Renting vs. buying: Where do you land?

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You’ve always been told that owning a home is the ultimate American dream. 

Imagine renovating your master bath into a mini spa or choosing your favorite appliances for your dream kitchen. Or just getting to repaint whatever room you want. Plus, there’s the potential for financial gain when you own.

But renting has its own advantages: flexibility, a smaller financial commitment and the chance to try before you buy.

So when do you know it’s time to take the plunge on a purchase? Answer these questions to see which side of the rent vs. buy debate you might land on:

Why do you want to buy?
Sure, owning a home might be the great American dream — but is it your dream?

For some, the idea of a home where you can raise a family, be close to schools and build a community is enticing. For others, buying is a great investment. But for many, it’s about freedom: the ability to keep pets, renovate and be independent.

Will you stay in the area?
No one has a crystal ball — but knowing how long you plan to live in an area can help as you consider the pros and cons of buying. Generally, longer stays align with purchasing. 

If the thought of travel fills you with more passion than the idea of settling down in your dream property, you may not be ready for your forever home. But there’s always the possibility of turning your house into an investment property. 

What can you afford?
While renting usually costs less in the short term than purchasing property, owning a home can build long-term net worth. A rent vs. buy calculator can help you understand the costs of each option.

Don’t have the deposit for your dream home now? That doesn’t mean you can’t buy. We can work together to find affordable homes, and there are plenty of low or no down payment mortgage options.

Have questions about buying or financing your purchase? Let’s discuss your next steps. 

Securing Your Home

securing a vacant property

Do you or any of your friends own a second home? A cabin in the woods or a seaside bungalow near the beach? Perhaps a second property you rent out? If so, you’re among 7.5 million homeowners across the country. Second home ownership started booming in 2014 and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s great to have a vacation home to escape to, or a rental property to bring in a little extra money. But when you’re not there, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on.

To put your mind at ease, here are some tips for keeping your second home safe.

Give the Police a Heads-up When You’re Away:

Local police want to know when a house is vacant so they can show extra care in patrolling the area to look for trouble. When you’re going to be away from your vacation home, just give the police a quick call and report the dates the property will be empty.

befriending neighbors

Befriend Your Neighbors:

We’ve talked in the past about the importance of community. It’s always a good idea to talk to your neighbors about when your home will be vacant. Ask them to keep a casual eye on the property and shoot you a text or give you a call about anything suspicious. This will work to make the whole neighborhood safer, particularly because nearby homes become more at risk after one burglary occurs.

Admittedly, getting to know neighbors can be tough in a vacation area. You and your neighbors might only meet a few times a year. But do your best! Offer to keep an eye on their home too, or suggest hiring a local resident together to keep an eye on the whole neighborhood.

Make it Look Like Someone’s Home:

One of the reasons vacant properties are targeted by burglars is that they’re, well, vacant. The risk of a burglar getting caught is much lower compared to an occupied home. But nobody needs to know your property is vacant. If you’re able to visit frequently, put some effort into maintaining the yard. Mow the lawn, shovel snow, and rake leaves. If you live far away, you can easily hire someone to take care of this.

A dark home is a dead giveaway for burglars of a prime target. Consider timed lights indoors to make it look like someone is home. You can also install motion lights outside the home to spook anyone who gets too close.

It’s also a smart idea to have the locks changed after you buy a place. You don’t know who owned it before you, or how many of the previous tenants kept copies of their keys. While you’re thinking about the locks, make sure to check the windows and other entrances, like a bulkhead, so as not to give a burglar easy access. You could also consider reinforcing any vulnerable windows with bars.

protecting vacation home

Install a Home Security System:

A home security system like SimpliSafe can provide immense comfort while you’re away. You can be alerted if a door or window is opened, or if glass is broken. Motion Sensors will trigger if anyone (or anything) is moving around inside the home. A 105 decibel siren will scare anyone off before they can cause damage, and local police will be on the way to investigate and secure the property. You can also monitor your property from your camera, and stay up-to-date with Smart Alerts.

A home security system protects your home from more than just burglars. With Smoke, Carbon Monoxide, Water, and Freeze Sensors, you know your property is safe from extreme weather and the elements.

The Real Estate Agent!

What Is a Real Estate Agent?

Real estate agents are licensed professionals who arrange real estate transactions, putting buyers and sellers together and acting as their representatives in negotiations. Real estate agents usually are compensated completely by a commission—a percentage of the property’s purchase price, so their income depends on their ability to get a deal closed.

In almost every state, a real estate agent must work for or be affiliated with a real estate broker (an individual or a brokerage firm), who is more experienced and licensed to a higher degree.

