Real (Estate) Tech: Low Vacancies, Sixties Decor, and Schmoozer of the Year

1. Apartment vacancies are the lowest they’ve been in a decade.

Reis Inc., a real estate research firm, has the latest news–and it’s so very good. The nationwide vacancy average currently stood at 4.9% for the first quarter, which is the lowest it’s been since 2001. Thanks to the low vacancy, rents across the country have jumped 0.5% this quarter, to an average of $1,070 per month. Reis expects rent growth to continue rising this year; check out the Reuters article for all the juicy details.

2. The Seattle 2.0 Startup Awards: there’s a Schmoozer of the Year? 

This very-Seattle awards show took place at the EMP yesterday. Winners included Investor of the Year (Chris Cooley of Founder’s Co-op), Schmoozer of the Year (Shauna Causey, VP of Marketing at Decide.com), Deal of the Year (Popcap Games), and–of course–Geek of the Year (Jim Demonakos of Emerald City Comicon). Check out Geekwire’s article for a full list of winners (and links to the companies we mentioned above). Maybe you’ll see Reachwerks on that stage someday!

3. Buildings with their very own libraries? New York does set the trends…

While gyms and rooftop gardens have long been standard offerings for many urban apartment buildings, a new trend has been quietly taking root as a way to stand out in the myriad of apartment towers in New York City. We know what you’re thinking: Libraries? Really? But put down your Kindle for a moment and check out the slideshow–these spaces are gorgeous and peaceful and a great way to foster a sense of community among tenants. Click here for the full article from the New York Times.

4. When it comes to interior decorating, it’s a Mad, Mad world.

Mad Men–perhaps you’ve heard of it? The Emmy-winning show from AMC is set in the 1960’s, and the show’s impeccable wardrobe sparked a recurring interest in pencil skirts and charcoal suits a couple of years ago. Now the sparkling set design has ignited a passion for split levels and vintage Danish Modern. As Mad Men’s fifth season continues, expect to see plenty of Barcelona Chairs and optical illusion pieces cropping up in the next few months. Want to decorate your home or a model apartment with a sixties theme? Check out the Seattle Times article for tips.

5. There are now more single-family rental units than units in apartment towers.

This tidbit comes from the Wall Street Journal’s Developments blog. According to data from CoreLogic, there are approximately 20.7 million 1-4 unit rentals out there; compare that with 17.1 million rentals in multifamily buildings (with five or more units). “The main hurdle facing Wall Street, however, is how to make single-family rentals behave like stocks, bonds and other tradable securities,” writes Robbie Whelan. Check out the full article here. 

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Real (Estate) Tech: The News for March

Welcome back to Real (Estate) Tech, where we report on real estate, technology, and the great space in between. Enjoy!

1. The New iPad went on sale this morning.

A faster processor, a Retina display screen (curious about what that means? Check it out under a microscope here), and an integrated 5-megapixel camera had people lining up outside Apple Stores in San Francisco and New York this morning. Meanwhile, recent news of a new Windows app for the iPad has us wondering just how long it will be until tablets are must-haves for every office.

2. The NAA knows what students want in their housing (and it’s not kegerators).

The National Apartment Association just finished up a huge study on student housing needs, and they’ve released the full results here. Among the results: 38% of students (and 35% of parents) find out about housing from their peers; private bedrooms are the most sought-after amenity; and affordable rental rates were the top determining factor when choosing where to live. In fact, price rated far above proximity to campus! If you love numbers, you may want to check out the raw data–but don’t say we didn’t warn you!

3. The “Renters by Choice” movement isn’t new–it’s just making a comeback.

Did you know that between 1900 and 1940, more than half of all Americans rented their homes? These days, that lifestyle is back in a big way. Cindy Harvey, an architect at a community planning firm in Denver, explains: “These are people who have disposable income, and they could qualify for a mortgage. But they want to be able to move around and they don’t want the chores that come along with homeownership.” Check out the Chicago Tribune article for the complete interview.

4. Zipcar may have a competitor, and it’s a…scooter-share service?

Sure, it took a little time to get used to the idea of Zipcar for those of us who grew up with Hertz and Budget–but about ten years after its inception, the company’s very name is synonymous with car-sharing. Now, a company hopes to do the same thing with scooter-sharing. Scoot Networks has just introduced a fleet of all-electric, pay-as-you-go scooters in San Francisco (where, we can tell you, cabs are nearly impossible to get). The fleet is small for now, but the company intends to expand quickly–and with iPhone docks in the scooter dashboards, this is bound to appeal to a certain set.

That’s all for this time. Have you gotten your hands on a new iPad or rented a Scoot Networks scooter? Do you rent to college students or professional renters-by-choice? Tell us all about it in the comments…and see you next time!

Real (Estate) Tech: Six Things You’ll Want to Know This Month

Welcome to Real (Estate) Tech, the monthly column posted from the intersection where Real Estate meets Technology. We scour the news so you don’t have to!

1. Google will begin selling Google Glasses later this year.

Ever since Google released the Google Goggles app, it’s been expected that they would develop a wearable platform for the software–and now it’s been confirmed that these glasses will debut sometime this year. Why is this a big deal? The glasses will overlay web content and advertisements on the wearer’s frame of vision, allowing for a whole new level of web-based marketing. Imagine the possibilities: virtual For Rent signs that display information about a rental property if a person simply glances toward the building, for instance, could be right around the corner. Click here for the full NYTimes article.

2. Fannie and Freddie are currently fueling the Multifamily Housing industry.

It’s no secret that multifamily rental properties are hot investments these days. Both Fannie and Freddie increased their multifamily lending by double-digits in 2011, topping off at 44.7 billion dollars.  “Looking ahead, we expect robust growth in the multi-family market,” David Brickman, senior VP at Freddie Mac, said. “The outlook is very positive due to solid fundamentals, demographics, low interest rates and strong capital flows into the sector.” Click here to read the full article from the NY Observer.

