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Real Estate Brokerage

Agents ahead of the curve should include this factor in their listings (it may someday be standard)

Potential home buyers can benefit from air quality information that’s readily available through a wide variety of websites and apps, and make informed decisions about their health and wellness.

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Home buyers can locate valuable information from real estate sites about the neighborhoods in which they would like to live, such as distance to and ratings of local schools and public transit. What about the environmental factors that can impact home owners’ health? Locating and aggregating information about the drinking water quality is relatively easy, by directly contacting or checking the website for the public water system that serves the area.

What about air quality in the surrounding environment?

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Being aware of timely and potential air quality levels can help consumers recognize when and where ambient air pollution levels can pose a health concern. “Air pollution has been linked to decreases in lung function and increases in heart attacks” according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

The main risk factor in lung cancer

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in the recently updated “Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments” that 14% of lung cancers are attributable to ambient air pollution. The report also indicates that ambient air pollution is the most important environmental risk factor – high blood pressure, diet, physical activity and tobacco smoke are the highest non-environmental risk factors — and is “responsible for approximately 24% of the global burden of ischaemic heart disease (IHD).” IHD is the leading cause of mortality and disability worldwide according to WHO.

EPA AQI

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a tool used by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies to quantify air quality by categories.

The AQI focuses on five of the air pollutants for which the EPA has set national air quality standards, and include ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particle pollution.

Information on other air toxics and related estimates of exposure by population group are available through EPA’s National-scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA). Toxic air pollutants represented through this data source include several substances that may be carcinogenic to humans including benzene, which is found in gasoline, and tetrachloroethylene which is emitted from some dry cleaning facilities.

Where to get information on air quality

Much of the available air quality data can be a bit daunting to home buyers and realtors alike, but EPA along with other agencies and the private sector have created additional tools to inform the public in an easily understandable manner. Several of these helpful tools include:

AirNow — This website reports the AQI forecast for the United States and Canada, and was developed by the EPA along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service, as well as tribal, state, and local agencies. In addition to showing current forecast, the site features an app for Android and iPhone. AirNow has recently expanded to support other countries and regions by creating an international community of users through AirNow International, in order to share and learn air quality data and information from colleagues across the globe.

AirCompare — This website offered by AirNow is intended to help people with planning a move or vacation by comparing air quality between cities, counties, and states. AirCompare allows users to generate reports based on specific health concerns including asthma, heart disease, or for more sensitive populations including the elderly and children. The data source for AirCompare is the Air Quality System (AQS) Data Mart, which contains ambient air pollution data collected from thousands of monitoring stations maintained by air pollution control agencies across the United States. The AQS Data Mart is “designed to make air quality data more accessible to the scientific and technical community” by allowing users to extract data from the database.

Global Health Observatory (GHO) data -– The World Health Organization provides an extensive list of health indicators, including data related to particulate matter via this webpage on the ambient air pollution exposure at city and country levels.

Clean Air Make More — This mobile app for iPhone, iPad, and Android reports real-time air quality and pollution statistics for the City of Phoenix.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Air Quality Index Report -– This webpage provides current and historical peak concentration for the critical pollutant as well as corresponding AQI category and ratings for each of the measured pollutants for major metropolitan and regions in Texas. The data is collected from air monitoring stations whose data are reported to EPA.

Participate in the UCLA AirForU study

With so many websites and apps related to air quality, I decided to test a couple sites and apps to see what best suited my personal needs. I downloaded and signed up with the UCLA AirForU app, which I found very easy to use on my iPhone. This app which was developed as part of a research study with the UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability creates a personalized history of air quality exposure. By reporting asthma attacks and other daily information, users can contribute to the research via their iPhone or Android.

air for u

AirForU research participants are incentivized to respond to daily questions through entries in a monthly raffle drawing. The feature I found most informative was the “Toxics”, which reports manufacturing facilities that emit toxic chemicals based on location and reported through the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program.

AQI app

The TRI tracks the management of over 650 toxic chemicals that pose a threat to human health and environment across various industries, and includes on-site releases through air, surface water, land as well as recycling and treatment methods.

When I directly searched the TRI database for my zip code, no facilities were listed. However, the AirForU app alerted me to the proximity of six facilities within 3 miles of my home, in the next zip code area. I was then able to fine-tune my search within the TRI, and view historical data.

