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Real Estate Brokerage

Agents ahead of the curve should include this factor in their listings (it may someday be standard)

Potential home buyers can benefit from air quality information that’s readily available through a wide variety of websites and apps, and make informed decisions about their health and wellness.



air quality

Home buyers can locate valuable information from real estate sites about the neighborhoods in which they would like to live, such as distance to and ratings of local schools and public transit. What about the environmental factors that can impact home owners’ health? Locating and aggregating information about the drinking water quality is relatively easy, by directly contacting or checking the website for the public water system that serves the area.

What about air quality in the surrounding environment?

Being aware of timely and potential air quality levels can help consumers recognize when and where ambient air pollution levels can pose a health concern. “Air pollution has been linked to decreases in lung function and increases in heart attacks” according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

The main risk factor in lung cancer

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in the recently updated “Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments” that 14% of lung cancers are attributable to ambient air pollution. The report also indicates that ambient air pollution is the most important environmental risk factor – high blood pressure, diet, physical activity and tobacco smoke are the highest non-environmental risk factors — and is “responsible for approximately 24% of the global burden of ischaemic heart disease (IHD).” IHD is the leading cause of mortality and disability worldwide according to WHO.


The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a tool used by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies to quantify air quality by categories.

The AQI focuses on five of the air pollutants for which the EPA has set national air quality standards, and include ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particle pollution.

Information on other air toxics and related estimates of exposure by population group are available through EPA’s National-scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA). Toxic air pollutants represented through this data source include several substances that may be carcinogenic to humans including benzene, which is found in gasoline, and tetrachloroethylene which is emitted from some dry cleaning facilities.

Where to get information on air quality

Much of the available air quality data can be a bit daunting to home buyers and realtors alike, but EPA along with other agencies and the private sector have created additional tools to inform the public in an easily understandable manner. Several of these helpful tools include:

AirNow — This website reports the AQI forecast for the United States and Canada, and was developed by the EPA along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service, as well as tribal, state, and local agencies. In addition to showing current forecast, the site features an app for Android and iPhone. AirNow has recently expanded to support other countries and regions by creating an international community of users through AirNow International, in order to share and learn air quality data and information from colleagues across the globe.

AirCompare — This website offered by AirNow is intended to help people with planning a move or vacation by comparing air quality between cities, counties, and states. AirCompare allows users to generate reports based on specific health concerns including asthma, heart disease, or for more sensitive populations including the elderly and children. The data source for AirCompare is the Air Quality System (AQS) Data Mart, which contains ambient air pollution data collected from thousands of monitoring stations maintained by air pollution control agencies across the United States. The AQS Data Mart is “designed to make air quality data more accessible to the scientific and technical community” by allowing users to extract data from the database.

Global Health Observatory (GHO) data -– The World Health Organization provides an extensive list of health indicators, including data related to particulate matter via this webpage on the ambient air pollution exposure at city and country levels.

Clean Air Make More — This mobile app for iPhone, iPad, and Android reports real-time air quality and pollution statistics for the City of Phoenix.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Air Quality Index Report -– This webpage provides current and historical peak concentration for the critical pollutant as well as corresponding AQI category and ratings for each of the measured pollutants for major metropolitan and regions in Texas. The data is collected from air monitoring stations whose data are reported to EPA.

Participate in the UCLA AirForU study

With so many websites and apps related to air quality, I decided to test a couple sites and apps to see what best suited my personal needs. I downloaded and signed up with the UCLA AirForU app, which I found very easy to use on my iPhone. This app which was developed as part of a research study with the UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability creates a personalized history of air quality exposure. By reporting asthma attacks and other daily information, users can contribute to the research via their iPhone or Android.

air for u

AirForU research participants are incentivized to respond to daily questions through entries in a monthly raffle drawing. The feature I found most informative was the “Toxics”, which reports manufacturing facilities that emit toxic chemicals based on location and reported through the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program.

AQI app

The TRI tracks the management of over 650 toxic chemicals that pose a threat to human health and environment across various industries, and includes on-site releases through air, surface water, land as well as recycling and treatment methods.

When I directly searched the TRI database for my zip code, no facilities were listed. However, the AirForU app alerted me to the proximity of six facilities within 3 miles of my home, in the next zip code area. I was then able to fine-tune my search within the TRI, and view historical data.

