The web and the future of real estate

Here’s a message to realtors and real estate agents:  WAKE UP.  The web is changing the way real estate works, and if you’re not careful you’re going to become irrelevant.  

Even though people do it all the time, moving from one house to another – especially when those houses are separated by half of the United States – is still a very stressful event for most people (mostly because as individuals we do it so rarely).  The web has become an incredible resource to help in the whole process, not just in the ability to research the process but in selling an existing house and finding a new house to buy.  

I’ve used the web for research for many, many years now so researching the process of selling/buying was nothing new.  There is a lot of good (and like anything else not-so-good) information that can help beginning and experienced buyers/sellers alike.  

If you’ve not already seen it, take a moment to check out  This was one of the first places we looked when we knew we were going to move.  (If you’re not in the market, just type in a search for your hometown.)  The range of available information is very comprehensive, and it includes all Multiple Listing System (MLS) listed properties.  In fact, we didn’t even look at any individual real estate broker sites.  If it wasn’t MLS listed, we didn’t see it.

One of the key things we used as a filter when screening results of MLS searches was pictures.  Plain and simple, if the listing didn’t have a comprehensive set of interior and exterior pictures we gave it only a cursory glance (if that).  When you are moving half-way across the country you don’t get many chances to actually look at a house, so pictures are very important.  

You’d be amazed at how many listings had only a single, wide angle picture of the house taken from the street.  Or worse, no picture at all.  The same was true of other key pieces of information that you may want to know about a house from a listing.  Only when we started interviewing seller agents to sell our house did we realize the reason for this.  What I thought was incompetence or lack of attention to detail turns out to be – you guessed it – the bottom line.  Money.  Commission.  

  • Want a listing in our brochure – 3%.  
  • A listing in the brochure with a picture or two, and maybe a mention (no picture) on our website – 4%.  
  • OK, we’ll put a picture and a bit more info on the web site, but only ours.  We want buyers to find it on our site so we don’t have to share the commission – 5%.  
  • What?  You want to have it listed in the MLS, so it will show up on (or another MLS site), with a bunch of high quality pictures and detailed information about the house that grabs people and makes them want to buy your house right then? (and we have to share the commission)  6%

The realtor we eventually selected to sell our house, Foxtons, is different.  They advertise themselves as a “full service 3% commission real estate agent.”  Take a moment and look at one of their listings, I think you’ll be impressed.  They have a professional staff that does the photography, floor plans, and overall web presentation.  (As opposed to tech-illiterate agent taking some blah photos with a cheap digital and throwing it on a page.)

As I understand the real estate business, real estate agents are not employees of a brokerage but simply use the name and basic resources of the agency.  They work purely on commission.  At Foxtons, on the other hand, real estate agents are salaried employees who also get a small part of the commission from selling a house.  

Currently they only serve the New Jersey, New York, Connecticut area, but I’m sure they will be expanding.  I think that the basic business model will spread and be successful.  

Unfortunately, I can’t really give a personal recommendation to use Foxtons.  Selling our house was anything but “stress-free” (as they advertise), in large part because of the very things that I think will eventually make them successful.

  • The agent we signed with left the company about 5 days after we signed the contract.  (We’re not sure if it was her idea or the company’s.)   But since the contract was with the company, and not the agent, we were stuck.
  • With no agent on our file, not a whole lot happened.  It took me showing up unannounced and not leaving until I had met with the office leader to get the process moving.  (In the hot market of Monmouth County, we only had 6 people look at the house in the first 2 weeks.)
  • When we had an open house, the person that was supposed to be there to show the house never showed up.  When people showed up 15 minutes before the start time of the open house and the agent wasn’t there, I figured I should stick around.  I called the local office, told them what was going on.  I ended up showing the house myself for about 40 minutes before anyone showed up from Foxtons.
  • Once we had a sale contract on the house, I never heard back from them (except when they, as the buyer agent, had questions or problems they wanted us to solve).  

Buying a house using the web, on the other hand, was a breeze.  We did a search on  Used Google Maps, the St. Louis County web site,and the St. Louis County Geographic Information Systems to get more details on the property, the neighborhood, etc.  Narrowed the choices down to about 6 properties that we really wanted to see, and gave that list to our agent in St. Louis.  It took us less than a day to see the properties we wanted to see, and even less time to decide.  We were on contract within a couple of days of that.

The house we ended up choosing was the one we liked the most in the listing.  In many ways, it sold itself.


