Thursday, May 31, 2012

Website helps find break-even point of hybrid vehicles

What’s the break-even point when you buy a hybrid? How long do you have to own a hybrid, and how far must you drive one, before the money you save on fuel offsets the additional cost?

A new website from the U.S. Department of Energy has some surprising answers to those questions.

“Hybrids have moved from the early-adopter stage to the mainstream,” said Bo Saulsbury, a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and one of the people who created the comparison website. “We thought it was important to give people a tool to figure out if they’re worth the cost. A hybrid won’t always pay for itself, but some will.”

The website, FuelEconomy.gov, shows how much a hybrid adds to the sticker price versus a comparably equipped model, how much money it will save every year, and how long it takes to repay the initial cost.

The higher gasoline costs go, the quicker the payback for all hybrids.

The Buick LaCrosse and Lincoln MKZ hybrids pay for themselves in the first year. They have the same MSRP and better fuel efficiency than V-6 versions of the same cars.

The Cadillac Escalade hybrid, which was initially belittled for its 21 mpg combined city/highway fuel economy rating, pays for itself in a mere 2.1 years.

The much-less-expensive Kia Optima hybrid won’t break even for 4.9 years, according to the website. That’s because the Escalade’s 6-mpg fuel economy improvement from the base model’s 15 mpg is a bigger deal percentage-wise than the Optima’s jump from 28 mpg to 37 mpg.

The Kia’s $2,500 cost increase is also a much greater proportion of its sticker price than the Escalade’s $2,175 rise.

“Sometimes, the most bang for the buck is in big vehicles,” Saulsbury said.

The website calculator compares hybrids with their conventionally powered counterparts.

For instance, it compares the fuel cost for a Honda Civic to a Honda Civic EX-L, the most similarly equipped non-hybrid Honda builds.

Not every comparison is that exact – the Honda CR-Z is compared to a Honda Fit, for instance – but the DOE found the closest match possible for 18 popular hybrids.

Go to the website tab labeled “Advanced fuels and vehicles.” From that pull-down menu, click on “Hybrids can save you money.”

The website doesn’t make projections for hybrids if a brand doesn’t offer an equivalent conventional model. That means there’s no information on the Lexus CT 200h, because the hybrid is the only hatchback and only compact in Lexus’ lineup.

The site also omits hybrids for which the payback period is more than six years. Plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles aren’t on the list, but may be added as they become more common.

The big winners in terms of quick payback seem to be vehicles that keep costs low by limiting the hybrid system’s power and luxury models that already cost so much adding the hybrid doesn’t have much impact on the original price.

You can change the number of miles driven, percentage of highway versus city driving and fuel costs to reflect your driving habits, or how much you expect fuel prices to rise.

The Energy Department plans to update the site as new models become available and to reflect changing fuel prices.

Source: the Detroit Free Press, Mark Phelan. Distributed by MCT Information Services. Mark Phelan is the auto critic for the Detroit Free Press.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

NAR Tech Edge helps Realtors expand, develop tech use

Technology has transformed the way Realtors® do business, and the National Association of Realtors® is helping members keep up with the latest trends that can enhance business and client relations. NAR Tech Edge, a new one-day technology conference, will give attendees the chance to learn about cutting-edge technologies that are changing the real estate industry.

“Technology is increasingly important for Realtors and their business,” said NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc. in Miami and 2002 president of Florida Realtors. “It’s imperative that members keep up-to-date on the latest techniques and tools. This will help them not only improve the profitability of their businesses, but also it will help them bring value to all parties in the real estate transaction. NAR Tech Edge is a great opportunity for anyone in the real estate industry who is interested in expanding their technology use.”

According to the NAR’s 2011 Member Profile, technology continues to be an important aspect of a Realtor’s business. Nearly all NAR members reported daily use of e-mail, and nearly eight out of 10 reported daily uses of smartphones with wireless e-mail and Internet capability. More than half of all Realtors reported having their own website, as well as using social media tools on a regular basis.

NAR Tech Edge will take place in Miami on June 15. Events are also set for June 5 in Toronto, June 20 in Houston and June 29 in Las Vegas. Sessions will be presented by technology experts from the local area, and will cover mobile marketing, Google and cloud computing, using Facebook, creating content strategies, social media, the importance of photo and video, and much more.

Bill Lublin, CEO of the Social Media Marketing Institute and Century 21 Advantage Gold, will be the presenter and emcee for the event in Miami, Houston and Las Vegas. Recognized as a thought leader for his insights regarding social media and its use in the real estate business, Lublin is a Realtor and has also has served as a member of NAR’s Professional Standards Committee and Risk Management Committee.

For more information and how to register, go to the NAR Tech Edge site at http://epronar.com/nar_tech_edge.cfm.

