25 Hot Trends in Real Estate for 2005

December 1, 2004

How will real estate markets be faring in five years? How will the business change? Where will your best opportunities lie? To answer these kinds of questions, you need to watch for signs—shifts in the market, technological breakthroughs, changes in consumer attitudes. That’s what we went looking for when we created this year’s list of 25 hot trends in real estate. The bottom line on many of these trends: Real estate will continue to be fertile ground for the growing ranks of practitioners. But you’ll need to ensure your position as the first point of contact with consumers by meeting their service demands and outperforming competitive forces from outside the industry.

Licensee boom

The hottest aspect of real estate might just be the appeal of the business itself. Membership in the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® was at an all-time high in September—1,086,801, up 300,000 from three years ago. Many newcomers are mid-career professionals, but retirees and people seeking time flexibility also are adding to the ranks, says NAR senior economist Lawrence Yun.

Compared with licensees of less than a decade ago, today’s rookies bring more business skills and a perception of real estate as a profession rather than a job. “Orientation classes are younger; members are coming from other professions with an understanding that they have to spend some money to do business,” says Terry Penza, RCE, CEO of the North Shore-Barrington (Ill.) Association of REALTORS®. Driving the gains: a great housing market, job losses in other sectors, and the profession’s somewhat easy entry requirements.

Recent college and high school grads are opting for real estate, too. Expect this trend to increase, says Scott Taylor, real estate commissioner for the state of Oregon and former president of the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials. The Gen X and Gen Y generations are more independent than their boomer parents; they’re looking for a profession that fits their style, Taylor says, and “they’re starting to see that in real estate.”

Home sales keep rocking

Talk of a real estate bubble might continue to percolate through the national media, but a recent report by five housing industry economists shows these theories to be mostly hot air. “We have never had a national price bubble,” says David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist and senior vice president of research. Citing falling unemployment, low mortgage rates, and an accelerating economy, the five authors of America’s Home Forecast: The Next Decade for Housing and Mortgage Finance conclude: “The likelihood of a decline in home prices at the national level is quite remote.” They attribute any local bubble characteristics to limited supply.

The outlook for home sales remains strong through the next decade with the homeownership rate expected to rise to over 70 percent with 10 million new homeowners by 2013. Minority households are projected to account for about half of this gain. Sales of new and existing homes and condos are forecast to average 8.27 million to 8.85 million units a year.

Demographic trends—immigration, boomers still entering peak homebuying years, and echo boomers entering the marketplace—remain favorable. At the same time, shortages of developable land, concerns about sprawl, and environmental issues will constrain supply, ensuring appreciation. Prices are projected to increase on average 5 percent annually. Most important, price appreciation should track closely with income growth, a pace described as sustainable over the long run.

Condos: hot, hot, hot

The big news in real estate this year is condominiums, particularly in the upper tier. “Condos used to be the stepchild of the real estate market; now they’ve come into their own,” says Bill Sawyer, broker-owner with William Sawyer & Co. in Washington, D.C. Condos now account for 12.8 percent of the housing market, a 33.3 percent rise over the last decade, and they’ve appreciated at an unprecedented double-digit pace for the last four years.

By the end of the third quarter, the median existing condo/co-op price was $197,000, an 18 percent increase over the same period in 2003 and higher than the $188,500 third-quarter median price for a single-family home. Credit the concentration of condos in expensive coastal areas and a spate of luxury condo construction and conversion in cities big and small.

Who’s buying? Both ends of the market. For first-time buyers, affordability is a motivation, while dual income professionals and empty nesters opt for condos as a lifestyle choice.

Coach mania

Behind every successful athlete stands a good coach. Soon the same might be said in real estate sales: Coaches are fast becoming an integral part of a successful salesperson’s team.

Coaching and training are often confused. “Training is about the how and the why. Coaching is about removing the blocks, the things that keep you from picking up the phone and calling your clients,” says Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com in Austin, Texas. Rather than simply giving advice, coaches focus on performance, “finding strengths and helping salespeople optimize them,” says Carla Cross, a real estate training guru in Issaquah, Wash., who includes coaching in her toolbox.

The proliferation of licensees and the growing salesperson-to-manager ratios are the impetus for this trend. Companies such as Bellevue, Wash.-based John L. Scott, REALTORS®, have taught managers to be coaches, while others use outside consultants, particularly for new associates and managers. In some cases, seasoned pros wanting to reach the next level are opting for guidance on a range of career issues and even life-work issues, such as coping with aging parents.

