Monthly Archives: October 2012

9 pre-winter maintenance tasks you can’t afford to skip | Bedford Corners Realtor

It’s hard to believe fall is already here. That means it’s time to make an inspection of your house for any hidden defects that might morph into major problems.

An ounce of prevention early on can stave off major repair bills later. Here’s our list of must-do inspection items before the temperature drops and the rain falls.

1. Check the roof. Clean out the gutters and take note of any missing shingles. Pay special attention to split wood shingles or bare patches on asphalt shingles. Such damage indicates the roof is on its last legs and is due for replacement. Make sure everything is sealed and tight around the chimney and vents. If you have a problem with algae and fungus on wood shakes and asphalt shingles, control it by installing zinc control strips.

2. Poke your head in the attic. Be on the lookout for water stains or mold. Water stains may indicate a leaky roof or inadequate ventilation. Mold is caused by condensation resulting from inadequate air flow. Make sure soffit vents are unobstructed by insulation to ensure proper ventilation in the attic.

3. Keep things tight. Inspect caulking and weatherstripping around doors and windows. Re-caulk and weather strip as needed.

4. Fireplace fitness: The National Fire Protection Agency recommends that you have your fireplace and chimney inspected every year although we believe light users can get by with every two years. At the very least, make sure your chimney is capped, and check for bird’s nests or other obstructions.

5. Check the grade at the foundation. There should be at least six inches from the ground to the bottom of the siding, and the ground should slope away from the foundation. Cut back any shrubs away from the side of the house to prevent moisture retention, the cause of mold or dry rot. Make sure all downspouts direct water at least 10 feet from the foundation.

6. Be safe. Test all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

7. Laundry room. A dysfunctional washer and dryer can lead to water damage, energy waste and a possible fire. Exchange rubber supply hoses for stainless steel to prevent bursting. Empty the lint trap in the dryer regularly (a good practice any time of year). Disconnect the dryer vent line and look at the vent pipe outlet to make sure there are no obstructions.

8. Electrical system. Electric systems in your home can cause a major fire disaster and possible electrocution. In order to prevent electrical fires, make sure light bulbs are completely screwed in and flip the circuit breaker at least once a year to prevent corrosion. Also test all GFCI receptacles (plugs that have a built-in circuit breaker) to make sure they are operating properly.

9. HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning). Have the system inspected by a professional annually to maintain the warranty on the system. If you don’t keep up regular maintenance with your heating and cooling system, mold can grow in your house, it can cause a fire, and the performance will be inefficient leading to higher energy costs. Replace filters once at least every six months. Drain the water heater annually.

Here’s wishing you a cozy, safe fall and winter.

How to make the most of Google’s new approach to analytics | Chappaqua Realtor

Google Analytics logoGoogle Analytics logo

Google Analytics is changing. And it is changing in very significant ways. It’s such a significant change that they’re taking the word “Google” out of the name and calling it Universal Analytics.

For those who find it valuable to understand the behavior of people online, Google Analytics has been the go-to analytics package for many years. The combination of tracking capabilities, reporting options and cost has been a three-pronged fork stuck into the side of any other tracking package out there.

Before anyone gets too excited about all this it’s worth noting that these changes are rolling out in beta to enterprise and premium customers. This means those who are dabbling in analytics won’t see these features in their free Google Analytics accounts for awhile, if at all.

The change to Google Analytics starts with a conceptual shift which then leads to significantly new reporting capabilities. Let’s do a quick overview of two of the bigger changes (there are quite a few more, but I will spare you from a discussion of some of the more esoteric subjects, such as using your own anonymous sessionization keys).

A conceptual shift from visits to visitors

One of the things that is hard for first time Web analytics users to wrap their heads around is the difference between a “visit” and a “visitor.” I sometimes joke that this is the hardest concept to understand in all of Web analytics. Let’s review.

A “visitor” is a unique machine accessing your website. Every individual machine that goes to your website increases your visitor count.

A “visit” occurs each time any machine accesses your website. Your visit count is increased whenever any machine shows up on your website. One “visitor” can generate multiple “visits.”

An example usually helps makes this clearer: If I use my laptop to go to your website, that will generate one visitor and one visit in your Google Analytics reports. If I use my laptop to go to your website once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once before I go to bed that will generate one visitor (my laptop) and three visits (morning, afternoon and before I go to bed).

Note that these things are discussed in terms of “machine” and not “person.” For example, if I visit your site from my iPhone, my iPad, my laptop and a computer at work that will generate four visitors (one for each device) and four visits.

A final, nerdy way to describe the relationship between visit and visitor is: a visit is attached to only one visitor, but a visitor can have many visits.

Why is it important to understand this? Well to make reports for understanding what people are doing on your site we need a sort of common denominator. Most businesses would like to use something closer to their actual customer (in this case “visitor”) as the common denominator across reports.

