Friday, April 3, 2015

REPOST: 7 tips for picking a real-estate agent

It is often recommended to pick the right real estate agent to help you with buying or selling a home  process. They will help you manage time, do much of the work,  and offer great deals for you. Here are seven tips to help you choose the right one.

Couples in Real Estate Agent's Office
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Ever wish you could hire the best real-estate agent for buying or selling your home?

When it comes to choosing real-estate agents, “We don’t have the information that we have about other service professionals,” says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, in Washington, D.C.

However, there are things you can do to assess a real-estate agent’s past performance and potential success with your home. Whether you’re the buyer or the seller, here are seven ways you can find out more about your agent before you hire.

1. Check references

Ask agents to provide a list of what they’ve listed and sold in the past year, with contact information, says Ron Phipps, past president of the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors (NAR). Before you start calling the names, ask the agent if anyone will be “particularly pleased or particularly disappointed,” he says.

And, if you’re the seller, ask if these past properties are similar to yours in price, location and other salient features, Poorvu says. What you want is someone who specializes in exactly what you’re selling.

2. Check the licensing
States will have boards that license and discipline real-estate agents in those states, says Phipps. Check with your state’s regulatory body to find out if the person is licensed and if there have been any disciplinary actions or complaints, or check to see if the information is posted online.

3. Pick a winner
Peer-given awards count, says Phipps. One that really means something is the “Realtor of the Year” designation awarded by the state or local branch of NAR.

“These agents are the best as judged by their peers,” he says. “That’s a huge endorsement.”

4. Check credentials
Just as doctors specialize, so do real-estate agents. And even generalists will get additional training in some areas. So that alphabet soup after the name can be an indication that the person has taken additional classes in a certain specialty of real-estate sales. Here’s what some of the designations mean:

• CRS (Certified Residential Specialist): Completed additional training in handling residential real estate.

• ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative): Completed additional education in representing buyers in a transaction.

• SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist): Completed training aimed at helping buyers and sellers in the 50-plus age range.

If the agent calls himself a Realtor with a capital “R,” that means he’s a member of NAR. By hiring a Realtor, “the most important thing you get is an agent who formally pledges to support the code of ethics,” says Phipps.

5. Check experience

You can often find out how long the agent has been selling real estate from the state-licensing authority. Or, you can just ask the agent.

“If they haven’t been in business five years, they’re learning on you and that’s not good,” says Robert Irwin, author of “Tips & Traps When Buying a Home.”

Ultimately, what you’re looking for is someone actively engaged in a particular area and price range, says Phipps. You’ll want to know what knowledge of those two factors they can demonstrate and “what kind of market presence they have,” he says.

6. Check current listings
Check out an agent’s listings online, says Brobeck. Two places to look are the agency’s own site and, a website that compiles properties in the Multiple Listing Service into a searchable online database.

Most buyers start their search on the Internet, and you want an agent who uses that tool effectively. “A key thing is an attractive presentation on the Web,” says Brobeck.

You also can look at how closely the agent’s listings mirror the property you want to buy or sell. Are they in the same area? Is the price range similar? And does the agent have enough listings to indicate a healthy business but not so many that you’d just be a number?

7. Ask questions
A good agent should know about other area properties that are available “off the top of his head,” says Irwin. Mention a house in your area that’s sold recently or is for sale. If the agent knows the property and can give you a few details, that means he or she really knows your area, he says. “You want someone like that who’s on top of the market.”

Riyesh Menon is a real estate professional. Follow him on Twitter for more real estate articles and news.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The secret to packing light: A travel guide

Traveling is fun, but when it comes to packing, even the most frequent travelers have some difficulty. Although packing involves many personal decisions (every traveler has preferences and non-negotiable things he or she wants to do), there are still some ways to make it easier:

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Make a packing list

The list will help you make sure you have everything you need and that you haven't forgotten anything. Bear in mind that when making your list, add the most important on top and avoid putting unnecessary luxuries that can be disregarded.

Pack tight

Knowing what to bring and how to make everything fit in your luggage and carry on is an important traveling skill. Many frequent travelers swear that rolling your clothes conserves space and minimizes wrinkles. It's also helpful to tuck smaller pieces into larger items like rolling your socks with your shirt or stuffing them inside your shoes.

