Property Management SaaS PocketRent Announces Upcoming Software Update

On HolidayThe online property management software PocketRent has announced that it will cement its status as the go to solution for smart property owners and managers this week with the hotly anticipated announcement of its proprietary cloud-based tool, PocketRent Pro.

Using the same foundation that powers Facebook, the next generation technology allows landlords, owners and property managers to tap into the power of the cloud through an intelligent B2C and B2B platform. A powerful, intuitive and bespoke SaaS app, PocketRent as well as the forthcoming Pro edition is highly personalised, incredibly relevant and easily monetised. All this sits within a compelling and highly interactive environment which takes the stress out of contract negotiations and tenant communications.

Acting as a single channel for all things rental and investment, the web-based property management system empowers smart property owners by simplifying contract creation and making day-to-day management a breeze. A unique proposition, PocketRent has already won the recognition of a range of prestigious organisations across the globe, most recently receiving an all-expenses paid invitation to the launch of Facebook’s Hack programming language event in April.  The invitation was extended in recognition of PocketRent developers Simon Welsh and James Miller’s contributions to the Facebook code.

Product Manager Mark Huser said, “We are delighted to announce our ongoing commitment to PocketRent Pro which will further empower and assist owners, landlords and managers. Built on the same foundation that powers Facebook, the world’s most powerful social network, PocketRent Pro is an unprecedented property management system for the savvy property professional.

“With three years of experience, we appreciate that privately managing rental property is stressful, cumbersome and often a complex process. Landlords often know what’s involved, but not how to do it. Faced with myriad legal obligations, a slew of processes for managing tenancies, and staying on top of rental payments, the sheer volume of information to manage can be overwhelming. What’s more, investors rely on overly complicated spreadsheets and duplicated data entry in order to analyse and calculate their returns effectively.

“We recognised that large amounts of time and money are spent needlessly coordinating financials, capital values, mortgages and expense management between disparate systems. PocketRent puts an end to this.”

Intuitive, effective and accessible, PocketRent adds fluidity and flexibility to the often complex communication processes linking landlords and tenants. It is supremely flexible, allowing for remote log-in access, multiple account users and shared management administration as well as offering the peace of mind that comes from automatic rent management, ensuring lease monies are paid on time.

PocketRent is also hugely beneficial to renters, with features such as the Tenant Dashboard making viewing payment history and upcoming inspections a breeze.

Satisfied client, Libby Carson says “PocketRent is an awesome service, easy to use and simple to navigate. It takes the hassle out of managing properties, payments and paperwork — a superb idea that’s made our lives easier!”

PocketRent has already established itself as a comprehensive property management tool for a collection of clients across the globe, from Australia and New Zealand to the UK, US and South Africa. The newly expanded cloud based SaaS app optimises and refines the already astounding features of the tool, giving property managers more power and flexibility than ever before.

36 months in the making and PocketRent has entered the industry with a bang. It will shortly announce public investment opportunities following rapid growth since 2012.

Regardless of portfolio size, PocketRent is the ideal management tool for any property administrator, from independent landlords to national firms.

To learn more about PocketRent or to sign up for a free one month trial visit



About PocketRent: PocketRent is a property management tool offering landlords, investors and property managers a comprehensive platform for easily managing all aspects of the property management process. Made in Wellington, New Zealand, the system is personal, interactive and has the potential to save B2C and B2B users vast amounts of time and money.

About PocketRent Pro: Building on the already revolutionising features of PocketRent, PocketRent Pro extends cloud based technology to make property management easier and more flexible than ever. Users are able to access accounts from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, making day to day property management available from anywhere, anytime.

Contact: Issued by Dakota Digital. Please direct press queries to Rebecca Appleton. Email or Tel: 01623 428996.

What’s the Right Dose?

Looking beyond hyperbole to confirm the real data behind health claims for green buildings.

By Michael Cockram

The link between health and green building seems natural. More daylight, fresh air, and reduced emissions from fossil fuel read like a recipe for wellness. But there are those who use things like LEED certification as a marker of healthy building when the facts don’t always align with the claims.
Red Listed: The Bullitt Center in Seattle is aiming for Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification, so the team had to vet building products for compliance with LBCs Red List. The list prohibits the use of 14 potentially toxic ingredients (many of which are commonplace in building materials) to ensure a healthier environment for office workers.

For example, Duke Realty, an Indiana health-care-facility developer, extols on its website the healthy attributes of a recent project that achieved LEED Gold certification, asserting, “Green buildings typically have better indoor air quality than conventional facilities.” However, the certification was for LEED for Core & Shell. This category doesn’t include the finish-out of tenant spaces and avoids a primary culprit in indoor air quality: toxic emissions from finish materials.

On the other hand, a 2010 study done by Michigan State University titled “Effects of Green Buildings on Employee Health and Productivity” found that LEED buildings do create healthier work environments. Despite the fact that the scope of the research was limited to only two case studies (the Christman Building and the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union), the authors of the report concluded that “these preliminary studies lend support to expectations of improved IEQ [indoor environmental quality] and occupational health and public health outcomes from expanded use of green office buildings.” Expectations are not evidence, and the Michigan State researchers were aware of the limitations of drawing conclusions from subjective employee surveys, their method of evaluation in this study.

Common sense and a lot of science warn that breathing toxic chemical gases in unventilated or unexhausted environments is hazardous. That’s the presumptive logic on which this and similar studies are based. Future research will most likely broaden its scope to measure accurately the cause before extrapolating its effect.

Fact fishing and sound bites

This is why studies, particularly those of the preliminary kind, are so susceptible to distortion. A 2011 Fox News headline shouted out: “Green Buildings, Hazardous to Health?” Beyond that hyperbole, the story cherry-picked its way through an Institute of Medicine study on the potential impacts of climate change on IEQ. The story focused on the possible negative effects of “weatherization” methods such as adding insulation and tighter construction.

“To say something is green because you’ve increased tightness or insulation is inappropriate,” says Carnegie Mellon architecture professor Vivian Loftness, a coauthor of the study. She points to the passive-house technique of using heat-exchange ventilation as an example of green building that actually improves fresh-air delivery rates compared with conventional homes. “It’s a package deal; you don’t build supertight without a ventilation system,” she adds.

The Fox story also omitted the recommendations of the researchers, which called for updated codes, more testing, and regulation by the EPA of toxic emissions from materials.

Some researchers have criticized the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for the fact that it’s possible to tailor a LEED Platinum certification without any indoor-air-quality credits. But the critics provide no data to show how LEED buildings actually perform.

The National Research Council of Canada released a study this year that is the most extensive to date on how green buildings perform in terms of indoor air quality. Comparing 12 pairs of conventional and green buildings (most were LEED-certified or candidates), the study found that the green buildings did have better indoor air quality. According to research-team member Guy Newsham, the data supported the premise that such buildings have lower levels of indoor pollutants and higher ratings for occupant well-being, among other positive attributes.

The Santana Row conundrum: Is San Jose’s future urban density, suburban sprawl or both?

by  –

Clocking in at just over 175 square miles, San Jose is triple the size of San Francisco and seven times bigger than Silicon Valley’s most recognizable tech hub in Palo Alto.

Over the last half-century or so, San Jose’s sprawling footprint has translated to geographically and economically disconnected hubs in neighborhoods like Willow Glen, Alum Rock, downtown and East San Jose. More recently, the city has shifted its strategic focus to increasingly dense, urban development, implementing a downtown high-rise incentive program, fast-tracking new residential towers and adding citywide bike lanes.

But on Wednesday, the announcement of a major real estate deal in the area of mixed-use shopping center Santana Row — which industry sources say is primed for redevelopment — once again raised the issue of San Jose development priorities in a city with many potential opportunities.

Increasing housing costs in a tight real estate market, coupled with the return of Silicon Valley boom-time freeway gridlock, are further pushing the city toward transit-oriented development that better links jobs and housing.

The question moving forward: Will San Jose be able to execute on its ambitious vision for citywide urbanization, or will the city continue to function as a collection of disparate developments with seas of parking?

“We’re a big enough city that we can have multiple focal points,” San Jose Assistant Planning Director Laurel Prevetti told me. “We shouldn’t have to have that kind of competition. Maybe there will be, but at least people will have choices.”

The Santana Row conundrum

Although it’s located less than five miles from San Jose’s downtown core, Santana Row is not connected to the region’s Caltrain rail line, nor the area’s lesser-used light rail system. Instead, the mixed-use complex and adjacent attractions like Westfield Valley Fair mall and the Winchester Mystery House rely on buses and parking garages.

Santana Row was designed as a model for mixed-use development fostering housing, entertainment and office space in close proximity, which it has carried out more successfullythan many others in Silicon Valley.

Judging by the numbers, however, the development’s 622 luxury residential units and currently limited office space still don’t account for the bulk of its 12 million annual visitors — suggesting that many are still coming and going as they would to other suburban shopping centers.

On Wednesday, Santana Row owner Federal Realty Investment Trust announced that it had leased the 11.6-acre Century Theatres site across the street. Though no development plans have been submitted for the new space, the area is one of several urban villages targeted by the city for job growth and new housing.

“Absolutely it’s a great mixed-use site,” Prevetti said.

But any new development would likely run into old criticisms; Santana Row’s location outside of downtown San Jose has always been a sticking point for advocates of more centralized urban development.

“There was a lot of push from the downtown San Jose people to not let Santana row be built,” said Tom Nelson, a San Jose native and veteran retail broker.  “They’d love to have it, but downtown is fixed. It just doesn’t have the buildings and the inventory to accommodate the larger floor plates that these companies want.”

Development possibilities

Kim Walesh, San Jose’s chief strategist and director of economic development, said that she is intrigued by the prospect of defining a more connected “central San Jose” instead of splitting hairs between small, distinct neighborhoods.

Urban development group SPUR detailed the idea in a new report, which urges the city to better link and promote areas surrounding downtown, like the Alameda, Japantown, Santana Row and Willow Glen, “to reframe the surrounding areas as an asset to downtown, not a threat.”

Walesh added that “the whole city has a hunger for commercial activity,” particularly in walkable settings.

Whether that vision can become reality remains to be seen, but Prevetti said there is no shortage of developers vying to add their piece.

“We are seeing a surge in development applications,” she said. “A lot of people are trying to catch this wave.”

Sustainable Architectural Coatings ‘Will Grow Market Share’

Architectural Coating Technologies on Lux Sustainability Grid

Consumer awareness, government regulations and the widespread acceptance of energy efficiency standards for buildings are driving the development of sustainable architectural coatings, but “greenwashing” has created confusion in the market, according to a Lux Research report.

The report, Painting a Green Future: Opportunities in Sustainable Architectural Coatings, assesses these coating technologies and evaluates their performance and value to the end user.  The Lux grid graphic (above) shows the research house’s assessment of each technology. The term “technical value” in the graphic means the value of a coating technology — including performance, durability, cost and its range of applications — to the end user.

The $53 billion architectural coatings market produces decorative and protective paints as well as coatings that improve the energy efficiency of buildings. These coatings also use a tremendous amounts of petroleum, water and energy, which has prompted the development of sustainable products. Lux estimates the share of sustainable coatings in the larger architectural coating market will grow from 10 percent as of 2011 to 20 percent by 2016.

Sustainable technologies, which reduce the energy, resource and other environmental impact of paints and coatings, are moving beyond low-volatile organic compound content, according to Aditya Ranade, a Lux Research analyst and lead author of the report. Advances have been made in additives like surfactants and coalescing agents as well as energy-impacting coatings like cool roofs and solar paints.

Still, these sustainable coatings technologies often get confused with greenwashed unsustainable alternatives, said Ranade.

Lux Research developed a sustainability grid metric to identify seven distinct technologies with established green credentials, including elastomeric cool roofs, low-e coatings and paint recycling.

Cool roof coatings, which reduce unwanted solar heat gain, have traditionally been limited to hot, sunny climates. Thermally responsive coatings that can switch from white to black could expand the use of cool roofs beyond the sunniest regions, Lux said. Still, the high-potential technology is years away from becoming mainstream.

Several new coating technologies allow solar cells to be sprayed on buildings. However, this long-shot technology is still in its infancy and most emerging products remain in labs, Lux said. Solar paint has a low, 2 percent efficiency rate of converting sunlight to energy. In comparison, solar photovoltaic panels used on rooftop installations have a 13 to 15 percent efficiency.

Your Path to a Successful Property Management Website

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In today’s world, your online presence is the face of your company. Most of the time it’s the first thing prospective owners and residents will see before initial contact is made. First impressions are key to engaging users.

With technology advancing rapidly and Internet users expectations ever-increasing, knowing where to start and how to optimize your website can seem daunting. We’ve outlined some key topics to think about when turning your property management website into a successful avenue to growing your business, attracting the modern renter, maintaining smooth daily operations, and more!

Design & Branding

Visitors of your site want to see something that is not only pleasing to the eye, but also organized and easily navigated. Some website design must-haves include:

  • A design that is clean, uncluttered, and professional-looking
  • Company logo is prominent and blends with the overall look of the site
  • Visitors can easily navigate and search your listings
  • Images and graphics render correctly on all browsers, for both Mac and PC users

So what’s the best approach to ensuring your site has all the key elements? Property managers taking the design of their website into their own hands run the risk of becoming stressed and overwhelmed and possibly ending up with a poorly designed site. You may want to consider hiring  an outside design agency or use a software program with a website package that makes designing and maintaining your site much more manageable.

Advertising Vacancies

Most property managers would say that effectively advertising their vacancies is the top objective of their website. So why not make it as effective and easy to update as possible? Today’s prospective renters want the entire virtual experience on their computer or mobile device, before making the decision to pursue your vacancy. This means making sure you display nice crisp photographs of your vacancies, as well as floor plans and when possible, add virtual tours of the properties and grounds. Make your life easier with a website that has built in features that allow you to easily update vacancies, upload applications, and post pictures, videos and floorplans.

Tip: Implement social media capabilities to allow more users to connect with your business and share information and listings that interest them or people they know.


Users’ expectations for online features are high, and your website should be ready to meet their expectations. Whether it be communicating with current residents, prospective renters, or owners, you should be providing online features that make their lives easier, as well as streamline your own day-to-day business operations. Prospective residents should be able to search properties easily, andapply online. Offer current residents the capability to send maintenance requests through your site, and pay their rent securely online. For owners, a successful website gives them confidence that you are marketing their properties to their full potential and attracting ideal renters.

Tip: Most people today use mobile devices to view websites. Make sure your site is optimized for mobile devices, or you may be missing out on a significant group of modern renters.

Analytics & Tracking

Tracking clicks, page views and other important activity is key to understanding how users experience and utilize your site, yet a whopping 75% of small businesses admit they do not use analytics tools to measure their site’s performance. Analytics tools can provide valuable information about your customers’ habits and needs, as well as enabling you to track the progress and reach of your website. So why do so many business owners shy away from such a tool? Some may fear the possibility of additional costs associated with it, or they think the information will be too complicated to understand. There are solutions out there that can ease these apprehensions. Some property management software options, such as AppFolio, include integration with Google Analytics making it easy to extract and analyze important data.

Get Started

By now you have a snapshot of what it means to create and maintain a successful website. With so many facets and functions, you might be thinking: “Where do I start?” The bottom line is, taking on the creation and maintenance of a website requires some help. There are clear benefits to having a professional on hand to transform your vision and needs into a fully functional, eye-catching, and easily maintained site. An outside design company may be able to create the site you want, but the cost can be significant, and you are left to maintain the site on your own once design is complete. Some more affordable and practical options can come from a property management software that includes a website package. The added benefit of this is that you always have support maintaining your site, and your website can be integrated into the software you use to run your business—all in one package price.

Interstate Equities sells 112-unit apartment portfolio

1331 Jefferson Ave

Interstate Equities Corp., a Los Altos-based multifamily investor and operator, has sold a five-building, 112-unit apartment portfolio in Redwood City for $23.3 million, or $207,142 per unit.

The buyer was a private investor who traded into the portfolio in a 1031 tax-advantaged exchange, said Marcus & Millichap, which arranged the transaction.

“The continued creation of high-paying jobs in Silicon Valley is reshaping the San Mateo County apartment market and creating new opportunities for both large institutional investors and smaller private investors,” said Adam Levin, a vice president of investments at Marcus & Millichap‘s Palo Alto office.  He represented the buyer and seller with Robert Johnston, a senior associate.

“Favorable market conditions in Redwood City allowed us to assemble this portfolio of 1960s-era apartment complexes and for IEC to successfully implement its renovation, stabilization and repositioning strategy,” Levin said.

Family-owned Interstate Equities specializes in smaller apartment communities with upside potential in the Bay Area and Southern California. (Read more in a company profile here.)

The Redwood City properties that sold include an 18-unit building at 152 Lincoln Ave., a 48-unit building at 180 Buckingham Ave., 8-unit buildings at 755 and 775 9th Ave., and a 30-unit building at 1331 Jefferson Ave.

Part 3: Challenges and opportunities (2010-present)

by Jacob Kriss –

To celebrate the release of our list of the Top 10 States For LEED, we’re posting our narrative of the history of LEED’s development, originally released at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in November 2013, in three parts on

You can also read Part 1: From a Simple Idea to a Several-Hundred-Billion-Dollar Industry and Part 2: A Green Building Explosion (2003-2009).

Part 3: Challenges and Opportunities (2010-Present)

The dawn of a new decade coincided with a tremendous milestone for LEED: In 2010, the Green Building Certification Institute certified the 5,000th LEED project. Additionally, in September 2010, USGBC launched the Center for Green Schools as a way to drive the transformation of all schools into healthy, sustainable learning environments. And after almost three years of pilot testing, LEED for Neighborhood Development saw an official launch in April 2010 with 56 participant projects.

At Greenbuild that year in Chicago, USGBC continued its vigorous expansion into new market sectors, launching LEED for Retail, offering options for certification under New Construction as well as Commercial Interiors. Also at Greenbuild 2010, USGBC launched the LEED Volume Program, which provides organizations with large building portfolios with a streamlined and cost-effective means to certify high volumes of buildings through prototyped standards. Today, the program includes participants like Starbucks, Verizon Wireless and Bank of America. And only a few months later, in April 2011, USGBC launched LEED for Healthcare, a new system with a specialized focus on meeting the energy-intensive and human health-oriented needs of built spaces devoted to healing.

Later that year, two iconic buildings, the Empire State Building in New York and the U.S. Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., both certified as existing buildings, marking a notable achievement for USGBC in its eight-year initiative to green such structures.

The movement’s continued expansion in this era was not without challenges, however, as USGBC has faced pointed criticism around ongoing performance for LEED-certified buildings. Building performance was initially addressed through the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance rating system introduced years earlier, which requires projects to measure building metrics like energy and water use over a performance period of at least three months prior to earning certification. However, USGBC realized this alone would not be enough, and it has expanded its exploratory efforts to monitor ongoing performance of LEED-certified buildings to ensure that the plaque on the wall means something important, even years after certification.

“We are trying to gently redefine what it is to have a green building, as meaning, a green building is only a green building if it is green right now,” said Roger Platt, USGBC senior vice president of global policy and law.

These efforts revolve around reorienting LEED to be less of a snapshot in time to being a performance indicator. A pivotal element of this effort is the introduction of the LEED Dynamic Plaque, a new tool to monitor how well a building is performing over time. “We are the experts in helping people understand what they can do to improve, but we are not the experts in measuring the improvement,” said USGBC Senior Vice President of LEED Scot Horst. “What the LEED Dynamic Plaque does is put us in the position to actually measure those outcomes and to measure real improvement. We built the car, but now we’ve put in the speedometer.”

Another major USGBC transparency initiative was the November 2012 launch of the Green Building Information Gateway (GBIG), a powerful web-based tool that provides a holistic view of places, projects, collections and credits, detailing the actions and activities of LEED building owners and project teams over time. GBIG allows users to search and explore green building activity around the world, analyze trends and patterns in green building practice and discover connections between projects, people, products and services.


The latest version of LEED, LEED v4, launched in November 2013 after passing member ballot in June 2013 following a record six public comment periods. All versions of LEED are required to undergo public comment and must pass a ballot by USGBC’s membership.

LEED v4 continues the momentum in green building by increasing LEED’s technical rigor and facilitating its expansion into new market sectors, including data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, and midrise residential structures. LEED v4 also brings an additional focus on user experience, with significant efforts put toward streamlining the LEED documentation process and developing helpful tools for project teams in LEED Online, the web-based tool for managing the certification process that launched in 2006.

Platt noted the increased technical rigor of LEED v4, observing that, “One of the challenges that’s perennial is that we’re the only producer of a totally successful product that makes the product less pleasant every three or four years.” However, he remained confident that in time, market adoption of v4 would be widespread.

LEED v4 includes an entirely new section that awards points to project teams that use products and materials for which life-cycle information is available and that have environmentally, economically and socially preferable life-cycle impacts. The new credit also rewards LEED project teams for selecting products that are verified to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances. The LEED v4 approach paints a more complete picture of materials and products, enabling more informed decisions that have a greater overall benefit to the environment, human health and communities.

LEED v4’s renewed focus on material ingredient reporting and the use of sustainably harvested wood has also made USGBC and  LEED the subject of new attacks from the chemical industry as well as the timber industry, which had previously come to a head in 2010 when USGBC members voted against including Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standards in the LEED rating system (USGBC did not deem SFI rigorous enough for sustainable wood). In both cases, these entities are intent on preserving the status quo and are threatened by LEED’s recognition of environmentally friendly, healthy green building products. These groups have utilized a variety of tactics to undermine LEED, such as developing their own rating system, creating front groups and working to eliminate the use of LEED by federal and state entities.

For his part, Horst was actually heartened by such efforts. “What these attacks show us is that we are very relevant, and the power that we have to help people make good decisions about their building is very threatening to some people,” he said. The chemical industry, with which USGBC worked to design the material ingredient credit at the heart of the controversy, will eventually realize that ingredient disclosure is inevitable, Horst said.

Brendan Owens, USGBC vice president of LEED technical development, points to the 20,000-plus certified commercial projects as the ultimate endorsement: from the market. “If we get the rating system wrong, they [the market] will stop using it,” he said.

The Path Forward

At USGBC, there is wide acknowledgement that despite LEED’s success thus far, the organization’s work is far from over, as LEED must continue to excite an evolution in the global community’s thinking about what the built environment can and should offer.

“We’ve accomplished so much since those early back-of-the-napkin conversations David [Gottfried] and I used to have,” said USGBC President, CEO and Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi, referring to one of his co-founders of USGBC. “It’s entirely possible that in the next 15 years we’ll have net-zero-energy buildings in all communities and that USGBC will be obsolete. Those are worthy goals. But if we become complacent, and the status quo becomes the bar, we will have squandered the biggest part of what we should and could do for our nation, our planet and our children. And that’s just not acceptable.”

In particular, in recent years USGBC has focused on furthering LEED’s international growth. There are currently LEED projects in 147 countries, with 40 percent of LEED-certified square footage outside the U.S. China, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates and several nations in Europe have been particularly robust centers for growth, furthered by the World Green Building Council, of which Fedrizzi serves as chair. Since USGBC’s founding 20 years ago, it has worked to establish LEED as a global rating system, with a goal to compare buildings across regions for their design, construction and performance. Today, USGBC is actively working to make the 97 green building councils around the world become successful. And while some have created their own rating systems, LEED provides global connectivity.

USGBC has focused on expanding LEED in the global marketplace in several ways. The first is by promoting the concept of LEED as a global rating system — so when companies want to implement green building projects of a certain international standard, LEED becomes their natural choice. Projects pursue LEED because it provides them with a blueprint for how to approach their green building project, results in tangible environmental and business benefits, as well as positive recognition in the international marketplace. Therefore, USGBC is also promoting LEED as a well-integrated system and developing equivalencies between LEED and other local rating systems — working through cooperation, not competition, with local parties to achieve USGBC’s ultimate goal of green buildings for all.

USGBC has also established the LEED International Roundtable to leverage the incredible technical expertise of global green building practitioners as it works to create a truly international rating system. Working with the Roundtable, USGBC is developing regional and local technical compliance paths for LEED. These paths provide ways for projects outside the U.S. to achieve LEED points in a way that works for their region and with their existing local standards and directives. This allows USGBC to keep LEED consistent and still recognize the unique differences across the globe.

In addition, in an effort to encourage continued international growth, in 2013 USGBC launched the LEED Earth campaign, offering free certification to the first project to certify in the more than 100 countries with no LEED projects.

However, beyond these avenues for international expansion, former LEED Steering Committee Chair Joel Todd considers the principles of regenerative design as central to the ongoing evolution of LEED, which must encourage the design and operation of truly responsive structures. “How do we get [people] to think about the building’s relationship to that place, the local community and the people that are there, where they become positive contributors instead of just being there?” she asked.

Similarly, Owens counted engagement on social equity and human health issues as critical to LEED’s continued success. USGBC, he believes, must leverage its market position to use the construction industry as a lever for positive change — for instance, the elimination of contemporary slave labor and a global ban on the use of cancer-causing chemicals in building materials. “It’s a long chain of events that gets us to that, but I don’t think it’s impossible,” he said.

In particular, USGBC has been positioning LEED as a mechanism for advancing human health initiatives related to the built environment. Among other health-related initiatives, the LEED for Healthcare rating system has already seen success, certifying its first project in April 2013, the LEED Gold Group Health Puyallap Medical Center in Puyallup, Wash. In January 2013, USGBC hosted its firstSummit on Green Building and Human Health, bringing together designers, product manufacturers, researchers, public health practitioners and government officials, among others, to share knowledge and discuss how to build and support a nationwide movement that promotes healthy green building. And in February 2013, USGBC launched its Green Health Partnership with the University of Virginia and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, working to understand health metrics in the context of LEED, to recommend new measures of success that quantify health impacts and demonstrate the application of new health metrics in GBIG.

In 2013, USGBC celebrated its 20th anniversary, and it can say with confidence that the environmental movement as a whole can count LEED among its successful endeavors. Found across all sectors and in nearly every area of the world, LEED plaques adorn college campuses, hospitals, office buildings, sports arenas, restaurants, apartment complexes, manufacturing facilities, retail stores, data centers, police and fire stations and more. Situated at the intersection of business and environmental interests, LEED symbolizes the power of a collective will that insists that our built environment no longer do less harm, but do more good. And we have only just begun to unleash its potential.

Check Your Utility Bill For Fraud From This New Scam

670px-ssf_utility_pole_1_frontby Joseph Steinberg –

A new scam is costing innocent people hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.

Several suppliers of electricity that service various markets in the United States recently more than doubled their rates without any warning to customers. Some of the firms involved apparently claim that the skyrocketing prices resulted from unusually cold weather in the Northeast USA which caused their supply costs to increase. This claim, however, is suspicious, as other providers of power did not make similar increases, leading one to wonder whether these firms mismanaged their purchasing processes, or if something more sinister is at play. I tried to reach one of the suppliers, but, not surprisingly, my email and phone messages went unreturned.

Regardless of the reason for the increases, however, people should think twice before paying their bills, as, in many cases, the firms may not have the right to charge the exorbitant rates. As part of its marketing and sales process, one supplier promised that its rates would never suddenly increase by large amounts. One provider’s website continued to advertise “we make your savings our responsibility,” “The Same Service & Reliability. Simply Pay Less.,” and “you can enjoy low energy rates” – while it was charging more than double the price of the publicly-regulated utility with which it competes. Another provider continued to advertise rates on its website that are far lower than what some customers claim they were being charged. And, of course, other agreements may also have been broken. Furthermore, in areas in which States of Emergency were recently declared due to weather – for example, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, both of which have residents reporting severely inflated electric bills – price gouging may have violated other laws.

Many people routinely pay their utility bills without checking the specifics. Because people typically use far less electricity in the winter than they do in the summer, even people being scammed may find the total due for electricity in January or February to be a number that they have seen in the past.

So, as step one: Before paying your power bill make sure you are not being overbilled. If inflated rates violate an agreement that you had with your supplier, check the cost (per kWh) and make sure it is similar to the rate charged by your public utility. Some bills tell you what the public utility would have charged; in other cases the information is easily obtainable online or by phone.

If you are being overcharged, make sure to dispute the validity of the charges with the party that bills you. It is best if you resolve the issue directly with your supplier, but, if my experience described above is any indicator, your supplier may be unreachable. In many cases, however, you may have another party to whom to turn, as the billing for the third-party provider is actually handled by the local public utility; scammers may be relying on the fact that some utilities put warnings about shutting off power on the bills of people who fall behind in payments – providing a strong incentive for people to pay their bills even when overcharged. Aggravating matters is the fact that some customers who called their utilities have apparently been told that the utility does not handle consumer disputes with third-party energy providers, and that the full amount must be paid.

I spoke several times with a representative of the media relations department at PSEG – the utility servicing millions of people in New Jersey and New York. She informed me that while customers should first try to resolve billing issues with their suppliers, PSEG’s customer call center will take disputes, and that (perhaps as a result of our conversations back and forth) PSEG has recently reiterated its policy regarding disputed bills to its customer service personnel. If a different utility services your area, you will, of course, need to contact its appropriate customer service team.

You may also wish to contact your state’s Attorney General and Public Utilities Commission (or their equivalents). In Pennsylvania, the Attorney General is already looking into this matter, and the State Legislature is also launching an investigation.

As a final step, if you are using a third-party supplier that is overbilling you, you should obviously switch to a better supplier ASAP. Because of inefficiencies in the system, the actual switchover can sometimes take months to complete, a deficiency that scammers may also be seeking to exploit. So act quickly.

Of course, regulators, legislators, and law enforcement also need to take action. Third-party providers should not be allowed to overcharge and then attempt to use public utilities as “enforcers” threating to cut off heat in the winter if their bills are not paid. Unless changes are made to the current system, the entire third-party supply model could collapse; if overcharging scams repeat themselves, people fearing potentially significant aggravation and price gouging will simply refuse to switch providers of power. Jobs will be lost, and prices will rise. To preserve the capitalistic market in energy we need better oversight and enforcement.

Buying A Home Is Now 38% Cheaper Than Renting

Is renting or buying a better financial bet? Every six months, Trulia’s chief economist Jed Kolko runs the numbers to answer that question and help you stay on top of the trends.  So what does Trulia’s Winter 2014 Rent vs. Buy Report tell us? Although the gap between renting and buying is narrowing across the U.S., homeownership is still 38% cheaper than renting.

Homeownership remains cheaper than renting nationally and in all of the 100 largest metro areas according to Trulia TRLA +3.77%’s latest Winter Rent vs. Buy report. Rising mortgage rates and home prices have narrowed the gap over the past year, though rates have recently dropped and price gains are slowing. Now, at a 30-year fixed rate of 4.5%, buying is 38% cheaper than renting nationally, versus being 44% cheaper one year ago.


The rent versus buy math is different in each local market. Buying ranges from being just 5% cheaper than renting in Honolulu to being 66% cheaper than renting in Detroit. But even for a specific market, the cost of buying versus renting depends on how much home prices rise (or fall) after you buy. Our model assumes conservative home price appreciation, but – as we all know after the last decade – home prices can unexpectedly rocket or plummet.

rentvsbuy1rentvsbuy2Buying Beats Renting Until Mortgage Rates Hit 10.6%

Even though prices increased sharply in many markets over the past year, low mortgage rates have kept homeownership from becoming more expensive than renting. Also, in some markets, like San Francisco and Seattle, rents have risen sharply; rising rents hurt affordability relative to incomes, but rising rents make buying look cheaper in comparison.

Will renting become cheaper than buying soon? Some markets might tip in favor of renting this year as prices continue to rise faster than rents and if – as most economists expect – mortgage rates rise, due both to the strengthening economy and Fed tapering. For each metro, we identified the mortgage rate “tipping point” at which renting becomes cheaper than buying, given current prices and rents. If rates rise, Honolulu would become the first metro to tip, at a mortgage rate of 5.0%. San Jose and San Francisco would also tip before rates reach 6%. But those are the extreme markets. Nationally, rates would have to rise to 10.6% for renting to be cheaper than buying – and rates haven’t been that high since 1989.

315 apartments proposed for San Jose’s Midtown


by Nathan Donato-Weinstein –

Nearly two decades after Cheim Lumber sold its last two-by-four, its almost five-acre site could become a hotbed of wood-frame construction itself.
Fairfield Residential last week turned in a proposal to develop a 315-unit apartment community at 800 W. San Carlos St. The project promises to bring bodies and retail to the key corner at West San Carlos and Sunol Street that in recent years has served as a Hertz truck rental location.
On tap: 23,500 square feet of retail, restaurant and office spaces primarily oriented along the main West San Carlos corridor, San Jose planner Emily Lipoma told me. Preliminary plans show a project ranging from four to seven stories.
The city has been looking to inject new life into the area, with mixed results so far. The biggest piece of that effort, The Ohlone — an 8-acre project with up to 800 units of housing across the street from the Fairfield proposal — has faced numerous challenges lately, and its future is uncertain. The Fairfield proposal represents an entirely new project on a different piece of land.
“What’s proposed is all very consistent with the Midtown and Diridon Station Specific Plans,” said Erik Schoennauer, a land-use consultant who is representing the Cheim family along with Martin Chiechi of Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank. “The goal is to produce housing to support transit and also bring customers into the neighborhood to support retail along West San Carlos.”
The project is in its very early stages and key elements, such as height, design and retail layout, could still change.
San Diego-based Fairfield Residential has been very active in the South Bay recently, taking on projects in some pioneering areas. It is the developer behind a 200-unit project at North First Street and St. John Street, across from downtown San Jose’s St. James Park. The company generally develops, builds and holds its projects.
A mixed-use project in the West San Carlos location would be the realization of a dream long deferred for the Cheim family.
Robert and Leo Cheim operated the lumber yard from the 1930s until 1997. At the time of the closure, the property had been marketed to mixed-use developers, but without success. Instead, it was leased to a series of users, including an equipment-rental firm and a nursery. (Read an article on the closure from 1997, here.)
In recent years, market forces have brought back apartment builders en masse. Republic Urban Properties and Barry Swenson Builder are currently building Meridian @ Midtown, a 218-unit project at 1400 West San Carlos St.