Building Better Air

I recently wrote about our newest project, A Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air, a book that educates those in the commercial real estate market about how to help their office clients pick and care for plants that can help make their indoor air cleaner and their workers more productive and healthier. Today, I’m going to show off one of the steps the National Association of REALTORS® is taking to help make our office environment in Chicago better. Just like the steps that IREM has taken towards the WELL standard, we are hoping that these plants are a start towards thinking about the indoor space we spend our time in every day. That step is a plant wall, installed on the 4th Floor of NAR’s HQ, which aims to clean our air of CO2 and VOCs to help make the IT department a healthier place.

Plant Wall in the IT department at NAR

Plant Wall in the IT department at NAR

We’ve covered a lot of the benefits of putting plants in indoor spaces on posts before, but to reiterate, we spend about 90% of our time indoors, and the EPA estimates that indoor air quality is 5-10x worse than outdoor air quality! At NAR, we can’t just open up our office windows to try to get in some air, so we need to take measures to help make the air that we are circulating (and recirculating) be as fresh as possible, so we enlisted our friends at Plant Parenting here in Chicago to think of a solution to get some of the plants from the NASA Clean Air Study into our office space. We have pretty typical cubicle walls, with paneling that can be taken out and replaced with different materials, so after measuring the paneling, we discovered we could actually fit some trays right into our walls! Howard at Plant Parenting was able to install this wall for us in a morning, including putting in all the plants. We have 4 kinds of air-purifying plants along the wall, which I will describe below with their benefits.

Plant Wall at the National Association of Realtors

There are 4 different plants that purify the air in these trays!

First up we have dracaena warneckii, a plant that cleans benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. The warneckii is a bushy plant native to tropical Africa, but it can also grow quite tall depending on the variety. We have the bushy warneckii, because they do not weigh much and thus won’t put a ton of strain on our cubicle walls. We also have a second type of dracaena called dracaena marginata, which comes in a variety of colors and shapes. Marginata not only cleans benzene, formaldehyde and toluene, but also is considered one of the best for cleaning xylene and trichloroethylene. These dracaena are native to Madagascar and other islands in the Indian Ocean. Next up is the Money Plant, and while it won’t make you rich, it will clean benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. It is native to French Polynesia. It is one of the hardest houseplants to kill, hence its other name, Devil’s Ivy. Finally, we have a tropical plant from New Guinea called Chinese evergreen, which is said to bring good luck to those who grow it! We’re lucky it will be filtering benzene and formaldehyde out of our air. All of these plants will convert CO2 to breathable oxygen for us as well.

Devil's Ivy on our Plant Wall

Devil’s Ivy close up

We’ll be monitoring our indoor air quality using the sensors we’ve been building in the lab, and seeing how all our hard work getting the right plants together pays off. We’ll keep you all posted, and hope that our results inspire you to start putting plants in your own offices. And stay tuned for more info about our Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air!

Smile for the Camera? Considerations for Using Surveillance Technology

Our next guest blogger is Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. Following Lee Adkins’ post about voice assistant hubs, we wanted to share a look at the legality of having cameras and microphones in homes for sale.

Real estate agents and sellers sometimes use video recording devices to monitor open houses and walk-throughs. The motivations for surveillance are varied, and can be compelling. Video recording can offer an added layer of security for real estate agents conducting solo showings or open houses in remote areas. A prominently posted notice that security cameras are in place may act as a deterrent for physical attacks, theft, and vandalism. Some sellers and real estate agents may even use recordings to gain insight into a home’s marketability.

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

While surveillance technology can offer many benefits during the home-selling process, it is important to consider the possible legal implications. In general, individuals have the right to control legal activities within their own home. However, every state has privacy laws addressing the ways in which people may be permissibly recorded, and these laws vary widely. In addition, the laws governing audio surveillance versus video surveillance are not the same. It is therefore essential that homeowners and real estate professionals consult with an attorney prior to setting up any surveillance as part of a sales plan.

Video-Only Surveillance

Video surveillance is generally permissible in any situation where an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Because it would be unreasonable to expect privacy while one is in public, the ubiquitous presence of video cameras on street corners, at banks, and in public transportation is entirely within the bounds of the law. Similarly, if a video camera records a prospective buyer walking into a home’s entryway with her real estate agent during an open house, she would have a difficult time claiming that she had had a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, if the buyer steps into a bathroom to use the facilities, she would almost certainly – and reasonably – expect privacy. Therefore, homeowners should avoid installing cameras in bathrooms, even if the homeowner’s intent in doing so is both reasonable and innocent – for example, as an effort to prevent the theft of prescription drugs. (Instead, sellers should always make sure that medicines, weapons, and valuables are securely locked up or taken off-site during showings.)

Audio Surveillance

With very limited exceptions, audio surveillance laws in every state require the consent of one or all parties to a recorded conversation. Know your state laws prior to utilizing any recording device that captures audio.

Ethical Considerations

In addition to legal considerations, sellers and real estate agents should consider the ethical and reputational implications of making surreptitious recordings. The following best practices can help avoid reputational debacles involving recording devices:

  • Provide Notice. Consider providing prior notice when recordings may be made during a showing. You can post the notice in the MLS or on the property, or send notification via email prior to showings and open houses. In addition, if any cameras have an audio recording function, be sure to disable the audio function or get all necessary consents pursuant to your state’s laws.
  • Keep Recordings To Yourself. Never publish or share any recording you make of other people without their consent. The only exception to this is if you happen to record possible criminal activity – in that case, you should discuss the incident with the police, and provide them with the recording upon their request.