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Layers vs. heavy coats

Layering is better than bringing heavy coats or jackets. The latter tend to be heavier, bulkier and harder to pack. Learning to wear layers gives you more options on what to wear and what to mix and match.

Stick to neutrals

Bring shirts or tops that match all of the pants, shorts or skirts (for the ladies) that you brought with you. That way, you can just wash and wear them another day instead of wearing too many changes of clothes that take up too much space in your bag.

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Follow Riyesh Menon on Twitter for more packing tips and other travel advice.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

REPOST: The Impending Opportunity In Real Estate Technology

 Technological advancement has opened a lot of doors in all aspects of human life. This article by Josh Guttman featured in Tech Crunch explains the possible opportunities and changes to real estate due to technology.

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Things are starting to simmer in real estate technology. The first phase of technology development in the category, which was primarily focused around listing services for the residential side of the market, has paved the way for industry leaders to broadly reconsider how technology can make their lives better.

For those of us in the technology world with some background in real estate, the opportunity may seem obvious. But real estate is a sector of the economy that’s created immense wealth without changing their workflows or processes for many decades, so there’s a predisposed lack of urgency to upgrade the ol’ tool belt.

Market Primer

The word “trillions” gets thrown around a lot when people refer to real estate as an asset class. Broadly speaking, real estate is the largest asset class in the U.S. worth an estimated $40 trillion according to this December 2014 report from the Federal Reserve.

To get specific, residential housing is the single largest “tangible” U.S. real estate asset, worth roughly $23 trillion, and commercial real estate accounts for another $15 trillion. To put this in perspective, as an asset class, real estate is meaningfully larger than other U.S. heavyweight industries like fixed income, equity and health care.

Real estate lending is by far the largest lending category, belittling credit card debt by orders of magnitude. Residential mortgages alone accounted for nearly $12 trillion as of December 2014 compared with $882 billion in credit card debt. $1.6 trillion in new real estate debt is issued each year — $1.1 trillion in residential and $500 billion in commercial. According to this report by Jones Lang LaSalle, annual commercial real estate lending is projected to reach $1 trillion by 2030.

The National Association of Realtors is the largest industry trade association in existence with 1.25 million members and there are approximately 3 million active real estate agents in the U.S. There are roughly 500,000 construction professionals and more than 120 million actively managed commercial properties. In summary, there’s a whole lot of money changing hands in the sector.

Venture funding of real estate technology startups reached a peak in the fourth quarter of 2014, with 32 companies raising nearly $300 million. In total, venture funds invested $605 million in real estate tech in 2014 versus $241 million the year before – more than 2.5x growth. There are a number of signs suggesting the trend will continue through 2015, as the category moves from niche status to one that gains widespread attention.

I believe the next phase of growth — and most exciting opportunities — will be fueled by products and services that serve the commercial side of the real estate market.

Residential Versus Commercial

The first technology innovators to focus on real estate primarily addressed the residential market. Companies like Zillow, Trulia,, RedFin and StreetEasy showcased the power that technology can have when applied to a market as large and lucrative as residential real estate. Each of these companies operate, generally speaking, as residential listing services, and this has proven to be the low-hanging fruit of the real estate vertical.

Commercial real estate encompasses office buildings, hotels, malls, retail stores, multifamily housing, industrial property, warehouses, medical centers and garages. Thus far, technology innovation on the commercial side of the market has been limited, with two outliers being CoStar and LoopNet.

This is partially the result of data that is tedious to gather and “dirty” – making it challenging to use, industry information that is opaque with incumbents who have incentive to keep it that way, and some of the early momentum that gathered in the mid 2000s being stymied by the financial crisis and subsequent pullback that commercial development and investment experienced.

With the economic recovery in full swing and money flowing back into commercial development, some of these roadblocks have been lifted and the market is, once again, ready for new entrants to build upon the work of the early pioneers in commercial real estate technology.

Products and services that address the commercial side of the market are more exciting (versus residential) and represent a massive opportunity for a few key reasons:

  1. Higher transaction values mean there’s more at stake for the players involved.
  2. Given higher transaction values, the competition is stronger and so the players are willing to pay up for competitive advantage.
  3. Single transactions often involve multiple constituents — property brokers, mortgage brokers, lenders, developers, appraisers, builders — each of whom want an edge.
  4. There’s lots of relevant commercial data available to parse, which naturally plays into the wheelhouse of skilled data scientists and tech entrepreneurs.
  5. Broader diversity of funding sources creates newfound opportunity for pricing and product optimization.
  6. The market is antiquated and grossly underdeveloped.

