Hands-free law starts July 1st – That means Realtors too!

Look Ma, No Hands!

Washington State will go ‘hands free’ for cell phone use in the car on July 1st, so agents (and everyone else) shouldn’t be driving around with one hand up to their ear anymore. Well…that’s the intent anyway. The Washington State Patrol says you could face up to a $125 fine, although it is suppose to be a secondary offense. Real Estate agents are notorious for this, myself included. Fortunately, for several years I have had an integrated hands-free system in my car (Acura RL) which has given me a head start on being compliant.

I thought I would mention some options for agents, or for that matter anyone who spends a lot of time on the phone in their car, who are just taking the plunge into the deep blue-tooth ocean of products to help them figure out which device might be better suited for them. But don’t just go out and buy one of these devices. Do your research and check with your provider about what they offer and recommend. These days many products and services are specific to wireless vendors, like Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T.

hands-free driverFirst of all, you’ll need a bluetooth capable cell phone. Many, if not most, of the newer cell phones have this capability. But if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to upgrade. These days people change out their cell phones pretty frequently anyway. But if you have been waiting, now is probably a good time. Just be sure you understand how your cell phone plan will be affected and hopefully your carrier won’t force you into signing a new extended service contract.

If you have a newer model car that has integrated bluetooth capabilities you’ll want to check which phones work with it (not all do) and use the products they recommend, if possible. This information should be in your manual. When my car was introduced integrated blue-tooth was still new and it did not specifically support my phone and service (a Palm Treo w/Verizon), but fortunately I was able to trick it (read “hack”). It would be a real drag to decide to buy a $50,000 car because of it’s bluetooth capability only to find out it won’t work with your phone or service.

If you don’t have integrated bluetooth in your car, then you should consider getting either a headset or component speaker system. Most headsets these days just fit in or around your ear and are pretty small. They often use a microphone technology that relies on the vibration of your jawbone, much like your inner ear, which keeps it very small and helps with noise cancellation – cool huh?

Here are some hands-free bluetooth earbud and speakerphone options from $65 to $125:

Bluetooth Jawbone HeadsetThe New Jawbone – Jawbone is the hot bling-bling of the bluetooth world right now. Their marketing is aimed at the fashion-conscious among us. This is perfect for the agent who is most worried how it will fit in with their wardrobe. The have good noise canceling technology too.

Bluetooth Jabra SP5050 SpeakerphoneJabra’s SP5050 – This unit is made to be clipped to your visor and has a speaker system built in. Jabra is well known and were the first to come out with hands-free bluetooth headsets and use digital signal processing (DSP) technology.

BlueAnt’s Supertooth 3 – Another visor clip-on speakerphone, the Supertooth 3 announces the name or ID of the caller when the phone rings – just say ‘OK’ to Bluetooth Blueant Speakerphoneaccept the call. This device is suppose to be very easy to install and it uses ‘Text-to Speech’ software. The voice prompts provide guidance and assistance install and to help pair the device and upload your cell phone’s address book. When a call is received, the Supertooth 3 announces the incoming caller’s name or number. Just say ‘OK’ to accept the call. You also have a choice of 6 languages.

Bluetooth Venturi MiniVenturi Mini – The Venturi Mini directs incoming calls to the cars speakers and includes a FM A2DP audio player and no headset or wires are needed. With phonebook download the incoming caller appears on the Venturi Mini and your car radio simultaneously. This unit plugs into your lighter plug in and offers USB support too, which means you can charge other devices.

You’re going to need to configure your bluetooth cell phone with your hands-free integrated car system or your bluetooth hands-free device. (wireless headset or speakerphone). Once you pair the device and phone you’ll need to do some set up and preferences. Carefully read the manuals regarding hands-free dialing with your Address book and configuring everything to match your network (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T). Most likely you’ll need to “train” the system to recognize your voice and / or connect phrases with numbers. You may need to tell it when you say “Call Jim” to dial the appropriate number.

Take the time to do this and it will be worth your while. This is what the “hands-free” is all about. Now you can impress youir clients with your tech-savvy skills and stay out of jail at the same time!

