The Unconditional Blog

The impartial voice of the industry


Archive for the ‘International’ Category


The smartest agents recognise the power of technology – how we are helping

fore-logo-homeLater this week will host its first ever conference focused on the role that technology in all its forms is having on the real estate industry. Titled the “Future of Real Estate” the conference to be held on Friday 3rd September at Waipuna conference centre in Auckland and will feature both domestic and international speakers as well as workshop sessions focused to the key business tools of the web – Facebook, blogs and Twitter.

The conference is very much influenced by the experiences I have encountered in attending the Inman Connect conferences in the states each year. Coupled with the style and richness of the Inman conference the NZ conference echos a quotation which I first heard at least 3 years ago and still to this day rings so true:

“Traditional agents will not be replaced by technology.. they will be replaced by agents with technology”

The quote comes from an Australian real estate conference and every time I use it; it reinforces to me the critical requirement of real estate professionals to recognise that technology is not the threat, but rather it is the means to take a giant step forward and surpass all those in the industry who believe technology is the threat. Over these past years I have been keen to get together an event in which we can help those in this industry who want to move ahead and who are keen to meet like minded individuals and listen and collaborate with the best in the business. This conference is the realisation of this ambition.

The event features some great contributors:

From the US we have invited Joel Burslem. Joel is a respected expert within the real estate industry. He is a blogger, real estate marketer and consultant. He founded the Future of Real Estate Marketing blog whilst working at Inman  News and now is a key part of the consultancy firm of 1000 Consulting. Joel will be providing an overview of the trends in digital marketing around the world with detail around the role of social media in this industry.

From closer to home we have Nicholas O’Flaherty who is MD of Bullet PR, a respected specialist media consultancy company whose clients value the skills and innovation Nicholas’ company brings to the implementation of social media. Bullet recently hosted the enormously popular Social Media Junction conference with outline plans for a further event later in the year. Nicholas will be picking up on Joel’s presentation and bringing the local perspective as well as the practical examples of the best in the marketplace today in NZ using all forms of social media.

Addressing the ever present question in relation to the web – that of search we are very pleased to have Charles Coxhead joining the conference. Charles has a long and distinguished career specialising in search. As an online search and marketing consultant he has worked with clients such as Air New Zealand, Expedia as well as He will bring some focus to the ever evolving search landscape that nowadays transends beyond just Google into real time search as well as hyper local search and in so doing will apply the test as to the relevance for the real estate industry.

Our final keynote speaker is Simon Baker. Simon is well known and highly regarded within the real estate industry primarily in Australia where for 7 years he lead the stellar growth of into the substantial ASX listed company with revenues exceeding A$160m. Since leaving the REA group, Simon has persued a strategy as an investor and consultant, his focus in online classified businesses with international scale and within that area he has investments in a number of Asian real estate portals. He brings to the conference a reflection on the criticality of the real estate portals and the heart of the business which is exposure to real estate listings through online marketing. He will also provide some interesting insight into the comparison of development between Australasia, Europe, US and Asia when it comes to real estate online.

The event promises to be a fast paced, rich content experience which in addition to the keynote presentations will feature workshop sessions on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and online etiquette. The day culminates with a panel discussion on the topic of the future of real estate and its implications for all involved in the industry.

The event is for the real estate industry and anyone involved in the industry at whatever level or in whatever capacity is welcome to register. There is a limited number of spaces still available so if you are interested please register before the event as registrations need to be made online prior to the event.


Connect – the global conference where technology and real estate “connect”

Posted on: July 17th, 2010 | Filed in Featured, International, Real Estate Industry, Technology, Website searching

San Francisco skylineWhat began as a small gathering of technologists and tech minded real estate people over a decade and a half ago has evolved into the most significant global conference on real estate – not just real estate technology. I make this statement as the reality is that technology is, has been, and will in the future, continue to be the largest change agent of this industry globally.

Connect is hosted by Inman News – the specialist news service for the real estate industry and its charismatic founder and host of the conference Brad Inman.

