How Real Estate Websites Are Changing The Way We Buy Houses

 Who needs a tour when you have an iPhone?

I recently found myself at a lunch where I was asked whether I’d used Compass, a real estate search platform that just raised $50 million at an $800 million valuation, to find my current apartment.

I hadn’t, but it’s not unlikely that I’ll use Compass or a competitor in the future. Between new startups like Compass and established apps like Trulia and Zillow (which merged last week), online and app-driven real estate is taking off—so much so, according to a recent survey conducted by the real estate brokerage firm Redfin, that 21% of just over 2100 respondents to the survey said that they’d bid on at least one property without ever having seen it in person during their most recent home search. Among millennials, sight-unseen offers were even more common: Around 30% of respondents said they had made at least one in their latest round of house-hunting.

It’s high-end real estate that’s undergoing the biggest change amid all this technology. Just over half of buyers in the survey who paid over $750,000 for their home said that they’d made an offer without seeing the space in person.

That’s a whole lot of faith to be placing in a set of photographs on a website—but if Redfin’s survey is any indication, more buyers are willing to make that leap.

Article by : Katy Osborn

Published on, Sept. 16, 2015


What Real Estate Battles Say About Church

What makes a church, a church? Is it the buildings? The programs? The members? These questions come to mind with recent real estate transactions involving (formerly) sacred ground.

The Los Angeles real estate battle over a former convent involving pop star Katy Perry has attracted great attention, but it’s not the only controversial sale of church property in Southern California.

In Newport Beach, the L.A. Episcopal diocese has apparently decided that townhomes should replace a local church. In May, unbeknownst to its ministers or parishioners, Bishop J. Jon Bruno announced that the diocese had sold St. James the Great Church for $15 million to a local developer who has plans to build pricey townhomes on the site.

These two examples are the leading edge of what is likely to be a more common occurrence–churches being sold for their real estate value because of declining memberships and aging parishioners who can no longer support the needs of the physical plant. We saw this with the Crystal Cathedral. Both it and St. James the Great are wealthy, but small and aging, congregations.

So, what exactly is a “church”?

The St. James the Great leadership and members have focused on their building (and understandably so), stating on their “Save St. James the Great” website that the Episcopal diocese is “selling the soul” of the church.

St. James the Great is a young church, started after the original St. James Church withdrew from the U.S. Episcopal Church and aligned itself with the Anglican Church in North America. The new St. James the Great invested in building this mission congregation into a successful church, given only 20 months within which to do it, although apparently they were never apprised that the clock was ticking on their efforts.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole deal was a long-term real estate play from the beginning. In 2013 the diocese won a long court battle over the same property with the former congregation, which wanted to keep the church building. The diocese may have planned to sell the property after winning it back from the break-off church all along.

But, if we look at either the Anglican St. James or the Episcopal St. James the Great, neither church is attracting large numbers of members, nor are they attracting very many younger members and their families. These are, to put it bluntly, older, white, upper-middle class churches that maintain a liturgy that appeals to fewer people these days.

St. James the Great is located in a town where many people are at the beach or brunch on Sunday mornings, and it is also situated in a vibrant local religious marketplace. Within a couple of miles of St. James, there are no fewer than a dozen churches of all types, including another Episcopal church, several megachurches, a franchise outlet of Saddleback Church (the megachurch from south Orange County) and other smaller churches. Their future is dependent on their ability to compete with whatever these other churches have to offer their current and potential members.

There are people within the L.A. Episcopal Diocese–including Bishop Bruno–who both recognize the problems facing the church, and are supporting experiments within the church to see if other forms of congregational life might be developed that also maintain ties to the older traditions.

Through the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture’s research on religious creativity and innovation, we’ve seen several examples of such experimental Episcopal congregations in the L.A. area: Holy Spirit Silver Lake, which meets in an art gallery space above a restaurant; Thom’s in Huntington Beach, which now is focused almost entirely on their Laundry Love efforts (serving others is “church” for them); and perhaps the most successful to date, Thad’s in Santa Monica, which meets in the Bergamot Station Arts Center.

What these have in common with each other and with the larger Episcopal Church is a commitment to an inclusive community and pursuing social justice and social service. Where they part company is in how they administer the Eucharist and how they feel when you enter. While these congregations have kept certain elements of the liturgy, the same level of insider knowledge–and potential discomfort at not having it–about when to stand, kneel or recite is not required as it is at a more traditional Episcopal (or Catholic for that matter) church.

From this perspective, the $15 million from the sale of St James the Great takes on new meaning. Maybe those townhomes will provide some needed capital to put more churches in less-obvious places, whether school buildings, bars, coffee houses or parks, thus making them more accessible to greater numbers of people who would never darken the door of a traditional church building–of whatever sort.

Does it matter where a church worships? Certainly religious traditions and theologies say that buildings matter, but worship spaces are also shaped by other factors not having anything to do with religion, such as generational preferences and trends. How churches balance tradition, theology and economic and demographic change will go a long way toward explaining their future viability.

Meanwhile, St. James the Great is not going down without a fight. Although they have been locked out of their former building, they have been meeting across the street in a small park outside of a high-rise condo building. They even claim to have attracted new members as they’ve faced their location crisis.

In fighting for its building, St. James the Great has shown that a church is more than just a building. It is also its members, however and wherever they manage to gather to create community–even in a park.

Richard Flory currently directs a research project on Religious Competition and Creative Innovation at the USC Center of Religion and Civic Culture.

Posted on : 09/16/2015 1:02 pm EDT Updated: 09/16/2015 3:59 pm EDT


Ancient art of ‘feng shui’ is being used to sell luxury real estate


September 15, 2015, 7:00 AM EDT

fortune article


More developers and realtors are applying feng shui principles to ensure positive “energy” — and attract Chinese buyers.

