Quite revolutionary: How QR codes can make real estate real simple

The Guinness Book of World Records contains all sorts of crazy feats, of which many were likely thought up after consuming something stronger than a few dry stouts.

This record, however, might be right up there with the craziest:

World's largest QR code

The Kraay family of Canada, bored with making crop circles, decided to turn one of their maize mazes into the world’s largest Quick Response code. This laborious labyrinth measures 29,000 metres (1.1 square miles) and when scanned – from an aircraft, naturally – takes the smartphone user to the Kraay family farm website.

At that point, it is probably easier just to memorise the website and type it in manually. But what if you’re heading down some street one day and see a house for sale that you really want to get to know better?

That’s where Open2view comes in. Back in 2009 we became one of the very first Kiwi businesses to utilise QR codes in our marketing.

So how do QR codes work? Well, let’s say you’re driving along one sunny afternoon and you spy this house for sale:

Open2view.com NZ property

You decide you absolutely must find out more about it. With any luck, the agent has placed one of these very easy to create QR codes on the signboard:

Open2view QR code

Whereas previously you’d have to scribble down the address, price, and the agent’s name and number – or memorise them until you reached your computer – you can now instead just pull over, wind down your window and scan the code with your smartphone’s QR reader.

You will then be taken straight to a mobile-friendly version of the property listing. Now you are given several options, including

  • Viewing more photos
  • Calling or emailing the agent
  • Seeing the house on a map
  • Emailing the link to yourself – so once you’ve finished your Sunday drive you can go directly to the computer-friendly version of the house (complete with plenty of full-screen images, might we add.)

QR code Open2view email

Everything you need to know about the house is right there on your phone, and the press of one button will put you in touch with the agent.

With smartphones becoming crazy popular you can expect to see these funny-looking codes pop up more and more in business, politics and social awareness campaigns.

Of course Open2view, as the real estate innovators, used them long before they were cool. Possibly our favourite use of them however, other than for real estate or gigantic corn mazes, was this campaign by the Pet Shop Boys against the British Government’s National ID card scheme. The below video clip is full of QR codes that take you to various websites critical of the law. We reserve judgement on the issue itself, but we do declare the QR campaign itself to be most awesome.

Mind you, none of this info is much use if you don’t have a QR reader on your smartphone. To download one, simply go to o2v.mobi on your phone and follow the instructions.

Do you reckon QR codes are here to stay? Have you found ours useful when house hunting? Is this the coolest the Pet Shop Boys have been since partnering with Dusty Springfield? Write us a quick response below or on our Facebook page – we’d love to read your thoughts.

Photos: New Zealand in springtime

With the sun out over most of the country, and the Spring Equinox just around the corner, I sent the memo out to our Open2view team. “Give us photos of New Zealand in spring and make them impossibly cute!” I demanded.

As always, our awesome photographers more than delivered:

Learn more about the photographers:

Liz Evans (Facebook)

Kym Raubenheimer

Mike Taylor (Facebook)

Carla Woollaston (Facebook)

Phil Armitage

Jason Tregurtha (Facebook)

This is the new news: How our news sites have changed – and what the future holds

man reading newspaper

Back when newspapers were born, mobiles were hung above cradles to put babies to sleep and tablets were what you took for a headache. The only way for mere mortals to be published was by writing a letter to the editor.

It’s 2012 and, well, things have changed. To catch up, and keep up, our two main sources of online news have undergone some significant revamping. Does ‘new’ equal ‘improved’, and what could be coming next?

 

Heralding in the digital age

The New Zealand Herald sought to reinvent itself last week with a switch to a ‘tabloid’ size and a new look website.

Most people have drawn their own, mostly favourable, conclusions on the new site. As for the new compact hard copy, I’ve been told it’s far easier to read on the bus and train to work, which – having wasted much of my life sitting in one or the other – makes it worth the price already.

The Herald has updated its iPhone and iPad apps too. App users can now receive ‘Breaking News Alerts’ and scan QR codes from the newspaper edition to access more content. Android users, your time will come.

A particularly interesting new feature is the Social Reader. This app allows the reader to peruse (love that word) the Herald without leaving Facebook. Says the official press release, “Facebook users will be able to view nzherald content based on personal interests or content popular with friends. Readers will be able to prioritise, share and rate news in relation to how they feel – happy, sad, inspired, angry etc.”

Add “lost” to that list because it was a hard app to track down. There is no link to it on the site and it was only via the fifth result on Google that I got there. Which is a shame, because the app is pretty good.

 

New Zealand Herald social reader for Facebook

But I don’t want to open for Lady Gaga!

 

Many overseas papers have similar apps through which you can comment on and share content with your Facebook friends, and check up on what they’ve been reading.

Just be sure you use the right version, because my Facebook search for the app revealed an older version that would be best destroyed with fire.

 

Points lost for not calling it ‘Get Stuffed’

 

Stuff Nation logo nz media

Not to be outdone by the Herald, Stuff has created a whole nation.