A Note to Buyers’ Agents: Don’t Take Privacy For Granted

Buyers and their agents should keep in mind that nanny-cams, surveillance cameras, mobile phones, laptops, and tablets are all capable of recording video and, in many cases, audio. Prior to any walk-through or open house, buyers’ agents should consider advising their clients of the possibility of hidden recording devices. A good practice is to simply save all thoughts on a house until everyone is back on the sidewalk.

Jessica Edgerton is associate counsel at NAR. Her work includes extensive membership education and outreach. She is a regular speaker on the subjects of cyber fraud, cybersecurity, and legal risk mitigation for real estate professionals. She contributes to REALTOR® Magazine, AE Magazine, and RIS Media on a wide range of risk management topics.

Smart Home Compatibility FAQs (Part 2)

Today’s post is written by Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions, and continues with his series about Smart Home Tips for REALTORS® with information about setting up smart home devices, and for REALTORS® who encounter these devices when buying and selling homes.

Smart home devices are fun and trendy now, but this trend is here to stay. As a REALTOR®, you should have a basic familiarity with these devices, what they do and how that affects your clients and your clients’ transactions. The two devices here are generally what we would call voice assistant hubs. They are fully functional on their own, but also work with and to control other devices as well. There are a lot of similarities, but they do have differences in their speech patterns and tempos and their general compatibilities. Amazon Echo allows 3rd party developers to add “Skills” for Alexa (think Apps) and Google Home is actually a more of a closed system at this time (with developers creating apps, but having a more limited number at the moment). BOTH devices currently only can be connected to one account at a time – eventually, it would be great to see them be able to recognize the users voice and access their specific calendar, music and other accounts.

Pro Tips:

  • Both these devices record data when activated AND both show requests to the owner via an app. While it might be fun to play with someone else’s toys while in a home, be respectful and be careful what you or your clients say
  • On a similar note, cameras and microphones, in general, are cheaper and easier to set up than ever before. Be mindful when showing homes (ed. note: more about that below).
  • CRT Labs has recently published Smart Home Simplified guides to help you learn more about possible smart home devices and what makes each type unique.

 

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

What does it do?
The Amazon Echo is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
The Amazon Echo is very easy to set up. It will basically walks you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $179 on Amazon with free 2-day shipping for Prime members.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Personally, I use mine for a fun fact in the mornings (just say, “Alexa, Good morning”) and then ask about the weather, in my city or wherever I’m traveling to
  • Scheduling or just getting a “daily briefing” on your calendar
  • Answers to general questions
  • Using the grocery/shopping list feature
  • Using the timer or other hands-free options while cooking or otherwise involved in something else.Playing music via Amazon Prime (commercial free, your playlists, etc)

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Amazon Echo.

Google Home

What does it do?
Google Home is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It of course works very well with the data you already have in your google account. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
Very Easy – Google Home will walk you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $129 in the Google store and available at several major retailers.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Reviewing or adding items to your Calendar (obviously, connected to your Google account)
  • Answers to general questions, powered by Google
  • Basically searching Google – local restaurants, traffic, etc.
  • Play songs from Google Play or Spotify account (even filter explicit songs)
  • It of course works well with Chromecast and YouTube as well as Nest products (since they are all also owned by Google)
  • Play podcasts (a little better than Echo for this)
  • It also has a shopping list feature

Additional Thoughts:
Google Home isn’t currently compatible fully with G Suite (paid Google account, previously known as Google Apps for Business) – Calendar, Google Payments and Uber features currently don’t work with G Suite accounts, but do work with free Gmail accounts. The easiest remedy would be to connect to a free Google account, which might be better if you don’t own the G suite organization you are connecting anyway. However, there’s an extra step if you are the super admin to allow your G Suite account to work – that info is can be found here

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Google Home.

Adrienne from CRT Labs here! I wanted to add some information to Lee’s post about homes that are for sale and have a voice hub inside them. The Amazon Echo and Google Home both are always listening, and thus capable of easy recording – they are programmed to function so that when a “wake word” is spoken, the device will be active, but the device is always passively listening for their specific wake words. If you and your clients are uncomfortable having a recording device on, please speak with the listing agent of the home about turning these devices off when the home is being shown. This is very simple on both devices – the Echo has a button on top, and the Google Home on the side, for turning off the microphone, and both devices have visual feedback to confirm that the microphones are indeed off. NAR’s Jessica Edgerton has written a blog post for us, coming later this week, about security devices such as cameras in homes for sale, and goes into depth on the legal aspects of them; we will link to that blog post when it’s live, as it will cover some of the same issues microphones have.

Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.PoweringRealEstate.com to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.

Facebook Live Office Hours: Smart Cities

Interested in how the Internet of Things, and other technologies, are making the cities we live in smarter and better places to live? Chad gives a rundown on how tech is changing how we think of cities and communities during our Facebook Live Office Hours. As always, tune into our Facebook Live Office Hours by liking our Facebook Page, which will notify you when we go live on Fridays at 3PM Eastern!

Facebook Live Office Hours: Smart Cities from CRTLabs on Vimeo.