How a Real Estate Agent Works

Real estate agents usually specialize in either commercial or residential real estate. Either way, they perform different duties, depending on whether they work for the buyer or the seller. Agents who work for the seller, also known as listing agents, advise clients on how to price the property and prepare it for sale, including providing tips on last-minute improvements that can boost the price or encourage speedy offers. Seller agents market the property through listing services, networking, and advertisements.

Agents who work for the buyer search for available properties that match the buyer’s price range and wish list. These agents often look at past sales data on comparable properties to help prospective buyers come up with a fair bid.

Agents act as go-betweens for the principal parties, carrying offers and counter-offers and other questions back and forth. Once a bid is accepted, agents on both sides often continue to work, helping their clients through the paperwork, conveying communications, advising on inspections and moving, and generally shepherding the deal through to closing.

It’s important for consumers to understand whether a real estate agent represents the buyer, the seller or both parties; obviously, the agent’s loyalty can greatly affect several details of the transaction, including the final price. State laws regulate whether an agent can represent both parties in a real estate transaction, technically known as dual agency. Agents must disclose their representation so that buyers and sellers are aware of any conflicts of interest.

KEY TAKE AWAYS

  • A real estate agent is a licensed professional who represents buyers or sellers in real estate transactions.
  • A real estate agent usually works on commission, being paid a percentage of the property’s sale price.
  • In most states, a real estate agent must work through a real estate broker, a firm or fellow professional with more experience and a specialized license.

Real Estate Agents’ Compensation

Traditionally, an agent is paid a commission that is a percentage of the property’s sale price. The more the house sells for, the more money an agent makes. However, with online listings allowing consumers to do much of the shopping on their own without help from an agent, the traditional payment structure is changing.

Some brokerages charge a lower commission for more expensive houses, and some handle the entire transaction for a flat fee that’s much less than a regular commission. Other companies offer a fee-for-service pricing structure that lets sellers pay only for certain parts of the sale process, such as adding the property to a multiple listing service (MLS).

Real Estate Agent vs Real Estate Broker

Laymen often use the terms “real estate agent,” “real estate broker,” and “realtor” interchangeably. While overlap among the three definitely exists, so do key differences.

The exact definitions of and distinctions between an agent and a broker vary among states. Generally, however, anyone who earns a basic real estate license (which involves taking a certain number of accredited courses and passing an exam) can be called a real estate agent. A real estate agent is essentially a salesperson, qualified to help consumers buy or sell a property.

A real estate broker is a step up the professional food chain. Brokers have additional training and education that has qualified them to pass a higher licensing exam; most states also require them to have a certain amount of recent experience as an active real estate agent. Brokers handle the technical aspects of the real estate transaction: A client signs a contract with a brokerage, not the individual agent. In many states, their additional certification authorizes brokers to handle other legal and financial aspects of a deal: handling the earnest money deposit and establishing the escrow account.

Brokers typically own a firm or a franchise. They can be solo practitioners, but they must attain another higher-level license if they want to hire agents or other brokers to work under them. As mentioned earlier, a real estate agent usually cannot work alone, but must operate through a real estate broker; the exception is states like Colorado and New Mexico, which mandate that every real estate professional be licensed as a broker. Usually, though, agents work for brokers, and they split their commissions with them.

Real Estate Agent vs Realtor

So, every real estate broker is a real estate agent (or has been), but not every real estate agent is a broker. How do realtors fit into the equation?

A realtor is a member of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), a trade association. Both agents and brokers can be realtors, along with property managers, appraisers, and other real estate industry professionals. Realtors are expected to be experts in their field and must follow the NAR’s code of ethics, which requires agents to uphold specific duties to clients and customers, to the public and to other realtors. In addition to NAR, realtors must belong to a state or local real estate association or board.

All realtors are real estate agents or brokers (or something related), but not all agents or brokers are realtors, in other words. As of November 2018, the organization reported that it had 1.36 million members. Some 65% of them held real estate agent’s licenses.

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DIY Little Free Library (Adorable AND Affordable!)

A lot of people think they don’t have the skills to build their own Little Free Library book exchange, and don’t have the funds to buy one; maybe you’ve thought that yourself a time or two.

After all, so many talented people have built wildly creative Little Libraries that seem like they belong in a museum or fancy gallery instead of on a street corner. It’s easy to get intimated, or to think that you need detailed Library building plans and lots of building experience before you try your hand at it.

But that’s not true! Every day we see cute, thoughtful Little Library designs that didn’t break the bank and required little-to-no assembly.

Take Little Free Library steward Iliana Morton, for example. Her Library #53342 in Oakland, California (pictured above) is a transformed IKEA metal cabinet cube that cost her $25, and the result is a bright, cute, cost-effective Library!

Now, you’re probably thinking that you’re not one of those crafty people like you see all over Pinterest, and that yours would never turn out this good. That’s why we asked Iliana to share exactly how she created her DIY Little Free Library. Read on to learn how you can do it, too!