3. Granite Countertops: Have they gone from “aspirational” to standard?

“Trying to sell or rent a house without granite countertops,” one North Carolina real estate agent says, “is almost like trying to sell a house without a toilet.” Since the price of putting in granite countertops began to drop 12 years ago, installations skyrocketed. Why are renters and buyers insisting on granite? “Our product is purely emotional,” a countertop salesman asserts. Granite says something about the people who live in the unit–and increasingly, it’s a statement people are unwilling to go without. Click here for the full Seattle Times article.

4. Apartment sales are still lifting the housing market.

Guess what? Housing starts were 1.5% higher in January than in December, putting them at an annual rate of 699,000–even though there was a 1% dip in single-family homes. That’s because apartment starts increased 14%! Check out the full report from Investors Business Daily.

5. Geekwire just released nine ideas for free publicity (but we’re not sure how many of them we’d endorse)…

While writing brilliant complaint letters, arranging visual stunts (are there really contortionists for hire?), and “doing something ridiculous” seem like iffy strategies for courting publicity, some of the ideas–like running a contest, going green, and leaking a promotional rumor–are more promising. Check out the Geekwire article–have you tried any of these ideas in the past?

6. Amazon tweaks the Cloud (yes, that sentence made sense).

Everyone’s talking about the Cloud these days, and while it can provide affordable data storage solutions to many companies, there’s still a problem: it can be difficult to set up secure applications to run across both public and private platforms. But not if Amazon’s solution works! They’ve just released Simple Workflow Service. Read all about it at Wired.com. (Still not sure what the Cloud even is? Check out this introduction to the Cloud from HowStuffWorks.com)

Well, that’s all for this month! We’ll be back soon with more news and intrigue from the Real Estate and Technology worlds. In the meantime, have you come across a pertinent story? Let us know in the comments.

Apartment Hunting in the Age of the Smart Phone

I remember my first GPS unit; it was a great black box permanently suction-cupped to the dash of my car. I was always amazed when it managed to figure out where I was by way of those magic satellites somewhere way up in the sky. Fast-forward ten years later and the slim little smart phone in my pocket not only knows where I am, it has tons of helpful apps that suggest things based on my location. Sometimes GPS technology can seem more than just a little bit magical.

Location service apps like Yelp, which suggests a nearby restaurant or doctor or tells you where to find the nearest supermarket, have grown wildly popular in recently years. And now, location service apps have broken into the real estate rentals market with new apps like PadMapper. Ever ended up in a lovely neighborhood and wished you could find out exactly what apartments or homes were available for rent, without going home and searching from your computer? Now it’s as easy as taking out your iPhone or Android. I wanted to find out more about some of these apps, so I took them for a test-drive in Fremont, near the office.

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Padmapper (iPhone/Android, free)

Open up Padmapper and you can see your location represented by a purple pin. Surrounding you are rentals–sometimes hundreds of them–represented by red pins. Once you view a listing by touching the red pin, it turns gray so you can keep track. Many of the listings have photos and extensive descriptions.

The Padmapper app is fed by listings from Craigslist, SeattleRentals.com, and other sites, and also features an address search box in case you’d like to search more traditionally. A variety of filters are available as well–if you’re looking for a place that takes dogs and has four bathrooms, it will only show you red pins for homes and apartments matching those criteria. A list view and Favorites list are also available to help you with your search.

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 Zillow (iPhone/Android, free)
 
Zillow works much like Padmapper, but lists both rentals and homes for sale. It also has the added bonus of a hybrid view option, which allows you to see the aerial photos of a neighborhood with the street names superimposed (like Google Earth). The List view sorts available properties by how many days they’ve been listed with Zillow, and includes a thumbnail photograph to showcase each home. There is also a Share feature, allowing you to post to Facebook, Twitter, or to e-mail the listing. Bus routes and local merchants are also visible on Zillow’s hybrid map view.
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Trulia (iPhone/Android, free)
Trulia offers the features of Padmapper and Zillow, with the added option of registering for a free account. Once you log in, the My Trulia tab keeps track of the properties you’ve viewed and the searches you’ve made, making it fast and easy to revisit your favorites during your search. Trulia also shows open houses in your area, although this feature is restricted to homes for sale.
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All of these apps were easy and fun to use. The great thing about apps like Padmapper is the way they humanize the search for a place to live. When I first moved to Seattle, the sheer number and variety of neighborhoods was so daunting it rendered Craigslist virtually meaningless–I didn’t know about the beautiful old homes in Queen Anne or the gorgeous drawbridge in Fremont. It wasn’t until I toured the neighborhoods that it all started to come together–and then I was able to conduct my search there, while I was still in the heart of the neighborhoods I loved. If you have an apartment or home for lease, Padmapper allows potential tenants walking by to see photos of the inside and learn more information before they’ve even contacted you, without jotting down a phone number off of a soggy flier or knocking on your door–and all with a few quick taps on their phone.

Yahoo Delays International Rollout of Microsoft’s AdCenter

Yahoo announced in their earnings call on Tuesday that their partnership with Microsoft was resulted in fewer ad clicks and less revenue. Yahoo has been using Microsoft’s adCenter in the United States, but because of this bump will be delaying introducing this partnership internationally.

Microsoft is working to address deficiencies in its adCenter by changing the “systems architecture, science models and better features and functions in adCenter” (GeekWire).

This is issue could be because of the better organic search results that Bing provides, which result in a decreased need to click on ads.

How do you think this will effect the relationship between Microsoft and Yahoo? Chime in the comments below, on Facebook or through Twitter!