This year’s San Francisco event (they are hosted twice a year – New York in January) has just wrapped up and for me as a regular attendee the value of the event never fails to deliver.

A key essence of the event is information overload. The feeling that after 3 days you have been exposed to the largest mass of insight and emerging comprehension of where this industry is heading in the future. There are always (I sense deliberately) more sessions and content than one person alone can consume. That means that after these 3 days I have to sit down and re-read the scribbled notes and digest the learning in order to come up with a picture that has emerged from the conference.

There isn’t a single message promoted as the theme of the conference, but there is always, in summing up the conference an emerging train of thought that can best describe the conference. For me this year that came from one of the final speakers on the last day – Matt Gilligan of SimpleGeo, who made the simple statement that “Location is Context”. A simple statement, but in my mind loaded with powerful inference. For over the past 2 years the emerging role of mobile technologies has grown and grown to the situation where at this conference more than any other preceding Connect conference mobile was all anyone talked about. Mobile is all about location and being location aware is in a broader context a radical paradigm shift for almost all businesses, however for real estate location is at its very core. The phrase “Location, Location, Location” is an international phrase as well known as the McDonalds “I’m Loving it” or Nike’s “Just do it”

A show of hands ably demonstrated the view of the attendees (some 2,000 of them) as to ownership of smart phones (>70%) and iPads (c.15% after just 3 months on sale!). This industry, or at least those at the forefront of technology adoption within it, are embracing mobile as a game changer for the industry. The exhibiting companies as well as almost all presenters talked and demonstrated smart phone apps and iPad apps – next year this portfolio will undoubtedly extend to include Andriod and potentially Microsoft Mobile Window 7.

Another interesting stream of content from the conference of specific relevance to was the whole area of search. A couple of excellent panel discussions and workshop looked at search as the online tool of entry to the real estate marketplace. Providing an unbiased and external perspective was Gary Flake of Microsoft who rightly asked the question; could there be a better way of searching for property? after all the facet based search on price, bedrooms, bathrooms and property type is really a crude way of interpreting the characteristics of lifestyle / lifestage. This theme was picked up by a workshop group who having the benefit of a 24 period to debate and discuss the issue came back with some excellent proposals around leveraging the “Social Graph” to apply all that accessible online information tied up collectively in all your personal behaviours, actions and intent online to better present property that really should suit you.

The practical application being that if you were able to share your key social graph around these parameters – salary = price range; family scale = size of house; age = size of house / location; entertainment likes & activity = location / style of house. All of these clues are bound up in your profile & activity on sites such as Facebook / LinkedIn / Amazon / iTunes / Netflix / your bank account. Now clearly this list includes some very non-public data and as such raises some red flags, but just challenge the concept for a moment to say, if this social graph was inputted through an algorithm to the database of available property on the market as well as alerts to new property, it would certainly provide a richer set of results than just searching for 3 bedroom homes under $500,000 in inner city suburbs of Wellington.

The Connect conference is in many ways a reaffirmation of the fact that we live in a wired (& more so these days wireless) and mutli-connected world and the issues and challenges faced in the real estate market in NZ are so similar to the issues in Europe, US, Australia and Asia, further evidenced by attendees from all the major developed countries of the world represented at the conference. This was further evidenced when set against the hi tech apps and online tools profiled at the conference, a presenter talked of the abandonment rate of telephone inquiries which divert to voice mail and from research how low the return call rate was. It left a sobering reinforcement of the fact that technology cannot replace the human process, but hopefully can make the smarter agents more effective and efficient and enable them to track that performance more accurately as an individual or business owner.

Connect is a valuable event. It has grown from being a US domestic event to become an international event – even noted by many at this years conference that Australians seems to be “everywhere”. I personally was delighted to see a good number of NZ representatives eagerly absorbing the content. It is a conference I would highly recommend to anyone with a conviction to invest in their career in real estate and who recognises the game-changing role of technology in that future.

Sydney skyline

Great news could be on the horizon, there was a question asked in the closing session as to other locations for hosting Connect. The question was posed by an American, their question was directed at an alternative US location, but the answer from Brad included the inference that they might look at international locations – Beijing and Sydney were mentioned.