“I’ve known that I’ve wanted to have a Little Free Library for years … about a year after purchasing our first home, I was excited to set up our own Little Free Library. I knew that I wanted something bright and colorful. I also was unsure about investing a lot of money into the project, not knowing how well it would hold up in our neighborhood … I decided to take a DIY approach to keep my costs down, while giving me an opportunity to figure out what would and wouldn’t work for us,” Iliana said.

How did she make the Library?

She started by purchasing a $25 bright orange IKEA metal cabinet cube. She chose it because it was sturdy, and she knew she could spray-paint the metal later on if she wanted to decorate it further.

To make her fledgling Library sturdier, she used Gorilla Glue (available at hardware stores for around $3) to seal together the pieces as she assembled the box. She made sure to get the glue to seep into the seams on all sides of the box, making those edges water-resistant. If you happen to have polyurethane caulk on-hand, you may be able to use caulk to seal the edges of the box, too.

For extra protection, Iliana applied liquid cement on the interior seams of the box. It didn’t look very pretty, so she then covered the interior edges with some duct tape with fun, bright designs that she found at Office Depot for about $2 per roll.

“On the front door I affixed a faux-chalkboard shape that I got at Michaels. With a 40% off Michael’s coupon, the sign was just $2.50. I do have a Cricut machine, which is what I used to design and cut the vinyl lettering that is on the chalkboard. Once the vinyl was on, I sprayed a clear coat of spray sealant on it to waterproof it,” she said.

If you don’t want to deal with vinyl lettering, consider using chalkboard markers instead to write on your sign.

 Now, what about installation?

“My Library box sits on a plain wood bench that we found on Craigslist for free! I found a wooden crate and used that as a riser for my Library so that it sat at a nicer level for people to reach into. I actually affixed the crate to the bench with Gorilla Glue, and then affixed the Library to the crate in the same way. I did this to prevent the box from accidentally (or purposefully) falling down.”

In addition to Craigslist, Freecycle.org is a good place to look for free items in your neighborhood!

The rest was just a matter of decoration! Iliana found some small pots for plants and succulents which she placed near her Library. She used Gorilla Glue again to adhere the pots to the bench, so that they didn’t “magically disappear” or fall over.

So when all was said and done, how much did it cost? 

“I probably spent around $50 on this. My biggest expense was the box at $25. The rest was a matter of keeping an eye out and finding a deal on what I needed. I used absolutely no tools beyond the screwdriver I needed to put together the IKEA box. I took an easy approach by using gorilla glue, which has been wonderful so far, as it is super durable and waterproof. I’ve gotten so many compliments from neighbors that they enjoy it because of the brightness it adds!”

There you have it! You can DIY your own Little Free Library book box for $50 or less.

There’s one more important step that we should mention here: register your Library! When you register, you get access to all of the benefits of registration that we offer to Library stewards, like a listing on our world map and the use of the name Little Free Library.

For more ways that you can create your own cute, affordable Little Library, check out Little Free Libraries on a Shoestring Budget. And get the basics on how to start your own Little Library, register, and get it on the world map.

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Tack Some Extra Years Onto Your Lifespan

healthy-living_running.jpg

You can do more for your health. And it’s not that hard.

Eat healthy foods. Exercise regularly. Don’t smoke. We hear these instructions from doctors, friends, parents, and strangers on the internet so often that the words start to lose their impact. And let’s face it, healthy habits are hard to adhere to. But perhaps if there’s proof they work, then they might be easier to swallow.

In a study in the journal Circulation, researchers studied five lifestyle factors that influence how long humans live. They researchers calculated that people who adhered to five things—drink no more than one glass of alcohol per day (two for men), maintain a healthy body weight, eat a high-quality diet, abstain from smoking, and exercise at a moderate-to-vigorous pace (think a brisk walk, at least) for 30 minutes or more a day—had a greater chance of living longer past age 50. Women who followed all five practices lived 14 years longer, on average, than peers who didn’t adhere to any of them. Men lived 12 years longer under the same conditions.

First, a High-Five

We are generally doing a pretty good job of keeping each other alive. As a nation, we are living far longer than we ever have in the past. Epidemiologists often judge life expectancy as the number of years you live after you reach the age of 50. Prior to that, deaths are often from diseases not associated with getting older like—like accidents or chronic illnesses such as cancer. Today, the average age that people who make it past 50 live is 83.3 for women and 79.8 for men. By many standards, that’s a good long life. In 1940, the life expectancy for all Americans was just 62.9 years. By 2000, it had reached 76.8, and then 78.8 in 2014.

Much of that jump can be attributed to improvements in the standard of living across our country, the fact that far less Americans nowadays smoke, and the great discoveries we’ve made in medicine.