Source: Florida Realtors®

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

UF: Fla. real estate pros optimistic in 1Q

Florida’s real estate market outlook improved in the first quarter of 2012, according to the University of Florida (UF).

The Survey of Emerging Market Conditions, conducted quarterly by the Kelley A. Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies at UF, found general optimism in the commercial sector based on a falling unemployment rate – down to 9 percent from December’s 9.9 percent – and a boost in rental housing activity, such as lease signings.

The UF Commercial Real Estate Sentiment Index, a measure of the respondents’ personal business outlook, reached its highest level since 2007. Bergstrom Center officials attribute it to a better lending environment with banks, as well as an improving economy.

“With billions of dollars of loans coming due over the next year, the increased lending activity is a welcome sign for real estate owners and investors looking for debt capital to refinance quality properties,” says Timothy S. Becker, director of the Bergstrom Center.

Property fundamentals, including occupancy and rental rates, improved this quarter with progress in single-family and condominium development, apartments, industrial, land investment and capital availability. Occupancy expectations were rated most favorably in the premium office market, with respondents citing the better employment outlook as a reason.

While generally optimistic, respondents said they were still concerned about the possible impact of national policies. Specific concerns include the Bush tax cuts and payroll tax break scheduled to expire at the end of 2012, and $1.2 trillion in spending cuts that take effect in 2013. Since policy changes might not be in place before the November elections, the issues add an element of risk to the market. Respondents also were concerned with artificially low interest rates, inflation and increased gas prices.

Overall, the survey found that a majority of respondents expect a slow and measured recovery until the conclusion of the presidential elections.

A total of 189 Florida professional real estate analysts and investors, representing 13 urban regions of the state and up to 15 property types, participated in the survey.

Source: Florida Realtors®

Does social media help salespeople sell?

When it comes to generating new sales, social media technologies may not be as effective as more time-honored forms of communication, according to a recent survey of 4,768 salespeople (67 percent men, 33 percent women, average age 40) in more than 1,000 U.S. companies surveyed by Behavioral Sciences Research Press.

Almost 70 percent of the salespeople surveyed said established forms of communication – face-to-face or by phone – generated more new sales. Only 10 percent claimed email was most effective, and less than 10 percent said other forms of computer-mediated communication, such as social media, were most effective. Results were not age-related.

The surveys were conducted by two behavioral scientists, Trelitha R. Bryant and George W. Dudley at Behavioral Sciences Research Press in Dallas, Texas, and announced in April at the annual convention of the Southwestern Psychological Association.

Dudley took the results a step further, suggesting that his analysis found that many salespeople who rely heavily on social networking might be using it to avoid direct sales prospecting.

“Salespeople claiming social media is most effective might be struggling with… an emotional impediment to production characterized by apprehension, conflict, hesitation or avoidance specifically associated with sales prospecting,” he says. “They had elevated prospecting distress scores on eleven of the twelve forms of sales call reluctance measured by the test.”

To confirm their results, the research team conducted a follow-up study of 1,512 additional salespeople (64 percent male; 36 percent female, average age 40), and the outcome was essentially the same (68 percent said conventional, 2.8 percent computer-mediated).

“The second study confirmed what we learned in the first,” Bryant said, “including the link with sales call reluctance. Computer-mediated social media may help find a date, keep tabs on old friends or support a political campaign. But most salespeople don’t think it’s as helpful as conventional person-to-person contact for generating new sales.”

Source: Florida Realtors®

Owners upset with new law for tax appeals

Hundreds of South Florida property owners who wanted to appeal their tax bills are out of luck because they didn’t pay first.

Rejection letters have been sent to nearly 1,200 property owners in Broward County because they didn’t pay most of their taxes before March 31 – even though they thought their bills were too high. Now they’re stuck paying the full amounts, plus interest.

Under the law, which took effect July 1, owners who want to appeal their tax bills must pay 75 percent of their property taxes and all of their special assessments, or non-ad valorem taxes, before April 1.

In the past, property owners didn’t have to pay until appeals were heard.

Broward received more than 22,000 petitions for appeal, so the vast majority of homeowners complied. Still, the new rule is creating confusion, said Lynda Phillips, supervisor of Broward’s Value Adjustment Board.

Linda Varisco wanted to question the $1.34 million assessment on the 15,000-square-foot office building she owns in Sunrise, only to be denied because she didn’t pay her taxes in time.

Varisco, who’s adamant that the county’s appraisal is too high, said she never heard about the law. She ended up paying $32,800 in taxes, including interest.

“My life is kind of hectic,” said Varisco, 49, a chiropractor. “I never even got a bill under my nose to even think about it.”