To have a Connect in our Asia Pacific region would be enormous and I will share my passion and support to try and get such a conference organized.


With the Chinese currency set to rise NZ property could be an attractive investment

Posted on: July 3rd, 2010 | Filed in Featured, International

China arrivalsThe Chinese currency (Yuan) is predicted to rise in the coming months following the decision in early June to remove the pegging of the currency to the US dollar. The strategy adopted over years ago was designed to stimulate exports by effectively depressing the value of the currency.

Now that the Yuan will become more of a floating currency its appreciation as a function of projected economic growth will improve the overseas purchasing power of Chinese nationals looking for investment options. The domestic property market in China has gone through a boom and this is predicted to drive smart investors to seek overseas options. This could result in more Chinese buyers for NZ property.

Fact / Hypothesis / Wishful thinking? – only time will tell. However it is very interesting to use the power of the property website of to examine overseas traffic particularly from mainland China and Hong Kong.

The rich data of a website is perfect as a source to analyse just such a hypothesis – using the IP address analysis it is possible to detail exactly what proportion of all traffic to the site comes from which country and what they look at on the site.

Analysising this data over the past 18 months shows a striking fact – that as the currency exchange rate between the NZ dollar and the Chinese Yuan has risen and fallen so the level of viewings by Chinese and Hong Kong based computers has followed an identical path. This pattern is unique to these markets as the metric is not absolute traffic, but percentage of all traffic. The chart below shows this very clearly.

NZ Property searching from China and Hong Kong mapped to currency movements

The red line with the right hand axis measures the value of the purchasing power in NZ dollars of the Yuan, whilst the blue line with the left hand axis tracks the percentage of all visitors to the website each month from mainland China and Hong Kong combined.

As to what this audience is looking at – the answer simply and in some ways not unexpectedly is apartments. The chart below tracks the traffic to just apartments on the over the same 18 month period compared to traffic to all listings on the website, on the same scale axis.

Interest in NZ property from mainland China focused on apartments

The chart shows the percentage of all visitors looking at apartments viewing from mainland China and Hong Kong as the red line which is signifcantly above the same measure for percentage of all visitors looking at all listings on the website as the blue line. Also of note is the significant rise in apartment viewing since late 2009. At the peak in late 208, over 2% of all visitors viewing apartment listings on the site were from China and Hong Kong and the current level of interest is certainly heading that way again.


Adding a dose of humour to real estate search

Posted on: April 14th, 2010 | Filed in Cool sites, International, The lighter side Australia's leading real estate websiteThe leading Australian website (not related to – just smart use of domain name) has undergone a significant rebuild. There are many aspects of the site re-design that underlie the leadership role that the site plays in the Australian market. The site eclipses the nearest competitor, the Fairfax owned by a significant margin.

The last annual report showed the site with over 5 million unique browsers per month more than twice their competitor and with a content of over 570,000 listings.

The new site is worth a view as there are some very impressive developments. My favourite would be the “compare” feature which creates the ability of side by side comparison of favourite properties, much in the way you would do with a comparison shop or a digital camera.

However the thing that I found engaging is their digital media campaign. The site has 8 exclusively made 90 second videos that in a light hearted way pokes fun at scenarios where property seekers use all kinds of underhand (as opposed to “under-arm”) tactics to get the upper hand in property buying.

I have watched them all and think that they strike the right balance of suitable tongue-in-cheek, mixed with warmth and that great Aussie charm! If I had to select a favourite it would be this one called “Detour”. Enjoy.

And just in case anyone was wondering we have exciting news coming very soon in regard to


Open homes – Realtors in the US go on the offensive to showcase property

Posted on: April 11th, 2010 | Filed in Buying / Selling a home, International

Nationwide_OPen_HouseThis weekend around the 50 states of the US houses will be decked out with blue bunting and balloons. It is not a new public holiday -rather it is a concerted initiative by the National Association of Realtors to try and kick off the spring season of property buying with a bang!

The US property market has been in the doldrums for over 3 years as it has suffered the largest fall in prices since the Great Depression. The Case Shiller Index of home prices (the most respected source of property prices measured across 20 major cities) is still 30% down on the peak of the market back in May 2006. During this time the number of properties being sold has slumped with a consequential loss of confidence in real estate and a sobering rise in foreclosures (mortgagee sales). Estimates vary but a common held view is that up to 40% of all mortgage holders are technically under water – their property is worth less than the value of their homes.

The chart below tracks the Case Shiller index showing year on year growth or decline. Whilst the current year on year is effectively zero, the key fact is that for 3 years the index has been constant year on year decline.

Case Shiller Home Price Index January 2010

With this as a backdrop the US government recognised, that just as in most western countries where residential property is a key asset for most households and consumer confidence is tied to perceptions of wealth something needed to be done to stimulate the property market. The US government solution was to allocate some of the massive US$787 billion fiscal stimulus package to create a US$8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers and up to US$6,500 for move-up buyers. The original deadline for this initiative was scheduled to expire on the 30th Nov last year but was extended to the 30th April 2010.

So this initiative this weekend for local real estate companies to implement a carnival-like experience across the country is timed to try and peak interest and purchase decision before this stimulus incentive runs out at the end of the month (with no likelihood of another extension).

The question as to the value of this exercise could be hotly debated – can a concerted effort on this scale by an organisation as powerful as the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the associated local branches through local offices and agents drive demand? What is not to be ignored is the might of the NAR, it is the largest trade organisation in the US, with over 1.2 million members. It’s influence was strong enough to achieve the extension of this home buyer tax credit, so it’s marketing muscle has the ability to affect consumer activity and stimulate interest in property buying.

It would be an interesting question to know here in NZ if such an initiative (a massive open home weekend event – not a first time home buyer tax credit) could be coordinated and implemented and if it would have a bearing on the property market?


Grocery shopping and real estate – a match made in heaven?

Posted on: March 11th, 2010 | Filed in Buying / Selling a home, Featured, International, Real Estate Industry

Grocery aisle - real estate and grocery - a match made in heaven?This week has seen the official launch of a new real estate service in the UK, bringing the British public a real estate service packaged up with their weekly groceries.

Tesco logoTesco, the largest UK grocery chain has partnered with Spicerhaart, one of the UK’s largest real estate chains to establish iSold – what they describe as “The UK’s newest estate agency, iSold has taken the very best in estate agency and made it even better”.

The service offered by iSold appears from the website analysis to be a 3 tiered full service comprising an up front fee of £299 (NZ$636) for valuation and marketing including extensive online profile of the property across the main websites. A completion fee of £700 (NZ$1,500) is payable on sale. This basic package is complemented by a Premium package at a total cost of £1,119 (NZ$2,380) and Premium Plus at £1,299 (NZ$2,764) – no clear details of the extent of the premium services are yet available.

It is clear from the current site that a lot of focus is placed on the valuation and the right pricing to help you sell. The site states that iSold has their own locally-based valuation experts. The initial launch has been focused in Bristol before this week rolling out around a number of regional centers across the country.

This activity comes close on the heals of the move by RE/MAX real estate brokerage in New England (US) to open 17 micro real estate offices within a chain of grocery stores.

The question is – Is this likely to be a future trend for the real estate industry here in NZ as more and more real estate offices question their high street presence as more of the marketing moves online?

There is quiet a bit of precedent already established in this area of grocery chain diversification. It is worth reflecting on this to provide some perspective to this concept. Here in NZ we had an ambitious move by Foodstuffs in 2003 to establish a banking service (SuperBank) in their New World stores. That move which was itself modeled on the Tesco banking service in the UK ultimately failed to capture sufficient customers before the business folded in 2006 with all the customers being transferred to Kiwibank.