Pigeon Air Patrol to the rescue

In addition to using existing data from AirNow to create map and list interface of air pollution data, innovative technology firm Plume Labs is disrupting pollution monitoring by incorporating racing pigeons and humans to crowdsource data.

pigeon patrol

On March 14, 2016, Plume Labs released a flock of pollution monitoring pigeons to map pollution for three days in London, England. The Pigeon Air Patrol was equipped with tiny light-weight backpacks containing sensors that monitored and reported back ozone, volatile compounds and nitrogen dioxide, as well as their location.

Crowdsourcing data through wearables

Plume Labs has reached its crowdfunding campaign goal for the human version pollution monitoring program called “London Air Patrol.”

The higher backer levels will receive a sensor and participate in the first beta test of Plume’s personal air pollution tracker, which will essentially crowd-source a live map of air pollution in London.

With all these air quality resources, it would be relatively easy for any tech-savvy real estate website developer to integrate existing data and add this valuable information. An added feature for potential home buyers would be an allergen occurrence and allergy calendar for people susceptible to particular allergies, or link to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s ranking of cities according to spring allergies. Providing access to this information in an easily understood manner creates consumers who can make informed decisions about where they live.

Note from the Editor:

The folks at the National Association of Realtors’ Center for Realtor Technology (NAR CRT) are studying this very issue and working with manufacturers, universities, and bright minds. They’re considering how aggregating environmental factors can be inserted into the MLS, standardized, and used. Think about it: Many of us have a Nest thermostat – imagine if data was collected and added to the MLS about a home, or analyzed through the MLS as a neighborhood and given a score. More info means more well educated consumers.


Debbie Cerda is a seasoned writer and consultant, running Debra Cerda Consulting as well as handling business development at data-driven app development company, Blue Treble Solutions. She's a proud and active member of Austin Film Critics Association and the American Homebrewers Association, and Outreach Director for science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin. She has been very involved in the tech scene in Austin for over 15 years, so whether you meet her at Sundance Film Festival, SXSWi, Austin Women in Technology, or BASHH, she'll have a connection or idea to help you achieve business success. At the very least, she can recommend a film to watch and a great local craft beer to drink.

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Real Estate Brokerage

How you can stick with your habits and actually achieve your goals

(BROKERAGE) Sticking to new habits can be tough, but there are ways to train your brain. We’ve got the deets on the best way to beat fatigue.



Person typing on computer representing habits in our workday.

Just about every Sunday night I say to myself, “This week, I am going to eat better.” And, just about every Monday afternoon, I find myself cooking the same frozen pizza I always eat. Why is it so difficult for us to stick to our guns and really follow through on developing better habits? Well, if you’re anything like me, it’s mostly because doing what you’re used to is so much easier.

Trick of the trade

Each year I find myself being notorious for skipping out on my New Year’s resolutions, my fitness goals, and my attempts at reading one book per month. Right when I was beginning to feel completely fed up with myself, I found a trick that has helped me form habits and maintain behavior to accomplish my goals.

And, this trick is quite simple: accountability.

This can be found in the form of a friend or in the form of a planner or calendar.

Creating accountable ideas

I have thousands of ideas per day, many of which are fleeting. However, some ideas are about self-improvement.

For example, I often have the idea of beginning a workout routine. While I know that I should be doing daily exercise to increase my overall health, it can be a difficult task to stick with.

By developing this idea into something that I am accountable for, it makes me much more likely to stick with this habit. Let me explain…

Accountable for others

The two aforementioned methods of accountability, a friend or planner, can be used for the given workout example.

If you find a friend who can daylight as your workout buddy, you have someone that will motivate you and that you can motivate.

Now that you’ve made this friend your workout buddy, you have someone to hold you accountable if you miss a day. Gone would be the days where you could skip a workout and have no one to answer to.

Accountable for yourself

But, if you are a solo exerciser like myself, it can be difficult to find a method of accountability. What I have found works for me is taking my thought of, “I should workout,” and putting my goals down on paper.

By writing down a workout plan and the attached goals, it fosters a sense of tangibility.

I then create a calendar where I write down what exercise I want to do on what day, and, after I complete my goal, I am able to check it out.

For the accountability aspect, I like to put this calendar somewhere in everyday eyesight, so that I can’t ignore it. And, sure, I could easily throw it away and pretend it never existed in the first place, but I promise the act of writing out your goals will motivate completion.

In the end…

While sticking to habits can be a tricky business and different methods work for different people, developing an environment in which you hold accountability helps to inspire motivation.

