Home smart home

The home of the future will look like the home of today, only with a few more gadgets.

By 2020 experts believe our homes and appliances will contain more advanced technology but that many of us will prefer working with non-digital systems. That’s according to a survey of 1,021 Internet experts, researchers and observers conducted recently by the Pew Research Center.

In other words, predictions of the demise of the analog home run counter to behavior, much like those predictions of the paperless office.

“Hundreds of tech analysts foresee a future with ‘smart’ devices and environments that make people’s lives more efficient,” the Pew Center reported. “But they also note that current evidence about the uptake of smart systems is that the costs and necessary infrastructure changes to make it all work are daunting. And they add that people find comfort in the familiar, simple, ‘dumb’ systems to which they are accustomed.”

Smart technology can manage systems that control heating and air conditioning, power, appliances, security, entertainment and communications. Some systems allow remote monitoring and access by way of mobile devices.

Slow digital adoption could reflect the age of homeowners. Younger people who quickly adopt technology haven’t had the years to save for a down payment. The “typical” age of a homebuyer has remained at 39 years since 2007, according to the National Association of Realtors. Census figures show that while 43% of households with a householder under the age of 35 own a home, 81.6% of those with a householder between the ages of 55 and 64 do.

In the survey some experts believe homeowners will adopt technology that saves energy and money. Others think that for the moment the issue is a “marketing mirage.” Aside from programmable thermostats and Internet-enabled security cameras, which technology will nudge homeowners toward the digital domicile?

Are boomers betting the farm on the house?

Chances are you won’t retire debt-free like your parents’ generation.

That’s the conclusion of a study by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization dedicated to promoting free-market alternatives to government regulation. The study compared the pre-retirement spending habits of today’s middle-aged (45-54) and older workers (55-64) with those in the same age groups 20 years ago. It found that more boomers carry mortgages, and spend a higher percentage of their income servicing that debt, than their predecessors.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Home mortgages comprise almost three-quarters of all consumer debt, and three-fourths of middle-aged and older workers’ households have mortgages.
  • From 1990 to 2010 the share of expenditures on housing — including principal, mortgage interest, taxes, maintenance and insurance — for these age groups increased about 25 percent.
  • For 55 to 64 year olds, nearly half of this increase was due to an increase in the interest portion of housing expenditures — even though mortgage interest rates have fallen over time.
  • The portion of income boomers spend on mortgage interest increased 47 percent, from 4.3 percent to 6.3 percent.

Housing debt has risen for several reasons, according to NCPA senior fellow Pamela Villarreal:

  • Since a higher percentage of pre-retirees purchased their first home at a later age, many will still be paying for their homes when they retire.
  • In the mid-1990s, the Federal Housing Authority allowed more borrowers to qualify for loans with lower down payments, bumping up the size of those loans.
  • Instead of paying off their mortgages, many baby boomers borrowed against the equity in their homes.

And then there are the effects of the Great Recession on boomers’ children.

“Fifty-nine percent of these parents are providing financial support to adult children who are no longer in school,” Villarreal said. “Nearly one-third has paid off student loans for their children.”

As they say in Vegas, never bet against the house.

Housing builds momentum

Two numbers released this morning show the housing market heading in a better direction.

New housing construction rose 2.3% to a 750,000 annual pace from a revised 733,000 annual rate in July, the Commerce Department reported via Bloomberg. Construction of single-family houses rose 5.5% to 535,000, the fastest rise since April 2010. Single-family-home permits were up 0.2% to an annualized 512,000, the highest since March 2010. Part of that growth is due to historically low mortgage rates—the average 30-year fixed has leveled at 3.55%.

There’s more good news for owners of existing homes and the agents who trade them. Sales of previously owned houses jumped 7.8% to a 4.82 million annual rate, the most since May 2010, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median price of an existing home climbed 9.5 percent to $187,400 from $171,200 in August 2011, according to Bloomberg.

The trend has reached bellwether Southwest Florida, according to data in today’s Sarasota Herald-Tribune. For the first seven months of the year, Sarasota County issued permits for 620 new homes valued at $201 million, a jump of 55% over the same period last year.