But here’s the bad news: Despite our vast improvements over the last century, when we compare our current life expectancy to that of other rich nations, we aren’t doing so great. In fact, we have a shorter life expectancy than nearly every other wealthy country in the world. There are obviously other factors that could be at play. For one, the United States is the only rich country in the world that doesn’t provide universal health coverage to all its citizens. Access to healthcare is a known factor that contributes to prolonged health, infectious disease prevention, and chronic disease prevention and management. But the researchers behind the new study argue that America could get closer to the lifespans of other nations by making certain changes in their lifestyles.

The five that they found are what they call low-risk lifestyle-related factors. To identify them, they analyzed data from two large longitudinal studies—the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. These are projects that follow people’s lifestyles and track their health for a number of years. These took place for around 30 years, starting in 1980 and ‘83 and ending in 2014. Here’s the five conclusions they found, and the scientific evidence we have to support on each one.

A Healthy Weight

To understand the influence of weight, researchers focused on people’s body mass index, or BMI. That number is a comparison of a person’s height and their weight. You can calculate your own by dividing your weight by your height squared. BMI can be tricky, though. Doctors use it to get a rough estimate of body fat, but for any one individual person, it can be fairly inaccurate. Athletes with high levels of muscle or elderly people with low levels of muscle can get BMIs that do not represent their level of body fat, and not all fat is created equal—some people carry their extra weight in more dangerous places than others. However, when the population number you are studying gets high enough, the outliers average out and BMI paints a far more accurate picture, though still not a perfect one.

What the researchers found was not incredibly surprising. People with BMIs between 18.5 and 22.9 had a higher chance of living longer than those who had BMIs outside that range.

We pretty much knew this already, and it makes sense. Carrying around excess fat can change the way your cells work, causing conditions like type two diabetes, and make more work for your cardiovascular system, which eventually makes you more susceptible to high blood pressure.

The cool thing about body weight, though, is that even small levels of weight loss can mean big differences in health. Research shows that losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. More weight loss can lead to an even greater reduction in these risks—up to a point. Being too thin can be detrimental to your health as well. For example, not having enough fat can prevent the movement of hormones throughout the body. That’s why it’s important to work with a doctor when attempting major weight loss.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption

The researchers also found that people who consumed a moderate amount of alcohol had a better chance of living longer than those who were heavy drinkers. They defined moderate alcohol consumption as five to 15 grams per day for women and five to 30 grams per day for men. According to the National Institutes of Health, a standard drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. That equates to 12 fluid ounces of beer, eight of malt liquor, five of table wine, and 1.5 of distilled spirits.

The available evidence around moderate drinking is tricky. Researchers have solid evidence to say that heavy drinking can absolutely be detrimental to your health. But the line between moderate drinking and abstaining from alcohol altogether is fuzzy. Whether people who moderately drink fare better than people who abstain is even murkier. We still don’t have a solid study with enough participants to back that up. For now, it’s safe to say that moderate drinking will not cause you severe harm, but whether it’s better for your health than abstaining remains to be seen. If you’re trying to make the absolute best health decisions based on the available evidence, the smartest move is probably to drink very little or not at all.

A High-Quality Diet

Over the past 100 years, we’ve gotten really, really good at understanding the mechanisms through which the human body works, and engineering medications that fix things when various bodily functions go awry. But in the process, we’ve mostly neglected the preventative health benefits of simply adhering to a healthy diet.

To understand the influence of the foods the participants ate on their health, the researchers used something called the Alternate Healthy Eating Index Score. It breaks foods down into their various components. For example, lasagna can break down into ground beef, ricotta cheese, onions, and so on. The cheese is further broken down into a dairy component and a fat component. Points—on a scale of one to 10—were assigned to the participants; a 10 meant total adherence to the recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, red meat, sugar, and so on. Those recommendations are already associated with a reduced risk of various diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Participants who scored in the top 40 percent were deemed healthy eaters. Nutrition studies are, of course, hard to do because of all the other factors that could contribute, like exercise, stress, and environmental factors. And human test subjects are notoriously bad at accurately reporting their own eating habits. But, there’s good research to show that poor diets have a direct influence on various factors like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body weight. To date, the best diet to follow is probably the Mediterranean diet, however, if you focus on eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods most of the time, you are doing great things for your health. Just find a nutritional plan you can stick to—enjoying unhealthy things occasionally in moderation is much better than periodically failing hard at your strict diet.

Not Smoking

We used to think smoking was benign, or even good for us (thanks, tobacco lobby!). Doctors smoked and often recommended cigarettes to their patients to reduce stress or lose weight. But those days are long over. Solid evidence shows smoking significantly increases your chances of lung cancer as well as other lung and heart diseases. The decline in smoking over the past 50 or so years is a major reason the average lifespan in America has gone up. Let’s not ever reverse that. If you want to live longer and you’re still smoking (or vaping, for that matter)—well, that doesn’t make much sense. Do whatever you can to stop.

