New home sales surge in September

The news keeps getting better on the housing front, and that should have a big impact on consumer choices in the short term and in the next couple of years. The economic collapse of 2008 has seen the U.S. economy slowly rebounding to per-recession levels, but the housing market has been stubbornly sluggish. Of course this affects the job market, particularly in construction, and also consumer choices. Many more people are renting these days, even with historically low mortgage rates and depressed home prices.

Now we may be seeing a real rebound, and smart consumers will react to these developments. For example, new home sales jumped in September to a 2.5 year high.

Home builders received more good news Wednesday morning as sales of new single-family homes in September surged to their highest level in 2 1/2 years, the Census Bureau said.

New home sales grew 5.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 389,000 last month. The growth was a significant rebound after new home sales fell off in August to a revised rate of 368,000. That followed a two-year high of 374,000 in July — more indications that the new home market is recovering in fits and starts.

Sales were up 27.1 percent from September 2011.

The median sales price of a new home sold in September was $242,000, down from $256,900 in August. There were 145,000 new homes for sale at the end of September, up from 141,000 in August.

Many prospective home buyers have stayed away from the market as they didn’t want to buy before it hit bottom. We’ll, the bottom seems to have arrived in many parts of the country, so it may be a great time to go home shopping while interest rates remain this low. As we see more activity and increased home values, we’ll also continue to see more home refinancings as another way to take advantage of the low rates. With that we’ll probably see many home improvements as well, from new kitchens for the wife to new man caves for the guys, along with larger maintenance projects like garage doors, roofs and back patios.

The decision to rent or buy is a difficult one for many people, regardless of whether they’re married or single, and sometimes people get too worried about price. The lifestyle issues frankly are more important. But in terms of timing it’s always best to buy when a market is coming out of a bottom, so it’s a great time to start paying more attention.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems: Glengarry Glen Ross

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992)

“Glengarry Glen Ross” is David Mamet’s film adaptation of his 1984 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play of the same name. The star-studded drama depicts two desperate days in the lives of four Chicago real estate salesmen after Blake, a corporate trainer sent by the downtown office (played by Alec Baldwin in one of the best single-scene performances of all-time), announces that in a week all but the best two salesmen will be fired. The film is named after two of the properties the salesmen attempt to unload, Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms.

Chief among the salesmen is office hotshot Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), who knows every trick in the book and then some, always ready with another up his sleeve. Roma is joined by the less fortuitous Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), who are rightfully intimidated by Blake’s speech. Last is Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), an old-timer whose career was in jeopardy even before Blake showed up. The once-successful Levene’s glory days have long since passed, nothing but the distant memories of a man working support his daughter, who’s hospitalized with an undisclosed condition. Levene will be familiar even to those who haven’t seen the film, as the character was the inspiration for Ol’ Gil from “The Simpsons.”

Early on, Blake shows up to give his “motivational” speech, which includes a likewise familiar line: “A, B, C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing.” It seems there’s to be an office contest over the next week. First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado, second prize is a  set of steak knives, and third prize? Well, “third prize is you’re fired.” Central to the salesmen’s efforts are “leads,” the names and numbers of potential clients distributed by coldly reserved office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey). Most of the leads are old and useless, the contact information of people the salesmen have already spoken with and who tend to lack the funds or the desire to actually invest in land. In spite of this, Williamson holds the more promising leads under lock and key, in reserve for the contest’s winners. The situation is a clear Catch-22, as the salesmen need the good leads to have any hope of keeping their jobs, but access to them will only be granted to those that do so by placing in the top two.

Because it was adapted from a stage production, “Glengarry” is minimalist in nature. Only nine actors have speaking roles, it seems every other line of the tight dialogue is highly memorable, while all the action takes place in a small handful of locations. The film is divided nearly exactly into two 50-minute acts. The first takes place on the rain-soaked evening of Blake’s speech and is propelled in large part by Levene’s bumbling attempts to get his hands on a worthwhile lead and make sales. It also showcases Moss and Aaronow’s strategizing in reaction to the announcement of the contest. Pacino’s character receives considerably less screen time in the first half than the other three salesmen, which serves to contrast them with Roma’s cool confidence as he neglects to show up to hear Blake speak and makes a sale with relative ease. On the other hand, the second act is largely Pacino’s turf as the salesmen and their manager show up to work the following day to discover the prime leads have been stolen.