Property tax bills are mailed in November and due by March 31 of the following year, with discounts available for paying early.

Owners can appeal their assessments to the Value Adjustment Board in individual counties. The boards are holding hearings now, and special magistrates make the final decisions.

Notices of the new rule have been posted in the Value Adjustment Board’s office and on its website since last year, Phillips said.

“It sort of jumps up on you, and a lot of people are confused by this,” she said. “Hopefully it will go smoother next year.”

For owners who win their appeal, the county sends a refund and 12 percent interest of the refund amount from April 1.

Property owners who have the means to pay most of their taxes upfront stand to benefit from the law, said Mason Sharpe of the Property Tax Appeal Group, a Hialeah-based company. He advises clients to pay the entire tax bill because they can make more money in interest if they win the appeal.

But other owners who aren’t as financially stable may not be able to take advantage, Sharpe said.

Lawmakers passed the measure to help local governments improve their cash flow amid delays that can extend the appeals process to a year or more. Some owners were not paying taxes until after counties completed their hearings, according to an analysis by the state House of Representatives.

Palm Beach County resident Peter Krenzer said he appealed his $4,950 tax bill in December, and the county agreed to reduce his taxes. He said officials told him to wait for a lower tax bill that would have been about $1,500 cheaper.

Instead, Krenzer, 49, received a letter, telling him that his appeal was denied because he didn’t comply with the law. He was stuck paying the full amount, plus late fees.

Had he known, he said, he would have paid the taxes before the deadline.

“It was never brought up that there was this new law,” he said. “People were not talking about that.”

Teri Wambach, a manager in the county’s Tax Collector’s Office, told Krenzer in an email that he and other property owners were given information about the new rule when they signed up to appeal. It’s unclear why the county heard Krenzer’s appeal even though he hadn’t paid his taxes.

Other residents may face the same problem as Krenzer, said Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who chairs the county’s Value Adjustment Board.

He says state lawmakers should have allowed for more of a transition period.

“This is concerning,” Abrams said. “But the legislature made the law. We didn’t.”

Source: the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Paul Owers. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

New Realtor.com TV channel to reach 55 million households

Move Inc., operator of National Association of Realtors® (NAR) website realtor.com, announced an agreement to launch the Realtor.com Channel. It will be powered by the Home Tour Network, part of the RealBizMedia’s group.

The new Realtor.com Channel will debut in the second half of 2012 and bring millions of property listings into 55 million U.S. homes starting with the Cox cable network. Realtor.com says it’s the first company anywhere to deliver to consumers’ top three screens: computer, mobile devices and television.

Based on location, Realtor.com Channel property listings will be displayed by price range and include photo-based videos and descriptions provided by agents. With a few clicks of the remote, viewers can connect with agents for more information.

“Our experience in launching our propriety video platform positions RealBizMedia to leverage both organizations’ assets and provide homebuyers … with a new way to discover real estate and connect with real estate experts across the country,” said Steve Marques, CEO of RealBizMedia.

Only Realtor.com listings will appear on the Realtor.com Channel. The company says it will send them to the TV station directly from more than 850 MLSs across the nation. Approximately 85 percent of Realtor.com listings update every 15 minutes; the remainder update every one to 24 hours.

Source: Florida Realtors®

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Agents, there's gold in calling cold

Agents, there's gold in calling cold

Guidance on ‘green’ real estate valuation

Appraisers consider a number of elements to gauge the worth of green components in homes and commercial buildings – billing analysis, equipment identification and engineering simulations, for example. A new guide issued by the Appraisal Institute and the Institute for Market Transformation updates information for appraisers.

The two organizations issued “Recognition of Energy Costs and Energy Performance in Real Property Valuation,” an update of the first edition published in 2000, in order to “enhance the credibility of property valuation.”

“The Appraisal Institute is dedicated to helping appraisers and others find, understand and use available information on energy performance in buildings,” said Appraisal Institute President Sara W. Stephens. “As green and energy efficient features play a larger role in the real estate industry, it’s increasingly important that appraisers know how to value those properties.”

The Appraisal Institute’s and Institute for Market Transformation’s guide includes sections on:

• How energy-cost variations affect net operating income and appraised value
• How to assess energy performance in buildings
• How to benchmark energy performance
• Qualifications of energy assessors
• Findings on how buyers and renters place incremental value on energy performance
• An overview of the most common efficiency measures: insulation, windows lighting and HVAC

The Appraisal Institute is a global association of professional real estate appraisers with about 23,000 members in nearly 60 countries.

The guide, Recognition of Energy Costs and Energy Performance in Real Property Valuation, is available online.