Any RCG Readers want to jump in and share their favorite hands-free bluetooth goodies?

Sunday Night Stats – King County

Of course Monday is the last day of the 2nd Quarter and the 1st Half of 2008.  Exciting stuff!  But that will be next week’s news.

Tonight, since 6/29 will be kind of boring weekly stuff, I tracked of few of the top listing machines to see how their volume has changed.  Can’t tell you who they are, but remember, when volume is down some of these big teams have to split with several people.  So expect to see some cutting down on staff given the change in the market.

The worst was down to 9 sales in the 2nd quarter of 08, from a high of 25 quarterly sales.  Another down from 28 to 12.  Another down to 11 from a high of 27.  Average price down from $1.7M to $1.3M.  Another down from $2M to $1.5M.  One is carrying 60 listings…with only a 25% turn rate.  That’s a lot of marketing costs for homes not selling.  Another is carrying 55 listings with a 20% sold rate.  Another dependent primarily on builders for inventory is down to more than 50% fewer listings with volume sold off 50% below that.

Now for this weeks stats.  The chart from last week has been updated as to 2Q08, but all the data is not yet in. Remember, last day of month can be a heavy closing day, and many won’t post those for several days.  The holiday weekend could cause further posting delays next week.

Watch those condo stats…they will play a role in residential stats in coming quarters.  Residential will lag as to how the condo market ultimately impacts the single family home sales.  Look at the difference in volume on the condos 1Q08 vs 2Q08 compared to the spread on those two quarters in previous years.  And of course the price dip is fairly dramatic there. 

What will be interesting is when we get to monthly YOY volume stats come August and September, when we are comparing this year to the part of last year that was already reduced as to volume.

King Couny Condos

2004 – 1Q – 1,694 – $188, 2Q 2,636 – $199, 3Q 2,540 – $196, 4Q 2,176 – $195

2005 – 1Q – 2,066 – $198, 2Q 2,925 – $209, 3Q 2,769 – $226, 4Q 2,266 – $224

2006 – 1Q – 1,956 – $242, 2Q 2.748 – $252, 3Q 2,737 – $269, 4Q 2,217 – $278

2007 – 1Q – 2,042 – $295, 2Q 2,862 – $302, 3Q 2,676 – $311, 4Q 1,618 – $294

2008 – 1Q – 1,258 – $299, 2Q 1,384 – $288 (2Q incomplete data – postings as of 6/29/08)

Changes in condo stats for this week

Active Listings: 4,047 – DOWN 2- median price $320,000 – MPPSF  asking $316 – DOM 61

In Escrow:  913 –  DOWN 16 – median asking price $295,000  – MPPSF asking $294  – DOM – 51

Sold YTD :  2,645 – UP 141 – median list price $294,950 – median sold price  $289,000 – median PPSF – $294 DOM 48

Residential King county

2004 – 1Q 5,650 – $152, 2Q 9,237 – $160, 3Q 8.737 – $163, 4Q 7,467 – $165

2005 – 1Q 6,402 – $173, 2Q 9,093 – $185, 3Q 9,131 – $192, 4Q 7,301 – $195

2006 – 1Q 5,596 – $201, 2Q 8,248 – $214, 3Q 7,771 – $216, 4Q 6,204 – $217

2007 – 1Q 5,304 – $222, 2Q 7,393 – $230, 3Q 7,944 – $229, 4Q 4,301 – $221

2008 – 1Q 3,640 – $219, 2Q 4,266 – $220 (2Q incomplete data – postings as of 6/29/08)

Changes in residential stats for this week

In Escrow: 2,863 – DOWN 68 – median asking price $442,400 – DOM 47 – MPPSF $211

SOLD YTD: 7,908-  UP 419- median asking $449,950 – median sold price $440,000- DOM 49 – MPPSF $219

Actively for sale 12,187 – UP 192- MPPSF <$800,000 is $220- MPPSF >$800,000 is $337

Stats not compiled or published by NWMLS. (Required disclosure) 

Survived the one-year threshold and still lovin' Seattle

Yes, I know, it’s been an eternity since I’ve tapped on the keyboard – at least for RCG. I’ve now muscled past the one-year hump of living in Seattle, and honestly can’t say I adore it any less than I did when I first moved here in June 2007 from Naperville, IL. If anything, I have become too immersed in work – between full-time and freelance – and have not savored as much of the Pacific Northwest as I should have this past year, but plan to change that. Sometimes I ruminate on how I could have taken such a mammoth risk – moving from my cushy life in the Midwest to Seattle where I knew not a soul and had no employment.

