Real Estate Obsessed? 5 Signs You May Need Help

1. The Online House Hunting Tic. These are the folks who are always online, looking at listings, searching for houses — whether they are actually looking for homes or not! (Frankly, this is just an online extension of the behavior symptomized by an obsession with TV shows like “House Hunters” and “House Hunters International”

And there are several variants on this. Some people just want to know what’s on the market in their neighborhoods and their towns. Others take a more escapist approach, searching for homes in the areas they fantasize about living in, whether or not they actually have any sort of plan on moving. Life would be perfect if …

2. The Open House Tic. This is a hybrid online and offline version of the fixation exhibited by those who get online every Friday and Saturday to prepare their plan of attack for Sunday open houses. This behavior is completely normal and, even, advisable, in actual house hunters — people who are actually in the market to buy a home, or even home sellers who are (wisely) seeking to scope out the competition.

But it takes on a compulsive element when people who have just bought a home, or have no intention of buying a home anytime soon keep open-house hunting as a weekly habit.

To be fair, this goes on the list of relatively harmless vices, except to the extent that it signals or churns up that feeling of constant discontent, that sense that the home you have is never quite enough.

3. Interest Rate OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Chances are good that you know someone who suffers from these symptoms: obsessively checking online mortgage and news sites to see whether mortgage interest rates have gone up or down, often either (a) dropping an email to their mortgage broker afterward to see whether they’ve dropped low enough to warrant a refinance, or (b) freaking entirely out that they locked their interest rate or refinanced too soon to catch the very lowest rates.

Market conditions these last few years have only caused this epidemic to spread, as every time we think rates have gotten about as low as they ever have or ever will, it seems like a new “historic low” benchmark is set the very next week.

4. Amateur Appraiser Syndrome. The advent of home-value estimates on various real estate sites has caused some people to fixate on what the sites say is the value of their home. That’s not that strange, considering that our homes are our biggest assets and that they have taken such a hit in value of late.

However, it becomes a little strange when you leverage these sites to voyeuristic purposes, tackling your Christmas card address list or your friends’ and neighbors’ addresses to figure out what the algorithm says their homes are worth, and why you do or don’t agree with that.

5. Incessant Redecorating Syndrome. Typically, people suffering from Incessant Redecorating Syndrome tend to prowl celebrity home listings and luxury home sites, as well as home decor and furnishing sites, well, incessantly, even if they live in a fully furnished rental or just peeled the stickers off their new furniture at home.

And they often do these searches on their laptops, while watching home remodeling shows on television or flipping through home decor magazines.

It’s a compulsion.

These behaviors, which are actually smart and a great use of technology if you’re readying to make an actual real estate move, can become obsessive and even a distraction from other things you should be doing if you persist at it, allowing it to take up a large amount of your time, even when you have no intention or even the vaguest plan of making a move.

Written by:  Tara-Nichille Nelson via Inman News, January 23, 2012



Home Thermostats, Wallflowers No More


A COUPLE of months ago, a Silicon Valley start-up invited me to review its new home thermostat. I wasn’t expecting much.

Can you blame me? Thermostats are annoying. Many models require that you study a cryptic manual to set your heating and cooling schedule; on some models, even replacing the batteries can test your patience.

If you do go through all the trouble of setting up an ideal schedule, then when the weather or something else in your life changes (say, your cold-fearing relatives from Florida move in for a few weeks), the thermostat won’t adjust to your new circumstances. Then you have to program it all over again — or, more likely, forget about programming it and manually change the temperature a few times a day.

Over the last few weeks, though, I’ve become unreasonably excited over these devices. That’s because I’ve tested several new models that all offer much-needed improvements over the run-of-the-mill thermostats that most of us have on our walls.

Depending on the model, these new devices can accomplish several amazing feats. They connect to the Internet, which means they can be adjusted from afar, using the Web or your phone. The Internet connection also allows them to get information about your local weather and tailor their work accordingly.

Lastly, these thermostats all have more advanced, sometimes easier-to-use interfaces, to make programming less of a chore. Indeed, the device made by that Silicon Valley start-up, called the Nest Learning Thermostat, even promises to automatically create a schedule suited to your tastes.

Let’s start with the Filtrete 3M-50 Wi-Fi Remote Programmable Thermostat, made by 3M. The Filtrete sells for about $100. A basic thermostat is $20 to $60, but $100 is much lower than the price of the other high-end thermostats I tried — although this low price comes with a few disadvantages.

The 3M-50 does have the Web capability of the new crop of thermostats, but to connect it to your Wi-Fi network requires a special power cable that runs between your heating or cooling equipment and your thermostat. Many older homes, including mine, don’t have this wire; I had to repurpose another wire to get it working, but you may need a professional to install the device.