Stuff Nation is an ambitious new project that intends to “bring our readers much closer together, to form a more tangible community… and to give you opportunities to contribute your views and news in a much more meaningful way.” Now the public can write and submit their own news pieces, register as expert sources in their fields, and interact more with journalists and other readers.

Right now there’s a whole list of assignments calling out for contributors. For photography and property news fans these include photographing celebrities, photographing people who look like celebrities, sharing DIY home tips and pics, and snapping pictures of giant vegetables.

It’s not all shallow and light; some Stuff Nation settlers have produced some well written, thoughtful human-interest pieces. If Stuff included links from each assignment to contributions to said assignment, it would be far easier to find them.

Stuff has also inserted some quality control into their comments section. To comment now you must first sign up and provide some details about yourself. There are ways around that of course – giving a false name for instance – but it will hopefully give some trolls cause to think twice before lowering the tone of every discourse. If not, readers can vote comments up or down so you can skim over the less popular ones. Perhaps Stuff could follow the Daily Mail’s example and let readers sort comments by most or least popular.

At times Stuff Nation seems to be less a crowdsourced news site and more an avenue for bloggers to vent at bigger audiences. If the latter direction wins out it will be a real shame. It will be interesting to watch how this brave new nation grows and evolves.

 

Coming up at ten:

 

Pay wall

Even with all the new changes and initiatives, these websites will probably look completely unrecognisable in a few years.

Social media apps like the Herald’s will likely be embraced more in New Zealand, even with some people boldly predicting the demise of Facebook in the next decade. Stuff still need to further optimise their content for mobile and tablets, especially with the latter projected to outsell laptops by 2016.

Once these are optimised, they need to be monetised. It’s not just fewer sales and subscriptions that hurt papers; Nathan Field also blames the shift to specialist websites by “the big classified categories of cars, real estate and employment.” Whoops.

In an attempt to reverse their fortunes, news sites worldwide are erecting paywalls – and the Herald concedes it’s a matter of time before they follow suit.

When done properly it can increase revenue and subscriptions. Financial publications including the Wall Street Journal and our own National Business Review have pay models that serve them well. In the ‘mainstream’ category, the New York Times gives viewers ten articles a month for free and then charges $US15-35 to see the rest. This peep show works for them: since March 2011 the ‘Grey Lady’ has gained 509,000 online subscribers.

Whether the Herald can also be successful, and whether Stuff follows suit, remains to be seen. For all the hard work and innovation put in by both organisations this year, the toughest challenge of all – monetising themselves without losing their audience – is yet to be fully confronted.

August’s Property Report in (not as) short (as usual)

We know what you’re thinking: “August is so last month, dudes”. There was, however, some very interesting news coming out of winter’s final month. This should come into play in what is now officially spring, but so far resembles something the Mayans might’ve dreamt up while especially grouchy.

Onward:

Strong end to winter suggests strong start to spring, funnily enough

The always-superb NZ Property Report from realestate.co.nz reminds us that the peak property season is here. If August is any indication of what’s to come, it’s gonna be busy.

The truncated mean asking price rose slightly to $430,443 – just a 1.7% increase from August 2011. Twelve out of 19 regions recorded increases, with Auckland hitting a new high of $585,482. It might have been higher still if listings hadn’t also risen; the 10,365 new properties on the market is the highest increase since May.

As for sales figures, at 6035 this was up 16% on last August according to the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand. They also report a 4.2% increase in the median house price on last August, with the figure now reading $370,000.

To avoid confusion, this differs from realestate.co.nz’s figure in that the truncated mean is the asking price from new listings only – still a very useful way of determining how the market’s trending. For the stats geeks, here’s a little more info on how this figure is arrived at.

Overall it’s looking like a ‘sellers’ market’, but for reasons outlined below there’s plenty of reason for buyers to get in on the action:

Mortgage wars and home affordability

The Roost Home Loan Affordability Report for July, released last week, shows home ownership becoming ever-so-slightly more attainable. It takes 52.3% of a single after-tax income to service a typical mortgage – down from 54% in June. Conditions for first home buyers are the best they’ve been in eight years; to service a lower quartile home loan it’ll take 21.4% of one’s median after tax income.

So, why? The drop in the median price helped (down $11,000 to $361,000) but perhaps the most important factor, in the medium to long term, is that the banks are all locked in a crazy mortgage rate war.

Their prize is your custom, and they’ll use any weapon at their disposal to win you over. These include, says Bernard Hickey, “a variety of discounted fixed mortgage deals that include discounted legal fees, lower interest rates for borrowers with high equity and, in some cases, the discounting of break fees.” As Roost’s Colleen Dennehy observed in the same article, banks’ offers to borrowers aren’t as ‘one size fits all’ as they used to be.

One very interesting outcome from this is the movement of many customers from floating to fixed mortgages. The value of fixed mortgages has jumped $8.3 billion in the three months to July, while floating mortgages have declined by $6.6 billion. That’s because, if you sign up for a fixed rate for two years or less, you can get often get a rate lower than the floating one.

