Home Thermostats, Wallflowers No More

By FARHAD MANJOO

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!

 

First Thoughts – Trulia Mobile App for Agents

First Thoughts – Trulia Mobile App for Agents

Raj Qsar, Principal/Owner

Premier Orange County Real Estate

www.RajQsar.com

When Chris Smith asked if we would do a short review for Inman Next on the new Trulia App for Agents I was pretty pumped up!  It has been a few days now that I have been running with the new mobile app and here are my initial thoughts.  Easy to use navigation, extremely mobile friendly and there are a few cool features you may want to utilize as an agent when you are with clients or on a broker preview.  So here we go!

We love streamline in our office and we love it when mobile apps keep it simple.  And simple it is!  Six main buttons on the home screen once you log in with your Trulia information (see screen shot).  If you currently use Trulia to showcase your listings with Trulia Local Ads or Trulia Pro then log in with your Trulia account info and you will receive all your leads in one easy to find location (see screen shot).  All your contacts are seamlessly imported from your contacts on your phone (cool, but wish it would link with Facebook & Twitter contacts) and the GPS function seamlessly pulls up all homes for sale in your surrounding area (see screen shot).  Also, attached to ach individual listing is a “Neaby Amenities” GPS search with pulls up such hotspots as food, shopping, gas, schools & banks.

One of the new features on this app is the ability to “check in” to the listings that you visit (see screen shot), similar to foursquare or facebook places.  You can also see other agents who have “checked in” nearby to the same listing or nearby listings (so hurry up and write that offer)!  Trulia awards you with 10 points for checking into a listing and you can gauge your points on their leaderboard, which ranks the agents who have checked into similar listings.  My team is a big fan of checking into listings and we have actually coded our website and each listing to have a facebook place.  You can check it out our listing “The Crown Jewel of Vista Del Verde” or our listing at 4058 Hoosier Lawn Way in Yorba Linda and then click on the facebook place icon.  Checking In allows other agents, buyers and even the sellers to check into their own home on facebook and “spread the word.”  When you check-in on Trulia it stays on Trulia…bummer!  We would love a facebook integration of this check in so it could easily post to your wall or better yet your business page (but we are working on this now – see screen shot).

Overall, the new Trulia App for Agents is easy to use, mobile friendly and seems to be in its infancy but may be a step or two ahead of other big name real estate apps.  Dreaming for a GPS locator of recently closed sales, a “Hot Sheet” of recent “Just-Listed” homes and social media integration.

Raj Qsar

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Stop & think about this!

Stop & think about this! Friday December 16th, 2011 marked the 11th best day in the history of mortgage rates since the beginning of mortgage rates! Said another way, only 10 days of the last 29,200 days of mortgage interest rates have been better! Thinking about buying or doing a refi? This truly is history in the making!!  Give our team a call today and do not miss this opportunity!  www.RajQsar.com

Benefiting the California Highway patrol’s – “Chips for Kids” Toy Drive Sun Dec 4th

Sun Dec 4th from 10am – 4pm. Benefiting the California Highway patrol’s – “Chips for Kids” Toy Drive

Meet John Force, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen & Genevieve Chappell “The Queen of Cars”
In Concert – The Chris Anderson Group, Lil’ Mo & The Dynaflo’s & Scot Bruce

For more information: http://www.johnforce.com/HolidayCarShow2011/index.cfm

Christmas on Main Street – Yorba Linda

HOLIDAY ON MAIN STREET – Yorba Linda

The “Holiday on Main Street Celebration”  is coordinated by the Downtown Merchants with the help of the local Community Organizations. It is a fun evening event for the whole family.  There will be entertainment, singing groups, SNOW for the tiny tots,  pictures with Santa, food booths and strolling choral groups and a car show.

“Holiday on Main Street Celebration” is on Thursday, December 8, 2011 from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

Yorba Linda homebuying soars 14%

By Jonathan Lasner – OC Register Real Estate

2011-11-27 13:14:31

 

Yorba Linda real estate for sale looks up recently.

For the 22 business days ending November 8 — latest DataQuick stats — 89 residences sold in Yorba Linda vs. 78 deals closed in the matching period a year ago — a 14.1% increase over the past 12 months.

At the community level, for this period …

  • In ZIP 92886 — median selling price of $572,500 that was down 4.6% vs. a year ago. Homes sold were 56 — that was down 11.1% vs. a year ago.
  • ZIP 92887 — median selling price of $489,500 that was down 23.5% vs. a year ago. Homes sold were 33 — that was up 120.0% vs. a year ago.

Compare those trends with countywide data for the same period: Median selling price of $409,000 that was down 7.0% vs. a year ago. Homes sold in Orange County totaled 2,504 — down 1.7% vs. a year ago.


 

Loan limit increase finalized

Our team at Raj Qsar, Premier Orange County Real Estate, reported last week that bipartisan Congressional efforts passed HR 2112, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012 to restore higher FHA loan limits which expired on September 30, 2011.