Anytime, anywhere Internet access

It’s hard to imagine running a successful real estate business without a mobile phone. The same is becoming true of mobile access to the Web. “A growing number of consumers are using e-mail and expecting an immediate response,” says Saul Klein, president of San Diego-based InternetCrusade. “E-mail is becoming such an important part of business; as more people figure that out, they’re going to want to be connected all the time.”

The share of practitioners who use wireless Internet has grown to 23 percent this year from about 15 percent in 2003, according to the 2004 REALTOR® Technology Survey. Nearly half of respondents say they own a personal digital assistant (PDA).

Many salespeople are finding they can’t do without smart phones—wireless devices that can surf the Web, send e-mail and photos, and make phone calls—says Ann Arbor, Mich., technology consultant Stephen Canale. “They’re the Swiss Army knife of real estate,” he says.

Software available for smart phones and PDAs lets users map addresses and, in some markets, access the latest property listings from the MLS.

Keeping data safe

The Internet has made it easier for consumers to find property listings, but it has also introduced new risks to brokers and MLSs that provide that valuable data on their Web sites.

Without safeguards, they leave their site vulnerable to “scrapers,” or people who take others’ listing information to market as their own, says Mark Lesswing, director of NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Technology.

Brokers and MLS leaders are recognizing these risks and taking action. “Every MLS executive I’ve talked to in the last six months has said this is a top priority for 2005,” Lesswing says. CRT released two technologies this year—free to members—that help combat data piracy: NoScrape and reCaptcha. The center also provides free tests to determine how vulnerable members’ sites are.

Security risks may also lie with third-party vendors, such as Web site managers, who can misuse data or share it with unauthorized parties—sometimes unintentionally. Associations like Trend Multiple Listing Service in King of Prussia, Pa., have responded by requiring brokers and their vendors to sign licensing agreements. “You just can’t hand over something that is resalable without a licensing agreement,” says David Staebler, manager of industry relations for Trend. “There’s no way to anticipate what people will do with your data.”

Teaming up

What’s new about sales teams? Their prevalence. “They’re everywhere,” says R. Scott Brunner, CAE, executive vice president of the Mississippi Association of REALTORS®, “even in the smaller rural markets.”

Three years ago, in our first hot-trends list, we predicted teams would grow in numbers but go down in size. We were half right; small teams still predominate, but 30-member sales teams are going strong. Some teams are stand-alone companies; others are affiliated with a broker “like a company within a company,” says Tom Quattlebaum, CAE, RCE, CEO of the Anne Arundel (Md.) County Association of REALTORS®.

Specialization is the key to teams’ popularity. With one person handling open houses and one working with buyers, for example, a team can perform well and handle a high volume of transactions. “If you allow salespeople to do what they do best, they’ll sell a lot of homes,” says Lillian Montalto, CCIM, CRS®, of Lillian Montalto Signature Properties in Andover, Mass. Her team includes nine administrative staff, two showing specialists, and four salespeople.

A team structure also improves quality of life, says Mark Spain, a team leader with RE/MAX Greater Atlanta. “When I was doing it all myself, I was on the road every night and working the phones all day,” he says.

But the trend has its detractors. There’s sometimes friction with solo practitioners when it’s time to issue top producer awards, and brokers face supervisory challenges. “Some of these teams are becoming autonomous, but the broker is still liable for what they do,” Quattlebaum says. And not all consumers love the approach: Brunner says his association has fielded calls from people who felt slighted when the lead salesperson passed them off to another team member.

Second-home craze

From coast to coast, and nearly everywhere in between, the second-home market has been ablaze. Sales of second homes in 2003 are estimated at about 445,000, up 24 percent from 2001 and an all-time high, according to NAR.

Demographics are driving the market, says Ben Blair, the 2005 NAR Resort Committee chair and a broker with Coldwell Banker Griffith & Blair in Topeka, Kan., and Grand Lake, Colo.

Baby boomers reached their peak earning years, becoming prime buyers of second homes, just as investors started looking more seriously at real estate. “Because of the low interest rates, people are taking money out of the stock market and investing it in second homes,” says Susan Feil, CCIM,CIPS, of French and French Sotheby’s International Realty in Santa Fe, N.M.

Thanks to brisk sales and tight inventories, appreciation has been impressive. The median second-home price in 2003 was between $190,000 and $200,000, up nearly 57 percent from five years earlier, NAR estimates show.

The trend also has been fueled by tax law changes that have enabled homeowners to downsize their primary residence without paying capital gains taxes and to use the equity for a second home.

