2014

weekend edition 10-10-14

I haven't had a lot of time recently to write long, detailed articles, but that doesn't mean I'm not still reading and thinking about it. Today I thought I'd share some of what I've come across over the last week or two. Hopefully you find something interesting and useful in here.

Feel free to shoot me an email about these articles or any other real estate question you might have.

- Chris

1. Ex-Tesla and NASA Engineers Make a Light Bulb That's Smarter Than You
2. What you Can Learn From Those Real Estate TV Shows
3. These 40 Ideas Will Make Your House Super Awesome
4. Student Loans Hindering First Time Homebuyers
5. How Architects Design For An Aging Population
6. 25 Biggest Decorating Mistakes and Solutions

1. Ex-Tesla and NASA Engineers Make a Light Bulb That's Smarter Than You




I've seen the concept of adding technology to light bulbs a few times in recent years. The fact that they're in every room of your house makes them a focal point for whole-house wireless or bluetooth communication systems. This time a company called Stack has created a product called Alba (which is Italian for 'sunrise'), which will start off as a super smart energy efficient light bulb, but which could later work together with smart thermostats and smart beds. And of course they'll work with your smart phone.

There's no doubt in my mind we'll routinely see homes with products like these in the coming decades.

2. What you Can Learn From Those Real Estate TV Shows




If you've ever turned on HGTV, you've probably seen them. The shows usually revolve around making choices - either which house a couple should buy, or whether to fix up their own house instead, or something similar. The part that seems unfair is that they always involve a contractor and decorator offering to make the home choice look spectacular.

While that last part deviates from a lot of us normal folks' reality, the concepts still hold true: budgeting, seeing potential through the junk that's out there, making the best use of space, etc. It's true that few of us will pay for and complete a full scale renovation when we move into a new house, these shows still offer some things we can take away and use.

3. These 40 Ideas Will Make Your House Super Awesome




Lots of photos here.

Truth be told, I only counted 35 ideas, and several of them are not so awesome. But if you find one thing in here that sparks your imagination for what you could do with your own home, you'll come away from this article with a better living experience.




4. Student Loans Hindering First Time Homebuyers


This is one small excerpt from a much larger economics essay by John Mauldin. (I've recommended Mauldin's free newsletter many times over the years - he has a way of making complex global economic concepts understandable.)

"almost everyone thinks that the government's being involved in student loans is a public good. We should help young people with education, right? Except that John Burns released a report this week that shows that student loans will cost the real estate industry 414,000 home sales. Young people are so indebted they can't afford to buy new homes. Collateral damage?"

* Every $250 per month in student debt reduces a household's home purchasing power by $44,000. Most households paying $750+ per month in student loans are priced out of the market. Only those in the highest-earning brackets can afford to purchase.

* 5.9 million households under the age of 40 pay over $250 in student loans per month compared to just 2.2 million back in 2005. The percentage of households under 40 with student debt paying $250+ monthly is up from 22% in 2005 to 35% currently, acting as an added headwind for millions of potential home buyers.



* quoted from www.realestateconsulting.com

5. How Architects Design For An Aging Population




The Baby Boom generation is reaching retirement, which will create a demographic where 20% of our population will be considered elderly. What will this do for living arrangements? This article from Freshome.com takes a look at some architectural designs that can make a big difference, focusing on floorplans with fewer obstructions, better lighting, and color schemes as helpful starting points. The article also references another website called ageinplace, which is dedicated to helping seniors stay in their own homes as long as possible.

6. 25 Biggest Decorating Mistakes and Solutions




Some of these ideas are a bit grandiose, like any list of this sort, but there are a few I felt offered actionable takeaways - things most of us can do easily and inexpensively to make our homes a little bit better.

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I hope you have a good weekend. Give either Cheryl or me a call if there's anything real-estate related that we can help with.

Chris & Cheryl Butterworth
623-570-9940 Chris
602-881-0441 Cheryl

Under the Bed storage options

Under the Bed storage options


Most people I know have two things in common:

1.) We tend to have more stuff than we have space for, and

2.) We have something shoved under the bed, but without much thought towards using that space for effective organization and storage.

A Queen-sized mattress is approximately 60 inches wide by 80 inches long, which leaves us a footprint of about 33 square feet of storage area - let's put that space to use!

I've put together some ideas, pictures, and links below. These should get your creative-organization-storage juices flowing...