Source: Florida Realtors®

Monday, May 7, 2012

Free tool rates Facebook app privacy

A new service that grades how each of Facebook’s top third-party apps respects consumers’ privacy was released by research firm PrivacyChoice. The free tool, Privacyscore for Facebook, spells out privacy policies and tracking practices of more than 200 top Facebook apps, including games, work-related programs and sharing apps.

Online tracking is fueling a heated national debate over whether new do-not-track laws are needed to safeguard consumers’ online privacy. Leaders in the online advertising industry use a version of Privacyscore to self-police the tracking practices of online advertising networks, and thus head off new laws. Privacy experts welcomed the consumer version.

“This certainly is going to be a useful tool for consumers, but it may actually be even more useful in pushing application developers, who don’t like getting poor grades, to look more closely at their own privacy practices,” says Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank on data security.

Facebook’s pervasive Web presence comes with “a responsibility to hold people who are developing apps on their platform accountable for the (privacy) assertions that they’re making,” says Craig Spiezle, executive director of the Online Trust Alliance.

Facebook’s David Swain noted that the company requires app developers to agree to its privacy policies. “If we find an app has violated our policies we take action,” Swain says.

According to PrivacyChoice, 140 different tracking entities routinely collect information about users of the top Facebook apps. Trackers can correlate that data to profiles of individuals’ browsing behavior across multiple Web pages in order to deliver more relevant ads. “It’s up to users to know the privacy risk of sharing personal data with apps,” says Jim Brock, PrivacyChoice founder and CEO.

Privacyscore’s top score is 100. Deductions are made for sharing data with an excessive number of tracking entities, failing to honor deletion requests, failing to provide an opt-out choice or storing consumer data for long periods.

Gamemaker Zynga, for instance, registers an overall score of 82 for 17 Facebook games. The game Slingo, with 17 million players, scores 80, losing points partly because it connects to 59 trackers. Zynga general counsel Reggie Davis says Zynga welcomes tools such as Privacyscore. And Zynga’s online tutorial, PrivacyVille, rewards its users for learning more about the company’s privacy policies.

Source: USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Selling Old Cellphone, Laptop? Smash It Instead

Data security experts suggests that you may be better off smashing your aging laptop or cellphone instead of donating it or selling it if you want to keep sensitive information you had on it safe.
Windows XP laptops and Android smartphones -- even when reset to their original factory settings -- were found to be the most vulnerable and still contained sensitive personal information that could be uncovered on the devices, Robert Sicilliano, a McAfee identity theft expert, told USA Today.
Sicilliano purchased 30 used devices off Craigslist. He found that half the devices were clean, but 15 of the devices still contained a lot of personal information. He was able to find bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, work documents, and court records on some of the devices.
Apple’s iPhone and iPad as well as Research in Motion’s BlackBerry were found to not pose the same risks as Android smartphones, Sicilliano notes (although he still recommends users reset the devices to their original factory settings before giving them away).
Mary Ann Miller, financial fraud expert at Nice Actimize, told USA Today that device makers need to provide more guidance on how to responsibly get rid of old electronic devices to prevent security breeches.
Until then, Sicilliano says: “I would beat the thing to death.”
Source: “Discarded Digital Devices can Retain Sensitive Data,” USA Today (May 2, 2012)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Attacks Against Real Estate Professionals Surge

The number of assaults against real estate professionals is on the rise, with the nature of attacks becoming more violent and sometimes deadly.
Fatal injuries among real estate professionals while working on the job reached in 2010 their highest level since 2003, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Figures from 2010 are the latest year available.
Sixty-three workplace fatalities occurred in the real estate industry category in 2010, which is a 19 percent rise over the previous year. Of the 63 fatalities, 23 were homicides, according to BLS. That overall total also includes 14 deaths from falls, nine from transportation incidents, and eight from being exposed to harmful substances or environments, Inman News reports on the BLS findings.
That marks the highest level of fatalities since at least 2003 when BLS began collecting such data. The real estate industry category, as defined by BLS, includes landlords, real estate agents and brokers, and those who perform work related to real estate, such as appraisers and property managers.
Landlords appear to be the most vulnerable to attacks. Of the 23 homicides in 2010, 52 percent of the victims were landlords.
In 2010, 940 real estate and rental leasing professionals were victims of nonfatal assaults. That number has steadily risen over the last few years, up from 620 in 2009 and 170 in 2008.
Inman News, in its analysis of the findings, discovered that workplace fatalities among real estate professionals were at their lowest point during 2005, the height of the housing boom. In 2005, 39 fatalities were recorded. The number has been on the rise ever since, particularly in the categories of “assaults and violent acts” caused by others, self-inflicted injury, and animal attacks.
Source: “Assaults, Murders of Real Estate Professionals on the Rise,” Inman News (April 30, 2012)