Pigeon Air Patrol to the rescue

In addition to using existing data from AirNow to create map and list interface of air pollution data, innovative technology firm Plume Labs is disrupting pollution monitoring by incorporating racing pigeons and humans to crowdsource data.

pigeon patrol

On March 14, 2016, Plume Labs released a flock of pollution monitoring pigeons to map pollution for three days in London, England. The Pigeon Air Patrol was equipped with tiny light-weight backpacks containing sensors that monitored and reported back ozone, volatile compounds and nitrogen dioxide, as well as their location.

Crowdsourcing data through wearables

Plume Labs has reached its crowdfunding campaign goal for the human version pollution monitoring program called “London Air Patrol.”

The higher backer levels will receive a sensor and participate in the first beta test of Plume’s personal air pollution tracker, which will essentially crowd-source a live map of air pollution in London.

With all these air quality resources, it would be relatively easy for any tech-savvy real estate website developer to integrate existing data and add this valuable information. An added feature for potential home buyers would be an allergen occurrence and allergy calendar for people susceptible to particular allergies, or link to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s ranking of cities according to spring allergies. Providing access to this information in an easily understood manner creates consumers who can make informed decisions about where they live.

Note from the Editor:

The folks at the National Association of Realtors’ Center for Realtor Technology (NAR CRT) are studying this very issue and working with manufacturers, universities, and bright minds. They’re considering how aggregating environmental factors can be inserted into the MLS, standardized, and used. Think about it: Many of us have a Nest thermostat – imagine if data was collected and added to the MLS about a home, or analyzed through the MLS as a neighborhood and given a score. More info means more well educated consumers.

#AirQualityData

Debbie Cerda is a seasoned writer and consultant, running Debra Cerda Consulting as well as handling business development at data-driven app development company, Blue Treble Solutions. She's a proud and active member of Austin Film Critics Association and the American Homebrewers Association, and Outreach Director for science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin. She has been very involved in the tech scene in Austin for over 15 years, so whether you meet her at Sundance Film Festival, SXSWi, Austin Women in Technology, or BASHH, she'll have a connection or idea to help you achieve business success. At the very least, she can recommend a film to watch and a great local craft beer to drink.

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Real Estate Brokerage

Why clearly expressing your business culture is so critical

(PROFESSIONALISM) Many of us claim to be cultured individuals, but are we business cultured? Let’s discuss.

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I like to think that I know a thing or two about vocabulary and its application to everyday life. However, I will admit, there have been times where I’ve thrown around a word or a phrase without being 100 percent sure of its meaning.

This typically happens with broad phrases, and we’re all guilty of it. But, what’s cool about language(s) is that it’s virtually limitless, so there’s always room to learn something new.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “okay, Taylor, that’s great and probably not as profound as you think it is. What does this have to do with business?”

Well, one of the phrases I’ve heard people throw around and not actually have it stick is “business culture.” It’s used broadly as a cliche with little meaning behind it, often used incorrectly.

While it’s easy to correctly define such a phrase, it is so general that it is difficult for some to have a true grasp of its meaning. Whenever I’m unclear on something, I go to the smartest person I know for clarity – my father.

My dad, Mike Leddin, is the executive director of a law firm in Chicago. Throughout my life, he’s been my go-to person for advice and explanation, and this was no different when I was seeking the root meaning of business culture.

Since he has a tendency to be more eloquent than I, let’s have him weigh in…

“The business culture within a company is as critically important as the products/services that are produced,” said Mike Leddin. “Creating the right culture, one that fosters teamwork and encourages contributions, thoughts, and ideas at all levels, will be ultimately reflected in the end product/service.”

He added, “The business culture should clearly reflect the social and ethical responsibility of the company, including management’s commitment to act responsible in all ways. Properly communicated Mission and Values Statements both internally and externally, will not only define the goal and objections of the organization, but also the manner in which these be will be sought and achieved.”

What stuck with me most was his conclusion:

“Business culture is not simply a statement or goal, it is the result of the manner in which we act each day.”

This idea of business culture is important for every team member to keep in mind as we walk into work each day. Questions such as: “What am I providing people?” and “Why should they trust me?” should factor into your definition of business culture.

A company is only as strong as its morals and values. Make sure yours has one that you believe in, lest you be just another brokerage in a sea of competitors that don’t lack clarity.