As long as interest rate hikes are manageable and boomers have the money to buy vacation homes, investment properties, or retirement retreats, they’ll continue to drive this market.

The size of homes to come

New homes are still getting bigger, albeit at a slower pace than in the past couple of decades. People are rethinking building bigger homes that cost more to construct, furnish, and maintain; contain rooms rarely used; and consume limited land.

The big jump in the size of new homes came between 1980 and 1990, when new homes increased an average of 34 square feet per year, according to figures from Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C. In the following decade, the increase dropped to an average 15.5 square feet per year. There was a huge jump in 2001—57 square feet. But Ahluwalia says square footage declined slightly in 2002, and the increase for 2003 was just 10 square feet. He expects a similar increase for 2004. Still, the fact remains that new homes averaged 1,500 square feet in 1970 and are expected to average 2,340 square feet in 2004, up 56 percent.

Buyers who buck the bigger home trend often do so for features such as additional fireplaces, bigger garages, and nicer hardwood floors. Some credit architect Sarah Susanka, who has used her “Not So Big” book series to advocate trading wasteful square footage for higher quality materials.

Market stretch

Just how far can a sales associate’s geographic sphere of influence reach? Further and further seems to be the answer. Some associates are even covering multiple cities or states. The trend is fueled by consumer demand. Consumers who are able to search a region on the Internet expect practitioners to have the same geographic reach.

Inventory shortages have played a role, too. “There was a change in attitude when the market started cooking,” says Tom Quattlebaum, CAE, RCE, CEO of the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Association of REALTORS®. “All of a sudden we were low on inventory so salespeople started looking everywhere.”

For salespeople looking to stretch their territory, due diligence is in order. “With expansion comes the obligation to be knowledgeable,” says Henry DiGiacomo, CEO of the Cape Cod and Islands (Mass.) Association of REALTORS®, noting there’s much to learn in new areas, especially in regions with high environmental impact and potential hazards. Without knowledge of an area you’re trying to serve, he says, “you’re opening yourself to risk.”

Sticker shock

With E&O insurance premiums what they are for real estate professionals, searching for an affordable rate can feel like a futile chore.

Dropped by his E&O carrier earlier this year, Newport Beach, Calif.-based mortgage broker Fred Solomon Jr. saw his rates triple to $10,000 annually to cover his 18 associates when he signed on with a new company, even though he had never formally filed any claims.

Stashing cash is one alternative to avoiding E&O rate hikes, although small firms are unlikely to embrace the self-insurance concept because it’s simply too risky. The $50,000 or more in legal fees alone for one claim can put a broker out of business.

Real estate giants such as Weichert, REALTORS®, can self-insure their salespeople against costly liability claims. The Morris Plains, N.J.-based company has an advantage the smaller guys don’t have. The company has 300 offices and more than 13,000 associates.

Broker-owner Steve Linn, with Prudential–Linn Real Estate in South Easton, Mass., has come up with a creative solution to covering his $10,475 annual policy: He charges his 35 associates a nominal fee per transaction. It works out to about a $30 deduction from every commission they earn, he says.

World wide classroom

Changing technology, new regulations and trends, demand for designations, and state continuing education requirements are sending practitioners back to classrooms. And more and more of those practitioners are choosing to take courses online.

NAR launched an online training center in 1998, and registration has increased every quarter since it started, according to NAR staff. REALTOR® University (REALTOR.org/RealtorUniversity) now offers 40 courses, including classes for the Accredited Buyer Representative and Certified International Property Specialist designations.

In-classroom instruction remains popular, especially for new recruits, says Harley Rouda Jr., CEO and managing partner for Real Living Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. But differences in learning styles, busier lives, and competitive pricing have made online learning increasingly popular. Rouda’s company offers more than 100 courses both ways.

Internet-based courses can be self-paced or styled as virtual classrooms. The first approach offers students flexibility to study when they have time but requires self-motivation. The second, more popular, requires students to sign online at a specific time but allows for greater interaction, says Melody Bohrer, director of education and development for ERA Franchise Systems Inc.’s online training. Her company, which offers 190 courses, has seen a 300 percent increase in virtual attendance in the last year.

Currently 46 states accept distance learning for CE credit, though many limit credits earned that way.