How long will all this last? Well, most experts’ projections suggest the Official Cash Rate – the force that drives interest rates up and down – isn’t going up until at least mid 2013. Maybe even the year after, if the economy doesn’t get its A into G. Mortgage rates will likely, although, not definitely, remain low if this is the case.

Good news for Canterbury

One more interesting development to keep an eye on: last week Statistics New Zealand announced a 7.1% increase in residential building activity in the June quarter – much improved on the previous quarter’s 1.4% decrease. A great deal of this new activity is taking place in Canterbury where it is, obviously, sorely needed. Long may this trend continue.

Conclusion           

If you’re thinking of listing and haven’t yet, you oughta. Prices are good, listings – although on the increase – are still low and demand is high.

As for buyers, the banks will be fighting for your love for some time yet, which makes it a pretty exciting time to be a house buyer. Just don’t go over committing yourselves!

Finally: while listings could be higher, they are on the increase, which means there’s more variety available to choose from. And of course – and give us points for saving the plug until the end – you can find all the best properties on our website!

Ten tips to reduce your mortgage and other debts

Money, as the great poet Homer Simpson would say, is the cause of – and solution to – all of life’s problems. There’s no denying though that some more of it would be nice. Not enough of us, however, have the knowhow to take our dough and make it rise.

The Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income realises this, and thus they have turned this week into New Zealand’s first, and hopefully annual, Money Week.

The official synopsis describes this as a “week-long series of financial education events and activities… around the country to raise awareness of how people can better manage their money and get help as they do that.” Good plan.

Their website has a list of Money Week events and links to some good debt and budgeting advice. Most useful indeed – tonight, for instance, I’m heading to a ‘Managing your Money’ seminar hosted by Westpac. If that doesn’t stop me buying a Big Wednesday ticket for tomorrow then heck, nothing will.

From the looks of it – and this is said with love – more Kiwis should attend these. The collapse of a few dozen finance companies in 2008, followed by the Global Financial Crisis, prompted many of us to brush up on their financial knowledge. Still, while showing an improvement, the ANZ-Retirement Commission 2009 Financial Knowledge Survey highlighted major areas of concern:

  • One in six respondents (16%) said they were having difficulty managing their money, rising to 26% of people in the ‘low knowledge’ category.
  • 31 percent are classified as having low financial knowledge. People in this group are more likely to be under 24 or over 65, renters rather than homeowners, and on low incomes.
  • Only 30% realised that investing in a range of shares would, long term, make a better return than fixed interest investments and savings accounts.
  • On the home front, those who know you can repay part of a floating home loan without being penalised dropped nine points to 46%.

Flava Flav giant clock bling

Time to stop buying bling and save your dolla dolla bills, y’all.

So, in the spirit of the week, here are ten useful pointers for those who are house hunting, paying off a mortgage, or just want to save some cash:

1. Get pre-approved. There is no point committing yourself to a house and then asking permission from the bank after. Getting pre-approved for a set amount will help discipline you into looking at homes at a realistic price.

2. Save as much of the deposit as you can – ideally 20%. Set up a savings account and harness the power of direct debit to add to it every payday.

3. The higher your deposit, the less you have to borrow, and the less interest you’ll have to pay. Banks often give better deals to those with bigger deposits, as they know you’re good for it.

4. Mortgage rates are at record lows. Make-believe they’re not. Paying off a mortgage as if the interest rate was still over seven percent means you will pay your mortgage off much quicker, and – again – save on interest.

5. Pay your mortgage off fortnightly, rather than monthly, if you can.

6. Talk to your bank about getting a lower than advertised rate – or “bully your banker” as Bernard Hickey once eloquently put it. There is so much competition out there between banks at the moment they’re bending over backwards to win new customers and keep the ones they have.

7. Should you fix or float your mortgage? Or should you do a bit of both? Fixed mortgages are coming back into fashion, but the answer may change from year to year as our economy ebbs and flows. Always talk to your bank, mortgage broker or another financial expert about what the right mix is for you.

8. First time buyer? The government is here to help. You can withdraw funds from your Kiwisaver, after three years, to use for a deposit. They also provide a first-home deposit subsidy of up to $5000.

9. On top of that there’s the Welcome Home Loan, administered by Housing New Zealand, which allows you to borrow up to $350,000 with a deposit of 15% of the amount above $200,000. Clear as mud? Their website explains all.

10. Finally: you’ll save more money by paying off a high interest incurring debt than leaving your money in a lower interest savings account.
Example: a mate of mine just got a fancy new job and a nice payout from the old one. She could have used that money to send me on a cruise or hold a party in my honour, but alas she did the sensible thing and paid off a loan that was inflicting some hefty interest. Eliminating such a debt saves you plenty in the long run.

Chances are, if you’re already doing all this, you probably have some other ideas up your sleeve. Feel free to share your advice in the comments or on our Facebook page.

And keep checking the Money Week website for even more advice, or just to wish them well. We hope this is the first of many Money Weeks to come!