The fact is grocery stores are very high traffic outlets. They are very strong retail brands and they are always looking for higher margin offerings to supplement the high volume / low margin grocery business. So there is a possibility for such a move in the future. It is also interesting to compare this UK iSold model with “The Joneses” business model launched back in 2007 with a full service agency based on a fixed fee service instead of traditional commissions.


Larger than your average family home!

Posted on: October 30th, 2009 | Filed in International, The lighter side

The US real estate website Zillow has just highlighted what they believe is the largest house in the US. At 43,031 square feet (3,997 square metres) – that means this house has the floor area of just that bit less than an acre!

US largest home - NY state

As Zillow reports on their blog the property which has a very nice waterfront vista along from the famed “The Hamptons” took 5 years to build and is built on a section size of 63 acres. The property comprises officially 21 bedroom and 18 bathrooms. The unique Zillow Zestimate places an approximate value on this property of US$202,864,000 – roughly NZ$262 million!

The property makes a very impressive image as seen on Google satellite imagery as seen below

View Larger Map

In NZ we certainly do not have anything quite as grand, extensive or expensive!

The most expensive and most impressive property for sale as listed on the website at this time is this grand property on Waiheke island being marketed by Michael Boulgaris.

This 12,000 square foot property (barely a quarter of the size of its US sister) is set in 88 acres of land on Waiheke island. It is a very impressive property boasting 8 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms and three open fires, together with a private wharf, tennis court and boat shed.

Whilst Waiheke island may not be quite “The Hamptons” the NZ$33 million price tag seems pretty good value for an undeniably impressive lifestyle!


Could cheap money be driving the NZ property market?

Posted on: October 27th, 2009 | Filed in International, Money Matters

istock_000004562929xsmallThis is potentially the most staggering news story I have read in a long time.

The London Evening Standard last week reported that banks are ‘desperately’ seeking people to lend to so as to meet the demands set on them by the British Government who want to see a healthy and active banking industry that is stimulating the economy. The problem is that it appears that banks are not surprisingly kind of cautious as to who to lend to.

So when faced with this dilemma – we need to lend – but we can’t lend to those who most need it – those that are a poor credit rating – who do we lend to?? – they have decided that the very people who naturally have very good credit rating would make excellent clients – those with huge salaries in senior jobs.

It turns out that among the top CEO’s of London City companies most have been approached to borrow large sums of money at very attractive rates of interest in some cases as low as 1.5%.

Of course these affluent individuals have the skills and capability to find many a home for such money which can earn easily a few multiples of the borrowing costs. This virtuous circle of course makes everyone happy:

  • Banks are lending
  • Banks are lending to low risk clients
  • The UK Government sees their role being exercised through stimulated liquidity
  • Money is flowing through the economy and driving up prices of shares and property – ??

It is this last comment that is of interest for in the Evening Standard article it actually cites the example of “carry trades” of currency investing whereby borrowed money in low interest countries (eg UK) can be invested in higher interest countries – example being New Zealand!

Could this flow of money from UK banks to affluent Brits be flowing into NZ property? – it would seem somewhat unlikely given the currency exchange between the UK and NZ of late. The long term exchange rate of around 0.35 has risen in recent months to over 0.45 meaning that our median priced house which a year ago at $430,000 would have cost £119,000 would today cost £153,000, whilst in NZ the median price has remained fairly static.

However despite this UK pound appreciation of our property prices; in just the last week we have witnessed a steady rise in the number of UK visitors to as a % of all traffic. The traffic has grown by over 12% – ahead of any other country going from 3.9% to 4.4% of all visitors to the site.


Hold or Fold – a single example of the madness of the US housing market

Posted on: October 9th, 2009 | Filed in Buying / Selling a home, International, Money Matters

istock_000005422577xsmallImagine listening to talkback radio purely on the subject of real estate – in some ways this is what a recent podcast episode of The Real Estate Guys felt like – as they provided advice to a questioner who was severely “underwater“.

For reference The Real Estate Guys radio show is a US syndicated programme which through the marvels of iTunes you can listen to via podcasting wherever and whenever you like. It is a weekly show on all things to do with property, primarily based around real estate investing. It provides some great insight, discussion and ideas – thoroughly recommend!