Aging in place

Every minute from now until 2014, seven baby boomers in this country will turn 50 years old, according to Georgia State University’s Center for Mature Consumer Studies. And as they age, boomers are opting to live independently. Nearly four in 10 property owners over 65 have lived in the same home for more than 30 years, says Louis Tenenbaum, an independent living strategist in Potomac, Md. “Seniors want the ability to stay in the home of their choice, even as their health changes,” he says, and many aren’t interested in age-restricted options.

Builders and remodelers are taking note and carving out a niche in the senior housing market, the fastest-growing segment of the residential remodeling industry, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Senior housing incorporates features such as wide doorways; step-free entries and showers; and handrails and grab bars. NAHB also offers remodelers a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist designation program.

Value packaging

A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development proposal to revamp the settlement service law died this year because of concerns from industry and consumer groups. But the sentiment behind the proposal isn’t going away: Homebuyers want one-stop shopping for the settlement of their home loan. “Consumers demand it since they’re part of busy two-income families,” says P.J. Smith, senior vice president of marketing for ERA Franchise Systems Inc. in Parsippany, N.J.

A 2003 NAR Survey of Real Estate Services confirms that trend nationally. A majority of recent homebuyers said their salesperson recommended a home-warranty provider, mortgage lender, and home inspector.

Besides time savings, today’s buyers seek value—the highest quality for the lowest price, says Bob Blount, CRB, GRI, CEO of RE/MAX Allegiance in Alexandria, Va.

Larger companies can provide that value by offering services in-house or through partnerships. Smaller companies get there by building relationships with experienced providers.

Minority homeownership

The Bush administration’s goal to increase the number of minority homeowners has been overshadowed by world events and the national election. But within the housing industry, the drive continues. According to second-quarter 2004 Census Bureau figures, the homeownership rate is 49.7 percent among African American households and 47.4 percent among Hispanic households. Those numbers are a far cry from the more than 69 percent of all households that own a home.

One success story is the so-called gift-assistance industry, pioneered by Nehemiah Corp. of America, a Sacramento, Calif., nonprofit organization (www.getdownpayment.com). Gift-assistance programs—which are open to all qualified buyers, not just minorities—work like this: A contribution is made to the nonprofit (typically by the sellers) and the nonprofit, in turn, provides downpayment assistance to the buyers. These organizations also educate homeowners about how to stay afloat financially and, in some cases, provide a safety net. AmeriDream Inc. in Gaithersburg, Md. (www.ameridream.org), recently launched a program to help new homeowners pay bills if they lose their jobs or become disabled.

There are myriad other initiatives to boost minority homeownership as well. In May, NAR and its partners will celebrate several of those initiatives at the 2005 HOPE Awards gala (www.hopeawards.org).

The great outdoors

Homeowners are spending more time outdoors—or at least furnishing their yards to make it look that way. They’re expending funds on multilevel terraces, swimming pools with waterfalls, cabanas, outdoor showers, and beefed-up grills. The latter is often part of a cooking station that resembles an indoor kitchen and costs as much. A standard design may run $60,000, says Krysti Lynn, a consultant with Home Depot in Chicago. Add a pizza oven, refrigerator, and stone counters, and the price tag may climb beyond $100,000, says Mick de Giulio, owner of de Giulio Kitchen Design in Chicago. Other outdoor trends are built-in seating, more lighting for shorter winter days, and seasonal comforts: fireplaces or fire pits for winter and portable air conditioners for summer, says Jack Shelburne, vice president of residential furnishings at Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. in Chicago.

If homeowners ask for advice, encourage them to restrict outdoor features so they have lawn left, too, says Wendy Cohen, vice president of sales and marketing at Orren Pickell Designers & Builders in Lincolnshire, Ill.

All the home’s a stage

When Barb Schwarz began staging Northern California homes in the 1970s, she was on the cutting edge of a movement that’s going mainstream in many metro markets. Schwarz, a real estate practitioner turned speaker and head of Stagedhomes.com in Concord, Calif., coined the term staging to refer to editing and adding furnishings in a lived-in house or furnishing a vacant house.

The technique helps prospective buyers imagine themselves living in the house. Many salespeople are honing their design skills, taking courses, and reading books. Schwarz offers two- and five-day training sessions (www.stagedhomes.com); Lori Matzke, founder of Center Stage Home Inc. in Minneapolis, offers workshops (www.centerstagehome.com) and the self-published Home Staging: Creating Buyer-Friendly Rooms to Sell Your House ($29.95). Interior designers are getting in on the action, too, stocking furnishings and offering specialized expertise.

