Selling homes with better videos about the lifestyles they allow

To sell more homes, some have taken to producing better videos that highlight the home and the lifestyle associated with them:

This video, and five more so far, are not your typical real estate fare. Which is just what agent Stephanie Somers, who has a background in art, had in mind.

“We are presenting a vibe, a lifestyle,” as well as a place to live, said Somers, who wanted to show the “young and vibrant people” who are buying homes in Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Old City, and Passyunk Square…

Of her videos, Somers said, “I didn’t want them to be just real estate.” She considers most property videos online these days to be pretty bland.

Among the exceptions, as the New York Times recently noted, may be the $1 million four-minute movie being produced by filmmaker Harry B. Macklowe for 432 Park Avenue, a luxury condo high-rise in Manhattan. A Wall Street Journal article reported that the budgets for such cinematic marketing efforts are often a percentage of a home’s listing price, ranging from a few thousand dollars to $1 million-plus for epic residential ventures.

Stephanie Somers said she had spent thousands of dollars of her own money on her videos, calling the results “mind-blowing” presentations that depict what people do in Philadelphia’s new hot neighborhoods – go to birthday parties, have romantic evenings, compose music.

I’ve wondered why real estate listings these days don’t include more information – it is usually some standard info and some pictures. And even with pictures online of hundreds of homes, it is hard to get a sense of what it is like being in the house and many realtors/sellers struggle to take good photos.

One interesting aspect of these videos is that they could serve to deemphasize the home and highlight the surrounding area. This gets to a classic question: which homeowners care more about the house and which care more about the neighborhood and amenities? Videos could show that both aspects are great – but this might not always be the case. Imagine a video for a fixer-upper in an unexciting neighborhood – this is one that likely wouldn’t be made in the first place.

Media and product consumption by political views

This article looks at how political campaigns are using media and production consumption data to make appeals to voters and also includes some interesting charts that map out the differences between those with different political leanings:

Inside microtargeting offices in Washington and across the nation, individual voters are today coming through in HDTV clarity — every single digitally-active American consumer, which is 91 percent of us, according to Pew Internet research. Political strategists buy consumer information from data brokers, mash it up with voter records and online behavior, then run the seemingly-mundane minutiae of modern life — most-visited websites, which soda’s in the fridge — through complicated algorithms and: pow! They know with “amazing” accuracy not only if, but why, someone supports Barack Obama or Romney, says Willie Desmond of Strategic Telemetry, which works for the Obama reelection campaign…

All of these online movements contribute to what Gage calls “data exhaust.” Email, Amazon orders, resume uploads, tweets — especially tweets — cough out fumes that microtargeters or data brokers suck up to mold hyper-specific messaging. We’ve been hurled into an era of “Big Data,” Gage said. In the last eight years the amount of information slopped up by firms like his, which sell information to politicians, has tripled, from 300 distinct bits on each voter in 2004 to more than 900 today. We have the rise of social media and mobile technology to thank for this.

What I like about this analysis is that it starts to get at an understanding of different lifestyle behaviors or groups that underlie both consumer choices as well as political choices. Voting decisions are not made in a vacuum nor are consumer choices: these are guided by larger concerns that sociologists often talk about such as class, education level, race/ethnicity, and two factors that doesn’t get as much attention as perhaps they should, where people live and who they interact with on a regular basis (not necessarily the same things but related to each other). While the microtargeting may help tailor individual appeals, it might also obscure some of these larger concerns.

While the article suggests this data collection is all very creepy, this is made tricky because of one fact: some of this information is offered voluntarily by users.

Both Obama and Romney’s sites allow, if not encourage, visitors to login to their campaign websites with a Facebook account, thereby unveiling a wealth of information: email address, friend list, birthday, gender, and user ID. Obama’s team, in accordance with the president’s call for greater transparency, details his campaign’s privacy policyin an exhaustive 2,600-word treatise. It begins like an online Miranda Rights: “Make sure that you understand how any personal information you provide will be used.” Then things get a little weird.