All of that comes on the heels of yesterday’s news from the National Association of Home Builders that confidence among builders rose from 37 in August to 40 in September, as measured by the NAHB/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index. That’s the highest reading since June 2006.

“The pace of overall housing production has been edging gradually upward all year as consumers become more confident in their local housing markets, and the latest data are further evidence that the housing recovery is here to stay,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe.

The age of distracted viewing

Half of all cell phone owners use their devices while watching TV, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. Owners use their phones to engage with content, avoid advertising or interact with others. The report is based on a survey of 2,254 adults via landline and mobile phones.

The numbers drop dramatically with the increase in an owner’s age.

First the general stats. Of the 88% of American adults who own cell phones:

  • 38% use their phone to keep themselves occupied during commercials or breaks in something they are watching
  • 22% check whether something they’ve heard on television is true or not
  • 6% use their phones to vote for reality show contestants.

“Taken together, that works out to 52% of all adult cell owners who are ‘connected viewers’—meaning they took part in at least one of these activities in the 30 days preceding our survey,” the center reports.

A deeper dive into the numbers shows that as you age, you are less likely to use a mobile phone while watching TV:

  • While 81% of mobile phone owners in the 18-24 age bracket use their phone while watching TV, only 29% of those aged 55-64 and 16% of adults over age 65 multitask.
  • 73% of the 18-24 crowd uses phones to distract themselves during commercials while the numbers for the two older groups drop to 16% and 9%, respectively.
  • 45% of the 18-24 cohort uses the phone to fact check TV content while, in the two older groups, those numbers plummet to 8% and 4%, respectively.
  • Only 1% of adults over age 65 see what others are saying online about the program they’re watching. The figure rises to 28% for the youngest age group.

The numbers are similar for owners who use their mobile devices to interact with friends or contribute thoughts about televised content. In the 18-24 group, 28% post comments, 43% exchange test messages with others watching the same program and 7% vote for a reality show contestant. Compare that with adults over age 65, who rarely post comments (1%), seldom exchange text messages with other viewers (4%) and don’t vote for contestants (3%).

What does that say about engagement among older viewers? Are they too old fashioned to use new devices or do they have longer attention spans? Are they less inquisitive or more patient? What do you think?

Jeff Widmer

Access all areas

Smartphones are replacing computers as our primary Internet devices.

More than half of American cell phone owners use their devices to access the Internet, according to a report issued this week by the Pew Research Center. That’s a big jump from the 31 percent of cell owners who said they used their phones to go online in April of 2009.

Nearly a fifth of cell phone users said they do most of their online browsing on their phone. The rapid adoption of the smartphone as a primary research and entertainment tool comes at the expense of other less-mobile devices such as desktop and notebook computers.

Why are people shifting their Internet portal to cell phones? The phones are convenient and always available. They fill access gaps and better fit people’s usage habits, the center reports.

The center conducted the national telephone survey this March and April. It included 2,254 adults age 18 and over, with 903 interviews conducted on the respondent’s cell phone.

Jeff Widmer

Survey says companies, not products, drive brand perception

Here’s some food for thought: General Mills has replaced Amazon as the corporation with the best reputation among consumers, according to a survey by US RepTrak Pulse. Some of the others in the top 10 included Kraft Foods, Johnson & Johnson, Apple, Coca-Cola, UPS and Procter & Gamble. Amazon fell to fourth place.

The study was conducted in the first quarter of 2012 by Reputation Institute, a private research and consulting firm that surveyed 10,198 consumers to find America’s most- and least-reputable companies.

Hard goods dominate the list in the Reputation Institute’s global survey. The top 10 global brand were: BMW, Sony, Walt Disney Company, Daimler, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Volkswagen, Canon and LEGO. Last year’s leader, Google, fell from first to sixth place.

According to the institute, the study shows that in order to win support and recommendations, “a company needs to tell its story in a way that connects with stakeholders on a global level. This is a challenge that even the best companies struggle with.”

