Gift Guide 2017: Picking the Best Gifts

Our last gift guide comes in collaboration with Deena Zimmerman, one of our Chicago-area REALTORS® and a commercial practitioner. Deena clued us in to not only some great gifts for her clients and colleagues, but to some great ways to personalize holiday gifts and best practices for giving during the season. She’s provided us with some non-tech gift ideas (and of course, some technology too!), and we’re thrilled to have her guest blog for us this week. These gifts are sure to go over great with clients in both commercial and residential settings.

It’s that time of year again when we are wishing our clients and colleagues happy holidays and showering those closest to us with thoughtful gifts and well wishes. I am blessed to have a wonderful referral network, especially awesome Residential Realtors across the country, who have referred me truly wonderful clients, many of whom have become like family to me.

I have a number of clients who are out of state, so I love to buy them “Love from Chicago” themed gifts. For example, this could include a Chicago favorite of mine,  Lou Malnati’s pizza (they have awesome dry ice frozen shipping options) and a tin of Garrett’s popcorn (Chicago mix of course!) along with coffee from various coffee roasting clients I represent in Chicago. This is a great way to show a very personalized “Chicago Touch” while also showcasing the various Tenants I represent locally in Chicago.
I also work with a lot of brokers/developers/landlords on a number of various projects every year, many of whom I have become very tight. I want to make sure I send them a personalized gift as well. I take the time to reach out to their co-workers or assistants to find out what they love. These gifts can vary from spa gift packages at the Peninsula to customized gift baskets with various types of alcohol. I am also a huge fan of sending an Open Table gift certificate so they can take a loved one out for dinner wherever they want-and they can download the certificate on their smart phone, so no need to print! I am currently putting a customized gift together now for one of my largest referral resources who refuses to let me give him a referral fee when he sends clients my way. So I am doing a basket with his favorite spirits/mixers and champagnes that he can keep at the office to share with co-workers and his clients as he does a ton of entertaining.
I also LOVE buying men I work with customized flowers from Flowers For Dreams. It’s fun to get flowers for guys and Flowers for Dreams donates a portion of all proceeds to various charities.
As I first referenced above, I represent a lot of local tenants helping them find space to lease or purchase and love to buy their products as gifts for other clients (some of my clients include those who are in acupuncture, restaurants, bakeries, wine distributors, spas, gyms, etc.) This type of personalization, along with charitable groups like Flowers for Dreams and Ruckus Teen Products, an AMAZING program for Teen Entrepreneurs at Concordia Day School not only makes me feel great supporting these amazing groups, but I also find it really helps me stand out.
For retail tenants I work with who geek out on tech as much as I do, I love to put together gift baskets with the various products I mentioned above and also include fun gadgets like a Nest, a portable Bose speaker (my favorite is the Bose Mini II that also works at the beach!), and a beacon that they can affix to their storefront to monitor daily foot and vehicular traffic to help identify key sales hours during the day.
Finally, I don’t send these gifts until after the holidays. I wait until mid to end of January and use it as more of a message to thank them for 2017 and to say how fired I am to work with them in 2018. I send holiday cards now, and then these gifts later. That really helps to stand out and remind them I am ready to rock out 2018 with them!

Deena Zimmerman is an award-winning broker who has worked in the real estate industry since 2004. Serving as a vice president in the SVN Chicago office, Deena’s focus is on investment sales and tenant representation, specializing in finding high quality sites throughout Chicagoland and surrounding areas for national operators, franchisees, and first-time entrepreneurs.

Gift Guide 2017: Advanced Smart Home

Last year, we highlighted some great tech gifts to give during the holidays, and broke them down by different price points: under $100, $100-199, and over $200. This year, we decided to do things a little differently, and highlight four categories of smart technology. Three of our guides (coming this week) will focus on beginning, intermediate, and advanced smart home products; and then next week we’ll have a commercial/office tech gift guide. These guides will cover a variety of price ranges, so there’s sure to be a gift for everyone on your list at any price point. Note that we’re using the suggested retail prices; you can search the Internet for better deals, especially during the holidays.

