Mercury News
POSTED:   12/27/2013 05:00:00 PM PST; UPDATED: 12/28/2013 06:17:12 AM PST

You’re likely to get a warm fuzzy feeling if you look at what your home is worth on Zillow, Trulia or any of the other real estate sites that provide values for millions of houses. Home prices have risen rapidly, and the value these sites assign to your home is sure to reflect that.

But don’t carried away by a single Zestimate, SmartZip quote or Trulia estimate. While they are fine for spotting trends, these home valuation services come with a caveat: they offer rough approximations by computer programs. If you want a more precise estimate, hire an appraiser, talk to a real estate agent or check around your neighborhood and see what homes are selling for.

The sites all use what’s called "automated valuation models," or AVMs, to make sense of mountains of data, typically drawn from recent sales, property history, size and number of rooms, market trends and other factors that influence price.

We can’t believe they spent all that trouble writing an article that says, “If you want to really know what your house is worth, hire an appraiser.” There are multiple models out there, but this piece won’t tell you how they differ, or why. We did learn that Santa Clara County prices are more likely to be correct than Alameda County, but again, no explanation why.

We know why!  It’s because the Real Bay Area’s prices only go up, and all the models built that in.  Feel free to speculate on what’s going on with the AVM of your choice and why your house is So Special that the price estimates are Way Too Low.  Unless you’re buying, in which case they are Way Too High.

Comments (5) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 7:11 am

September 24, 2013

Reader Request: Live/Work Situation

Here’s one of the more intriguing emails we’ve gotten this year:

I came across burbed and it seems like you have an eye on what’s going on.

We’re looking for a fairly unique place for our company. Something in the SF area (south bay preferred), with a great view.

I realise you’re not an agent, but thought you might be aware of something interesting.

  • 20,000sq ft+
  • great views

We’re a close knit company that live and work together. We realised that for the price of us getting modest apartments and a simple office we could instead live in a mansion together and so far that’s been a much nicer option, but we’re currently spread over three houses and need a bigger place where can live and work together again.

Wow, didn’t we just discuss hacker houses last week? Why, yes we did! Perhaps the above email was in response to our in-depth coverage of someone else’s in-depth coverage!

And well, actually we are indeed a bunch of agents, we just neglected to let anyone know it.  So since our entire writing staff appears to have taken off the last six months, we’re going to throw this one open to our far-flung network of readers, some of which aren’t just pretend agents.

Please reply in comments, and we’re sure our requester will respond to you if you actually found what they’re looking for.  And of course, we expect a 15% finders fee, which beats a 6% commission.

Also note that said reader neglected to say whether this was a purchase or rental. Ha ha! Now they’re going to get all kinds of unsuitable suggestions because they weren’t specific enough! Maybe they’ll post in comments, especially because they don’t want us to shoot the dog.

PS… Turns out they did tell us, in a follow-up:

We’re keen for exciting options, even if a little terrifying. Ideal is rent with option to buy in a year and build more on the land, but renting a large place for 6-12months is a viable option.

Alright! The race to pay us that 15% finders fee is ON! And you can be sure we’ll be holding it for ransom if you expect us to pass it on quietly to the OP.  Put it in the comment, though? Free-for-all!  We’re hoping this one post will generate at least 16 more live/work rent/buy situations just form people reading about this group.

Comments (14) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 7:07 am

September 1, 2013

Housing Market Trends for 2013: Up, up, up!

This is why we all have so much esteem for real estate professionals.


The above is a postcard received by Burbed reader Realtard Math. Let’s hear from RM why this was shared with us:

I love this graph. The trend arrow is shooting almost straight up, but every individual year goes up about the same. What’s the index here? No idea. We don’t know what’s being measured, or where. All we know is it went up every year, including this one. But 2013 isn’t over yet!

Aw, c’mon, RM, you missed how the arrows all have little chimneys on them, and 2009 and 2013 are right-handed varieties. And it also asks us “Did You Know” although it doesn’t inform us what we were supposed to find out. So we’re still ignorant of many things about Housing Market Trends other than that “Buyers are clamoring to purchase a home in your area.” Since RM didn’t tell us which area, for all we know it could be Alviso.

The local market called bottom sometime around the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012, though. Perhaps this is a graph of agent enthusiasm, because it sure isn’t a graph of agent results.

Long Weekend Open Thread. open now! Share your favorite examples of agent math skillz.