Exercise Daily

In the study, researchers found that those who exercised for at least 30 minutes a day at a moderate to vigorous pace (including brisk walking) were in the lowest-risk group for developing certain diseases later in life, and thus they had the potential to live longer.

Exercise does two main things: it boosts metabolism and contributes to weight loss or weight stability. Those two factors significantly increase your chances of living longer. But researchers are finding a whole bunch of other things that happen in your body when you exercise, like the creation of new heart cells and an increase in bone strength. One recent study suggests that even if you have a family history of heart disease, exercise can reduce your risk. Working out can boost your mood, too. Trying to remember how good you will feel after you exercise could help you get going.

How Things Accumulate

The key takeaway from this study is that the more of these lifestyle factors people adhered to, the more likely they were to live longer after hitting 50. However, the researchers say, this is on a population level. To better understand people on an individual level, the researchers want to study smaller groups with known certain conditions, like those who had been diagnosed with cancer previously or those with known cardiovascular disease. How large of a benefit do these five lifestyle factors have on those specific populations? More of those studies will help researchers and doctors determine what you should do to live a long and healthy life. But in the meantime, you’ll have a hard time finding a doctor who will tell you not to follow the practices listed above. So let’s get cracking.

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Winning a real-estate bidding war

The housing market is less competitive these days but bidding wars can still happen.

Home buyers today may not face as much competition as they did a few years ago, but they should still prepare a strategy for dealing with a bidding war.

Want to be sure that you’ll place the winning bid a home? Then you better be prepared to pay in cash.

A new report from real-estate brokerage Redfin examined the most successful strategies to use when dealing with competing bids for homes. Far and away, the best approach was to make an all-cash offer, researchers found.

Committing to buy a home without financing more than tripled the likelihood of placing the winning bid. The study was based on an analysis of the outcomes of 9,000 offers that Redfin agents wrote on behalf of home buyers who faced competition for their desired property between January 2018 and September 2019.

The last time Redfin analyzed the best strategies for approaching a bidding war back in 2017, all-cash offers also came out on top of the list. But at that time, making an all-cash offer only increased the likelihood of success by 97%.

“A couple of years ago, the market was much more competitive than it is now,” Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather said in the report. “Sellers might have had multiple all-cash bids to choose from, and offer price more often ended up being the determining factor.”

A separate report released by Redfin last week indicated that only 10% of offers written by the brokerage’s agents sparked a bidding war, representing a 10-year low.

Much like bidding wars, all-cash offers on homes have become less common. All-cash sales only accounted for 17% of existing-home sales in September, according to the National Association of Realtors. Comparatively, all-cash deals were extremely popular in the wake of the Great Recessions, driven by investors looking to scoop up homes quickly at the low prices then. In November 2013, 42% of residential property sales were completely cash transactions.

Nevertheless, all-cash offers remain competitive in today’s market because of the hurdles securing financing can pose. As a result, sellers in today’s market appreciate the assurances all-cash offers provide that the deal won’t fall through.

The second-most effective strategy from the 2019 analysis was writing a personal letter to the home’s seller. This increased the odds of success by 59%.

One strategy that has become far less effective as the market has cooled over the past two years is offering to waive a financing contingency. These clauses indicate that the offer is dependent on the buyer receiving financing for the purchase from a lender and are designed to protect the buyer from liability in the event that a sale falls through because they couldn’t secure a loan.

While waiving this contingency was previously shown to increase the odds of winning a bidding war by 58%, nowadays it will only boost a buyer’s chance by 20%.

Redfin also investigated the effectiveness of two additional strategies some buyers pursue — waiving the inspection contingency and conducting a pre-inspection of the property. The analysis showed these approaches did not lead to an increased likelihood of winning a bidding war.

What Kind of Person Pays to See Phish 100 Times?

The man from whom I bought my ticket had seen Phish over 100 times. Encouragingly enough, he was in excellent physical shape and had a business and a wife and multiple kids who were spending the rainy closing hours of 2018 a safe and conspicuous distance from Madison Square Garden.

It is possible to thrive even with a Phish addiction, and in some cases impossible to thrive without it—We should all hope for obsessions and enablers as healthy as my scalper’s, although “scalper” cheapens the relationship somewhat. In the Phish world, I had just experienced what’s known as a “miracle.” Of course on any major holiday one man’s miracle is another night at the office and I soon found myself schmoozing a few of the Garden’s production men, who seemed amused at my long-burning curiosity about what the arena’s attic is like (apparently it’s a cluttered labyrinth of submarine-like industrial passageways and during the Phish run it gets incredibly loud because of its proximity to the amplifiers that the band hangs from the room’s gently sloping ceiling and also becomes pretty stuffy because of the smoke rising from the crowd not far below). “It used to be like it was raining,” one of the productions guys said of the torrents of glow sticks that cascade from the upper decks during Phish shows. “Now, we barely have anything to pick up afterwards.” You all are getting old.