Natural selection and the prevalence of autism

I’ve always been interested in how the brain works and have read quite a bit on the subject of evolutionary psychology and biology and some on cognitive neuroscience. (Once Zeke was diagnosed as hyperlexic and PDD/ASD, I was really interested.) Reading through some of many posts on the neurodiversity vs. biomed debate, I’ve been thinking about the role of natural selection in the recent “explosion” of autism cases.

I figured before I wrote anything I should do a little research, lit review, etc. In my Google search, I came across Origins of Autism from 2003 and an earlier paper, Human Evolution: Evolution and the Structure of Health and Disease, from 1998. It’s late and I’ve not had a chance to read through either of these in any detail, but they definitely look like they are worth reading.

I’m anxious to find out what their conclusions are.

Don’t adjust your web browser…

Yes, the site looks a little different today than it did yesterday. I was finding that my dissatisfaction with the appearance/function of the site was distracting me from posting, so I changed it. The template I used is a modified version of my blog …no straight lines… (which is currently suffering a near fatal lack of input).

I’ve not been happy with the blogger comments (I think it is my own fault) and the lack of trackback capability, so I’ve gone back to HaloScan for both. I’ve also toned down the presence of the Amazon link (which includes my associates ID) and the Google ads. Neither one has generated any revenue for me yet, but it is interesting to see what kind of traffic I get through those sites.

One new Blogger feature I am going to give a workout is the new MS Word add-in. With it, I can compose my blog entries off-line (say on the plane on my way home from Minneapolis later this week) and then very easily publish them, straight from Word, once I’m back online.

Let me know what you think. I promise there is more on Autism, Neurodiversity, Bio-medical treatment, etc. etc. etc. on the way.

A positive aspect of the autism ‘explosion’

Shawn has this somewhat unique perspective on the escalating number of cases of ASD posted on his blog Along the Spectrum: “I’ve come to the conclusion that the increasing number of people diagnosed with autism is actually a benefit to those that are diagnosed as ‘on the spectrum’.”

A few other “silver lining” insights that I agree wholeheartedly with:

The changing criteria can make it look like the experts can’t make up their minds. I view the changes as a sign that our understanding of autism is evolving.

The benefits primarily come from the large number of interventions that have been developed over the past several decades.

All this is a reflection of how our understanding of autism continues to evolve. It serves to help those on the spectrum, and society at large.

Bravo. Though the challenges we face as parents or individuals with autism are sometimes daunting, attitudes like this can give us the means to exploit the “epidemic” to good end.

10 things children with autism wish you knew.

I don’t usually reproduce large portions of news stories or other blog posts here when I reference them, but this one I just had to. I got this from South Florida Parenting magazine via Google News.

Here are 10 things every child with autism wishes you knew. [Added emphasis is mine.]

  1. I am a child with autism. I am not “autistic.” My autism is one aspect of my total character. It does not define me as a person. Are you a person with thoughts, feelings and many talents, or are you just fat (overweight), myopic (wear glasses) or klutzy (uncoordinated, not good at sports)?
  2. My sensory perceptions are disordered. This means the ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of everyday life that you may not even notice can be downright painful for me. The very environment in which I have to live often seems hostile. I may appear withdrawn or belligerent to you, but I am really just trying to defend myself. A “simple” trip to the grocery store may be hell for me. My hearing may be hyperacute. Dozens of people are talking at once. The loudspeaker booms today’s special. Muzak whines from the sound system. Cash registers beep and cough. A coffee grinder is chugging. The meat cutter screeches, babies wail, carts creak, the fluorescent lighting hums. My brain can’t filter all the input, and I’m in overload! My sense of smell may be highly sensitive. The fish at the meat counter isn’t quite fresh, the guy standing next to us hasn’t showered today, the deli is handing out sausage samples, the baby in line ahead of us has a poopy diaper, they’re mopping up pickles on Aisle 3 with ammonia. … I can’t sort it all out, I’m too nauseous.

    Because I am visually oriented, this may be my first sense to become overstimulated. The fluorescent light is too bright. It makes the room pulsate and hurts my eyes. Sometimes the pulsating light bounces off everything and distorts what I am seeing. The space seems to be constantly changing. There’s glare from windows, moving fans on the ceiling, so many bodies in constant motion, too many items for me to be able to focus – and I may compensate with tunnel vision. All this affects my vestibular sense, and now I can’t even tell where my body is in space. I may stumble, bump into things, or simply lay down to try and regroup.

