Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Do you speak realtor?

Every industry has its own lingo, and that extends to the language employed by realtors.  The descriptions of homes for sale or rent are written in encoded terms specific to the real estate industry. As with any foreign language, the key to understanding those who speak it is to learn the vocabulary.

The majority of homes on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) are labelled "excellent.” Many others are called “very good,” a smaller number merely “good,” while a a few are distinguished as “mint” or “diamond.” When you look at the listings online, you may find that the accompanying photographs of some of the houses do not look as flattering as the descriptive terms. That's your first clue that there is a difference between what the word means in English and in realtor-speak.

Say you decide to check out of the houses described as "excellent." Once you arrive, you are likely to notice that the windows are the ones that were put in the house when built – about 60 years ago. The roof looks not much newer than that. The paint on the fa├žade is faded and peeling. The advertised hard-wood floor are scratched and dull. You’ll see indications of some redecorating in the 1970’s, as evidenced by wood paneling and uninhibited application of avocado green highlighted with golden orange. The real estate agent will likely enthusiastically point out the space for a table in the kitchen while remaining silent about the ugly wallpaper and the Formica countertops  that are peeling away from the corners.

No, you are not mistaken. The house is described as “excellent” because in real estate terms that is the correct rank.  Think of the terms as the equivalent of stars assigned for Amazon, Yelp, or movie ratings. What is in all the rest of the universe called "poor," and rates a single star is "good" in realtor-speak.  A house that has experienced a fire, requiring dousing by two fire engines for a couple of hours until it is thoroughly marred by flames, smoke, and water, may, for example, be described as “good.”

 For “good +” rankings, add a half a star, but don’t set your expectations much higher. “Very Good” is the equivalent of two stars. A house with that description is what is known in layman’s terms as a “dump,” a term a real estate agent will never apply to one of her listings (in your hearing, that is). With this context, you know that that the “excellent” house is better than "good" and "very good," the equivalent of  three out of five stars.

If you want something that will not have such obvious flaws -- though all houses have some flaws -- you need a house that is rated “mint.” No, that does not connote that the house is painted pale green or scented with toothpaste. “Mint” in real estate lingo translates into what you thought “very good” or “excellent” meant. 

Sometimes a term like “diamond,” which connotes a slightly higher standing through its association with wealth and distinction, or, for the practical-minded “move-in condition” is substituted. Do bear in mind, though, that such terms of perfection could apply to the most hideously decorated house you could imagine, so long as the neon green paint is not peeling and the vintage shag carpeting is not threadbare.

 A house could be described as “mint” even if it has not been renovated in the past 5-10 years, so long as it is updated enough not to require an immediate overhaul of the kitchen or bathroom. But don’t get your hopes up for the granite kitchen with top name appliances. Trust me, if they are they, they'd be listed in the description.  As terms become overused, the agent has to find a new word to indicate a superior grade. Consequently, a house in truly new condition may be called “mint +++.”

Something else to watch out for is the use of term that doesn't quite fit the rankings. That is the word "charming." If you see a "charming colonial," listed, be prepared for something that definitely needs work. It's not necessary as bad as "good" or even "very good," but it surely does not qualify as "mint."

 What about a house that has been renovated in part but not completely? Some agents solve that problem by coming up with an average rank that favors the house’s positive attributes. In my brief stint in real estate, I once showed a house that the listing agent described as “mint.” In fact, some of its features were even better than mint, extra-large master bedroom and completely redone full tile bathrooms, etc.  It also had features that might have been called only “very good” to “excellent.” Half the windows clearly needed to be replaced, and the kitchen was both small and outdated. Like in math, average rankings can be misleading, as you would expect a certain consistency that in fact is not in place.

So don't worry if you find the terms confusing. It's not you; it's the lingo. Once you adjust your expectations, you should no longer feel unnerved by your encounters with realtors and should actually be able to use the services they offer to your advantage. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and you certainly will need as many arms as possible to handle the even more daunting world of mortgages. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

An Idiot's guide for writers

I got this email today:
For more than twenty years, our Idiot’s Guides books have been teaching people how to do everything from balancing your checkbook to raising bees. But now, we are starting a whole new revolution online - and we want you to be a part of it!
Questions. We know you’ve got ‘em. Here’s the low-down, Q&A style.
What’s the short story?We wanted to create a global community online where anyone can come to teach what they know, or learn what they don’t.  Enter idiotsguides.com, our brand-spankin’ new site that is a global community where anyone can post a how-to article (called “Quick Guides”) on any subject they’d like!
What does this have to do with me?You’re awesome. We already know that by following your blog! We’d love for you to share your awesomeness with us by joining our community and contributing to idiotsguides.com!
Hm. Ok...what’s in it for me?  (It’s ok to ask, we know you want to!)Exposure (the good kind): Your contributions will be seen by the more than 1 million people who come to our site each month.
You can link back to your site on any Quick Guide that you write, boosting traffic to your site.
We share your work on all of our social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
You can earn loads of fun badges! Earn enough and you rise to the level of Guru, which can lead to a paid writing gig as one of our Idiot’s Guides book authors!