We want to know how many people clicked on an ad and then arrived on our website and did stuff. We’re not as happy with knowing how many visits resulted from people clicking and and then doing stuff on our site. It could be the same person clicking the ad over and over again, and that makes us anxious.

But for many years now the level of reporting that Google Analytics has given us has been different for visits and visitors. In fact, the reports available for visitors have really only been very high level stuff and not as useful for understanding specific things about our website. Google Analytics wasn’t alone in this — everyone in the analytics vendor space has had this issue.

The common denominator of Google Analytics is visits, not visitors.

The big change is that the newly renamed Universal Analytics will use visitors as the common denominator. This means that all of your reporting will align much better with how you view your business: something that helps customers.

Bullet list version of what this will mean for users of Universal Analytics:

  • The numbers in your Universal Analytics report will more closely align with the numbers in your CRM.
  • All of the measures you’ve been using so far to measure performance will look significantly larger than the new visitor-based versions.
  • Integrity of leadership will be tested with the opportunity to present small, more useful visitor-based numbers instead of larger, more vanity-based visit numbers.

What does “Universal” mean?

The new Universal Analytics will now accept data from other sources than just a Web page. Sure there have been ways to torture the Google tracker into different code bases before. But now there’s going to be an accepted and useful way.

This means all of the ways of distributing content and interactions digitally can now talk to Universal Analytics. For example, your call center can register interaction, or your CRM tool can register interaction.

This, like the switch to a visitor-centric reporting model, is a big deal. Up until now Google Analytics has been very useful for understanding a specific slice of your interactions with customers: starting after they heard about your site and arrived and ending as soon as they left or did the thing you wanted them to do on the Web. This has left a gaping hole of information about things people are doing before they get to your site and, even more importantly, what they do after they fill out the lead form or call you.

You’ll be able to import conversion data as well. So when your Web gal tells you about how many “conversions” the Web is generating, you won’t have to translate the difference between a Web conversion and someone that made it through your qualification systems and actually bought something.

This shift is really what the name change is about. It changes Google Analytics from a good but limited tool — a Web analysis tool — into a broader and more capable tool, a business analysis tool. This is the shift from Web intelligence to business intelligence. And that’s awesome.

The bullet list of what this stuff means:

  • Universal Analytics will be able to perform as a business analytics and reporting tool for customer behavior on platforms beyond the Web.
  • The difference in quality of interactions and leads from a variety of sources will no longer be opaque and will thus present a risk to some businesses (I’m looking at you social media gurus and garbage vendors).

The downside

You didn’t think this was going to be all unicorns and rainbows did you? Even though I’m a proponent of analytics tools like Google Analytics, there are always some trade-offs when major shifts like this happen.

You’ll need to add some tracking code to use Universal Analytics. I know. No one likes doing this. It’s always scary and confusing. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

The new code handles almost everything the Google Analytics code does. But one thing it doesn’t enable is Experiments nee Google website Optimizer. This is, of course, a crushing loss. I’m not sure if this is a short-term thing or not. But there are other great tools for A/B and multivariate testing.

My friends of the tinfoil hat persuasion will likely raise their eyebrow at the idea of Google knowing the deep dark secrets of how a business truly operates once people start uploading conversion data. I also expect a few privacy-related issues with the visitor-based reporting.

And, of course, Google Premium isn’t free. But it wasn’t free before these changes either.

The bottom line

For businesses that either already are or are working towards becoming more data-driven the adjustment in approach from Google Analytics to Universal Analytics will be very useful.

There will be some hiccups as the reporting style is changed from visit-based to visitor-based. These hiccups will provide an opportunity for leadership to demonstrate their value to the organization, analytics practitioners to demonstrate leadership or both.

A technology that increases your ability to observe customer behavior and increases the relevant data sets available for you to discover insights should result in better decision-making and results for you, your technology partners and your customers.

I thought they were my clients | Armonk Realtor

Susan was tempted to lock up and head for home like the rest of her colleagues. Floor duty was never thrilling, but the last few hours had been truly tortuous.

No calls, no walk-in traffic — just the lonely sound of the Muzak echoing through the empty office space.

If it weren’t for that darn goal setting class last month and the oh-so-close Cabo sweepstakes, she’d call it a day. But one more sale and she’d be the tanning beauty sipping Margaritas in February.

With renewed determination, Susan dialed another past client and practiced smiling into the phone.

“Hello?”

Susan nearly leapt out of her skin!

She hadn’t heard the door bell, yet a lovely (but very pale) couple stood in front of the reception desk.

The wife clutched a Homes & Land magazine in her well-manicured hands. Susan couldn’t help but admire her blood-red manicure, and those very muscular fingers with the princess-cut diamond rings (four!).

“Yes?” Susan stammered. “How can I help you two this afternoon?”