Is there any conceivable logic to seeing a single band 100 times? It’s a question I’ve often asked myself having seen Phish on a measly 17 occasions. How many “Simples” does one need before happiness and fulfillment are achieved? Will my existence really be incomplete until I’ve seen “Magrupp and the Watchful Horsemasters” played live? (Obviously, yes). Does the band even give as much of a shit as we do? That last one was something of an open question among fans up until their Baker’s Dozen stunt in the summer of 2017—a run of 13 shows at the Garden in which they were jammier and weirder and freer than they’d been in a long time. For the next year’s worth of decent to sometimes well-north-of-decent live performances, the more honest fans would bitterly reflect that it took a high-stakes gimmick for Phish to really become their best and truest selves, after which they reverted back to late-period predictability. And then, another coup: The surprise live debut of an album’s worth of some of the weirdest and funkiest and sneakily darkest (and absolute best) songwriting of their career, introduced via the magisterial Kasvot Växt Halloween prank of 2018. The quartet that played four nights at the Garden last week was one that really did seem to grasp the existential significance of having the “Simple” that’s been rattling around in your head for years or decades dazzlingly manifested in sound and vision. For my money, they played just such a “Simple” during the opening hour of 2019.

Obsessions are indulged for—or, more cynically, sustained by —that handful of moments in which they make absolute, perfect sense. So it was when Phish embarked on a hazy, grungy “Steam” in the first set on New Year’s Eve, with the choruses punctuated with decidedly un-Phish like eruptions reminiscent of the end of “Day in the Life” (come to think it, the “No Quarter” they played Saturday night sometimes reminded me more of like, Ride than it did of Led Zeppelin or Phish). A Bob Dylan lyric occurred to me during the glorious windup for “Run Like an Antelope:” “It frightens me, the awful truth of how sweet life can be.” And then almost immediately I remembered the doggerel that closes Gravity’s Rainbow, which is written in a notably similar meter to “Auld Lang Syne:” “There is a hand to turn the time/Though thy glass today be run.”

Phish has only a small number of songs that really stand on their own and the band’s power comes from the four musicians’ ability to both embrace and transcend the inherent absurdity of their material. But on New Year’s their songs took on an unexpectedly profound quality. On “Down With Disease” Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell were yelling “stop!” at the galloping hour hand. “The day is longer than your year,” they insisted as the outset of “Mercury,” just around 11:50 PM. The jam that preceded midnight felt intense and sludgy and pleasantly unmelodic, liminal in a way that channeled the psychic and temporal moment. Then thousands of silver balloons dropped from the ceiling, and the crowd batted them around like giant pachinko balls. Dressed in space suits and screened by a forest of glistening streamers, Trey and Mike Gordon hovered a hundred feet above the crowd, absolutely nailing “Say it to me S.A.N.T.OS” (one of funkiest, weirdest, and darkest of the Kasvot Växt numbers) while harnessed far, far away from their pedals and monitors. Dancers dressed as pepperoni pizza slices and flying saucers traipsed across the stage, and a few of the inflatable giant green aliens crowd-surfed down 7th avenue after the show finally let out around 1 AM. These were the hands to turn the time, though thy glass today be run.

During one of the set breaks, a Phish newbie in my section said he was once under the mistaken impression they were a Christian band, with their name being a possible reference to the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Matthew, chapter 15). Now we all know that Phish is a Jewish band as anyone who went to Jewish sleepaway camp in the past quarter-century or listened to the YEM > Yerushalayim Shel Zahav > YEM they played on July 16th, 1993 can attest. But this is a beautiful connection nonetheless, this idea of a small thing becoming a cosmically big one, or at least of the existence of some higher alchemy that human witnesses can verify. Were Phish, in fact, a Christian band, the name might refer to the idea that live music and religion share some core experiential similarity (in fact it’s derived from the last name of drummer John Fishman).

A Phish show is its own strange sort of spiritual community that exists for a few hours at a time and then dissolves with fearful instancy. They’re not exactly a popular band or one with particularly broad appeal; their success has come from mining the same somewhat large group of enthusiasts over the course of several decades and effectively preventing that audience from wandering off. The people at a Phish show really do want to be there—every square inch of the floor and seating bowl are filled at the Garden and only the truly inebriated manage to stand perfectly still. No one watches indifferently. Five hours pass in a moment, and the lacuna in real life jolts to an unwelcome end. “This is so sad,” someone in my section remarked, watching the balloons and ribbons being swept away. “The universe is no longer here.”