Among other points, the policy says the campaign can monitor users’ messages and emails between members, share their personal information with any like-minded organization it chooses, and follow up by sending them news it deems they’d find worthwhile. In other words, target anger points. Then there’s something called “passive collection,” which means cookies — lots and lots of cookies. Obama’s campaign, as well as third-party vendors working with, spray trackers so other websites can flash personalized ads based on knowledge of the trip to And finally, near the end of the policy, comes one more caveat: “Nothing herein restricts the sharing of aggregated or anonymized information, which may be shared with third parties without your consent.”

Romney’s site apparently wants even more from its visitors, asking users who login with Facebook to “post on (their) behalf” and “access (their) data any time” they’re not using the application. You can deny both functions.

Perhaps at the least, users should be made more aware upfront of how their information is going to be used. This could be similar to the new boxes included on credit card statements: the consumer should be able to clearly see what is going to happen rather than have to dig through online user agreements. At the same time, making users aware is different than stopping companies from using information in certain ways. I also wonder how these online companies, like banks and credit card providers, will find other ways to collect data and money if these avenues are closed off. For example, would the average internet user rather give up some of this personal information for the sale of targeted advertisements or pay a small fee to access a website each year?

Finding Bin Laden in the suburbs

There has been a lot of commentary about where Osama Bin Laden was found in Pakistan. On one hand, there has been a lot of interest in his house, including people dubbing the compound a “McMansion.” (However, reports yesterday and today have suggested that the house was less unusual or prominent as was first suggested.) On the other hand, he was found in an unusual military town. Here is one take that suggests that Bin Laden was found in the unlikeliest of places: a suburb.

We now all know that, of course, bin Laden was not in a cave. He was hiding in plain sight in a million-dollar mansion in a posh suburb of Islamabad.

Not only that, the suburb was a military complex described as Pakistan’s West Point. And the mansion apparently was built expressly for him – as though he were some chief executive officer cashing in on his bonus options, so he wasn’t being especially discreet.

He apparently had been living there undisturbed for six years, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). He was a suburbanite enjoying the pleasures of a life of leisure – behind 12-foot walls.

This was so far beyond our expectation of how the world’s most wanted terrorist would be living that no one, apparently, bothered to look for him outside the mountains. Terrorists just don’t live in the suburbs.

I’m not so sure this community was a suburb. It was at least an hour outside of Islamabad. It was also a military community, not necessary a resort community. However, there have been reports that a number of wealthier military officials live in this community. And Bin Laden was living a life of leisure when he was possibly in the same room for five years? Bin Laden is comparable to a CEO “cashing in on his bonus options”? In terms of thinking that this community is like a typical American suburb outside of Los Angeles or Chicago and Bin Laden was the typical suburban head of household, this is not quite the case.

The story goes on to cite the sociological idea of “lifestyle enclaves”:

Back in 1985, the sociologist Robert Bellah and his cohort, in their seminal book “Habits of the Mind,” coined the term “lifestyle enclaves” to describe the way Americans had begun to cluster on the basis of “shared patterns of appearance, consumption and leisure activities, which often serve to differentiate them sharply from those with other lifestyles.”

These enclaves were self-selected – you gravitated toward others like you. In the sociologists’ view, they were increasingly replacing real community in America with these superficial bonds of similarity.

There are dozens of these enclaves today – from members of the National Rifle Association, to upwardly mobile young married couples, to outdoorsmen, to the very wealthy. Enclaves have become a primary way we define ourselves.

But I doubt that Bellah and the others ever thought of terrorists as a possible enclave back when they were writing the book. Yet the concept of people who choose to live with others who look like them and think like them is now so deeply embedded in our consciousness that the idea of a terrorist enclave apparently did cross the mind of the intelligence community today.

The conclusion of the piece is that Bin Laden was found because he didn’t play by the “lifestyle enclave”/suburban rules. So all of the residents of Abbotabad were terrorists?

All of this seems like a stretch in order to connect to the average American suburban reader. The basic premise could be interesting: the suburbs (or more rural/military town suburbs) are supposed to be the land of safety, not the place where terrorists (or any people who commit violent crimes) actually live next door. But to suggest that Bin Laden was similar to a typical suburbanite and was caught because he didn’t fit in seems kind of silly. Projecting the image of the American suburbs on Abbotabad, Pakistan may not be the best way to understand a complex situation.