Go Green… Or Else

The problem with U.S.’s light bulb mandateby Arrol Gellner, Inman News

On Sept. 1 of this year, the European Union began banning the sale of incandescent light bulbs — another well-meaning but heavy-handed effort on the part of bureaucrats to go green.

This is the same government, you may recall, that blundered into requiring that 5.75 percent of its fuel Light bulb2come from biofuel sources by 2010 — a mandate as ill-considered as it was premature.
Anyone who feels like tut-tutting the European nanny state, though, should know that, here in the good old free-market U.S., our own government is planning to phase out incandescent bulbs beginning in 2012.
Rather than letting the obvious economies of more efficient lighting speak for themselves, Congress feels obliged to fine-tune America’s buying habits with a sledgehammer.Such meddling bylegislative fiat is precisely the wrong way to coax people toward more environmentally responsible choices. As a recent editorial in London’s Telegraph said of the EU’s ban:”(It is)an attempt toforward a policy goal — combating global warming — by statutory means. Such legislation imposessubstantial costs on both consumers and the economy, but hides them so that legislators avoid blame.”Although this kind of criticism is widespread, most Europeans seem to be taking the new edict with docile resignation. This is hardly an endorsement, however, and Congress would be ill-advised to follow in the footsteps of the EU’s ban, with its implicit endorsement of a competing technology (compact fluorescent lamps, which carry their own environmental risks) and the unavoidable appearance of government pandering to narrow corporate interests.

Rather than handing down arbitrary decrees on what sort of hardware people can and cannot install in their own homes, Americans would be better served by the creation of a rational, performance-based energy conservation policy — one that would mandate energy budgets and declare, in essence:

“Americans, we must become more responsible consumers of energy. Therefore we are mandating energy consumption limits that are reasonable and fair. There are many ways to comply with these limits, some easy, some not, but how you choose to comply is entirely up to you.”

If such a policy sounds impossible to enforce, note that the mechanism has already long existed, and that it runs quite smoothly, thank you. California’s Title 24 energy code, for instance, has mandated minimum levels of energy efficiency in building construction since 1978, yet it still manages to provide a great deal of latitude in how the standards are met. Most states today have similar legislation.

Few would dispute that the incandescent lamp, which has seen little fundamental change since Thomas Edison perfected it 130 years ago, is a product whose time has passed for all but a few special purposes. Yet given the many less draconian means available to discourage its use, it’s neither advisable nor necessary for Congress to insert itself into the issue.

Incandescent lamps are, after all, just one minor facet of America’s profligate energy use. What’s needed is not a scattering of arbitrary edicts, but rather one intelligent plan.

Next time: A closer look at the incandescent lamp’s heir apparent, the compact fluorescent lamp.

Silicon Valley office market not exactly on fire in Q1

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Silicon Valley’s office vacancy rate mostly treaded water in the first three months of the year, as companies occupied previously leased space and new supply came on the market.

Numbers fresh off the presses from real estate services firm JLL show that tenants occupied 885,000 square feet more than they gave up in the first quarter. That’s up dramatically from Q1 in 2013, when so-called net absorption was just 67,000 square feet, according to JLL.

But because additional new office projects and rehabs came onto the market in Q1, the vacancy rate remained flat. JLL pegs the Valley’s total office vacancy at 16 percent, down a hair from 16.1 percent a year ago. (The figure is up a bit from 15.4 percent in the previous quarter.)

“The addition of new space was the main reason why vacancy was flat,” said Amber Schiada, vice president and director of research out of JLL’s Palo Alto office.

Still, there are some signs that the region’s office market is taking a pause. Exhibit A: There were few big office deals more than 50,000 square feet of existing space in the first quarter in Silicon Valley, though San Francisco’s market was on a tear, with six leases signed north of 100,000 square feet in the city. (That disparity is sure to add fuel to the SF-vs.-Silicon Valley narrative that has been much discussed in commercial real estate circles of late.)