By Armin Rosen

The True Value of a Real Estate Agent

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With the wealth of information available online, many of today’s consumers are incredibly knowledgeable about the home buying and selling process. Add in the desire to save — or make — as much money as possible, and it’s easy to see why you might be tempted to pass on hiring an agent. 

But before flying solo, consider the benefits of having an empathetic and experienced negotiator on your side.

Local Data and Insider Knowledge  

You may have lived in your neighborhood since the kids started school and know exactly how much the neighbor’s house sold for. But do you have all the tools of an expert? An agent’s local data can show you everything that’s selling right now and what buyers in your area are prepared to pay for your house.

Contract Expertise

Buying a home is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make — and the amount of paperwork and legal jargon required proves it. Omitting or miswording even one line can lead to a costly mistake that’s much higher than the price of an agent’s commission. 

Skilled Negotiation

Haggling over contract contingencies and home pricing can lead to negotiation fatigue and poor judgment calls for emotionally invested buyers and sellers. One key reason to work with a real estate agent is to have an experienced negotiator who’ll put your best interests first. 

Professional Networks

The complexity of property transactions means contractors, attorneys, lenders and financial advisers are also involved. A well-connected agent can put you in touch with other qualified and trustworthy real estate professionals who are ready to help. 

Thinking about listing your home? Or looking for a new place to call home? Reach out today. 

Posted in Listings Real Estate Technology by Being BOB. No Comments

Are Airports Secretly Manipulating You?

Next time you fly, pay close attention to the airports. Their design may be more intentional than you think.

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Photo by DANIEL BOCKWOLDT/AFP/Getty Images.

Over the years, airports have evolved from bare-bones transportation hubs for select travelers to bustling retail centers for millions. They’re being designed to both complement and influence human behavior. Everything from the architecture and lighting to the trinkets on sale in the gift shops is strategic. Here are a few tricks airports use to help travelers relax, get to their gates safely and on time, and hopefully spend some money along the way.

1. They make sure you can see the tarmac.

One key to a successful airport is easy navigation. Travelers should be able to get from security to their gate without getting lost, with help from subtle design cues nudging them in the right direction. In design lingo, this process is called wayfinding. “I tell my staff that signage is an admission of failure,” says Stanis Smith, executive vice president and leader of the airports sector at consulting firm Stantec. “Obviously one needs signs, but the best thing for designers to do is look for ways you can assist with wayfinding that are subtle.”

For example, in many new airports, passengers can see through to the tarmac immediately after they leave security, or sooner. “More important than anything is a view directly out to airside and you see the tails of all the aircraft,” says Robert Chicas, Director of Aviation and Transportation at HOK, the architectural firm that helped redesign the Indianapolis International Airport. “Does it matter whether it’s your aircraft? Probably not. It gives you an orientation so you know generally that’s the direction you need to head in.”

2. The signs send subliminal messages.

“Very, very little in the style of an airport sign is arbitrary,” writes David Zweig, author of Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion. Take the font, for example. In 75% of all airports, you’ll find one of three typefaces: Helvetica, Frutiger, and Clearview. All three are sans serif because it’s easier to read at a distance. The unofficial rule for size, according to the Transportation Research Board’s guide to wayfinding, is that every inch of letter height adds 40 feet of viewing distance (so a “3 inch tall letter would be legible from 120 feet”). Sometimes different terminals will have their own distinct signature sign design—like rounded edges or a specific color. “If you are ever in an airport or campus or hospital or other complex environment and suddenly something feels off, you sense you are going the wrong way, there’s a good chance it’s not just magic or some brilliant internal directional sense,” Zweig writes, “but rather you may be responding to a subconscious cue like the change of shape from one sign system to another.”

3. They lighten the mood.

Newer airports incorporate as many windows as possible, even in stores. “There’s a trend that the shops face the tarmac. Passengers tend to walk more into shops that have direct access to the sunlight,” says Julian Lukaszewicz, lecturer in aviation management at Buckinghamshire New University. “If they’re closed off with artificial light passengers feel they are too dark and avoid them.”

4. They herd you with art.

That big sculpture in your terminal isn’t just there to look pretty. It’s another tool to help travelers navigate. “We like to use things like artwork as kind of placemakers that create points of reference through an airport terminal,” says Smith. “For example, in Vancouver International Airport we have a spectacular 16-foot high sculpture at the center of the pre-security retail area. People say, ‘Meet you at the sculpture.’ It acts as a point of orientation.”

Art also serves to create a sense of place, transforming the airport from a sterile people-mover to a unique atmosphere where people want to spend time (and money!). In one survey, 56 percent of participants said “a more culturally sensitive and authentic experience tied to the location” is something they’d like to see more in airports by 2025.