NYC: Epicenter of Commercial Real Estate (and Real Estate Tech)

Much the same way that the Bay Area has historically claimed the highest concentration of technology startup development, New York City is the epicenter of commercial real estate.

According to Cushman and Wakefield, New York City has been the world’s largest commercial real estate market every year since 2010. In 2014, New York City captured 7 percent of global investment with $55 billion. It’s only logical that the most important technology businesses serving commercial real estate will be built and headquartered in the commercial real estate capital of the world.

We’ve already started to see this play out with more than half of the 2014 sector funding happening in New York City. Companies like VTS, Reonomy, Hightower, FieldLens, Honest Buildings, The Square Foot, Onboard Informatics, Nestio and Urban Compass – all based in New York City – are already well on their way to becoming important businesses.

Global Scale

The market of potential customers for applications and services serving the real estate market is global, with half the world’s top 12 largest commercial real estate markets outside the U.S. London, Tokyo and Paris are among the top six. Toronto, a city that doesn’t appear on most global rankings based on transaction volume, has more industrial cranes installed right now than anywhere else in North America.

India and China have been among the most active markets outside the U.S. for real estate technology investment. International startups like, PropTiger, Fangdd, Anjuke, CommonFloor and HouseTrip have all raised substantial sums of capital already.

Biggest Areas of Opportunity

Opportunities for innovation using technology abound across the real estate industry. Some of the biggest near-term opportunities for innovation are:

  • Property Management: Several companies are already competing for dominance in this category, most offering software that helps property owners and management companies oversee and easily track commercial real estate assets. Industry-wide adoption is still sub-10 percent, though, so lots of opportunity for growth remains.
  • Research and Analytics: Traditionally, commercial real estate developers would hunker down with teams of analysts using HP calculators and gathering demographic research to evaluate an investment opportunity. Today, open data initiatives in municipalities across the country — combined with creative needle threading by software developers — is changing this landscape, and much of the data is readily available via monthly SaaS licenses.
  • Listing Services/Tech-Enabled Brokerages: Contrary to the incumbents in the residential market, which are predominantly media businesses generating revenue from advertising, a real opportunity exists for tech-enabled commercial listing services that could level the playing field, acting as marketplaces, and replacing the less efficient relationship-driven model that still persists today.
  • Mobile Applications: By their very nature, real estate professionals are on the go, pound-the-pavement types. Brokers, landlords, appraisers and developers are constantly running around visiting properties. One can assume that many of the most successful applications serving this market will have a healthy and robust mobile component.
  • Residential and Commercial Lending: Regulatory changes have opened up opportunities for innovation in lending, and real estate lending is by far the largest sub-category. We’re starting to see a number of emerging companies target this area in different ways. Residential and commercial lending are different animals so my guess is that we’ll see a dozen worthwhile challengers going after each market.
The real estate industry is vast and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to opportunity for technology-enabled innovation. Given the dollars at risk and the proportion of the broader economy that real estate represents, there is every reason to believe the category will produce multiple ‘unicorns’ worth billions in enterprise value. The past two years have been the most exciting yet for real estate tech and I can’t wait to see what the next few will bring.

Follow Riyesh Menon on Facebook for the latest news on the real estate industry.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A bookworm’s dream vacation spots

Books allow you to travel the world of the characters in the story. You don’t need a passport to get to London or to the most exotic places in fiction; you just need your imagination and a good book will take you there. Literature and travel have always been a natural partnership. Here are three destinations every book lover will love to travel to:

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin abounds in literary landmarks and is home to some of the most illustrious literary figures of all time like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. Ireland's capital is one of the six UNESCO Cities of Literature and for good reason. You can visit the homes of some of the most prominent writers, such as George Bernard Shaw's birthplace turned museum. See one of the most famous books in the world, The Book of Kells, at Trinity College, or at nightfall, visit the city's most famous pubs.

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London, England

Surely, this is a book lover's paradise. It is where some of the biggest names in literature have emerged: Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, Dickens, and Rowling. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy, too. Joining literary tours and visiting the British Library are just some of the possible stops on your itinerary.

