Archive for April, 2009

Zillow’s iPhone app

image Just in case you hadn’t seen the news on Inman (or elsewhere):

Imagine strolling through your neighborhood and, with a glance at your iPhone, finding out instantly how much just about any home you walk by last sold for.

What if your iPhone could also display your location on a map that pinpoints nearby homes for sale and any that have recently changed hands?

That’s the promise of the new location-based iPhone application unveiled today by property valuation and listings giant Zillow.

Read all about it on the Zillow site.

Wednesday humor

Courtesy of GraphJam:


On getting old

I just watched our IT guy, the indomitable Mike Shepherd, sling around some flat-panel monitors for a couple of temps we had in the office.

I remember shelling out the extra bucks for a hi-res amber monitor instead of the green screens most people had. And I remember the other editors at PC Magazine being jealous because I got the 19-inch CRT when they had 17-inchers. And I remember getting my first LCD screen as a gift from my wife, and how suddenly I had a lot more space but I was iffy about the money she spent. (Well, not too iffy.)

And here was Mike, casually carrying around these things that not too long ago were a Big Deal.

Time files. Jovan Hackley says he’s gonna get me one of the old MLS books so I can see what you folks used to deal with. I’m clearing space.

On a related note, my favorite computer photo-hoax of all time (you gotta click to enlarge and read the caption):


Green acres? Farm land in Virginia disappearing at fastest rate ever

Hot on the heels of this guest post about gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell’s plan to increase the conservation easement tax credit comes this story about the rapid decline in farm acreage in the Commonwealth.

What if the flu turns into something big?

Flu patients in 1918 What would you do if this whole flu thing becomes a Big Deal? Bigger than declarations of emergency and the EU warning travelers to stay away from the U.S.?

It’s not an idle question — this isn’t something you want to mess with. (Read up on 1918 if you need the gory details. The strain that’s hitting now, H1N1, is the same one that hit then, and, like then, it’s targeting healthy people. That’s why folks are worried.)

There are two issues for Realtors. First, personal health — meeting in lots of places with lots of people (and dealing with lots of paper) means significantly more exposure and risk. Would you cut down your business until the outbreak ran its course?

Second, as people who go from house to house, Realtors can easily be disease vectors. A bottle of Purell can only do so much.

Which makes me curious: Have you thought at all about what you would do if some nasty version of influenza hit Virginia?

McDonnell eyes increasing conservation easement tax credits

Blogmaster’s note: The following is a guest post from Jim Brown of J.F. Brown Real Estate Services in Lexington.

Bob McDonnell’s announcement that, if elected governor, he’ll raise the land preservation tax credit from 40% to 50%, with a view to conserve 400,000 acres of rural land in Virginia, is a bipartisan continuation of promoting open space. Governor Kaine has had a similar goal and has seen more than 300,000 acres protected under his tenure to date. For those readers unfamiliar with conservation easements, they are one of the few tools that a private landowner can use to protect open land from development and ensure that those lands remain a viable farm or forest indefinitely. Though far too complex to fully or technically explain in this format they are, in essence, a way for an owner/family to limit the development rights to a farm or other open lands. By voluntarily placing a conservation easement on the property the owner has made a charitable donation, held by a state agency or a qualified non-profit land trust, to ensure the preservation of open-space. It does not necessarily allow for public access, it just takes away some or all of the development potential. To name but a few benefits, this helps Virginians in the form of protection and continuation of scenic view sheds (tourism and quality of life), farm lands for food production (independence), and water and air quality (health for the environment and citizens).

Conservation easements aren’t for every landowner. The gifting of a conservation easement is complex and requires legal and tax counsel in its implementation, so that it fully meets the intended goals and guidelines of Virginia and the Federal tax code. Basically, the value of an easement is the difference between the appraisal of the land before and after the placement of the easement.

Donating a conservation easement is a big decision and is most often contemplated out of a strong land ethic of stewardship, though the available tax benefits help make it more attractive during consideration. In addition to being a deductible charitable gift on the State and Federal levels, easement donations in Virginia can qualify for a program allowing the landowner to claim a transferable state income tax credit equal to 40% of the value of the easement. This allows the landowner, who might not have the income to be able to recoup all the tax benefits over a set number of years, to obtain income from the sale of some or all of the tax credit (the income from such a sale is taxable, by the way). Instead of selling the family lands to survive, this incentive might just enable a landowner to keep all the land in the family or, if later sold, still an intact property with limitations on just how much it can be divided. Virginia also states that these protected lands are taxed under land use guidelines.

Candidate McConnell has proposed a 50% land preservation tax credit, which was the original amount of the credit before the General Assembly lowered it to 40% in 2006. Just as it’s hard to say whether the 10% decrease has affected the pace of land protection in the past couple of years, it’s impossible to predict whether McConnell’s proposed increase would make a big difference going forward. Because of the interplay between the Federal and state income tax incentives, the folks for whom the 10% increase might make the biggest difference are farmers and other “land rich, cash poor” landowners who don’t have enough income to take full advantage of the Federal incentives. An extra 10% might convince a conservation-oriented farmer that he can afford to protect his land in perpetuity after all.