5. They use carpeting.

In many airports, the long walk from check-in to gate is paved in linoleum (or some other hard surface). But you’ll notice that the gate waiting area is carpeted. This is an attempt to make holding areas more relaxing by giving them a soft, cozy feeling, like you might find in your own living room. Happy, relaxed travelers spend 7 percent more money on average on retail and 10 percent more on Duty Free items. And it doesn’t stop with a layer of carpeting. Yoga rooms, spas, and even airport therapy dogs are becoming more common as airports look for new ways to relax travelers and encourage spending.

6. The “golden hour” is key for profit.

In airport manager lingo, the time between when a passenger clears security and boards their plane is called “dwell time.” This is when, as the Telegraph puts it, “passengers are at a loose end and most likely to spend.” Especially crucial is the “golden hour,” the first 60 minutes spent beyond security, when passengers are “in a self-indulgent mood.” Display boards listing flight information are there in part to keep you updated on your flight, but also to reassure you that you still have plenty of time to wander and shop. Similarly, some airports are installing “time to gate” signs that display how far you are from your destination. And because 40 percent of us would prefer to avoid human interaction when we shop, self-service kiosks are becoming more common in airport terminals. According to the Airports Council International, 50 percent of American airports now have robo-retailers.

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Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images.

7. They’re increasing dwell time.

The “golden hour” is great, but two golden hours are even better. “One hour more at an airport is around $7 more spent per passenger,” says Lukaszewicz.Anything that’s automated, from check-in to bag drop, is meant to speed things up. And it works. Research suggests automated check-in kiosks are 25 percent faster than humans. “A lot of airports, especially in Japan and New Zealand, are now doing this, where you don’t actually get any assistance from any staff member from check-in,” says Lukaszewicz. “You print your own baggage tag. You put it on the bag on the belt. You go through auto-security and immigration where there is no one. At the boarding gate you just touch your barcode and they open a gate and you walk onto the plane without any interaction.” One study found that for every 10 minutes a passenger spends in the security line, they spend 30 percent less money on retail items. Last year, the TSA announced it would give $15,000 to the person who comes up with the best idea for speeding up security.

8. Shops are strategically placed.

Most airport spending is done on impulse (no one really needs a giant pack of Toblerone), so the key is getting the goods out where they can be seen by as many people as possible. Shops are located where airport footfall is highest. Some airports force passengers to wander through Duty Free to get to the gates. And the more twists and turns, the better. According to one report from consulting company Intervistas, Duty-Free shops with “serpentine walk-through” designs have 60 percent more sales “because 100% of customers are exposed.”

Shops and restaurants are often clustered to evoke a Main Street feel, because people tend to shop in bustling environments. “It’s no different than if you’re in a town in Europe or in Manhattan,” Smith says. “Retail succeeds when it has a critical mass.”

9. They go local.

Airport shops are packed with souvenirs and trinkets that reflect the local culture because that’s what travelers want to buy. For example, more than 20 years after its release, “Sleepless in Seattle” shirts are still a top-selling item at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. In the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, shoppers go wild for potted cactus plants. “Local brands, local services, reinforce this idea of place, and that you are in a special place on your way to the rest of the world,” says Ripley Rasmus, senior design principal at HOK.

10. Walkways curve to the left.

The majority of humans are right-handed, and according to Intervistas, this influences airport design. “More sales are generated if a walkway curves from right to left with more merchandise and space on the right side because passengers are looking right while (perhaps unconsciously) walking left,” says one report.

11. A single queue puts us at ease.

While the line for check-in and security may seem absurdly long, a single queue actually lowers stress levels by increasing the perceived sense of fairness, according to Lukaszewicz. No one worries the other line is going faster than theirs, because there is no other line. “If you implement a one-queue system for check-in, or for security, so one long line and then you go just to the next available counter, passengers perceive it as more fair because each person is standing in the same line,” he says. “It’s strange but true because you always think the queue next to you moves quicker.”

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Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

12. The security officers get conversational.

Since 2007, the TSA has been pouring $200 million a year into agents trained to spot suspicious behavior in passengers. The program, called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT), was developed by a psychology professor at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco named Paul Ekman. It involves a list of 94 signs of anxiety and fear, like lack of eye contact or sweating. But one report found that SPOT is ineffective because “the human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance.”

Another method of screening passengers is simply to talk to them. A 2014 study found that asking open-ended questions—known as the Controlled Cognitive Engagement method (CCE)—is 20 times more effective than trying to monitor based on behavior. For example, an agent might ask a passenger where they’re traveling before prodding them with a random question like where they went to college and what they majored in, then watch for signs of panic. “If you’re a regular passenger, you’re just chatting about the thing you know the best—yourself,” says researcher Thomas Ormerod, PhD, head of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex in England. “It shouldn’t feel like an interrogation.” In the study, officers using conversation-based screening caught 66 percent of deceptive passengers, compared to just 3 percent who used behavior-based screening.

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn.