No Pandering, Promises or Pretense…
(Caution: I simply couldn’t make this a short post)
(Other Caution: I am not remotely an economist and my perceptions are very much that of a layman)
Wanted to know for myself
Dr. Yun has been the target of a great deal of battering from members over their blogs and other venues for awhile, now. At times I’ve agreed that there are issues with NAR’s campaigns and then there are times when I simply didn’t agree at all. Last week I was privileged enough to get an invitation from Scott Brunner (coolest state AE, ever) to join him, Ben Martin, Jim Duncan, Daniel Rothamel (all AG Writers); along with Scott Rogers and Danilo Bogdanovic.
It was a good restaurant pick, very close to my office and we got about two and half hours of Dr. Yun’s valuable time. In that time he answered both professionally and intelligently, a battery of questions that we lightheartedly called the “cross examination”.
From that series of questions, I know that the others at the table are going to talk about their perspectives. I want to talk about mine, and how, I think that Dr. Yun actually affects Realtors in their day to day practices.
Was Dr. Yun given a fair shake?
I’ve always felt that Dr. Yun was placed in a position where he was judged unduly because of the left over resentment of the guy in the hot seat before him. However, I’ve also had reservations about predictions that have been made from his office, regarding the “good time to buy” and how the market wasn’t really that bad.
Getting to sit and ask Dr. Yun a series of questions, it became clear that we only get snippets from the campaigns of a larger effort. It’s like being on twitter and trying to get a 1000 word blog post in 140 characters. In the time with him, Dr. Yun gave us a vision for his position and took full responsibility for the message from both himself and the National Association of Realtors. He was quick to point out that the member-leaders, to include Dick Gaylord did not influence his message and that the responsibility was with him.
I have to admit that I found a larger level of respect for the man, as he took responsibility for the message, knowing that there are several who question those stances.
Does the NAR Chief Economist affect me?
I’ve heard many people say that we’re all made to look bad when we see seven months of revision on market forecasts that were made, however Blue Chip Economic forecasts have been revised each month for the past 20 months. Dr. Yun explained that his forecasts are based on current information and with the fluctuating market, it’s simply the best data out there, at the time that creates the forecast. It’s also an interesting caveat to mention that had everyone listened to certain prominent economists (Mark Zandi, to name one) after 9-11; the investors and home buyers would have missed the real estate boom; as they were predicting failing housing markets for years to come.
Dr. Yun made the observation, that much of our mortgage rates are based on how confident the global capital providers are. The Fed altering the interest rates doesn’t have that large of an impact on mortgage rates.
My observation is that since perception of global capital providers is so important to keeping low interest rates, it’s in the agent’s best interest for NAR to let them know that it’s not as bad a market as the mainstream media wants us to believe.
There is a tremendous amount of information available to us everyday and I, for one, need an aggregator to let me know how this all affects the consumer or the agent practicing at a local level.
A lot of folks get upset when the NAR predictions aren’t accurate for their markets. I agree, but we need to remember that the information is reflective of the information provided across the US. There are many markets that are suffering and some that are still doing OK.
What tidbits are affecting us?
There are a few things that I learned during the lunch that you may be interested in:
Dr. Yun has a staff of 10 other economists. The final statements are his, after reviewing all the data and getting their input.
A healthy level of homes on the market, nationwide, is 5-6 months worth of inventory. Nationally, we are carrying a 10 month supply of inventory. I know that in Northern Virginia we’re much longer than that. Inventory is based solely on Active listings and Solds. They do not use Days on the Market, because of the manipulation factor of some systems. (I’ll write more about this soon)
Housing statistics are taken solely from MLS systems and not tax records. (author’s note: whereas I think this is probably the most accurate source, I still wonder what foreclosure and short sale stats would be if accurately reported by tax records and mortgage companies)
Dr. Yun has a RSS Feed for Realtors to get updates. Currently comments are closed.
There is still a significant number of people with the capability to purchase, but simply aren’t.