It was a jump akin to something a person stricken by a mid-life crisis might embrace, but I didn’t have a carefully constructed rational for driving across the country and moving in with what wound up being an ideal roommate I had barely spoken to a handful of times, and never met. But not without diligent work and worry did things come together here. And so far, I have no regrets.

There’s something about the allure and challenge of finding another way in life that I could not resist. And sometimes when things are in disarray or not working out, that’s all you can do; grasp for that light in the dark, however dim it might be.

And if you peruse other comments on RCG, most notably in Dustin’s 10 things you should know before moving to Seattle post, you will find a plethora of people are yearning for a fresh change and new horizons to explore.

And I found that in Seattle, but now that I’m completely adjusted I would like to get myself involved in more volunteer activities and good causes. One of those I have already been involved with is Q Cafe, a nonprofit coffee shop which also hosts live music on Friday nights. So, bring on the suggestions, if you would be so kind.

My advice to anyone pondering a risky move is to trust your gut, even if you cannot completely justify your intentions. But also be realistic and ensure you have good chunk of savings to bide your time while you tread your way through what could be cumbersome times of transition. If I had put my move to Seattle off but a year, it would have been inconceivable. With the sinking economy, exorbitant gas prices and the floods ravaging the Midwest, it would have been near impossible for me to execute such a free-spirited move in June 2008, considering my situation prior to jetsetting.

As I enjoy Seattle’s picture-perfect summer, the following list is a small treat for all of you (some of whom have contacted me directly) considering moving to Seattle based on my experiences this past year, which I hope will give you a more clear-cut idea of what Pacific Northwest living is like.

A Snippet of Things I’ve Learned Since Living in Seattle

  • Yes, it rains, but not as much as people will make you believe. Chicagoland got 50 inches of snow this past winter, which would have been rain if it wasn’t so cold there.
  • The traffic won’t faze you (er… if you’re from the Chicagoland area).
  • Many mornings are cloudy in the winter, but the sun has a tendency to pop out in the afternoons. The color of the sky varies throughout a single day during the aforementioned season, so I can see how it is difficult to gauge the exact number of cloudy days Seattle experiences. It can often be cloudy and rainy in the morning, but rain often makes way for afternoon sunshine.
  • Snow is practically nonexistent.
  • The bus system is extremely efficient, you won’t need a car if you live within the city limits especially. I still have mine, but primarily use it to make grocery runs or trips to the bank.
  • Yes, it was still a bit chilly in May and June. Needless to say it is temperate here, but there were more than moments in May when I was envious of the humidity aplenty throughout the Midwest.

  • Don’t believe every word of the Seattle Freeze speculation – sure it can be difficult to meet friends, but that’s not any different than how it is in most bigger cities. And it varies by age group. People stay to themselves, but once you get to know people they are as friendly as ever – and will want to hang out with you.
  • If you live here, you play for Seattle’s team now, not L.A.’s or Chicago’s – so don’t whine or banter about how things were when you lived in another city. No one wants to hear it.

  • People are more laid back here. Don’t confuse laid back with lazy though. People know had to get their work done and enjoy life without stressing the small stuff. My roommate often comments to me now how much more laid back I am than when I first moved here – a bundle of nerves and too susceptible to stress.
  • The number of panhandlers? Let’s just say I’ve seen much worse.
  • Take advantage of the summer farmers markets in Fremont and Ballard. Amazing.
  • The wine and seafood throughout Washington State is amazing and you will never taste finer.
  • Coffeehouses and espresso stands are ubiquitous, but choose wisely. The coffee roasts here are top notch. Well, it is Seattle.
  • The time zone difference between the West Coast and the Midwest and East Coast bites if you have relatives or friends there that you chat with quite a bit.
  • Yes, most people here are transplants, but your accent will get noticed. Take it from me, Chicago.