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Washington, D.C.

The Library of Congress hosts over 150 million items and is an ultimate haven for book lovers everywhere. Bookworms will definitely not want to miss visiting the biggest library in the world. Besides that, there are a lot of bookstores and cafes that will enrich the literary mind.

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Follow Riyesh Menon on Google+ for more travel ideas and destinations to fit your lifestyle.

Friday, December 12, 2014

REPOST: 5 places to add to your traveling bucket list for 2015

Traveling the world is fun but choosing where to go is the hardest part of it all. This New York Daily News article enumerates five destinations you should be adding to your travel bucket list.

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New Year’s is not that far off, and if you've resolved to make 2015 your year of travel, here are five places you’ll want to add to your list. From cultural meccas to natural beauties, family-friendly havens and one place in particular that just has that certain je ne sais quoi about it, these top-pick travel destinations each promise eye-opening experiences all their own. All you have to do is buy the ticket.


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If the only things you know about the Bahamas is that a certain pop-music princess who sings about umbrellas happened to be born there or that it was on the Beach Boy’s list of travel destinations once upon a time, then might we suggest a trip to this tropical island and an updated copy of Trivial Pursuit. “The Bahamas are home to one of the most picturesque archipelagos in the entire world,” says Jackie Finley, a representative of Holiday Cruise Line. “And the fact they're so close to Florida makes going on cruises one of the most exciting things you can do with your family." Bahamian cruises are so popular in fact that Holiday has a specialty service dedicated to such excursions — might be why it's been named the “Best Bahamas Getaway Cruise” three years running by the editors at Porthole magazine.

Central America

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If the is calling to you, but you’re not entirely interested in island hopping, Central America might be a better place to plan your great escape. Lying just above the equator in the Tropic of Cancer, with the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean on either side, this smallest sliver of the Americas offers warm climates, beautiful weather and plenty of awe-inspiring natural wonders at which to marvel. Panama is possibly the most recognizable Central American country, but to its north, Costa Rica has long held the crown as an ecotourism hotspot. New to the tourism scene, but equally capable of offering an exotic adventure is Nicaragua. While its war-torn history might not be far behind it, Nicaragua is charting a new course for itself as a cultural and culinary destination. Seafood lovers should stick to the Caribbean side of the country, where they are sure to enjoy the spoils of Nicaragua’s shrimp and lobster boat industries; caffeine connoisseurs might consider a trip to the country’s central highlands for a tour of its authentic coffee harvestings; and Nicaragua’s most intriguing of natural wonders, its coral reefs, are best seen by scuba diving off the coast of Corn Island — situated in the Caribbean Sea about 44 miles off Nicaragua’s mainland.


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Despite having a history that spans over 10,000 years, the City of Lights still holds a fascination for tourists. In fact, it is the ever presence of its antiquity, in the form of gothic architecture and cultural landmarks like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tour that continue to make the Parisian capitale a perennial favorite — not to mention the Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece housed within Paris' most popular museum, the Louvre. Whether you spend your time here doing nothing more than eating macaroons while strolling along the Seine basking in the wealth of history simply surrounding you, or you pound the cobblestone pavement traversing the city from the Champs d'Elysee to Sacré-Cœur, Paris holds plenty of opportunities to make memories to last a lifetime.


We can understand why any travel destination with the word ice in the name would be enough to raise the eyebrows of even the most unimpressed of New Yorkers — a people for whom the term polar vortex still illicits chills — but if this Nordic country is not on your traveling bucket list by now, it’s time to make an addendum. Falling just outside the Arctic Circle, a trip to Iceland is not for the faint of heart. In this case, however, fortune truly does favor the brave, because once you arrive, a veritable treasure trove of natural beauty will be at your fingertips. From getting an up-close look at glaciers to taking in the polar collision of gaseous particles better known as the Northern Lights, Iceland is awash in wonders — and not all of them require a parka to appreciate. Amongst Iceland’s main attractions are its geothermal pools. These naturally heated watering holes are reason enough to book a ticket to Reykjavik right now.

Washington D.C.