I also found the 3M-50 operating manual to be convoluted and the touch screen not very precise; sometimes when I was trying to press one button, I wound up engaging another.

The 3M-50 comes programmed with a schedule designed to save money on energy. I found this preset schedule fairly comfortable; I just needed a few tweaks to achieve an ideal temperature. The manufacturer promises that if I stick closely to the preset program, I could save up to one-third on my energy bills.

More costly than the 3M-50 is the Honeywell Prestige HD thermostat, which can be combined with several add-on components. The Prestige isn’t sold to the public; you must buy it from and have it installed by a professional contractor. It will cost $200 to $300, not including labor. And the added components — like sensors to read temperatures in different rooms or a module to control the device over the Internet — sell for more. Over all, the entire system can cost upward of $500.

My system was set up by Innovative Mechanical, a heating and air-conditioning company in the San Francisco area. Its technicians also installed an outdoor temperature sensor and an Internet module, and a Honeywell representative helped me program the temperature setting and showed me how to change it.

I liked the Prestige quite a bit. The touch screen gives you a general’s view of your home’s climate. The bright blue display and the readings of the temperature and humidity (inside and outside your house) make it look like a screen from the Weather Channel.

But my favorite feature was a small hand-held unit called the Portable Comfort Control.

When you set a standard thermostat to, say, 70 degrees, it will adjust the temperature until its own sensor reads 70 degrees. But in many homes, there’s a vast difference between the temperature at the thermostat and the temperature in far-flung bedrooms. The portable control solves this problem by having its own temperature sensor; by tapping its screen, you can set the thermostat to use the controller’s sensor as its main reading. If you set the thermostat to 70 and you bring the controller to your bedroom, the Prestige will see to it that your bedroom is heated to exactly 70.

This was a blessing for me. My home office, where I spend eight hours a day, usually gets much warmer than the rest of my house. Locating the portable control there during the day kept the heat off longer, saving energy.

My favorite of the new thermostats is the Nest. When I saw it, I swooned. A brushed-steel orb that resembles HAL from the film “2001,” the Nest looks like no other thermostat. Also unlike most of them, it promises to learn your temperature preferences, set itself up automatically, and, as your tastes change, strive to keep up.

The Nest costs $249 from the company’s Web site or from Best Buy, though you have to wait: When the Nest went on sale a few weeks ago, it sold out immediately. The firm has declined to say when the Nest will become available again, but you can fill out contact information on the site to get an alert when it does.

You can install it yourself, or pay $120 to a Best Buy installer.

I popped it in myself, and found it easy. The instructions were clear and the device ships with all necessary parts, including a built-in level to help you install it straight. The firm says that the Nest is compatible with most heating and cooling systems; to see if it works with yours, there is a handy guide on the Web site.

I installed the Nest in 30 minutes, with another 5 to set it up and learn how to use it.

This is the Nest’s best feature. Because it was designed by Tony Fadell, who headed the team that created the iPod, the Nest has a wonderfully intuitive user interface that even technophobes will quickly grasp.

You control the device by turning a wheel on its circumference, and you engage its main button by pushing on the face. Don’t worry if this sounds complicated; once you touch it, it will be obvious how to use it.

The Nest requires no programming. It has a host of sensors and sophisticated algorithms for learning your temperature preferences. For the first few days, you set the temperature yourself; as with the other new thermostats, you can control it from afar through the Web or an iPhone or iPad app (an Android app is coming soon).

A few days after my installation, the Nest reported that, from my initial manual settings and other sensors, it had learned the family’s habits and preferences. It would warm up early in the morning, cool down when my wife and son left for the day, heat up again in the evening, and cool down once more, at bedtime. This analysis was right on the money.

The Nest further encouraged efficiency through subtle persuasion: if you set your temperature to a slightly more environmental (and economical) setting, the Nest displays a leaf icon on its front panel.

The Nest also knows when you are traveling; if its motion sensor detects no movement, it enters “away” mode. Indeed, when we left for a week’s vacation, the Nest noticed our absence and lowered the heat appropriately. (What if your thermostat is in an out-of-the-way place that you don’t pass by often? It will figure that out, too — if it finds that you’re overriding its away mode, it begins to discount its own motion sensor.)

But when we had houseguests and I raised the temperature to make the guest room more comfortable, the device did not adjust to those changes. This forced me to manually tweak its schedule.

Because the Nest is connected to the Internet, though, the company says that it can periodically issue software updates to improve the thermostat’s ability to learn your preferences. This is an amazing possibility. Not only did the Nest start out working pretty well, it promises to keep improving.