Today, we’re focusing on advanced smart home tech. Are you or your giftee ready to start taking on your own smart home projects? These ideas will help you hit the ground running with some easy DIY creations.

1. littleBits Smart Home Kit, $249. littleBits have been one of my favorite tech products since my days in working with K-6 teachers to integrate tech into their classrooms, and I was thrilled to find out that they make a Smart Home Kit. Designed for “big kids” – and adults – this easy-to-use kit uses snap-together circuits and sensors to create a variety of smart home projects, including an automated cat feeder, a door sensor for your fridge, and more. Programming is done simply with IFTTT commands, letting you also get a great introduction to some of the more advanced features of IFTTT.
2. Kooke Smart Home Sensor Kit, $21.99, and Raspberry Pi 3, $35. This Smart Home kit is a great way to begin creating IoT devices using Raspberry Pi. The kit comes with a temperature sensor, gas sensors, light sensors, and more, and includes web tutorials to get started with Raspberry Pi and Smart Home products. You’ll need to purchase a separate Raspberry Pi for each project, but you’re getting a great value for a variety of sensors! This kit will require a bit more programming knowledge than a kit like littleBits.
3. Lynda.com membership, starting at $19.99/mo. Want to begin to how to create your own Internet of Things projects, mess with a Raspberry Pi, or perhaps pick up a programming language (or two)? A Lynda.com account is a great investment. They have classes in virtually anything and everything, including high level overviews of concepts like Blockchain and hands-on instruction for IoT devices and more. There’s even a 30-day free trial to the site to start! Lynda is a great way to learn about IFTTT and Raspberry Pi hardware and software for the kits above.

If you’re looking to really get into creating your own smart home products, these are a great springboard for many projects. Soon, you’ll be customizing the smart home of your dreams!

Gift Guide 2017: Intermediate Smart Home

Last year, we highlighted some great tech gifts to give during the holidays, and broke them down by different price points: under $100, $100-199, and over $200. This year, we decided to do things a little differently, and highlight four categories of smart technology. Three of our guides (coming this week) will focus on beginning, intermediate, and advanced smart home products; and then next week we’ll have a commercial/office tech gift guide. These guides will cover a variety of price ranges, so there’s sure to be a gift for everyone on your list at any price point. Note that we’re using the suggested retail prices; you can search the Internet for better deals, especially during the holidays.

Today, we’re focusing on intermediate smart home tech. Do you or your giftee have a few smart devices, but want to start integrating them more? This guide is for you!

1. Samsung SmartThings Convenience and Entertainment Bundle,  $205. We’re huge fans of the SmartThings hub, which alone retails for $99. A smart hub allows you to control your smart home in a convenient and easy way, cutting out the need for multiple apps for multiple manufacturers and products. The SmartThings hub also offers some great programming options that go beyond simply turning devices on and off, and programming your devices is usually just a few taps in the app. The bundle listed here gives you great bang for your buck and includes two smart bulbs by Sylvania that can light up in thousands of different colors as well as a SmartThings motion sensor. The motion sensor is great – you can set it up near your front door and tell SmartThings to flash a color on the light bulbs when someone is coming and going out of the house. When purchasing a SmartThings kit, make sure that the recipient has an open Ethernet port on their WiFi router – the hub requires this in order to control devices.
2. Nest Secure, starter kit $499. The Nest Secure is a new player in the smart security market, and costs a bit more than systems by other companies, but you’re really getting your money’s worth here – especially if you already have Nest products in your home, like the Nest Cam. There’s some truly innovative features here, including the Tag keychain for arming/disarming the system, or temporarily disarming of the system if you want to open a window with a sensor for fresh air or opening the door quickly to let the dog do his business. If you know someone who is interested in getting a security system set up, the Nest Secure is a great way to go.
3. Awair Glow, $99. We’re big fans of knowing about the air you breathe, and the Awair is a great tool at an affordable price for monitoring air quality within your home. The best part is it doesn’t take up an outlet – you can plug any device into it and either use it as a regular plug, or you can even plug in non-smart devices and control them through the Glow. You can even do some programming using the Glow – if your humidity drops below a certain level, it can power on the humidifier you keep plugged in. It works with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, so it can give you verbal feedback about the air as well. It’s a great starting device for indoor air quality monitoring.