Comments (6) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 7:02 am

August 24, 2013

Internet hasn’t obsoleted Realtards. Why not?

Perhaps they will always be with us.

Here’s why real estate agents are still around

130823-realtards-picBy Lydia DePillis, The Washington Post
POSTED:   08/23/2013 09:25:43 AM PDT

In this Tuesday April 2, 2013, photo, Christian Bell and his wife Beth Heinen Bell view a home for sale with real estate agent Becky Dickenson, left, in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Paul Sancya/AP)

The quintessentially mainstream American real-estate brokerage — Re/Max — went public Tuesday. The housing market is hot enough, its initial filing explained, that raising investor cash could launch it into markets around the country it hadn’t yet reached.

But wait — real estate agents? Wasn’t the Internet supposed to drive them out of business?

The online age has been hard on all kinds of middlemen, after all. Travel agents, for example, were rendered obsolete by Orbitz and Expedia. Soft-goods retailers were outpaced by Amazon. The effect should be similar with people who sell homes: What do they have but what they know? And what of that can’t be better figured out through unbiased, publicly available data, crunched and presented free on websites such as Zillow and Trulia?

This is a piece that asks many questions yet delivers few answers. “It’s complicated” is not really an explanation.  And what the heck is Jason’s House?  Shouldn’t he be more original and call it Jason’s List?  It’s mentioned in a Washington Post article and there’s mentions in Texas media, so it should be really helpful to all our Northern California readership.

It’s Weekend Open Thread time, too. Met any helpful real estate agents lately?

Comments (3) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 7:03 am

July 15, 2013

Don’t Be Evil? Free food at Google means empty restaurants

Another Only In Silicon Valley story as well-feed Googlers avoid the restaurants around North Shoreline because… um, free food. Also better than the stuff at the restaurants.  What’s interesting here isn’t that the restaurants are facing dire financial straits, but the suggestions they had for Google.

Thanks very much to Burbed reader DD in Sunnyarts for sending this in.

Can’t compete with free eats

Facing closure, Shoreline restaurant owners try to negotiate with Google

130714-google-bldgby Daniel DeBolt, Mountain View Voice
News – Friday, July 12, 2013

A group of restaurant owners north of Highway 101 say they have been watching their customers disappear as Google expands in the area, bringing them to the brink of closure unless Google is willing to pay for its employees to eat off-campus.

In Mountain View, over 10,000 Google employees are now fed in private cafeterias serving organic food throughout the North Bayshore area north of Highway 101, like the one that recently opened at 1015 Joaquin Road, around the corner from the restaurants. The result is that most of the restaurants have lost a majority of their business over the last year, owners say.

"When you’ve lost 70 percent of your business, how long can you pay rent? Maybe seven to eight months?" said Bella Awdisho, owner of Cucina Venti, an Italian restaurant on Pear Avenue and Shoreline Boulevard. The owner of Falafel and Kebab, Dervis Yuksel, said he recently sold his car to pay his restaurant’s rent, and said he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d stay open.

In an attempt to save their businesses, the restaurants have been in talks with Google in recent months to find a solution. Awdisho has been representing the owners of the restaurants, including Shoreline Park’s lakefront favorite Michael’s at Shoreline, and several small eateries near the Century movie theaters: Sunny Bowl, Falafel and Kebab, Hon Sushi, and Ole Taqueria. They say there is really only one way for them to stay in business — Google should pay for its employees to eat off-campus. But Google executives have refused, the owners say.

130714-google-centuryWhoa, tough one! What do you suggest? Match wits with Mountain View’s City Council on this one!

Also be sure to check out what other iconic North Shoreline business may be having trouble because of The Borg.

No, not Gables End, we said NORTH Shoreline. But what’s bad for business might end up being even better for not only Googlers, but real estate blogs.

Two words: Google housing.

Comments (7) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 7:05 am

July 4, 2013

Declare your Independence… from your home

Here’s another Housing Bubble of a sort to pay attention to: RV sales are up, too.  Thanks very much to Burbed reader Petsmart Groomer for alerting us to this alarming threat to vacation home prices.

RV-buying boom a sign of consumer confidence

By Dan Nakaso, San Jose Mercury News
Posted:   05/29/2013 05:43:55 AM PDT; Updated:   05/29/2013 10:36:14 AM PDT

130703-rv-sweetThe number of recreational vehicles delivered to dealers’ lots is expected to reach a six-year high in 2013 as fledgling RV buyers such as Karen and Jim Smith, of San Jose, shake off the economic slumber of the past few years and prepare to hit the road this summer.