  3. Please remember to distinguish between won’t (I choose not to) and can’t (I’m not able to). Receptive and expressive language are both difficult for me. It isn’t that I don’t listen to instructions. It’s that I can’t understand you. When you call to me from across the room, this is what I hear: “*&^%$#@, Billy. #$%^*&^%$&*” Instead, come speak directly to me in plain words: “Please put your book in your desk, Billy. It’s time to go to lunch.” This tells me what you want me to do and what is going to happen next. Now it’s much easier for me to comply.
  4. I am a concrete thinker. I interpret language literally. It’s very confusing for me when you say, “Hold your horses, cowboy!” when what you really mean is “Please stop running.” Don’t tell me something is a “piece of cake” when there is no dessert in sight and what you really mean is, “This will be easy for you to do.” When you say, “It’s pouring cats and dogs,” I see pets coming out of a pitcher. Please just tell me, “It’s raining very hard.” Idioms, puns, nuances, double entendres and sarcasm are lost on me.
  5. Be patient with my limited vocabulary. It’s hard for me to tell you what I need when I don’t know the words to describe my feelings. I may be hungry, frustrated, frightened or confused, but right now those words are beyond my ability to express. Be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation, or other signs that something is wrong.

    There’s a flip side to this: I may sound like a little professor or a movie star, rattling off words or whole scripts well beyond my developmental age. These are messages I have memorized from the world around me to compensate for my language deficits, because I know I am expected to respond when spoken to. They may come from books, television or the speech of other people. It’s called echolalia. I don’t necessarily understand the context or the terminology I’m using, I just know it gets me off the hook for coming up with a reply.

  6. Because language is so difficult for me, I am very visually oriented. Show me how to do something rather than just telling me. And please be prepared to show me many times. Lots of patient repetition helps me learn.

    A visual schedule is extremely helpful as I move through my day. Like your day planner, it relieves me of the stress of having to remember what comes next, makes for smooth transitions between activities, and helps me manage my time and meet your expectations. Here’s a great web site for learning more about visual schedules

  7. Focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can’t do. Like any other human, I can’t learn in an environment where I’m constantly made to feel that I’m not good enough or that I need fixing. Trying anything new when I am almost sure to be met with criticism, however constructive, becomes something to be avoided. Look for my strengths and you’ll find them. There’s more than one right way to do most things.
  8. Help me with social interactions. It may look like I don’t want to play with the other kids on the playground, but sometimes it’s just that I simply don’t know how to start a conversation or enter a play situation. If you can encourage other children to invite me to join them at kickball or shooting baskets, I may be delighted to be included.
  9. Try to identify what triggers my meltdowns. This is termed “the antecedent.” Meltdowns, blowups, tantrums or whatever you want to call them are even more horrid for me than they are for you. They occur because one or more of my senses has gone into overload. If you can figure out why my meltdowns occur, they can be prevented.
  10. If you are a family member, please LOVE ME UNCONDITIONALLY. Banish thoughts such as, “If he would just …” and “Why can’t she … ?” You didn’t fulfill every last expectation your parents had for you, and you wouldn’t like being constantly reminded of it. I didn’t choose to have autism. Remember that it’s happening to me, not you. Without your support, my chances of successful, self-reliant adulthood are slim. With your support and guidance, the possibilities are broader than you might think. I promise you I’m worth it.

    It all comes down to three words: Patience. Patience. Patience.

    Work to view my autism as a different ability rather than a disability. Look past what you may see as limitations and see the GIFTS autism has given me. I may not be good at eye contact or conversation, but have you noticed I don’t lie, cheat at games, tattle on my classmates, or pass judgment on other people?

    You are my foundation. Think through some of those societal rules, and if they don’t make sense for me, let them go. Be my advocate, be my friend, and we’ll see just how far I can go.

    I probably won’t be the next Michael Jordan, but with my attention to fine detail and capacity for extraordinary focus, I might be the next Einstein. Or Mozart. Or Van Gogh.

    They had autism too.

You can bet this is going to get printed and posted on my office wall, in my notebook, e-mailed to family and friends, etc. etc.

No cure? I don’t think so

Reading all the different descriptions in various news stories this week, I noticed that almost all of the stories stated, “There is no cure for autism” (or something very similar). What a downer. Talk about something that just drains your hope. NO CURE. That sucks.

But I don’t believe that’s true. What these reports should be saying is, “There is no known cure.” Sure it’s still depressing, but at least there is room for hope for those parents and sufferers who are seeking a cure.