These products are great for people who have started dipping their toes into the smart home waters and want to unlock the full potential of their smart home. Stay tuned to see our favorite advanced smart home tech for the super savvy in your lives!

Gift Guide 2017: Beginner Smart Home Tech

Last year, we highlighted some great tech gifts to give during the holidays, and broke them down by different price points: under $100, $100-199, and over $200. This year, we decided to do things a little differently, and highlight four categories of smart technology. Three of our guides (coming this week) will focus on beginning, intermediate, and advanced smart home products; and then next week we’ll have a commercial/office tech gift guide. These guides will cover a variety of price ranges, so there’s sure to be a gift for everyone on your list at any price point. Note that we’re using the suggested retail prices; you can search the Internet for better deals, especially during the holidays.

Today, we’re focusing on beginner smart home tech. If you or your giftee have never played around with smart home devices, this is a great place to start! Our gifts will get you up and running in no time, and are a low-stress way to dip your foot into home automation, voice assistants, and more.

1. IKEA Tradfri smart lighting system,  $7.99 – 34.99. Like our previous choice, the Philips Hue, the Tradfri starting kit comes with two bulbs and a hub, but has options with dimmers, motion sensors, and a variety of different types of lights. The price point is much lower than Hue or other bulbs, making this an attractive option for a starter kit for beginners. As of this writing, the bulbs only work with a proprietary app or with purchasable dimmers and remotes, but IKEA plans on integrating with HomeKit and Alexa in 2018, meaning the lights will become even more customizable through those platforms. Like other bulbs, you can set up programs (like turning on lights at specific times, or when the sun goes down), and the motion sensor allows you to set up lights that turn on and off when motion is detected. Overall, this is an attractive first lighting kit that is easy-to-use and will get anyone started on a smart home in style.
2. Amazon Echo Dot/Google Home Mini, both $49. Last year, we highlighted the Echo Dot and “regular” Google Home in two separate gift guides; in 2017, the Google Home Mini was announced at the same price point as an Echo Dot. We are including both on this gift guide because, a year later, both products are neck and neck in terms of functionality and usability for the beginner smart home user. Choosing an ecosystem is a personal choice – Amazon’s Alexa is great for people who find themselves using Amazon products frequently, and Google Home is an excellent option for people who have other Google services. Both work with major smart home systems like SmartThings, Philips Hue, and more.
3. WeMo Mini Smart Plug, $34.99. Turn almost anything into a smart device by adding a WeMo smart plug to your wall outlets. You can control lights, humidifiers, fans, and more. The WeMo out of the box has a lot of great features – since its WiFi enabled, you can control the plugs from anywhere, its easy to program (for example, you can turn your Christmas tree on at sundown with just a couple taps), and even includes a great feature where if you set your plugs to “away” for vacation, it’ll turn on/off devices at random so it looks like you’re still at home. The plugs also integrate with a ton of different platforms, including Alexa and Google Home, Nest (which is handy for using the Nest’s home/away functionality), and IFTTT. The mini plug has a slimmer profile than its cousin, the WeMo Insight, and tucks away easily without interfering with the second outlet on the wall.

Using these products can get anyone started making their home smarter without breaking the bank. All the devices are easy to use, easy to set-up, and work with a variety of systems so if someone gets the smart home bug, they can continue to expand their horizons and add more to their house. Tomorrow, we will cover technology for people who are interested in starting to customize their smart home and suggest some gifts that are a bit more advanced. Stay tuned to see our favorite intermediate smart home tech!

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.