"There are just so many things to see that we’ve never seen before: Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Lookout Mountain in Tennessee," Karen Smith said after writing a $21,000 check for her 18-foot 2014 White Water Retro Travel Trailer that came stocked with a queen-size bed, separate refrigerator and freezer, two-burner stove, microwave, full-size bath, shower and beds for three more people.

The Smiths represent new hope for a U.S. RV industry that sustained a series of body blows beginning with the 2008 recession but now appears to be rebounding in the Bay Area and beyond.

The industry has not seen more than 300,000 RVs shipped to dealers around the country since 2007, the year before the recession took hold. But deliveries this year were up 11 percent in the first quarter and the RV industry now expects to see a total of 307,300 deliveries of motor homes and tow-able RVs. Tow-ables make up the overwhelming majority of RV sales in the U.S.

Read the whole article. You will learn that yes, RV sales are up even in the Bay Area, despite this place being so awesome nobody would ever need a vacation from it. You’ll also learn that the #1 RV dealer in Northern California is in Gilroy and started up in 2008, right in time for the financial collapse that took out all its competition. Finally, just like there’s the RBA and everywhere else, it turns out there are different degrees of #winning with RVs.

130703-rv-fireworksThe cheapest kind are the ones that get towed, and that’s 90% of all sales. Think of it as the East Bay of Recreational Vehicles. And enjoy your recreation today, because it’s, in theory a holiday. We know that you’re actually hard at work since there are always new End of Quarter Goals now that you didn’t make your old ones.

Speaking of the East Bay, most Walmarts allow RVs to park in their lots, and there are more Walmarts in the East Bay so… just sayin’.

Comments (2) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 7:02 am

May 5, 2013

Don’t want to pay 6% commission? Make agents beg for less.

Here’s a press release from the “Lending Tree of Real Estate Agents.”

LessThan6Percent Revolutionizes How Home Sellers and Real Estate Agents Connect

Press Release: LessThan6Percent – Mon, Apr 29, 2013 6:39 PM EDT

SAN FRANCISCO, April 29, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — LessThan6Percent (http://www.lessthan6percent.com), the online marketplace where home sellers can compare commissions and marketing plans from local real estate agents, is exiting its beta launch in the San Francisco Bay Area and expanding into Southern California. Founded in late 2012 by serial entrepreneur Simon Ru, LessThan6Percent provides home sellers a convenient platform to streamline the process of finding the best agents to represent their home.

"The problem home sellers face is that there are thousands of agents in any given market," says Ru. "It is difficult for home sellers to compare agents to find the best match. They don’t know what questions to ask, what to look for in a marketing proposal, or how to start the awkward conversation of negotiating services & commissions." This is where LessThan6Percent steps in.

LessThan6Percent differs from traditional agent-matching service such as Trulia (http://www.trulia.com/) and Zillow (http://www.zillow.com) by matching sellers to proposals submitted by agents rather than agents’ profiles. Instead of directing sellers to call agents’ numbers on a directory, LessThan6Percent transforms the matching process by having agents compete for sellers’ business. With a click of a button, home sellers would know exactly what services they are going to receive and how much they would cost. This level of transparency is unparalleled in the real estate industry.  

130504-lessthan6percent-agentsYou may have noticed that LessThan6Percent is one of our newest advertisers, featuring that oversized entry form on the right. We’re certainly in accord with their business model. Some home sales are pretty routine, and there’s no reason why the six percent commission rate has been enshrined as unchanging. Personally, we’d like to see home sales done as flat fees, because that would mean the buyers’ agent wouldn’t have a financial incentive to advise you to bid more than a home is worth.

130504-lessthan6percent-proposalThen again, we are in Bay Area Bubble 4.0, every house is worth more than it’s listed for, and you couldn’t possibly pay too much for a place in the Real Bay Area. That means your agent was right to tell you to overbid by 85%.

Meanwhile, LessThan6Percent says you can specify what you want in an agent and look over the proposals you get in response.

And if their algorithm predicts you may be likely to sell, watch for their ads appearing wherever you surf.  This reminds us of that creepy datamining prediction that Target became infamous for: figuring out you were expecting before the rest of your family knew.