Right, so after working for free for some unspecified period of time to earn nothing but exposure and badges(REALLY? Who do you think we writers are, 8 year-olds?) you may finally move up to considered for a job that could pay you. In the interim, I suppose you're supposed to live on air or  bunk in your parents' house. Maybe they really do think they're getting children to write for badges and are waiting for them to grow up before actually expecting any real compensation for work.

 You know what I would be sure to include if I were writing an Idiot's Guide for writers? It would be not to fall for the exposure line from someone who claims to be offering you the gig because of the exposure you've already achieved on your own. I'd also go over the information I included in http://writewaypro.blogspot.com/2016/05/writing-for-free-is-not-deductible.html

Friday, May 20, 2016

Optimizing the mobile experience

Mindful of the increasing number of its customers who access its site through smartphones, Simplyhealth enhanced its mobile application delivery.

As a major health-cash-plan provider that serves nearly 3.5 million customers in the United Kingdom, Simplyhealth has to keep track of the pulse of its customer base in order to meet their needs effectively. Knowing that about 40 percent of its Web traffic comes through mobile devices, the organization has to ensure that its content works on a range of different units.
In the past, Simplyhealth underwent a lot of time-consuming testing that didn't accurately replicate the user experience. Determined to forestall any possible glitches in its mobile service, the organization started looking for a solution in 2013.
- See more at: http://www.baselinemag.com/mobility/testing-responsive-design-on-mobile-devices.html#sthash.qjHcgp3u.dpuf

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Don't you recognize my voice?

What's your mother's maiden name? 
Which street did you live on when you were growing up? 
What's the name of your first pet? 
In what city was your parent born?

Sound familiar?
These are standard identity authentication questions that all have to be answered before you get to bring up what you really called about. Certainly, we want measures of security, though it is possible to authenticate the caller other ways.

Voice biometrics is becoming increasingly popular. It's not a complete solution on its own, as all security experts insist single-step authentication are not secure enough for anything you really wish to protect. But it offers the advantage of convenience and likely better security than questions whose answers can often be obtained with some online searches and a view of your Facebook profile.

Read more in  Securely Yours: Voice Biometric Authentication Gains Traction

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Data for better job matches

How do you know that a new hire will work out? Even a perfect resume doesn’t guarantee it because there are many other factors that determine if an individual will be happy and productive at a particular organization. That’s the premise of job matching startup called Ideal.com. It takes in a lot more data from both employee and employer to predict compatibility for sales positions.

Credit: iStock
Credit: iStock
If that sounds rather like online dating, it should, because that's the model that Somen Mondal, Ideal.com’s CEO, invokes. I spoke to him on the phone about how his approach works. He also revealed what made him realize that there is a need for a better way to match candidates with companies.
Read more in 

Data-Driven Hiring Takes Command

Writing for free is not tax deductible

Recently I brought down my auto insurance premium significantly and wanted to find  a media outlet that was a good fit for the topic and that would pay me for writing about it. In the course of hunting around for sites of that sort and came across one that said it does want guest bloggers. But the pay is so low, it recommends you can consider the writing a donation. Here's the exact wording:
  • Small fee of $20 per post.  If you normally charge more, ask your accountant if the rest of your fee is considered a donation. We'll be happy to send you our 501c3 letter.  Please also let us know if you would just like to donate the full amount, and not receive payment.
This is not just laughable but dangerous. In my eyes, the site lost all credibility if the editors actually believe what they're saying or are low enough to deliberately lure people into doing work for free or for far less than they deserve because they can gain a tax advantage.

I do volunteer work regularly. Sometimes it's writing, sometimes it's packing up food for people in the neighborhood, and sometimes it's covering phones as a dispatcher for a local roadside assistance service. It's voluntary work that I do to help, but it is not tax deductible. I looked this up once and discovered that in the views of the government, the only deductible expense associated with volunteer work would be out-of-pocket expenses -- not the value you place on your time. See https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p526.pdf That is explicitly stated as item #4 on "Contributions You Can't Deduct."

So if anyone tries to sell you on donating your time with the compensation of a tax deduction, be aware that the IRS will not allow it. It could possibly work for those who sell products -- say food for an event or possibly even physical books, but not for the articles you compose for a site.  

Related posts: http://writewaypro.blogspot.com/2016/02/save-me-from-resume-advice.html

Friday, May 6, 2016

The post that got the most comments

That's the most comments to date of any single blog on that site, already topping 145.

Like much of the tech featured in the original Star Trek and other futuristic shows, communicating with a computer directly through speech has long been a reality via an interface dominated by Nuance, the company behind the virtual assistant female voice many hear on their smartphones and computers. But Google is upping the game with software that promises to deliver more than its competition does now and down the road.
See more in 

Google Cloud Speech API: A Step Forward for Voice Activation