Bed Risers

First thing's first - if you're going to store things under the bed, why not lift the bed 3-6 inches and give yourself possibly double the space?

under bed storage risers

stackable under bed storage risers


The pictures above were from The Container Store, but I also saw different styles at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Types of Containers

A quick search online brought us hundreds of different types and styles of containers:

  • open or covered
  • basic plastic tupperware style or designer fashionable
  • with or without wheels, sliders, or rollers
  • compartmentalized or not


Here are a few that caught my eye:

under bed storage containers


under bed storage containers
Pottery Barn


under bed storage containers
Better Homes & Garden


under bed storage containers
Better Homes & Garden


under bed storage containers

under bed storage containers


Feng Shui

Not everybody loves the idea of storing things under your bed (see Feng Shui Monsters Under Your Bed). But even the Feng Shui experts understand that sometimes space is at a premium and under bed storage is a necessity. In that case, you might want to consider what items might have a positive impact on your life if stored under your bed...

Other Thoughts

Storing things under your bed(s) is a great way to free up some additional space in your closets and/or garage, but some things work better than others. Trading out summer and winter clothes works well. So does gift-wrapping paper and supplies. Or that box filled with knick-knacks in your closet. Or the extra linens and towels that don't fit in the linen closet...

You get the point - there are hundreds of things that will fit under the bed, and if you use the right containers they'll stay clean, neat, organized, easy to get to, and out of the way!

-Chris Butterworth

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Today is the reason we live in Phoenix

Today is the reason we live in Phoenix


Well... Maybe not specifically today, and maybe it's not the only reason, but come on - have you been outside today?



75 degrees with a slight breeze, and not a cloud in the sky - the weather's nearly perfect!

This winter seemed unusually long, cold, wet, and snowy for most of the country, and I felt bad at times watching the news and seeing videos of cars sliding all over the roads and people being stranded overnight in gridlock. But then I always think - why don't they just move out here? (heck, many of them have!)

New York City


Chicago


Seattle


Oklahoma City


At least now it's getting to be spring-time for everyone (sort of) - this post wouldn't have been fair to write a month ago. I hope you all get a chance to enjoy it..

Your loves being outside Realtors,

Chris & Cheryl Butterworth

Market Update for January 2014

Market Update for January 2014


My last market conditions update was in May of last year. At that time, the market was red hot, which made me sound crazy for being more bear than bull. I couldn't explain why prices were rising so fast, and I had plenty of concerns about the downside.

The market has slowed quite a bit since then. Fortunately we haven't had a bubble-burst, but today's market seems more in line with the reality of the current job/income environment, where many people are still making less money than they did 5-8 years ago. Good, clean, well-presented homes with reasonable price tags are selling within a couple-few months, while homes which show poorly and/or are overpriced linger on the market.

Here are the charts..

Inventory is on the rise again, after falling to a level where there simply weren't any homes for sale in many neighborhoods last summer.



Inventory is defined as the number of months it would take to sell all the current listings (Active AND Under Contract but seeking Backup offers) at the current rate of sales (# of homes sold w/in the last 30 days.)

The general rule of thumb is that 4-6 months' inventory represents a balanced market. The concern here is that if inventory gets above 6 months, we'll be in a buyers' market, which means prices will start falling.

Active and Sold Homes - these are the numbers that make up the inventory.



Notice last summer we had almost as many sales as active listings, but the gap between the two has grown steadily since then. And while our market is cyclical (hotter in the summers), comparing January this year to January last year shows how much we've slowed down.

Each month there are more people who want to sell their homes than there are actual buyers. This is creating a lot of competition among the sellers, and giving buyers plenty of homes to choose from within their price range and neighborhoods.

Median Prices



There are two things about this chart that jump off the page at me:

1.) The large difference between the median price of Active Listings and the median price of Sold homes. This makes it pretty obvious that the lower priced homes are selling, while the higher priced homes are sitting on the market.

2.) The median Sold price has leveled off over the last 6-8 months, while the Active Listings' prices continue to rise. It looks as though the sellers haven't gotten the memo that the market has slowed down.

Conclusion / Concerns / Predictions

The market has slowed down, for sure. But so far it hasn't crashed. I am still firmly planted in the "bear" camp, or at the very least I'm not running with the bulls. I am hopeful we can watch the market move sideways for awhile rather than moving lower. Unfortunately I still have many downside concerns, and little to no upside expectations:

  • I don't think jobs and incomes are supporting the current prices; buyers are having to reach deep into their budgets to afford the neighborhoods where they feel comfortable.
  • Interest rates are still really really really low, although they are up about 0.5% (give or take) from last May. Maybe this is part of the slowdown... But any small increase in rates could cause a dramatic decrease in demand from buyers.
  • Mainstream media hasn't yet reported on the market slowdown. (which is normal, since they're usually 6-12 months behind the trends.) But once they do, buyers will immediately, and en masse, start dropping their asking prices significantly.
  • Downward Spiral - once buyers believe prices are falling, there is no longer any pressure to make an offer. In fact, they'll believe waiting until prices fall even lower is the smart play. When that happens, we'll see sellers dropping prices by large amounts to incentivize an offer.
  • Vacant Homes (anecdotal only - no charts today) - We're still seeing a large number of vacant homes on the market, which means the market is still far from being recovered. And it's hard to make a case for a strong market when we can't make the case that it has even recovered from the 2008 crater.
  • Families not moving - a couple months ago I spoke with my first family in several years who is selling one home and buying another, just because they want to make a move. (different size, different neighborhood, etc.) Almost every buyer and seller we've spoken to in the last few years has had an external reason for buying or selling - moving into/out of state, death in the family, divorce, marriage, retirement, etc. Again, these are not the signs of a healthy and recovered market.
  • Time on our side - the longer term good news is that we're getting further away from the 2008-2010 years of record foreclosures. Many of the people who lost everything are (or will be) back on their feet, with stable employment and repaired credit. Unfortunately it can take a long time to rebuild a nest egg, and down payments aren't always small. Eventually many of these people will be buyers once again, but I don't see a tidal wave of demand coming from this population this year.

Overall, the charts aren't painting an optimistic picture, but so far they aren't showing us any reason to press the panic button either.

If you need to sell your house, go ahead and do so. (but please call us to help!) Just be prepared to put in some effort to make sure it looks as good as possible, because you'll have more competition than you probably want.

And if you're thinking about buying, great! You can lock in today's low interest rates, and take your time looking for just the right home. Then, as long as you can comfortably make the mortgage payment and you have longer term plans, you'll be fine - even if prices do dip a little bit from here.

Either way, I'd proceed, but I'd do so with caution.

Your "being honest and hoping you don't shoot the messenger" Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

What's your backup plan?

What's your backup plan?


Happy New Year's everybody!

This week, maybe as a send-off to 2013, my hard drive crashed. One minute it was working fine, and the next I got a pop-up window saying my device could not be read. If you're like me, this could have been devastating. I had everything stored on that drive - 13 years' worth of family photos, videos, and music, along with my entire real estate business, and just about everything else I've worked on over the last decade or two...

Photo - my dead drive, with my backup drive (left) and my new backup drive (right).

This isn't going to be a typical real estate post, but I do think this is an important topic. And while I'm not going to write about New Year's Resolutions this year, it seems like an opportune time to ask the question:

"What would you do if your computer / tablet / smart phone didn't boot up tomorrow?"

The thing about technology, it doesn't matter if we're talking about computers, or tablets, or cell phones, and it doesn't matter whether you use Windows, or iOS, or Android, is that it will fail. Eventually all technology fails. (It's more common that we lose or damage our phones, but that counts too.)

Today there are more ways then ever before to sync and backup your stuff:

  • Online backup services like Crashplan, Mozy, and Carbonite.
  • Cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Amazon.
  • Device backup/sync with iCloud, Google+, and Skydrive.
  • For Photos, Flickr and Shutterfly allow massive amounts of photo storage. I'm sure there are dozens of others, too, but those are the two I've used.
  • External Storage (my choice) - plug in an external hard drive and copy everything to that drive. And if that's your only copy, plug in a 2nd one so you have 2 copies.

My method of choice was born out of convenience. I work from multiple computers and multiple locations throughout the day, so I carry a portable harddrive with me, and my portable drive has EVERYTHING on it - way too much data to store and access in the cloud, plus I don't have to worry about having a good internet connection to access any cloud storage.



However, since I carry everything with me, I need to be prepared for if/when I lose or damage that drive. So, I have a 2nd portable harddrive plugged into my primary computer, and whenever I work from that computer the primary drive is backed up onto the 2nd drive. This way I always have a current backup of all my stuff. (And because I'm a backup fanatic, I also have a 3rd portable drive that I store in a different location and backup to once a month. That way, even if something devastating happens to both of my main drives, I'll still only lose a small amount of data. But I get that that's over the top for most people..)

So, back to the question at hand: "What would you do if your computer / tablet / smart phone didn't boot up tomorrow?"

Me? I simply switched to my secondary drive and continued to work as if nothing had happened. I spent a couple hours trying to trouble-shoot and bring my primary drive back to life. But once I had to pronounce it dead, I went to Best Buy and bought another one (1 terabyte for $65) to become my new backup. Quick, painless, and without any data loss.



Again, I'm not here to preach about New Year's Resolutions, but I do think it's important, now that everything in our lives runs on technology, to have a plan in place for when that technology fails.

I'd encourage you to spend a few minutes (and/or a few dollars) looking into one of the solutions above to make sure you won't lose anything important, or irreplaceable, when your device lets you down.

Hopefully this is one of the ways you can make 2014 a great year!

-Chris Butterworth