Anyway the question the  team were challenged with on this past week’s show “Ask the Real Estate Guys” was as they highlighted, not atypical of many properties in the US.

Mr & Mrs A had bought an investment property a couple of years ago in “an up and coming” satellite town of Merced, California. They were employed earning a reasonable salary and owned their family home with a good degree of  equity presumably not in Merced. This investment property had presumably been an opportunistic purchase to support their retirement income.

The investment property cost them US$198,000 and they bought it with a $190,000 mortgage. It has been rented out, however the rent falls short of the mortgage payments by US$400 per month – Ok’ish when the depreciation is taken into consideration – right?

NO ….Merced is unfortunately as described by Business Week as “Ghost Town”, USA and the property is now worth around $110,000. As the Business Week article states the median price in Merced in 2007 was US$230,440 and in 2008 it had fallen by 38%  to just US$144,000.

So the question asked by Mr & Mrs A to the Real Estate Guys was “what should they do?” – hold or fold. Stick with this devalued investment and the hope that in time it may be worth more than they paid for it, or foreclose and live with the repercussions on their credit score (and let the lender take the hit – this is California after all!).

The team provided guidance for the alternatives.

HOLD and based on 4% annual appreciation after 18 years and a US$4,800 per annum loss, then the net proceeds of sale in 2027 might just pay off the mortgage!

or.. try and finance someone into the house based on a sale and lease back deal based on the good mortgage that the owners had

or.. try and negotiate a short sale with the lender and in so doing mitigate the negative credit impact.

Whilst the team was not there to definitively advise the owners, there was a clear view that the best option was to FOLD – foreclose on the property. Hand back the keys and the title to the property- walk away not owing  a $. All that would eventuate, would be a negative credit rating. Something that could be rectified in time (c. 5 years).

However what I thought was very telling was the comment that in the context of this issue with the bad credit rating – if ever in the future they were to be asked about it “you could always say – but that was 2008/9 – remember how bad things were in that recession – everyone was falling over!!

I find this a salutary example of the double whammy of the US housing disaster – houses that should never have been built, in areas with no demand – sold to people, who should never have taken the risk – financed by debt that was fictitious – then the debt was on-sold to people who were hoodwinked. Then when the house of cards collapses everyone runs for cover – leaving ultimately the government, and thereby by default all tax payers to pick up the pieces. Unfortunately the ripples from this debacle have washed up on most shores of the world and ultimately we all end up paying.


International house price movements over the past 2 years

Posted on: October 5th, 2009 | Filed in International, Other interesting reads:

The Economist has just published an excellent graphing tool to aggregate the house price index of the leading property markets for which data is available.

The Economist - House Price Index Q1 2007 to Q1 2009Covering 20 countries the chart allows for the comparative plotting of countries and their bubbles and busts especially over the past 2 years.

Examining the data highlights some facts. For whilst the global property market has arrested over the past 2 years as the global recession took hold, there were those markets that faired better than the worst performers.

In fact 7 of the 20 countries measured, have ended the past 2 years with price indices higher – 4 of them over 5% higher and in the case of Hong Kong over 15% higher. These 7 countries shown in the chart to the right were Hong Kong, China, Switzerland, Australia, South Africa, Italy and Sweden which appears to have made a last minute rally to return to positive growth.

The Economist - house price index falls Q1 2007 to Q1 2009 - The majority of the 20 countries though saw falls in house price index. Naturally as would be expected the USA shows the greatest decline hitting an index of 70 (30% down at the end of 2008) and showing some early Q1 recovery in 2008. Most of the other markets show between 5% and 15% decline.

The NZ data in the report and charts is surfaced from QV and shows a 9% decline at Q1 2009, although the latest QV data for August 2009 shows a 2.8% decline.

The Economist also highlighted in it’s article some markets where the graph would have almost been inadequate to reflect the scale of price fall – Latvia suffered a fall of 60% fall and United Arab Emirates a nearly 40% decline in house price index.

Page 2 of 512345