Historic foreclosure rates are 1%, currently they are 2%. Whereas this seems like a small percentage – it is a 100% increase. This will probably still continue to grow.
A recent survey of 2000 Realtors showed that 15% of their listings are in short sales.
All economic data that is used is verified with Government and Academic Economist. The data is always the same, the forecasting is where disagreement remains.
The federal loan limit increases that we just saw will be helpful in keeping the interest rates down for the higher end buyers. As we know, interest rates are based on the lender’s risks, the high the fed limit, the less perceived risk. Lowering the interest rates “may” stimulate buyers.
Membership at NAR
One of the questions that was asked, was in regards to membership. It was asked if the number of members would decrease and if so, but how much. Dr. Yun didn’t give specifics; but felt that another 100,000 would be likely. This would take the 1.4 million membership that we had two years ago to about 1.1 or 1.2 million.
He pointed out that after the dot com crashes seen In early 2000 that many out of work individuals went to work as Realtors. He feels with a job market reflecting the housing market, that it may be likely that those leaving the business will be replaced by those who have lost their jobs.
He also pointed out that many states re-license cycle is 2 or 3 years and that agents could keep paying their dues, holding out for a better market, while working other jobs. Therefore, it’s near impossible to actually know how many practicing Realtors there are.
Ideas? We got ‘em
While around the table we discussed some good ideas and possible future moves that might help all of us.
The group asked Dr. Yun to develop some type of tool for agents to use to break down information for more local use and how the NAR research can be used while working with clients.
There is some movement to require lenders to qualify potential buyers at both the introductory rate of an adjustable mortgage, but also at the highest adjusted rate. This will help keep buyers from qualifying now and then not being able to pay their mortgage when it adjusts up.
There is also some thought to giving tax credits for those who purchase in a certain time frame, so if you were to buy in that frame you wouldn’t pay the tax at that time. This might be a good way for the federal government to stimulate the buyers looking for a reason to buy “right now”.
What’s the future…
We asked Dr. Yun about the hiring process he recently went through moving from a staff economists to the Chief Economist. He said that his intent was to establish a well respected team that was “the” source of real estate marketing statistics in the U.S. He did note that influential individuals from other countries do meet with NAR to discuss financial issues and global market conditions
I feel that after meeting Dr. Yun that he may just meet his goal. Never… not once did he apologize for his forecasts and reports. He did this while still holding a demeanor that was humble and professional. At no point did any of us find him arrogant or moved by any question that we asked. He did not compromise, he seemed to hold the research data as sacred. He answered every question and did not seem to dodge our inquires.
When Dr. Yun was asked about the scrutiny that people from within and without of the Realtor Association were giving him, he remarked that the data was unchanging. Forecasting was done with the best possible data at the time. We also posed the question about blog activities. I was impressed that while surrounded with writers, he honestly said that he didn’t read the blogs. He was too busy and worked long hours and that didn’t permit him the leisure time to read blog posts.
It was a fantastic experience and I learned far more than I am capable of exploring here or that I think others might find as interesting. I would encourage everyone to go read the other bloggers who were at the lunch and get their views of the conversation.
I would point out, at this point, that blog writers and Realtors who read them are still a minority of the 1.3 million Realtors. Unfortunately far too many practitioners have no idea who the staff at NAR are, and only a few have the faintest recall that there is a National Association. We could all work at being a bit more involved and to support our Association. I know that NAR is moving forward to meet members in a meaningful way. I think that Dr. Yun taking time out his schedule to a meeting over an hour away from his office was a great sign that they are listening and taking notes. He was very willing to hear our feedback and ask us what we’d like to see from the Association.
I can only ask that others will show the same professionalism when writing about him in the future.
Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.
Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.
I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.
We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.
We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.
In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.
When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.
I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.
There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.
I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.
I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.
I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.
I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.
7 ways to carve out me time while working from home
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.
We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.
The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.
Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.
Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.
I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.
“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”
There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.
- Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
- Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
- Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
- Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
- Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
- Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
- Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.
I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.
Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.
By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.
This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.
These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.
The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.
UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:
Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.
Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.
Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.
The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.
Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)
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