This agreement (that came with riders) increased the maximum dollar amount of mortgage loans that can be insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) back to $729,750 after dropping the cap to $625,500 automatically after a temporary increase was issued for all loans insured by the FHA. The restored higher limit will remain in place through 2013 but does not include Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac backed loans.

Representatives Gary Miller and Brad Sherman (R-CA) successfully got a measure passed that created a conforming loan limit cap of $625,000 in areas with median home prices over $417,000 before it was initially increased to $729,750 which expired and was passed by a 298-121 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and a 70-30 vote in the Senate.

Obama signs HR 2112 into law

HR 2112 has passed and President Obama signed into law HR 2112 late on Friday. The bill provides $128 billion in discretionary appropriations to provide funding for three 2012 appropriations bills (Agriculture, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development and Commerce-Justice Science).

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012 provides $1.3 billion to HUD for administration, up $16 million from 2011 but down $18 million from the President’s request.

Take the Stress Out of Homebuying

  1. Find a real estate agent who you connect with. Home buying is not only a big financial commitment, but also an emotional one. It’s critical that the REALTOR® you chose is both highly skilled and a good fit with your personality.
  2. Remember, there’s no “right” time to buy, just as there’s no perfect time to sell. If you find a home now, don’t try to second-guess interest rates or the housing market by waiting longer — you risk losing out on the home of your dreams. The housing market usually doesn’t change fast enough to make that much difference in price, and a good home won’t stay on the market long.
  3. Don’t ask for too many opinions. It’s natural to want reassurance for such a big decision, but too many ideas from too many people will make it much harder to make a decision. Focus on the wants and needs of your immediate family — the people who will be living in the home.
  4. Accept that no house is ever perfect. If it’s in the right location, the yard may be a bit smaller than you had hoped. The kitchen may be perfect, but the roof needs repair. Make a list of your top priorities and focus in on things that are most important to you. Let the minor ones go.
  5. Don’t try to be a killer negotiator. Negotiation is definitely a part of the real estate process, but trying to “win” by getting an extra-low price or by refusing to budge on your offer may cost you the home you love. Negotiation is give and take.
  6. Remember your home doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Don’t get so caught up in the physical aspects of the house itself — room size, kitchen, etc. — that you forget about important issues as noise level, location to amenities, and other aspects that also have a big impact on your quality of life.
  7. Plan ahead. Don’t wait until you’ve found a home and made an offer to get approved for a mortgage, investigate home insurance, and consider a schedule for moving. Presenting an offer contingent on a lot of unresolved issues will make your bid much less attractive to sellers.
  8. Factor in maintenance and repair costs in your post-home buying budget. Even if you buy a new home, there will be costs. Don’t leave yourself short and let your home deteriorate.
  9. Accept that a little buyer’s remorse is inevitable and will probably pass. Buying a home, especially for the first time, is a big financial commitment. But it also yields big benefits. Don’t lose sight of why you wanted to buy a home and what made you fall in love with the property you purchased.
  10. Choose a home first because you love it; then think about appreciation. While U.S. homes have appreciated an average of 5.4 percent annually over from 1998 to 2002, a home’s most important role is to serve as a comfortable, safe place to live.

Call our team today to help you take the stress out of buying or selling your home!  Visit us at www.RajQsar.com.

Congress Restores FHA Loan Limits to NAR-Backed Levels

The U.S. House and Senate yesterday restored FHA loan limits to the level they were at before they were allowed to expire at the end of September. As a result, the limits will rise to 125 percent of the area median home price from 115 Percent, up to a maximum $729,750, from $625,500. NAR estimates that several hundred counties where FHA loan limits fell at the end of September will now rise back up to the previous level.

“The reinstated loan limits will help provide much needed liquidity and stability to communities nationwide as tight credit restrictions continue to prevent some qualified buyers from becoming home owners and the housing market recovery remains fragile,” said NAR President Moe Veissi in a statement released last night.

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation shortly. The restored loan limits are in a broad-based bill that includes funding for a wide variety of federal operations and programs.

The maximum conforming loan limits for secondary mortgage market companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also expired at the end of September, but lawmakers did not include a restoration of those limits in the bill. As a result, conforming loan limits will remain at 115 percent of the area median home price, up to $625,500.

Once President Obama signs the bill, the limits will go into effect. FHA will release a mortgagee letter to its approved lenders shortly. The mortgagee letter will contain a list that’s been updated to reflect the new limits. NAR analysts say it will take the agency a short period to update its database and release the mortgagee letter, maybe a couple of weeks.

The funding bill also extends the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) until December 16 to allow lawmakers time to consider long-term authorization of that program, which is an NAR priority.

If you have questions about loan limits, lending guidelines or anything real estate please visit www.RajQsar.com or call us directly.