Schiada, however, expressed optimism for an uptick in leasing in the coming quarters: The IPO pipeline is strong and aggregate space requirements are high.

JLL is tracking about 8.3 million square feet of active office requirements in the Valley and mid-Peninsula, including renewals. That’s about in line with the past year’s trend lines.

Also, Silicon Valley is home to 13 startups with at least billion-dollar valuations, and whose collective space requirement is between 420,000 and 770,000 square feet.

Landlords are certainly feeling bullish. Rents rose 30 percent year over year in Mountain View; 28 percent in Santa Clara; and 15 percent in North San Jose.

While the current leasing environment for existing space isn’t exactly on fire, the build-to-suit pipeline retained strength. As we’ve previously reported. Citrix Systems in Santa Clara andLam Research in Fremont are set to occupy sizable build-to-suit space. HGST, a Western Digital company, is moving to add two large new buildings to its existing campus in San Jose. So is Intuitive Surgical and St. Jude Medical Inc. in Sunnyvale.

Other brokerages will be releasing Q1 numbers in the weeks ahead, so we’ll be sure to take a close look at those to assess the general consensus.

Join the Silicon Valley Business Journal  and Association of Silicon Valley Brokers as we discuss the latest trends and developments in commercial real estate on April 11.

Three More Ways to Fill Those Vacancies

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Here are three ideas from my upcoming article series titled “50 Ways to Fill Your Vacancies”. Like you, I’m fired up about the idea of having as many marketing tools as possible to manage properties effectively.

As a property owner and/or manager, you may already have many successful ways to quickly fill your vacancies with well-qualified new residents. My hope is that I can add a long list of intuitive and counter-intuitive suggestions that have worked and will keep on working.

So here are three more suggestions that can insure that the rental income stream keeps flowing to your clients and yourself.

1. Go to the restaurants you frequent the most. Ask the owner or manager to allow you to display a tastefully crafted “take one” box at the check-out counter or hostess table. Make sure it clearly displays the message that a gift certificate for that restaurant will be given to the individual who takes one of the special display cards and gives it to a prospect who becomes a resident.

A variation of this is to tell the restaurant owner, manager or hostess that if someone rents one of your units, you’ll buy a gift certificate from the restaurant and give it to a new patron who has never been to their restaurant. It will generate a fresh batch of regular customer for the restaurant and a repetitive source of referrals to you. You’ll be amazed how many restaurants will love the idea as they’re always looking for new ways to increase their clientel.

2. It may seem old-fashioned in this age of digital, mobile media, but creating a full-page, colorful, glossy hand-out that lists all of the benefits, accoutrements, and features of your available rental still works. Make sure you show some photos of how nice the vacant unit looks, and when you take the photo “stage it” with a few perky pieces of furniture or wall furnishings.

List any extra features like a new dishwasher or free Wi-Fi and provide information about the local area, bus routes, schools, laundry and conveniently popular shopping venue. You’ll be providing a valuable service that few property managers take the time to offer. Let your prospects take your hand-out and tell them to call you if they have any questions. Ask for their contact info so you can follow up.

3. Ask your current residents, clients and “happy campers” for a glowing testimonial of what it’s like to be a resident in one of your well-maintained and thoughtfully managed buildings. Let your prospects know ahead of time how much current and past residents appreciated your services. Ask for as many testimonials as possible, and use them to attract more owner-clients as well as prospective renters to fill your vacancies.

There you have three more ideas on how to fill your vacancies as fast as possible. Keep in mind that if you haven’t tried these ideas lately, you can’t objectively know why they work or how they work.

These ideas derive from my property manager colleagues and my own experiences. Together we have many decades of management and marketing expertise and that’s why I literally have at least 50 of these tried and tested tools.

They’re based on the principles that if you’re willing to do what few property managers are willing to do, you’ll have the kind of success that few will enjoy and experience. Also, your clients and residents don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care. So get busy and show them!

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 www.pocketrent.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PocketRent

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PocketRent

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 Rebecca@dakotadigital.co.uk 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?

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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.