130504-lessthan6percent-bidsBut LessThan6Percent also expects to reel in many leads through an algorithm that the company has created to identify people who are likely to sell. Ru said the algorithm scours a wide array of information sources, including social media, and then turns up likely sellers, like people who it’s discovered are having children soon.

The company then uses printed materials, cookies and keyword advertising to invite those people to use the site, Ru said.

– See more at: http://www.inman.com/2013/04/08/new-website-lets-sellers-see-proposals-from-listing-agents

According to Ru, the comments on this article were “getting heated” once a NAR official showed up. It appears Inman removed them by moving the article to a new location and conveniently neglecting to bring any comments along… or even allow them to be made.

LessThan6Percent envisions having agents slug it out for the right to sell your house. Why not have a good fight in comments on what you think of this idea? 

Comments (1) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:07 am

March 30, 2013

Priced Out Forever? There’s an App for That

And now for your weekly dose of gee-whiz, tech news!

Real estate apps can help, overwhelm homebuyers

By Dan Nakaso, San Jose Mercury News
Posted:   03/29/2013 06:00:00 PM PDT; Updated:   03/29/2013 06:57:43 PM PDT

130329-apps-truliaRaj Aurora has been searching to buy his first home for the last three months, but hasn’t wasted time looking at condos he knows he won’t like and hasn’t even needed to meet his agent, all thanks to real estate apps that Aurora downloaded on his iPhone 5.

"We’ve already eliminated 20 to 30 houses without driving around," said Aurora, a 42-year-old chiropractor and part-time Web developer from Danville. "I don’t want to sit with (my agent) for eight hours driving from house to house. I’d rather hang out with my dog and my friends."

Aurora instead checks out properties virtually by glancing at his Zillow and Trulia apps throughout the day, then reviews any possibilities via text or email with his Danville real estate agent, Kevin R. Kieffer of Keller Williams Realty, whom Aurora has yet to see.

We think the Merc headline has an extraneous comma.  We also think Mr. Aurora doesn’t need to see Mr. Kieffer as long as Bay Area Bubble 4.0 ensures that homes are sold faster than they can be listed.

If you’ve been reading this site for more than a few days, you’re already aware that there are several real estate sites out there that have information on homes for sale. And if you’ve spent any time on the sites themselves, they probably let you know about their various apps for different devices.  Because, if you don’t want to be PRICED OUT FOREVER, you have to be ready to look at new listings at any possible moment, day or night.

130329-apps-zillowAlso, if you’re anything like Raj Aurora, you will do absolutely anything to avoid coming into contact with people you don’t have to.

This is your weekend Open Thread.  Let us know which, if any, real estate apps you use to find those open houses you’ll be looking at later today.  Be sure to mention the superiority of whatever hardware you’re using it on as well, because if you don’t have enough respect for your zip code, at least you can have it for your mobile device. Or talk about anything you want at all.  Remember, this isn’t having to actually talk to other people, so you can say anything.

Comments (7) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:02 am

November 19, 2012

Like Google Streetview? You’ll LOVE Google Houseview!

Burbed reader nomadic informs us of a major Google Maps update.  Guess it’s not rolling out to everyone at once because we haven’t seen it yet.


Awesome sauce! This is going to change real estate, because now, who needs to wait for an Open House or an agent to put together a Virtual Tour?  With this new feature, you can see a home’s interior layout, room sizes, fixtures and decor with just a few mouse clicks.

Bunus: Think of all the homes that will now qualify for the Burbed Good Housekeeping tag of approval!


Comments (6) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:02 am

August 25, 2012

Your Weekend Open House Crawl

120824-bedroom-snakeIt’s the weekend!  You don’t feel like working and neither do we.  So head out to the beach, to the mountains, or to your favorite Open Houses! 

On second thought, better not.  Some of the sellers will forget to lock their pets up.

Tell us about your favorite (and not so favorite) Open House experiences.  Or talk about anything you want, because this is, indeed, Your Weekend Open Thread.

Will Facebook stock fall at the same rate or drop exponentially now that they’ve hired a Big Name Architect to design more footprint at the new campus?  Is this an important moment on the road to total dominion, or the waters to a shark jump?  (This metaphor, incidentally, is nowhere as tortured as you think.)  Or discuss out what Apple can do with another billion dollars.

Photo credit: This listing in Kansas City, via Hooked on Houses.

Comments (16) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:20 am