Head Scratcher: $100K loan orig. fee, poof! Maybe it's our hot weather.

Life in the escrow business:

A borrower notices a $100,000 loan origination fee on a very large transaction, puts on the brakes and says, “not so fast.” The borrower stops the transaction after the loan officer and borrower can’t work it out.

I know Lynlee mentioned a nutty conversation in an earlier post, but this takes the cake for me, YTD. For a LOT of people, in this market, the fees charged on this singular transaction would have made for a “great year.” (or two)

Have a great weekend everyone. Enjoy the weather!

SocialNotes for Blog Posts?

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Click the button below to try out this tool from PopularMedia that makes it that much easier to share articles with others. If I get positive feedback, I’ll add it to all the posts on RCG!

Stewart Title in Everett on fire

I just received a call from Mark Perez who works at Stewart Title in King County telling me that Northwest Cable News is showing film footage of a fire in progress at Stewart Title’s Snohomish County main office in Everett. 

If you recall it was less than a year ago that Stewart Title Everett received a two million dollar fine by the state Insurance Commissioner for violating provisions of state law governing title insurance companies.

Update: Here are some links to follow up stories on the fire:

The Everett Herald

Seattle PI 911 Police Blog

Seattle Times says ATF is investigating

KIRO TV reports that ATF says the fire does not look suspicious.  video

What do Governor Gregoire's actions mean for local Countrywide employees and short selling homeowners?

Is Governor Gregoire just a little too late in regards to Countrywide’s lending tactics? Aren’t we merely days away from the Bank of America takeover?

As I drove back to the office today after teaching yet another short sale class, I heard the news on KIRO 710 AM that Governor Gregoire is seeking to pull Countrywide’s lending license because of an investigation that uncovered predatory lending practices aimed at minorities.  WA State will fine Countrywide 1 million dollars for discriminatory lending practices and attempt to collect an additional 5 million for back assessments due.

From Governor Gregoire’s website:

DFI is required to examine every home-lender licensed in the state of Washington. The agency conducted its fair lending examination of Countrywide last year. At that time, DFI looked at roughly 600 individual loan files and uncovered evidence that Countrywide engaged in discriminatory lending that targeted Washington’s minority communities. The agency also found significant underreporting of loans during its investigation.

“The allegation that Countrywide preyed on minority borrowers is extremely troubling to me,

Next Week on Rain City Radio: Tim Ellis

Seattle Bubble ScreenshotFresh off an great conversation with Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog, I’m really excited to have Tim on our show next week!   I’m sure we’ll talk about all things Seattle bubble as well as Tim’s great new parody project: Naked Loon.

Please set aside Tuesday, July 1st at 4pm to join us!   And if you have some suggested topics you’d like us to cover in the conversation, then please let me know in the comments!

Ballard Denny's is now gone

As Myballard.com reported, the ballard Denny’s is no longer.  Without public notice, the building was taken down just 3 days after Benaroya received the demo permit (looks like the application was opened and issued on June 19th). Myballard.com did a great job reporting (with great pictures) on this demo, so check out that site for more info.  Here is a video one of their viewers posted:

Rain City Radio: A West Seattle Story

I really enjoyed today’s conversation with Tracy Records of the West Seattle Blog.  Tracy shared a ton of great stories with us and I learned a ton…

Click here to listen to the entire interview!

And below are some links to some of the things we discussed:

We covered a lot of great topics in the interview including her perspective on the elements of the media that has fundamentally changed.  As someone with 25 years experience in the traditional media space AND a successful local blogger, her perspective was fascinating!

Click here to listen to the entire interview!

*Note: If you’re wondering why this post looks different then when it was originally published, I didn’t like the outline that I originally provided, so I changed it around a bunch.