Melissa Kowalski, a salesperson with F.C. Pilgrim Real Estate in Oak Park, Ill., has used Darien, Ill.–based Domestique. Don’t worry about bruising clients’ feelings, says Domestique’s Sheila Smith. “It’s not about taste but about decreasing listing time and increasing selling price.”

Mod squad

Modular homes are getting downright hip. Computer-aided design, combined with better manufacturing and transportation processes, is enabling architects and builders to produce better designs for partially prebuilt dwellings. “We’ve gone beyond the plain vanilla ranch to sophisticated products with varying roof lines,” says Fred Hallahan of Hallahan Associates, a Baltimore builder.

The homes are 80 percent to 90 percent factory-built and trucked in pieces to a building site, saving construction time and money. Bethesda, Md., custom builder Richard Kessler, who started a second company to focus on modular additions, estimates buyers save 10 percent to 15 percent per house. Virginia Tech architecture professor Michael O’Brien built a 1,400-square-foot modular home and estimates he saved $5,000 on construction financing and moved in 37 days after placing his order. “It took a week to produce and 30 days to complete on site, and you can’t tell the difference,” he says. Thanks to better distinction between modular and mobile homes, stereotypes about inferior quality are disappearing, says Thayer Long, director of state and local affairs for the Manufactured Housing Institute in Arlington, Va.

Modular housing still makes up a minuscule portion of the homebuilding market, about 2 percent of housing starts. But that market share is growing, says Long, particularly in the East, where prices are high for stick-built homes and winter weather can mean construction delays.

Smarter office buildings

Thanks to new technologies that link functions, engineers can tap into a computer network to monitor, repair, and install programs that make office buildings more cost-efficient and their occupants more comfortable and productive. So now, when the lights go out during an important meeting or the AC clicks on during a snowstorm in December, building engineers can jump on the problem right away and restore everything to normal.

More office buildings are going the smart route, according to Howard Berger, director of technology showcases for RealComm, a commercial automation conference provider in Carlsbad, Calif. Berger expects more building owners to adopt technologies that make buildings intelligent. “There is a much greater awareness, especially with gas and oil prices increasing,” says Berger. “People are looking for energy-efficient solutions.”

Lighting and heating control are two such options that appeal to tenants, says Berger. The payoff can be potentially significant when the environment is programmed specifically to come on when users occupy the rooms.

Workers may soon be able to program their own environment before they even reach the office doors by swiping a smart card when they enter a parking garage.

The computer-driven technology communicates with the networked devices—lighting, temperature, elevators, and security—much the same way a computer chats with a printer.

Commercial data sharing

Internet-based data services are giving commercial brokers a wider audience when it comes to selling, buying, or leasing properties. Commercial Information Exchanges (CIEs) are electronic compilations of property data on listings submitted by subscribing brokers and companies. Unlike their residential counterpart, the MLS, CIEs have no unilateral offer of compensation or cooperation; instead, brokers negotiate a commission based on the transaction. Subscribers pay a fee for accessing listings, varying from $20 per month to more than $100, depending on the level of service and sophistication of the exchange.

So far, growth has been steady. In 1999, there were eight CIEs owned or operated by local associations. Today, there are roughly 45, according to Michael Mini, managing director for commercial real estate for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. “CIEs increase the efficiency of selling, buying, and leasing commercial real estate by exposing available property to a wider audience,” says Mini.

On a national level, CoStar Group of Bethesda, Md., says its services—including online listings, property data, sales comparables, and tenant information—were a factor in more than 70 percent of U.S. leasing and sales transactions last year.

Check out these buyers!

Blame years of overheated markets, but practitioners are getting tired of dealing with disappointed buyers. That’s why many are “merchandising” buyers the way they would a listing. John Foltz, CRB®, president of Realty Executives of Phoenix, recommends his salespeople follow an eight-step strategy to help their buyers secure a property.

  1. Make sure buyers know the market and are ready to act quickly. In Phoenix, for instance, many homes attract bids over the listing price.
  2. Tell the buyers’ story so that they become more than names on paper. “How many times have you heard sellers say, ‘We’re glad we sold to such a nice young couple,’” Foltz says.
  3. Have buyers make a larger-than-typical earnest money deposit so that sellers know they’re serious.
  4. Eliminate financing contingencies through pre-approval rather than just pre-qualification.
  5. Limit other contingencies, such as the need to sell an existing home.
  6. Prepare buyers for a counteroffer, and make sure they’re available to negotiate.
  7. Limit inspection time.
  8. Agree upfront that soft terms, such as dining room fixtures, won’t be deal breakers.