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 While part of the fun of travelling is getting to put a stamp in your passport, there are plenty of picturesque, historically significant and awe-inspiring places to visit right here in the states. One of our favorites is just a train ride away. Washington is one of the world's best museum and monument cities, according to Lonely Planet, an arbiter of all things travel oriented. For the next 12 months, our nation’s capital will in even rarer form than usual, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Through 2015, rarely seen artifacts from America’s 16th president, like his iconic stovepipe hat, as well as the pistol John Wilkes Booth fired the deadly shot from will be on display through a partnership between the Smithsonian and Ford’s Theatre where Lincoln was fatally wounded in 1865. While the occasion warranting Washington D.C. a place in our list might be a bit somber, it's short window of opportunity makes it all the more significant.

A trip to any of these above destinations is sure to make your two weeks off of work feel like the much needed getaway it's meant to be, but whether your vacation winds up being one from this list or another port of call entirely, the experience of exploration is what’s important.

Riyesh Menon loves to travel the world because he enjoys experiencing the different cultures of every place he visits. Follow him on Twitter to find out the hottest and most beautiful destinations.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Escaping the cold and enjoying a holiday travel on the cheap

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When the too cold weather tags along with the Christmas holiday, it makes you want to get out of town and enjoy a warm-weather getaway. However, holiday travel is notoriously known as being a busy and expensive undertaking. Odds are, you’ll likely get discouraged and end up staying at home, hoping that the heating system will not give up on you.

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But, fret not, for there are deals and tactics that will let you enjoy a warm Christmas holiday, away the biting weather. In fact, Travel Channel says that there is quite a window of opportunity for a great vacation with holiday travel, only if you planned ahead and booked early. Independent Traveler affirms that fares rise as the actual holiday approaches, so booking early avoid the price of procrastination. There is no such thing as too early flight booking in this day and age.

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Forbes underscores that the beauty of booking travel in advance for a winter holiday is that you see maximum discounts on resort or hotel rates. A 14 to 21-day advanced booking is ideal for a 20 percent discount or more. With advanced flight booking, you can choose Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, or the actual holiday, as these days are the cheapest times to fly to your destination. And they are less stressful, too.

Escaping winter by vacationing somewhere sunny can cause a serious dent on your budget, unless you plan well in advance and not escape town on a sudden whim.

Hi there! Riyesh Menon here! Traveling is what I love best as I get to see unique places and cultures. Follow me on Twitter to read about the places I visited and those that I plan to see soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

REPOST: Vacation checklist: Turn off the water

A happy vacation turned out to be a disaster when a family arrived home. Find out why in this article below.

Five On Your Side
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WRAL photographer Tom Normanly went on vacation with his family, and they returned to find water pooled throughout their home. A friend had called with the bad news.

“She said there's water everywhere. ‘Something broke in the bathroom, and there's water all over your house,’” Normanly recalled.

The hose that supplies water to a toilet in the home came loose and sprayed water for two days. Water spread to the back bedrooms, the living room, everywhere.

"The carpet was soaked,” Normanly said. “When you walked on it, it sloshed everywhere"

The family’s new cork kitchen floor was so swollen with water, Normanly said, it was about 6 inches high.

The hose to the toilet was “flailing all over the place, and the water was just shooting everywhere,” he said.

Ryan Oakley is a contractor for Emerg+NC Property Rescuers. He said he gets similar calls about three to five times a week.

“The most common things we see are the supply lines for the washing machine, ice maker supply lines, because they're typically held on by a little plastic nut, and that's under constant pressure,” Oakley said.

An easy fix for anyone headed out of town is to shut off the water.

"It never dawned on me to turn my water off,” Normanly said.

Depending on the age of the home, a whole-house valve could be in a hall closet, near the water heater or just inside the crawl space. If the main valve is on the street, a key is required.

Plumbing experts also recommend checking appliance supply lines for corrosion and changing them every five to seven years with stainless steel braided ones, which typically cost less than $10. That’s much less than the cost of flooding repairs.

"I think between replacing everything and fixing everything and drying everything out, it's going to be near $80,000,” Normanly said.

It’s worth noting that water damage is the second most frequently filed insurance claim in the United States.

The Normanlys spent two months in a hotel and were finally able to move back into their home this past weekend. And they now say whenever they will be away for more than 24 hours, they will turn off their water.

 Learn more helpful tips about traveling by following this Riyesh Menon Twitter account.