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The SURE HOUSE debuts at the Solar Decathlon

Every two years, the U.S. Department of Energy holds its “Solar Decathlon” competition, which took place this year on October 8-18 at the Orange Country Great Park in Irvine, California. Michael A. Moodian of The Huffington Post, argues that the contest is an absolute necessity, quoting reports written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states that drastic and urgent action is needed to implement energy efficiency and clean technology solutions in order to stave off major catastrophic climate change.

The official website run by the U.S. Department of Energy, states that the contest, “challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.” Most teams that submit an entry are backed by a major U.S. or Canadian post secondary institution, and students normally spend up to two years designing and constructing their entry homes. The University of Toronto has a team that submits an entry to the Solar Decathlon. The team from U of T is not made up exclusively of engineers, putting forth an initiative to make the team as diverse as possible, a collaborative effort among a variety of disciplines.

Every team’s entry is judged based on 5 broad criteria:

  • Affordability
  • Consumer Appeal
  • Design Excellence
  • Optimal Energy Production
  • Maximum Energy Efficiency

The winning team must earn the highest number of points from 10 juried contests: Architecture, Comfort Zone, Market Appeal, Appliances, Engineering, Home Life, Communications, Commuting, Affordability, and Energy Balance. What this translates into is a house that Is affordable, attractive, and easy to live in. One that maintains comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions, and is able to supply enough energy to support activities including cooking, cleaning, water heating, entertainment, and commuting. Finally, and most importantly, the house should consume only as much energy as it produces, a zero net result for energy consumption.

And this year’s winning team, hailing from the Stevens Institute of Technology, draws inspiration from Hurricane Sandy, unveiling a sustainable coastal home called the “SURE HOUSE” that, according to Gizmag, “opens up for entertaining in summertime but locks down to resist severe weather damage in the winter.” Short for “SUstainable and REsilient, the Stevens teams wanted to build a house that could stand up to extreme weather along the coast of the Jersey Shore.

“Beachfront living is all about enjoying summer weather, so the SURE HOUSE opens right up when the weather’s nice, doubling its floor space with several outdoor living areas. But when the weather turns sour, the beachside shades fold down to become storm shutters capable of resisting intense weather events.”

The SURE HOUSE consumes 90% less energy than a regular home, which it achieves by using highly efficient appliances like a Daikin Skyair zoned heat pump for heating, cooling and dehumidifaction, as well as solar electric hot water and a Zehnder Novus energy recovery ventilation system that recovers heat from the building exhaust and preconditions incoming fresh air. The rooftop solar panels can produce 10,000 watts of power, and is connected to the main power grid. In the event of a power shutdown, the transformer switches over to produce 3,000 watts of emergency power, completely off the grid.

The CREA Data Distribution Facility

The CREA Data Distribution Facility (DDF®) was first introduced in 2012, and is defined by CREA as a “a permission based data distribution facility to facilitate the distribution of its participating members’ listing information to National Pool Websites, Member Feed Websites, Franchisor Websites, and Third Party Websites.“

The Data Distribution Facility has its roots in a different kind of system technology, known as an Internet Data Exchange, or IDX. An IDX is a platform that allows participating Brokers to share their listings with other participating Brokers on their web sites, and usually provide less information than what you would get directly from MLS®, which is governed by rules created by MLS® that dictate what kind of information can be deemed “publicly accessible.” IDX’s are not widespread in Canada as only a handful of Boards/Associations make this service available to their members. The CREA National Shared Pool provides for greater opportunities for members who want to be involved in IDX and providing the ability to filter listings by property type or even geography.

A DDF®, on the other hand, allow agents to enter listing information into an MLS® board once, and have it instantly shared to their personal website and any other pre-selected third-party websites. Not only does the CREA DDF® give agents access to a constantly updating pool of nationwide listings, but it grants the agent greater control over where the listings are published. Participants are given access to an online dashboard that allows users to direct where listings are shared, while providing reports on the marketing success of information being disseminated.

The TREB (Toronto Real Estate Board) IDX is one of the most widely known in the industry, and is no more than a web interface designed for participating brokers to share information in and amongst themselves. The CREA DDF® is a tool used across Canada by real estate agents looking for a simple solution to updating all of their websites and social media accounts simultaneously with their own listings. According to the CREA website, the Data Distribution Facility (DDF®) allows CREA’s members to disseminate MLS® listing content to multiple websites, and to “ensure that MLS® listing content that is displayed on these websites is accurate, up to date, and uses CREA’s trademarks correctly.”

The Distribution Facility itself is comprised of three modules. The first is the “National Shared Pool Module,” where participants contribute listings to a national data pool that can be received by participants who wish to display that information. These feeds can be customized based on specific criteria.  The second, the “Member Feed Module,” allows the user to receive a data feed of their listings, or a data feed of all their Participating Brokerage’s listings. The last is referred to as the “Third Party Module,” which is used to send content to third party websites.

Members of CREA can register to receive a data feed, after which, certain website modifications are needed in order for the site to receive the data. That’s where AgentAccelerate comes in. Our premium CREA DDF solution for WordPress websites, AgentAccess, seamlessly integrates into your WordPress theme, and displays Canadian real estate listings data. The plugin is easy to install, with customizable feed options, multiple hooks and filters to add functionality, and an auto-updater to ensure users always have the most recent version of our product.