Silver bullets and magic pills

Unfortunately, there are none for autism as a whole. As the article Desperate families search for autism’s ‘magic pill’ from the Daily Telegraph in London discusses, however, this doesn’t stop us from trying to find the treatment (or cure) that works best in our case. Although generally negative in tone towards what the author is basically calling “fad cures”, it is worth a read.

Another interesting aspect of the article is the perspective on autism from “across the pond” and how it relates to how we see things stateside:

In Britain, blame has been laid at the door of the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. In America, parents believe that mercury added to a range of childhood vaccines may be the cause. None of the suggested causes has any solid scientific evidence to support it.

All this hot on the tail of the big story of the week, the death of a 5 year-old autistic boy undergoing chelation treatment. I don’t really have anything to add to what has been said so well in other places (for example Ginger and Craig), but the whole thing definitely gives us something to think about when looking at the things we do for our kids, autistic or not.

It’s the little things….

Life with autism is full of big problems and issues, so the little things sometimes fall by the wayside. For instance, riding a bike – a two wheeler. But what is bigger to most kids than being able to ride your bike around the neighborhood? If you’ve ever tried to teach an autistic child to ride a two-wheeler, you know the challenges. They are the same as for other kids, just a bit more difficult.

I have to admit, we gave up and went with an adult tricycle. Not quite the same as a two-wheeler, but Zeke loves it. I think he likes the freedom to get out and ride around, not to mention the wind in his face. We still want to work with him on a two-wheeler, and I think I’ve found one possible approach at Lose the Training Wheels.

The expressed goals of this web site are fourfold — to educate all who will listen:

  1. That bike riding can be efficiently and safely taught,
  2. That the universe of people capable of riding bikes is larger and less restrictive than previously realized,
  3. To introduce you to some insights regarding the bicycle that may have escaped your attention up to now, and
  4. To have a little fun with the bicycle as an intellectual challenge.

There is more information in Adapted Bicycles for Teaching
Riding Skills
(.pdf file), published in the July 05 issue of Teaching Exceptional Children.

For those in the Delaware/Maryland/Virginia area, the 2005 Lower Delaware Autism Foundation Adaptive Bike Camp will be held at Mariner Middle School in Milton Monday, Aug. 29 to Friday, Sept. 2. More information at Autism foundation to hold Bike Camp – Delaware Coast Press –

Snapin: A protein with therapy potential for autism

A new paper from researchers at Rutgers University in NJ explores another approach to medical intervention of autism:

While disorders like autism may arise from a multiplicity of causes, research at the cellular level, such as that of Firestein and her Rutgers team, is creating an important point of entry for early intervention with therapeutic drugs.

Dendrites are the input centers of neurons — where nerve cells receive information that they pass on to another nerve cell or to the brain. When there is an abnormal decrease in dendrite branches, there are fewer sites to receive information and communication may be impeded. Individuals with disorders such as autism and Rett syndrome display not only fewer branches, but also show two quite different dendrite patterns. Firestein’s most recent work explores the how and why of dendrite branching and patterning.

The article will appear in the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell and is also available from MBC in Press online in either the Abstract or the Accepted Manuscript.

Using computers and networks to help build social skills

Zeke is an avid fan of computer and video games. Unlike the stereotypical kid and teenager, though, he has always preferred what you might call “educational” games. Reading, math, etc. The best of these, from this parent’s point of view, were the ones that also modeled good social interaction between characters. (The Sesame Street games were good, but I’m partial to the Reader Rabbit and Math Rabbit series. A more modern example is Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Game Cube.)

It would not be an understatement to say that Zeke learned a lot of what he knows about social interaction from these games. (His brother learned how to read watching Zeke play the games and trying to keep up.) He hasn’t really used the internet much, but as he gets older I think he will.

And what a great tool for helping socially uncomfortable people (like autistic/Asperger’s kids) the internet can be. Check out this little bit from a story on :

Second Life serves just such a self-esteem boosting function for a group of residents with Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism that impairs social interaction.

A year ago, John Lester, director of information technology at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, spent $1,000 to buy a private 16-acre island in Second Life that he dubbed Brigadoon.

As creator of the support site, Lester had seen the benefits of having patients interact via e-mail. The more realistic setting of Brigadoon has produced even greater breakthroughs.

‘I see them making strong social connections that I’d never seen before,’ Lester says. ‘When they’re ready, I’ve asked them to try and leave the island and visit the rest of Second Life.’

For more on Second Life, check out the official site at