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Real Estate Brokerage

Sales Exercise: Can you sell water as well as you can sell a house?

(BROKERAGE) Spice up your office life! Create a friendly office competition and see if the sales prowess is limited to just homes.



sales competition negotiating

Here’s a fun way to shake up the daily grind at your brokerage and give your team a chance to practice their skills: a one-day sales challenge.

Choose a random day of the week to cancel all other plans and have the competition. It will be even more fun if you don’t warn your team – just spring it on them. Before you do, make sure no one is working up to any pressing deadlines.

How to play

Divide your staff into teams and give them the challenge of selling a tangible product. One group in Chicago sold bottles of water. Have the teams decide how much inventory they would like, with the rule that they can’t buy more later. It’s up to the teams to decide how much to charge for each unit.

This will challenge the teams to estimate how much inventory they think they can move

Overconfident teams may end up with too much inventory, while others will sell out quickly and may wish they had sold at a higher price, or had bought more to start with.

If you’d like, you can let teams that sell out quickly negotiate to buy extra inventory from teams that overbought.

Send your teams out to the streets and see how much they can sell in one day. Celebrate with a happy hour at the end of the day where you compare remaining inventories and net profits, congratulate the winners, and discuss lessons learned.

The benefits

This is a great challenge for encouraging teamwork. Teams have to communicate, make decisions, and make sales cooperatively. The competition and the time limit put the pressure on, but since it’s just a game, it’s also low stakes and there is no real risk.

Teams have to rely on their own skills, rather than the pre-existing systems of your business.

A sales challenge is obviously a great way to practice sales. Many Realtors are great at marketing or negotiation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can nail it when it comes to sales. The challenge can also help identify star salespeople, even in departments where you might not expect.

What’s to lose?

Bonus points for blogging about the challenge. Show your customers some of the personalities behind your company and celebrate the unsung sales heroes of your team.

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Real Estate Brokerage

3 important things to consider before you pivot your business model

(BROKERAGE) Many businesses have had to pivot during the global pandemic but maybe yours isn’t one of them. Consider these questions first!



Team discussing the pivot of a business model.

When Ross asked Rachel and Chandler (Friends TV show 1994-2004) to move a couch, many of us will never forget his voice inflection and how many times he yelled “PIVOT”! It’s actually a really funny scene and if you’ve never seen it, it might be worth 3.5 minutes of your time. Ross had the best of intentions by starting with a sketch and enlisting help from friends but even that ends up in hilarity as getting his couch into his apartment doesn’t work and he ends up being offered $4 when he tries to return it (stay for the end of the clip).

The best plans and intentions for your business are often met with what the market and customers demand, where technology grows, and where your ROI is the best. You often know that your original plans will grow and evolve, even in the uncertainty and now… a global pandemic.

Many entrepreneurs and small businesses have had to lean on technology to add virtual services (or expand their offerings) to meet our current norm where people are just not out and about like they used to be. Some have seen this work well and others have had to completely re-design their offerings to maintain safe and socially distanced considerations.

The thing is, businesses that have pivoted are being highlighted. But it is also worth looking at what has worked for some businesses that didn’t have to completely shift their strategies in 2020. It is likely that they had to adapt but maybe not a ridiculous Ross-type “pivot” that resulted in a complete failure of the mission.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) shared an incredible article, “You Don’t Have to Pivot in a Crisis” with great insights about what to consider if you think you need to make changes or if you want reassurance you are still on the right track.

HBR shares a powerful thought:

“The lesson here is that when a crisis hits, it pays to resist knee-jerk reactions on how to handle external shocks and ask what is going to work best for your company, based on the particular realities of its business. Ignoring the playbook of rapid cuts plus strategic pivoting can be the smart move… However, staying the course doesn’t mean inaction.”

Here are three thought-starters you may want to consider for your business:

  1. What product line or service is best serving your customers right now? Is that one of your strongest and/or could it use some attention?
  2. What product line or service is not quite meeting your needs or customer demands at the moment that had seemingly always worked (not forever! Just right now)? For example, in-person gatherings and promotions like events, conferences, trade shows.
  3. Is there something you’ve always wanted to explore? And could now be a great time since people want things more virtually? Examples: Selling branded swag, workbooks, content subscriptions, educational webinars.

These are three simple things but could help point you in the right direction of where to focus your time and energy – at least for now. You may not need a complete re-design or to take a new road, it might be some tweaks and adjustments to hang on to what you’ve worked so hard to build.

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