By Christopher M. Leporini, REALTOR® Magazine
We can’t stay healthy if the house we live in is sick. An unhealthy house can be caused by poor ventilation, toxic building materials, or the chemical by-products of household appliances and cleaning products. In turn, these hidden dangers can trigger allergic reactions, asthma, or serious long-term health risks for owners. The Healthy House, 4th Edition by John Bower, (Healthy House Institute, 2001, $23.95) should be prescribed reading for anyone who’s concerned about indoor pollution in the home. The book will also serve as a valuable reference for real estate professionals to build their own knowledge of common home pollution problems.
Knowing as much as possible about how to diagnose and treat potential problem areas of the home is an invaluable skill for practitioners. After all, nothing can make a deal go sour more quickly than the last- minute discovery of some hidden hazard. If the walls are infested with mold or radon is seeping into the basement, you want to know about it and hopefully fix the problem before a home inspector uncovers the defect. For this reason, it’s essential that real estate professionals be as up to date as possible about the causes and warning signs of indoor pollution.
The best place to start is Chapter 25, “An In-depth Evaluation of Six Common Pollutants.” It provides an overview of lead, asbestos, radon, mold, combustion by-products, and volatile organic compounds. In each case, the discussion describes the problem, suggests how to locate and identify each pollutant, lists possible health effects, and provides practical advice on what to do remedy the problem.
Practitioners may also want to recommend The Healthy House to customers interested in learning more about how to select an unpolluted home. Chapter 3, “Finding a Healthy Home,” and Chapter 4, “Site Selection,” offer tips on choosing a home design and a location that will minimize the likelihood of pollution. Of particular value is a section helping buyers balance health and affordability issues by prioritizing the cost/benefits of such features as ceramic tile versus fiberglass baths or wood versus slab subflooring. The calculations are far from easy, but for the environmentally sensitive they’re probably worth the trouble. There are also several chapters devoted to issues such as heating, foundations, and plumbing that would have value to clients who are building from scratch.
Another section that might be a real eye-opener for both real estate professionals and homeowners is Chapter 9, “Tight Construction.” When builders first began experimenting with tight housing in the 1970s, some new houses were plagued with problems stemming from poor indoor air quality and excess moisture. The tight construction kept the houses insulated, but also caused an unhealthy environment for residents. This chapter explains why the continuing stigma associated with tight housing is unfair for more recently constructed houses, stressing that unhealthy materials and inadequate ventilation are more significant factors in creating sick houses than energy-efficient construction.
In an additional feature, exclusive to this edition, author John Bower has enlisted 50 expert professionals to write sidebars on their areas of expertise; contributors include builders, architects, physicians, and home inspectors. Topics range from toxic mold through alternative building materials to a simple ventilation retrofit. Though some of the sidebars examine commercial buildings, the majority slants towards residential properties, which should make it useful for many practitioners. The book also now includes addresses and website listings for over 600 commercial companies, so that readers can track down additional information on healthy materials and suppliers.
A sick house with poor indoor air quality can have serious consequences for homeowners’ health as well as on the property’s marketability. The Healthy House is an essential reference real estate professionals’ bookshelves in these days when issues such as toxic mold make headlines. Maybe not today, but soon, some buyer is bound to ask you, “How healthy is this house?”
By Christopher M. Leporini, REALTOR® Magazine
The Internet’s development is at a crossroads. The initial hype surrounding the dot.com revolution has burned itself out, as seemingly overnight the dot.com boom turned to dust. The Internet is obviously still going to play an important role in the future of real estate sales, but now we can examine it from a more sober perspective. Evolve! by Rosabeth Moss Kanter ($27.50, Harvard Business School Press, 2001) explores the lessons that all businesses can learn from the mass extinction of dot.com companies. This book could prove valuable to real estate practitioners who want to enhance their own online and offline customer relationships by studying how other businesses have succeeded or failed at adapting to the Internet Age.
The book weds a sense of history with an eye to the future. The author studied over 24 companies from three continents to learn what strategies succeeded tells their stories in a vivid, colorful way. Among the lessons she shares is the common fallacy among e-enthusiasts that anonymous Internet communication would replace face-to-face business interaction. Although the real estate field was somewhat insulated from this trend because of its dependence on high-touch service, the growth of Internet-savvy consumers has reshaped the business without negating the need for face-to-face assistance from a real estate practitioner. Similarly, new media has not supplanted traditional practices, but rather has enhanced them in many industries.
Part One: “Searching, Searching, The Challenge of Change” should prove especially interesting to real estate professionals due to its focus on building online communities. In the physical world, real estate is intrinsically linked to community building; with the correct business strategies, this relationship can extend to the Internet as well, says Kanter. The book uses eBay as an example of a company based on the idea of online community. Visitors don’t just log onto the site when they want to buy something; rather they make eBay a regular part of their online browsing. Features such as bulletin boards, monthly newsletters, and chat rooms make it a destination site. eBay users contact each other directly to exchange goods, and buyers and sellers rate each other for reliability and service. Real estate practitioners can also use their websites to foster a sense of community and keep visitors coming back again and again. They can concentrate on adding features to their sites such as local news updates and community calendars and encourage users to share ideas for home improvement projects or relate local success stories.
The Internet can also help you to communicate one-on-one with customers. Your site can serve as an area where your customers can let you know what you’re doing wrong or doing right. Evolve cites PlanetFeedback.com, which permits users to e-mail questions, compliments, or complaints to companies and share tips and ratings for products and services, as an example of a company harnessing customer communication to improve service. Kantor explains ways that businesses such as real estate sales can use this fast, flexible medium for gathering information that will help them do their jobs better.
Real estate practitioners can also learn from the negative experiences of Barnes & Noble, a business giant that experienced early trouble trying to compete online against upstart Amazon.com. A major part of the problem was Barnes & Nobles’ failure to give customers what they wanted. Although less than 5 percent of users were interested in reading reviews by Barnes and Noble editors or in author chats, the company invested 50 percent of its time on these areas. For your site’s core content, ask your customers what want and how you can give it to them instead of just assuming that you know best. For instance, if you serve out-of-town buyers, you might think they would be interested in information on local schools. But if a large component of your customers are retirees, they’re probably much more interested in cultural or recreational options since they no longer have children at home.
The recent history of Internet businesses offers many lessons to businesses that want to survive into Phase II of the Digital Age. Real estate professionals who ignore the medium’s potential for reaching customers do so at their own peril. But Kantor’s book provides a reminder that technology by itself will not ensure positive business improvement. By exploring which methods have led to their successes, Kantor offers practitioners the chance to avoid being another dead branch on e-business’s evolutionary tree.