Again, conservation easements aren’t for everyone but they are a strong tool and incentive for landowners who want their lands to remain open. The good news is that conservation easements are strictly voluntary: they are desirable for some landowners and not for others.

How does a conservation easement affect property for resale from a Realtor and landowner perspective? A developer is not going to buy it, most likely. The landowner, by placing an easement on the property, has limited the number of buyers who will consider the property. The property appeals to buyers who want the beauty, protection, and benefits of open space. If anything is Green it’s open space. In the future, that might be a rare commodity if our population continues to expand at projected levels. Who knows what value will be in the future for a legacy property? But today, taking away development potential lowers appraised value, that’s a fact. A sale would command fewer dollars than a similar property with all development rights still in place. The economic sacrifice is real, but for the easement donor or buyer of that land, there is more than money at stake. There are fields to plant and sell the harvest; there is a desire to leave a place better than one found it; there is this and future generations to enjoy the view from the land or from afar; there are the saved expenditures from keeping up with the demand for services that comes with development. And as candidate McConnell has said, the preservation of open space can be very good for tourism.

Do Jobs & Broadband Play in Rural VA?

189146814_f8190115f81Seen the “Rural Riddle: Do Jobs Follow Broadband Access?” in the WP?

If you don’t live in a rural area, you probably aren’t paying much attention to broadband access in the small towns. For myself, in Blacksburg, it’s not really on my radar either – Blacksburg was (isn’t any more) one of the most wired (and wireless) small towns in the country and so wireless access isn’t something I think about much … it’s just there, and I seem to get a little ticked when I’m somewhere that I can’t get wireless. But for many Americans, particularly those in small towns sprinkled around VA, broadband access isn’t on their radar because they’ve never had it.

That’s why this article about broadband access in Lebanon and Rose Hill – small towns in VA – was so interesting to me. The undertaking was a first of it’s kind, and while broadband access is crucial to providing high-tech jobs and, in another sense improving at least one component of quality of life, the author goes off track in suggesting that broadband in and of itself cannot run an economy.

I spoke with a friend who used to be a planner in Pulaski County, here in Southwest VA, the other day about this project. He replied:

Rural areas are rural areas … period. For many people, especially those who likely got their high-tech training in an urban area or large university, the rural area may lack the amenities to provide the quality of life they desire or expect. I.E., movie theaters, places to eat and shop, local arts and festivals, libraries, museums and even basic things such as grocery stores … Obviously for some people that’s enough … but for an outsider coming in it might be a bit of culture shock.

Amenities are a part of a communities’ infrastructure. No longer are water and sewer lines, roads, etc., the only required components of that infrastructure. Parks and other leisure activities are becoming more and more a requirement of successful communities, but broadband alone cannot be a driving economic force. It can certainly be a component of economic development, and as well an asset, but that alone will not attract and retain a highly-educated workforce. I’d like to see some realistic non-biased statistic on how many people that this company has attracted, only to have those same individuals leave not only the company but the area because of a lack of other important amenities. That is one of the biggest reasons that places like Rose Hill and Lebanon have remained, for the most part, rural – the lack of supporting infrastructure.”

From a planning perspective, I can see that. From a utopian perspective, I struggle with it. Why can’t a broadband industry be the lifeblood of a small, rural town in VA? Can it be done? Or are my glasses just a little too rosy?

Photo by Mahalie

What brokers think

So we did this survey of managing brokers, see, to find out all sorts of things about how the economy is affecting them — whether they’ve closed an office, changed their ad spending, and so on.

You know you’re interested.

What’d we learn?

43 percent of them reduced the number of licensed Realtors working for them. (But almost 23 percent increased the number of Realtors in their offices.)

Stressful? You bet — 23% "Seriously considered leaving real estate as a profession" and 21% "Seriously considered selling or merging" their firm. Oh, and 79% earned less money than in the previous 12 months. Ouch.

And yet, despite all this the outlook was positive.

Almost two-thirds of brokers who have been in business more than 12 years — the most experienced folks — think the economy has already turned the corner or will turn it before the end of the year.

How about this: Click here to download a three-page PDF of the survey results.

VAR’s first quarter home sales report is out today. Existing home sales were down 4.7% from the same period in 2008. The median price of a Virginia home was down 14.1% from the same period in 2008, but the median price was up 7.8% from Q4 2008. This could mean that the median price has bottomed out, if only on a statewide basis. A media conference call (download a recording) was held this morning and it’s already generating some press. Here’s what we’re seeing so far:

View previous home sales reports at and don’t forget about our Market Facts postcards that make home sales statistics digestible for consumers. Our 2008 year-end card is downloadable at

One-pager for homebuyers on the insanely low interest rates

Low Rates FlyerWant to give prospective homebuyers a visual cue to take the plunge? Give them this one-page flyer illustrating just how low the 30-year fixed rate mortgage interest rates have gotten.

Like the $8,000 tax credit flyer, we’ve made this one with some space to put your name and/or attach your business card. That way you can include it in meeting packets for prospective homebuyers.

Download the PDF HERE. (NOTE: It’s big — may take a minute or so to download.)