My 2 Cents on Twenty Twelve

My 2 Cents on Twenty Twelve by Raj Qsar

Good morning 2012!  It is 4:46am on January 1st and you can hear a pin drop in my office.  It is amazing how the mind can race with absolute silence.  One of the most common questions I get each & every day is, “Hey Raj, how’s the market?”  Or “Where do you think the market is going?”  It is at that exact time I pull out my crystal ball, chant a few magical words, dance in circles and rub my crystal ball in a counter clockwise fashion.

Sometimes I do wish I had all the answers!  But as you will find out, the real estate market in Orange County is as predictable as who our next President will be.  So with all this in mind I have come up with The Top 5 Real Estate Predictions for 2012.  Now this is just my 2 cents, totally hyper focused on Orange County with no warranties expressed or implied.  Furthermore, these predictions will self destruct at 1 minute past midnight in 2013.  So here we go;


  1. If you do not buy now you will probably never buy!  You can tweet that out!  Why so harsh you ask?  Well, money is cheaper than it has ever been!  If you are out with my team you will probably hear us say, “the birds are singing the flowers are blooming and the sea has parted!” We posted back on 12/22/2011 to our blog that there were only 10 other days in the history of rates where interest rates were lower than on Friday December 16th, 2011.  Said another way, in the past 29,200 days there has only been 10 days in history where is has been cheaper to borrow money to buy a home! (Thanks Scott)
  2. Real Estate in Orange County is more about timing than location!  I am sure many of you are asking the question, why?  Well, if you are fortunate enough to have had a job for the past 2 years, have money in the bank, good credit scores and want to buy a home you will see just how competitive it is out there!   Inventory is at a low point, buyers are at a high point, rates are historically low and people want to own a home!  So if you are looking for a home in Orange County (location is already a win-win) it is all about your timing now!  And now is the time!
  3. Fierce competition will continue to drive buyers crazy!  As you race out your door with your agent and look at every home in Orange County you stumble upon “The One!”  You LOVE it!  You bring your whole family to see it!  You are driving by the home at all times of the day to make sure it is still there!  You even call it “My Precious”!  You write an offer!  Against your agents advice you write it up $100k under list price!  Your agent looks at you and says, “are you sure?  It is already priced aggressively and 30% under what it sold for 3 years ago and the home next door just sold for $50k more than this homes current listed price.  He further goes on to say, we have looked at over 75 homes in the past 30 days from Corona Del Mar to Fullerton and this is the only one you have LOVED!”  But you are convinced it is a buyers market, have 20% down, money in the bank, impeccable credit, a good job and the perfect house should sell for way way way less than market value!   So you write it up at $100k under list price!  Your agent calls you the next day and tells you the seller took another offer…over asking…from an all cash buyer…who wanted a 7 day escrow.  What just happened does exist, has happened, does happen and will continue to happen in 2012!
  4. Crunch Your Numbers First!  Let’s look at the scenario that just happened in #3.  A currently listed $1m dollar home in Vista Del Verde (very popular Golf Community in the hills of Yorba Linda).   This home was probably around the $1.5m price point a few years back.  Typical interest rates with 20% down are running right around 4% (+/- half a point depending on many factors).   That puts your loan amount at $800k.  That loan would cost you about $3,800/month for 30 years.  If prices stay the same and rates go back up to around 6% your monthly payment just went up by $1,000/month, $12,000/year and $360,000 over the course of your loan!  (We will not even talk about if prices go up and rates go up!)  The above buyer in scenarios #3 was trying to “save” some money on the price of an already discounted home.  But that savings only got him in trouble because the big picture is really on the rates (back end) not the purchase price (front end).
  5. Pocket listings are alive & well.  What is a pocket listing you ask?  It is a home that is “NOT On the Market” but is “For Sale!” What?  How does that work?  Why would a buyer hungry seller not put their home on the market?  Again, competition is fierce (see #3 above).  Local agents talk to each other.  We talk on text, email and FACEBOOK!  We talk at local broker caravans and we talk at Starbucks.  We know who has the buyers and who has the sellers!  And we put them together!  Now think about how nice this is for a seller…a few off market showings with a few hand selected buyers and the house sells!  This is happening more & more as our ability to communicate has changed over the past few years!  Instead of calling hundreds of agents in Orange County we can now post our “pocket listing” in a private facebook group to hundreds of agents before it hits the MLS.


With all of this being said there is still a lot we do not know about 2012 and the Real Estate Market in Orange County!  But in the tradition of keeping it simple this is what we do know.  Now is the time to buy.  If you find “The One” make a great offer!  Rates are phenomenal.  And if you are selling and have a perfect home in a perfect neighborhood give us a call as we probably can make life a lot easier on you in 2012!  Happy New Year Orange County!