The “Tinder-ification” of Real Estate Mobile Apps

Tinder is a widely popular “dating” application (I use the term dating loosely, because as most would argue, the app is intended for people to “hook up” with strangers). It’s gotten plenty of buzz online for its introduction into the dating scene, but it has also garnered attention from software and tech enthusiasts for its interesting and unique feature set, as well as user experience. The “swipe right to like, swipe left to dislike” gestures that are the foundation of the app’s UI, is finding its way into all sorts of different applications, including real estate.

One of the arguments to support the use of such a gesture format for real estate applications (those optimized for web and mobile that allow users to easily search home listings), is that they target the perfect age demographic. Tinder’s primary audience, according to some, is the 24+ crowd, with the average age of first-time homebuyers, being early 30s.

by Leigh Kamping-Carder of Brick Underground, reported back in mid-2014, about two apps named Skylight and Doorsteps Swipe, that were attempting to apply the Tinder formula to the search for apartments in New York City. This is arguably the first application of Tinder’s unique gesture interface to some aspect of the real estate industry. Both these apps were free to use, but Doorsteps made money from subscriptions to brokers and lenders, while Skylight charged agents.

In the opinion of Kamping-Carder, the Tinder approach is “not just a marketing gimmick,” arguing that:

“…the swiping accomplishes two actions with one movement (saving or discarding what’s on your screen while simultaneously flipping to the next screen) and presents a lot of information in an easy-to-digest format.”

Such a format is said to be optimal for mobile-searching in particular, being able to take advantage of small screen spaces and touchscreen controls.

Since the introduction of these two apps, a competitor has emerged called HomeSwipe that is poised to eat up a lot of that market.

The latest offering, Estately, attempts to solve what they claim is a frequent annoyance that occurs while searching for homes online: often, the exact same houses appear in your daily searches, which gets in the way of you finding your dream home through all the clutter of all the homes you’ve decided against.

According to Frederic Lardinois of TechCrunch, by using the same, now infamous, Tinder-style swipe gestures, users can quickly filter and categorize homes that they are interested in, disregarding the rest.

This, in itself, is not a new feature as well, with large listings websites like Zillow and Redfin that also give you the option hide homes from your searches. But Estately has given the feature a clever name, Flip, and hopes it will entice users towards using their platform.

And it’s already been announced that Estately has an international rival. Austrian real estate startup Zoomsquare is offering essentially the same app experience, but for properties in Europe. The app will also incorporate neighbourhood information including public transport, the most important facts about properties, and real-time push notifications for new matches from more than 80 Austrian property websites.

The Real Estate Business Behind Selling Medical Marijuana in the U.S.

Ever since Colorado and the state of Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana back in January, 2013, American venture capitalists have been slowly investing money into the development of a “weed infrastructure.” An entire industry is being funded to facilitate the production, distribution and sale of recreational and medicinal marijuana to the masses. There appears to be some faith in the idea that the government controlled system implemented in Colorado, will inevitably spread nationally, creating a market for domestically grown marijuana that will amount to billions in revenue. Alice Zhang draws information from the Marijuana Business Factbook (purchase at Amazon) to suggest that that retail marijuana industry could reach sales of more than $8 billion by 2018, outpacing that of smartphones.

One of the more high profile investments that made it in the news recently involves Silicon Valley VC Peter Thiel (famous for his investment in PayPal with Elon Musk) and his venture firm, Founders Fund. A $75 million round was raised for Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based private equity company that owns two marijuana companies and a website focused on marijuana production. One of these companies is Marley Natural, a global pot brand launched by Bob Marley’s family, projected to launch in late 2015. According to their website, the firm…

“…uses strategic investments in the cannabis industry to acquire and create mainstream brands, professionalizing the cannabis business landscape through the power of private enterprise.”

A Chicago-based startup called Herbfront, one of five in the second class at the ElmSpring real estate-tech incubator. Interesting sidenote, the other real estate online technologies borne out of this unique incubator include CondoGuide, which grades the financial health of condominium associations, PeerRealty, which connects investors to real estate developers; Megalytics, a comprehensive portal for business risk evaluations based on real-time third-party data; and CampNative, a platform to book campsites around the world. HerbFront’s primary objective is to locate marijuana-growing and distribution facilities near you, and allowing real estate owners to sell properties to these businesses specifically.

According to Teresa Novellino of UpStart, Herbfront co-founder Matt Chapdelaine previously worked as a commercial real estate broker, and recognized that the distribution and manufacturing of medical marijuana in states where it is legalized, is governed by specific zoning restrictions, including those that prohibit the construction of these medical marijuana dispensaries near schools, parks and other facilities. Only about 5% of properties are zoned properly for this use, which is the primary issue Herbfront addresses. The website collects publicly available zoning information to build maps that account for these restrictions, ensuring that no laws are ever broken in a commercial real estate transaction for a medical marijuana dispensary.

Not to be outdone is a rising competitor by the name of 420MLS, a website that serves a similar function as HerbFront, but for an entirely different purpose. Whereas HerbFront is a communication tool to connect marijuana business owners will 420-friendly real estate developers and sellers, 420MLS is more of an all-around marijuana business classified, with an emphasis on letting potential medical marijuana dispensary owners connect with landlords and property owners who do not discriminate against these types of businesses.