Changing office demand

Is office space becoming obsolete? Hardly. It’s true, an estimated 450,000 U.S. office jobs have moved offshore in recent years, and that number will likely grow as high as 3.4 million by 2015, according to an estimate from Leanne Lachman, president of Lachman Associates and an executive-in-residence at Columbia University in New York. And those aren’t the only jobs that are vacating U.S. offices. Research by In-Stat/MDR shows that 44 million U.S. workers have traded in their cubicles for home offices; the number is projected to rise to 51 million by 2008.

But real estate experts say the statistics spell opportunity, not trouble. In fact, real estate economist Hugh Kelly predicts new demand for office space will exceed 400 million square feet by 2015.

William Ktsanes agrees. The researcher for Real Facts in Novato, Calif., says industry shifts are nothing new. First, there was farming and agriculture. Next came factory jobs and later corporate and information technology. Ktsanes is betting on service, creative, and design jobs driving the demand for space over the next decade.

Different mousetraps

Even before the Internet became a tool of commerce, nontraditional business models were gaining ground with some consumers. But widespread use of the Internet and fast-paced real estate markets have spawned a spate of new models—from brokerages that operate mainly on the Web to fee-for-service companies that charge separately for different components of a real estate transaction.

Some real estate practitioners are opting to work for so-called freedom shops, which hold a brokerage license but offer few resources to employees. “People who don’t feel they need all the warm fuzzies and training of a larger, traditional company are going this route,” says Ann Guiberson, president and CEO of the Pinellas REALTOR® Organization in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Meanwhile, the advent of lead-generation companies, which get referral fees for homebuyers and homesellers they find online, has forced real estate companies to retool their business models and step up efforts to find consumers early in the process. “This is a trend that brokers should be taking very, very seriously,” Guiberson says.

Primacy of the Internet

The Internet has become the it marketing tool. “For the first time, more buyers used the Internet over the newspaper as an information source,” says Heidi Holman, president of Prudential Texas Properties in Dallas. Holman’s referring to the 2003 NAR Profile of Homebuyers and Sellers, which showed that the Internet was second only to yard signs as the source where recent buyers learned about the home they purchased. When NAR surveyed its members in 2004, nearly 100 percent said the Internet is essential to their business.

For many, that means maintaining a good Web site. It should be professional looking, says Marty Kotis, a commercial real estate developer in Greensboro, N.C., and pop up easily through key word searches such as “Hilton Head, S.C., residential specialist” rather than “best residential specialist,” which is too broad. The site should focus on current listings with multiple photos, price, rooms, size, and key information about a community, says Russell Pruner, GRI, broker-owner of Shore & Country Properties Inc. in Riverside, Conn. It should be updated daily, he adds.

To attract attention in cyberspace, practitioners are using sophisticated tools, such as e-mail marketing campaigns and virtual tours. Holman’s company offers talking virtual tours for all its listings. The company also has created a virtual workplace for associates, allowing them to access their contact database, important documents, calendar, and MLS from anywhere. “The companies that don’t have a new vision of technology will be left behind,” says Holman.

Many practitioners are earning their technology wings through NAR’s e-PRO® Certification for Internet Professionalism (www.epronar.com). The certification was developed for NAR by InternetCrusade, a San Diego company that also offers domain registration and other services through NAR’s REALTORVIP® Alliance Program (http://NAR.InternetCrusade.com).

Seeing green

Environmentally friendly houses aren’t sprouting like weeds across the country, but experts have watched interest increase steadily over the last decade. Taryn Holowka of the U.S. Green Building Council estimates about a dozen municipalities now have a green rating system. The council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) program certifies green commercial buildings and residential high-rises, and the council is now working on guidelines for single-family homes and other residences. Experts say two factors are contributing to the mainstreaming of green:

  1. Energy cost hikes. Consumers today are aware of the importance of finding ways to save energy, says Bruce Goff of Domus Design Group in San Francisco. That means not just building in better insulation but also using recycled products, selecting finishes that won’t hurt the ozone, and even planting rooftop gardens—which can cut down on heating bills.
  2. Health concerns. People are hyperaware about how their environment affects their health. In recent years, chemicals used in building construction have been tied to an increase in respiratory ailments. Consequently, developers are looking to use safer materials.

Even the home furnishings industry is getting into the act. Almost every commercial furniture manufacturer offered a green design at the annual industry show in June. Five years ago only a few did, says Mark Falanga, vice president of Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. in Chicago.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

Kelly Quigley

Kelly Quigley is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.

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