“Is it really afternoon?” said the wife, “We thought it was closer to evening.”

“But anyway,” interrupted the tall statuesque man, “it doesn’t matter what time it is. We’d like to see some property.” He gestured towards their Homes & Land magazine. “Do you have time?”

“Well,” Susan said, trying to contain her excitement. “I suppose there’s still enough light out. We could see a few.”

“Oh goody-goody!” said the wife, licking her lips. “I know exactly what I want!”

“Perfect!” said Susan. “That will make this go much more smoothly.”

“It certainly will,” agreed the man, winking.

Susan ignored the ill-feeling in the pit of her stomach, and focused on a sale. It was obvious these two had money: highlights without grow-out, impeccable suits, and the Mercedes in the parking lot. She reached for the magazine.

“We’ve marked the ones we like best,” said the woman.

A number of the listings were dog-eared and shredded. Photos of competing Realtors had their eyes blacked out or funny beards drawn over their pictures. Susan’s broker sported devil horns. She couldn’t help but giggle over that doodle.

“Let’s start with this house,” said Susan, pointing to the most expensive of their selections. “Can you follow me?”

“Why don’t we just hop in with you?” asked the man. “It’ll be so much easier that way, don’t you think?”

“I do!” agreed the wife.

“Uhm,” said Susan. It didn’t feel right. But she glanced outside and saw the light was fading. Soon they wouldn’t be able to see the curb appeal.

“Okay, let’s go,” she said.

Listing number one was a cavernous Gothic-revival.

“This is it!” said the wife, sweeping through the front doors.

“Just look at the size of the fireplace!” cried the man in excitement.

“We’ll take it!” they said together.

Susan beamed. THIS is exactly why floor duty paid off.

Back at the office, Susan put the final touches on the contract. Outside, trick-or-treaters ran through the parking lot on their way to the next neighborhood, yelling and throwing candy at one another. Usually, she’d be home handing out Tootsie Rolls to these same kids. But not tonight! Tonight, she was making money.

Certainly, she might not have worked so many hours into the evening if she’d known that the couple’s pre-approval letter was a year old. But that could be amended!

It wasn’t everyday a perfectly awesome couple wandered in off the street and bought a $1 million listing. For full price. And waving all inspections. Susan smiled.

“Last signature!” said Susan, pointing at the bottom of the contract.

“I’m so excited, I’m nearly spitting blood,” said the man.

“I know,” agreed his wife. “A deal this good, I can taste it.”

She signed her name with a flourish.

“I’m so glad you’re happy,” said Susan. “This is why I’m in real estate, you know. To make people happy!”

“You’ve pleased us enormously,” said the man. “And I’m sure you’ve pleased Christopher as well.”

“Is that your son?” asked Susan, clearing the table of paperwork.

“Oh, no,” said the woman with a cackle. “Christopher Beams! He works here, right?”

“Yes,” said Susan. “Why?”

“Well, he’s our agent! We’re under contract to buy a home off 38th, but we like this one much better. I’m sure he’ll agree,” said the man, loosening his tie.

Susan’s heart skipped a beat. “What? Another agent? Another contract? Another house? But, but, b-“

“But this is just how things go!” said the man.

“It’s real estate,” said the woman.

Susan held her chest. Her heart had begun to beat very, very fast. She put the paperwork down on the conference table and slowly backed away. Very slowly.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked the woman, licking her lips.

“Yes, where?” questioned the man, rising.

Susan ran for the door. Behind her she heard a POP, and the rush of flapping wings. Two large, black bats swooped in, pulling Susan’s hair and nipping her ears.

She screamed and pulled her cardigan over her head. This wasn’t how the night was supposed to end! She was going to Cabo! CABO!

She ran for the front door, screaming for help and throwing Junior Mints at the ravenous bats. Suddenly, the office went dark.

“Nooooo!” howled Susan.”Not me!”

Later, some passing trick-or-treaters said they thought they heard a haunting scream when the power went out — something to the effect of, “I thought they were my clients.”

But we’ll never know for sure.

FHFA: 30-year mortgage rate edges up | Waccabuc Real Estate

The average interest rate recorded on a conventional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rose 2 basis points to 3.76% in September, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday.

Meanwhile the adjustable-rate mortgage hit 3.56% while the contract rate for the composite of all fixed and adjustable-rate mortgage loans fell 1 basis point to 3.55% in September compared to 3.56% in August.

Initial loan fees and charges made up 0.95% of the average loan balance in September, a 12-basis point drop from August.

Of the purchase-money mortgage loans originated last month, 22% were classified as no-point mortgages, an 8% increase from August.

The average loan term hit 27.4 years in September, a slight increase from August. 

The average loan-to-price ratio also fell 0.2% to 75.6% from 75.8%.

The average loan amount in September hit $254,600, compared to $256,900 in August.

kpanchuk@housingwire.com