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Real Estate Brokerage

Why real estate brokerages are not startups

(REAL ESTATE) Brokerages are popping up nationwide that are sleek and modern, and also misinformed as they call themselves startups. Let’s talk about the technical definition.

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Businesses that are just starting out often refer to themselves as startups (which is inappropriate given that startups are funded differently, scale differently, and have completely different KPIs). Take real estate brokerages, for example. An increasing number call themselves startups, but when you look at the definition of a startup, can you really call yourself one?

Small businesses and startups have very different definitions (and there’s no shame in being a small business or an “innovative brokerage”). Let’s discuss.

1. Startups have a different goal altogether.

Typically, startups are about growth. They’re designed from day one to scale extremely quickly. Small businesses are often limited by a target market or geographic location. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they aren’t scalable the same way an international software brand is. Think about scaling in terms of a beauty salon versus MatchCo, an app that uses technology to create a foundation just for you. A franchise does not a startup make.

2. Startups generally seek outside funding to accelerate growth.

Startup founders often give up equity shares to generate funds before becoming profitable. Small businesses are typically self-funded, bootstrapped into profitability, and owned by one or a select few. A small business venture is typically less risky than a startup, too. The idea behind a small business venture is profit, and you want the business to last. Startups are structured to be sold or acquired once it hits critical mass – a “startup” is temporary.

3. Startups disrupt the industry.

Think about these companies – AirBnB, Google, Dropbox, Facebook, even Apple, a long time ago. In their early days, they were startups. It was risky to invest in these companies as they were trying something new (not iterating on something like the real estate practice which is one of the oldest professions in America), but they have outshone their competitors. They disrupted the marketplace. That’s what a startup does. And it doesn’t always work. Sonitus Medical attempted to disrupt the hearing aid market. They raised almost $90 million in funding before the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services decided the product wouldn’t be covered. The company held an auction and closed its doors. Brokerages have experimented with paying salaries, going paperless, or having all agents working remotely – these are all fabulous innovations and iterations, not disruptions.

The takeaway

We’ve been on the forefront for over a decade of ushering in the era of indie brokerages, paperless real estate brands, and counter-culture companies, but brokerages are simply not startups, and this is not up for debate. Iteration is not innovation.

Don’t call yourself something you’re not – be an “innovative broker” and rock it, because you’re not a temporary company seeking to scale so rapidly that you’re acquired for your indisputable disruption.

And finally, don’t fall for real estate brokerages pitching themselves as “startups” when they’re misinformed and really mean they’re simply, and beautifully “modern.”

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Real Estate Brokerage

Why you must suddenly improve your behavior during showings

(TECHNOLOGY) No longer just for secret lair owners, doorbell cams are on the rise. Make sure you’re on your best behavior when showing a property or your clients will know.

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ring doorbell showings

Everyone is watching you all the time, and no, this isn’t paranoia speaking. Many homes now have security measures in place beyond a basic alarm.

As a real estate agent or broker, when you’re showing a property, keep in mind the age old adage: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.

More homeowners are installing security cameras, which can broadcast audio and video directly to their smartphones. So even if your client is at work, they can see and hear everything you’re doing if they want to tune in to their camera stream.

Although most listing clients get feedback from tours, they could theoretically check the quality of salesmanship before you even enter the front door during showings.

Ring.com, for example, offers real time info with video doorbells, floodlight cams, and security cameras. All their products broadcast HD video directly to an app available for Android and Apple customers.

Users are alerted any time someone comes in range of the security camera or approaches the door. With two-way audio, homeowners can answer the door remotely through the app.

Amazon recently purchased Ring for a cool billion dollars, so expect to see ownership on the rise. Thanks to some heavy investing on Amazon’s part back in December 2017, Ring products are already integrated as an Alexa skill, so users can interact with Ring security products through their Echo devices.

Google-owned Nest cams pick up motion as well, and even simple indoor motion cams will alert owners of someone’s presence. With the power of wifi and a security camera, homeowners can track your activity on showings.

Avoid the classic theater nightmare scenario where an actor gets caught trash talking backstage because oops, their microphone was on an the entire audience heard everything.

You don’t want to put yourself or company in a compromising situation because something that should have been said in confidence got captured on a doorbell cam outside, or a security cam inside.

Of course, you are already on your most professional behavior when you’re showing a home, cameras or not, but keep in mind that it’s now even easier for clients to monitor their home’s interior and exterior activities.

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