The cast of “Glengarry Glen Ross” has jokingly referred to the film as “Death of a Fuckin’ Salesman.” It’s a profanity-soaked, modern version of the Arthur Miller play the nickname makes reference to, and in each the salesman represents the reality and failure of the American Dream. It’s a fine line between deception and salesmanship, and the film gives us both. It’s the subtle contrast of Levene’s grandstanding—barking orders to an invisible secretary or pretending he’s got a plane to catch—with the defeated look in his eyes. He seems to be perpetually a moment from tearing up and two from a total breakdown.

A frighteningly accurate portrayal of working in sales, “Glengarry” has been certified fresh and currently sits at a 96 percent on the Tomatometer. Pacino’s work in the film garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but Baldwin’s speech alone makes “Glengarry Glen Ross” a more than worthwhile way to spend 100 minutes on a Saturday evening.

Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman

 

  

App of the Week: Turf Geography Club

Developer:
Hyperspace Inc.

Compatible with:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
iOS 4.3 or later

Price:
Free

Available here

I feel like real estate tycoon is one of those universally appealing job titles. I mean sure, according to the History channel’s lineup, any ordinary blue collar position can apparently draw national interest, but the life of a real estate magnate will always hold a certain mystique that other careers just can’t touch. Personally I believe it’s got to be the “Monopoly” effect. That game caused people everywhere to realize that given the opportunity, they will compete for hours with their closest friends and relatives just to acquire a prime piece of property, even if it’s through greed and devious cut throat means.

Now, thanks to developer Michael Tseng, the thrill of real estate wars via a game are back in a big way. His new app “Turf Geography Club” (or just “Turf”) uses a loose relationship with “Foursquare” to allow users to check in to their favorite places (“Foursquare” can also be used to add new properties and check on current ones). But unlike “Foursquare,” the goal isn’t to become a virtual mayor. The mission here is instead world domination, as users look to own the property they check in at.

It works like this. You go to your favorite spot and check in. This gives you coins. Got friends? Good. They can help you earn even more coins by checking in too. With these coins you can then purchase a virtual recreation of that property. Not only that, but since it’s yours, you can spend coins on it to make new additions like signs, condo extensions, and all manners of random item enhancements that make the spot  uniquely yours. Once you’ve built your property up, you have the option to sell it at a higher value to other players, and use the profits on new ventures.

I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t this mean that one player could conceivably get ahead of the game and own an entire city? Well they could, if it wasn’t for the slot system. See, if you notice a bit of property that you want, but someone else owns, you can steal it from them by using coins to buy a slot pull. If you win the slot pull, you take the property. If you lose, you try again. The more a player spends on a property, it becomes much more difficult to steal it from them. Also if the owner doesn’t keep up with things like repairs, the property becomes easier for others to take. It’s a game about timing and management, with the end goal being to control your own world, and maybe a few other pieces as well.

Like I said, “Foursquare” has been running with the idea of checking into your favorite places for a while, and other apps like “My Town” have let users create their own world from real world locations for years. Where “Turf” pulls ahead of the competition is through its style, and its simplicity. “Turf’s” 8 bit art style makes it immediately visually appealing, and the level of unique customization options available reminds me of “Team Fortress 2″, a game that illustrated the effect that a deep level of add on’s can have to a game’s longevity. Also the design insures that users in small areas aren’t left out of the fun, as one user can grab an iron grasp on the hottest property in town, with everyone working to snatch it from them, as they continue to build and build it putting it further out of reach. The appeal for major city users is, of course, more obvious, as the entire metro area (from bodegas to bars) becomes a virtual battlefield for those seeking total domination.

I’ve covered a few fun apps here so far in this article, but “Turf” is the only one so far that I’m ready to call a must have for any reader. Not only is it built from a solid background derived from “Foursquare,” but it’s incredibly obvious from all of the little design decisions present that the team behind “Turf” is ready to make this app their own thing. Personally, I can’t wait to see what both user contributions and developer additions are going to do to an app that is already poised to become a sensation.

In a game that’s all about properties, “Turf” has already snagged a lofty one that no amount of slot pulls could ever take away from it. That’s its place as my app of the week.

  

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