When Joseph Rand and his wife were shopping for a new home, his wife, who is of Chinese descent, insisted the stairs couldn’t face out the front door. That’s because the ancient Chinese design philosophy holds that all luck would flow out the front door. Rand, also a managing partner of Better Homes and Gardens Realty, told the story as a way of underscoring the importance of learning the Chinese buyers’ cultural preferences, especially feng shui.

This year, China surpassed Canada as the foreign country spending the most on residential properties in the U.S., comprising 16% of international home buyers. Chinese buyers spent an estimated $28.6 billion on residential U.S. real estate between April 2014 and March 2015, according to the 2015 Profile of International Homebuying Activity.

The growing Chinese presence is partly why realtors selling luxury properties, in particular, are paying more attention to feng shui. A survey of 500 Chinese Americans conducted by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and the Asian Real Estate Association of America found that 86% think feng shui will make a difference in their future home buying choices. Additionally, 79% of these Chinese-American home buyers said they would pay more for a house that followed follow feng shui standards.

Feng shui is a centuries-old philosophy, originating in China, that was used in homes and urban planning to create a calm, harmonious environment and improve the flow of “qi” or positive energy, which is thought to benefit the occupants. In modern homes, this flow is achieved by the layout and placement of furniture and other decor elements. Clutter-free environments are valued, and other key considerations include placement of mirrors (not across from the bed) and complementary colors. In feng shui-styled environments, the Five Elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, are used in combination to align a building, site, or city to a healthy balance.

According to the Better Homes and Garden Real Estate survey, three-quarters of Chinese Americans said they could see feng shui deal-breakers, such as a house’s location at the end of a dead-end street. Other feng shui buyer turnoffs include homes that have the front door and rear doors aligned.

A bed placed in the “death position” — that is, with the foot of the bed directly aimed at the door — is one of the biggest taboos. Of those surveyed, 41% indicated this would detract them from buying the home right away.

Respondents said they would pay an average of 16% more for a home that followed feng shui principles — such as uncluttered kitchens done in complementary colors, a full-length mirror and live plants in the bathroom, proper furniture placement, floor plan, and layout flow.

Clearly, some home sellers can benefit from adopting some of the principles when staging their house, and that information has been offered from the likes of HGTV, and a cottage industry of feng shui experts has sprung up, offering their services.

However, luxury housing developers have also taken the cue and are including feng shui elements in their amenities and floor plans.

The Grand at View Sky Parc, a condominium development in Queens, New York features a rooftop park, integrating the feng shui elements of water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. The entrances were situated to counter negative energies, and the stones, plants, water and wood were placed strategically as well, with geometric forms creating layers of space.


And feng shui has even moved on up to the highest end of real estate. Developers of the waterfront Ritz-Carlton Residences in Miami Beach, which will be priced from $2 million to $40 million, flew in Hong Kong feng shui expert Patrick Wong to work with the architect on incorporating feng shui principles.

As one of his first tasks, Wong visited developer Ophir Sternberg’s home to evaluate it. “He wanted to make sure that the energy [in the home] was correct, and that we produce the right sort of building,” Sternberg told the South China Morning Post.

After Sternberg’s home passed that first test, Wong set to work, choosing landscape plants, assuring the building is facing the right direction, that all units have proper flow and that they incorporate the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Although the development won’t be finished until the end of 2016, more than half of the 127 units are sold.

Article by Colleen Kane

Found in


Owners should try to break down a language barrier…

Question: Our development is in an area that has a fast-growing immigrant population, and most owners and board directors don’t speak English. The management company now also has non-English-speaking employees.

Management conducts board meetings and provides minutes and other board actions in another language. Also, the board fails to follow association rules for providing meeting notices, agendas, budgets and financial reports, and it ignores quorum requirements.

What do the few English-speaking owners do when everyone else speaks another language? Can management legally act in place of the board? Is there a law saying we have to speak English? Can anything be done about this, or do I have to move?

Answer: The United States has no national language, and although English is the official language of California, this pertains only to official state business, not the operation of a homeowner association. Because there is no law making English mandatory or preferred, it is unclear whether an association could take any steps to require its business to be conducted in English.

The board should take all actions reasonably required to include as many titleholders in the association’s official business as possible.

If English is not the dominant language at your association and if the board and majority of owners speak another language, then English may not be the most efficient language to use.

However, translators should be provided for any language represented by a significant minority and, if needed, documents should be provided in multiple languages at the association’s expense. Where such simple steps can be taken toward being more inclusive to titleholders of diverse backgrounds, the board should do so.

If there is one predominant language spoken by the owners but no significant representation for other languages, then the board should consider allowing owners to provide their own translators and no board actions should interfere with this process.

As fiduciaries, association board directors cannot delegate their duties, even to a management company. Managers and management companies are third-party vendors, no different from gardeners, plumbers, electricians or lawyers; they are not board directors and cannot perform non-delegable duties.

Managers have a contractual agreement with the association to provide services, but they are not elected to serve on the board. They have no fiduciary duties to perform, and they are not obligated to do anything other than what is stated in their contract.

Where directors rely on such third parties to perform board director duties, they are risking a denial of coverage by association insurers should there be a lawsuit related to performance or lack of performance of board responsibilities.

Get together with the English-speaking owners. Write a letter to the board and have it translated into the language that the board speaks. Explain that you wish to protect your interests by taking part in your community and association operations. Consider having a lawyer write the letter to ensure it is legally sound, and send copies to all titleholders, as well as to the association’s attorney if there is one.

Not being able to protect your assets because you don’t know or understand what’s going on at your association may be worse than selling and moving.

Zachary Levine, a partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectual property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to Donie Vanitzian, JD, P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or

By Donie Vanitzian, Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times