“In today’s reputation economy, what you stand for matters more than what you produce and sell,” says Reputation Institute’s Executive Partner Kasper Ulf Nielsen. “People’s willingness to buy, recommend, work for and invest in a company is driven 60 percent by their perceptions of the company and only 40 percent by their perceptions of their products.”

— Jeff Widmer

Older adults embrace technology

They may not spend most of their time sending text messages but older Americans are embracing digital technology. They use the internet, join social networks and own mobile phones, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.

The center reports that as of April 2012, 53% of American adults age 65 and older use the internet or email. This is the first time that half of seniors are going online.

A third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% report that they do so on a typical day. Most adults in this age group still rely on email to communicate, with 86% of internet users age 65 and older preferring that medium.

As for devices, the center found a growing share of seniors–69% of adults ages 65 and older–own a mobile phone. That’s up from 57% in May 2010.

— Jeff Widmer

Boomers continue march to early retirement

Despite protests that they can never afford to retire, a new survey shows that baby boomers are still leaving the workforce before the magic age of 65. The trend not only contradicts the conventional wisdom spouted by business and financial journalists but may create problems for a federal government already struggling to pay its bills.

In a 2011 survey of 1,012 respondents born in 1946, the MetLife Mature Market Institute found that:

  • Almost half (45%) of 65-year-old boomers are now fully retired, up from 19% in 2008.
  • The majority of boomers (63%) have started receiving Social Security benefits.
  • Half of those retirees started collecting before they had originally planned, while only 5% retired later than originally planned.
  • Almost 4 in 10 respondents (37%) who retired earlier than they had planned cite health-related reasons for doing so.
  • Those who retired later than they had planned mention needing a salary to pay for day-to-day expenses (27%) and a desire to stay active (13%) as the reasons.
  • Six in 10 Boomers are at least somewhat confident in the ability of Social Security to provide adequate benefits for their lifetime.

The findings run counter to the popular belief that most boomers will work longer to make up ground lost to the Great Recession. They aren’t, and that has implication not only for them but for those who craft public policy.

— Jeff Widmer

Twitter use remains steady

Fifteen percent of online adults use Twitter, about the same number who said they used the microblogging service last May, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. As of February 2012, some 15% of online adults use Twitter; 8% do so on a typical day. Overall Twitter adoption remains steady, as the 15% of online adults who use Twitter is similar to the 13% of such adults who did so in May 2011.

“At the same time, the proportion of online adults who use Twitter on a typical day has doubled since May 2011 and has quadrupled since late 2010—at that point just 2% of online adults used Twitter on a typical day,” according to the center. “The rise of smartphones might account for some of the uptick in usage because smartphone users are particularly likely to be using Twitter.”

Twitter use is skewing younger, however. While Twitter use within the overall population remained steady over the last year, adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are the exception. Nearly one-third of Internet users in this age group now use Twitter, up from 18% in May of 2011 and 16% in late 2010. Twitter use by those in their mid-20s to mid-40s largely leveled off in the last year.

You can read the full findings here.

— Jeff Widmer

On LinkedIn, photo is worth a thousand views

Recruiters devote 19 percent of the time they spend on your LinkedIn profile to looking at your picture, according to a study conducted by TheLadders, a job-matching service for professionals. An eye tracking heatmap constructed by the firm shows that recruiters then look at skills, specialties and older work experiences. Current job position and education come next.

To obtain its data, the company examined the eye movements of 30 professional recruiters during a 10-week period to “record and analyze where and how long someone focuses when digesting a piece of information or completing a task.”

The results surprised some industry media, including Business Insider, which noted some LinkedIn users object to including their photo in their profile for privacy and other reasons. “If you do include a photo, you are allowing yourself the chance to be discriminated against, but if you don’t include one, people may wonder why there’s no photo since the majority of profiles have one.”

If you don’t include a photo you could appear less technically adept than the competition. If you do include one, you might consider a few guidelines from CBS’s Mark Jaffe:

  • Make sure viewers can see your face clearly.
  • Ensure that the photo presents a business image, that you are well-groomed and well-dressed.
  • Consider having a professional take the photo so that it enhances your qualifications.

— Jeff Widmer