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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

Brokerages rarely write an internal communication strategy, here’s how

(BUSINESS) Almost no real estate brokerages have an internal communication strategy, but absolutely should.

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It’s still early enough in the year that you can start fresh personally and professionally. Help your organization start fresh by taking into account what’s happened in recent history and where you want to go. From there, you will determine what steps are necessary to achieve your goals.

Writing an internal communication (IC) strategy can be the first step in mapping your goals and is virtually unused in the real estate industry. According to All Things IC, an “internal communication strategy is like a map, an outline of your organization’s journey. It’s the big picture of what you want to achieve.” This can be done by a brokerage, or an independent agent alike.

Great! So, where do you start? First, know what an IC strategy needs to address. This includes the where, how, what, and why.

Write down the current state of the company, then state where you’re headingm or where you’d like to be. Create a list of objectives to support this.

Then break into your “how.” Explain how you are going to get to where you want to be, as well as how long it will take and why.

You’ll then venture over to a “what” by outlining what is involved along the way to your goal. Then, throw in a little “why” by explaining why this approach is the best for the job.

Go back to “how” and tell how you’ll know when you’ve reached your destination. This part will require tangibles, measurements to support a change in reaching your goal.

Finally, give one more “what” and address what will happen if you don’t change the way you’re currently operating. If things are working for your organization, that’s great! But, there is always room for improvement.

For an internal communication strategy, it is important to include the following: a title, an issue/purpose, structure, executive summary, audience segmentation/stakeholder mapping, a timeline, channels, measurement, communication objective, approval process and responsibilities, key messages, and an appendix.

Now, what was missing from the initial inclusions was a “who.” So, who should be the one to write this document?

Well, it needs to be someone with a strong understanding and implementation for internal communications. This can be done internally by someone on staff who is an expert; or, it can be outsourced to an expert. Regardless of who writes it, make sure it is clear and concise for the audience at hand.

What is most important to remember is that writing an internal communication strategy is just half the battle. Your work is not done once this document is agreed upon by the leadership team. And finally, you must be willing to enforce what’s written on these pages and be ready to make the changes you’ve outlined.

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Real Estate Brokerage

How to achieve a winning business culture

(BUSINESS) Achieve a winning business culture by checking in on four important categories that are time-tested and proven to improve your company.

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When it comes to the term “business culture,” we all have a tendency to throw it around without a precise definition that fits our respective companies specifically. It can be argued that some type of culture will form, regardless of the emphasis you put on it – that’s just human nature. But, how can we check in to make sure that the business culture we’re exuding is an effective one?

A few months back, I was told about a simple way to test your business culture, in a method developed by Franklin Covey. In order to have a winning culture, a culture must have organizational focus and execution shining from great leaders and effective individuals.

With this, there are four categories which contribute to a winning culture. These include: distinctive contribution, engaged team members, loyal customers, and sustained performance.

You may be reading this and going, “well, no duh,” but let’s think about this for a second. Even if you can explain the factors that would make up a strong culture, does that mean that your company has them?

In terms of distinctive contribution, it’s important to look past what your company does on a day-to-day basis and see what you’re doing to make a difference in the world. Does your company give back to the community? Does your team feel proud to work for a company that does good for others?

Speaking of your team members, do they seem to be engaged? So many people go into work with a lackluster attitude and that has a poor effect on their output.

Are you doing things within your culture to make your team feel engaged and productive? This can range from weekly meetings designed to brainstorm and hear everyone’s opinion, to programs that award hard work with fun incentives.

When you have team members that are engaged and hardworking, they will display this to the public and will likely help in attracting loyal customers. Customers can tell when a company and its team are being genuine, and that carries so much weight in terms of retention.

This leads to the final aspect of sustained performance. You must be present and consistent with your customers in order to give them repeated satisfactory performance time and time again.

It’s likely that our business cultures can all enhance in one or more of these categories, and, what better timing than going into a new year?

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Real Estate Brokerage

How JetBlue earns undying loyalty, and how you can too

(BUSINESS NEWS) Getting people to remember, let alone love a brand is near impossible, but JetBlue shows a promising path forward.

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As customers become increasingly aware of marketing techniques and underlying motives for brands, it becomes more difficult to sell to them. Luckily, there are still a few brands whose techniques you can learn from – and, perhaps surprisingly, one of them is JetBlue.

JetBlue, a major airline, sees their customers as individual people, not just numbers. This “human” aspect of JetBlue’s branding is their most important trait; especially in the airlines industry – a market oversaturated with stale experiences (and peanuts)—it’s crucial to stand out. JetBlue does so by going the extra frequent-flyer mile to make customers feel at home through genuine, human interactions.

Another interesting JetBlue method is categorizing their customer engagement.

There are two different categories of interaction – micro and macro – that refer to small, one-on-one encounters and the big picture, respectively. With an emphasis on making the individual experience as pleasant as possible without losing sight of the forest in the process, JetBlue creates an atmosphere that balances hospitality and efficiency.

One of the most oft-overlooked aspects of customer engagement is that it goes two ways. Responding to customers is objectively important, but it’s an exercise in futility if you aren’t also listening to what they’re saying in the first place. Too often, a customer service team’s first response is to address comments or concerns with damage control in mind; instead, have a dialogue with your customers.

If the interaction doesn’t feel like a conversation, you’re doing it wrong.

JetBlue also has a profoundly healthy response to crises. Where others merely apologize, condescend, and/or brutally drag people off of the airplane when faced with an overbooking or a late departure, JetBlue bends over backward to ensure that their response is both heartfelt and actually useful to those affected.

This is something with which I actually have experience – at one point, JetBlue had to delay one of my flights for several hours, a circumstance to which their response was complimentary drinks and $75 vouchers for future flights. There’s no replacing convenience, but JetBlue did their damnedest, and that’s what I remember about them.

As you approach this year’s customer encounters, remember the two-way approach and avoid falling into the trap of talking rather than listening.

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