The Original Tiny House

By: Victor Normand

Thoreau's cabinEarlier this month, Sarah Hastings was unable to get town meeting in Hadley to approve a zoning bylaw amendment which would have made her Tiny House legal, so she and her 190 square foot house will be moving on, literally. The first Tiny House builder constructed his house on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson at Walden Pond without any complaints from the Town of Concord.  But it wasn’t long after Thoreau built his house in 1845 that the first zoning regulations in the nation were adopted in 1916 in New York City.

The new regulations were seen as a violation of the 14th amendment to the Constitution by some who felt zoning regulations unlawfully restricted property rights of individuals. Lower courts agreed but in 1926, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of zoning regulations. Today, the bylaw most commonly affecting Tiny Houses, including the Tiny House in Hadley prohibits more than one residence on a building lot, even though tiny usually means less than 400 square feet of living area and most of these houses are built on wheeled trailer beds.

Sarah, like most Tiny House proponents, seems undaunted. The “light touch on the earth” Sarah believes in, extends to her heart as well. Although 214 voters at town meeting voted against the amendment, 102 supported her and she believes her efforts have advanced the conversation on the subject of living small. And that, after all, is what Tiny Houses represent.

Sarah, who recently graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a double major in Architectural and Environmental Studies, built her house about a year ago and lived there until May 7th when the town made her vacate and cut power to the house. Thoreau only lived in his tiny house for two years, two months, and two days, never intending for it to be a long stay, though he was at the height of his creativity while he lived there. Similar to today’s Tiny House builders, Thoreau wanted his house to be both a philosophical and practical expression of his life.

He wanted the design to be a unique expression of his personality and probably would have objected to the availability of plans that may be purchased today for replica enthusiasts. He used recycled building materials and kept meticulous records of every penny spent on the project, for a total of $28.13; less than $3,000 in today’s money.

Walden, first published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods, compresses his time in the tiny house to the four seasons of one year and is about his experiment in simple living, clearly the same theme captured by Sarah and her contemporaries. The five main attractions to life in Tiny House Nation include:

  • Aesthetics, both Sarah and Thoreau were concerned about having a design that expressed their individual sense of beauty;
  • Philosophy, living small in a space that denies materialism;
  • Environmental Impact, even as an existentialist, Thoreau probably never contemplated his carbon footprint, but he would have gotten it;
  • Efficiency, the reconstructed images of the Walden Pond cabin and the online video of Sarah’s house read efficiency;
  • Financial, Thoreau cleared the land and eventually gave the cabin to Emerson in exchange for building rights, grew crops in surplus and otherwise lived cheaply; Sarah’s finances are not public, but her millennial cohorts are having difficulty affording housing and besides, they would rather spend their money on travel then housing.

So, where is the Tiny House movement going? Not to Hadley, nor most any other community in most any other state. But there is no question the Tiny House is becoming one of the iconic images of our times and as Sarah says, the conversation carries on.

Feng Shui My House

By: Victor Normand

FlowersFeng Shui (pronounced Fung Shway) literally means wind-water. It’s origin in China goes back thousands of years and it is the study of how environments and objects affect people, wind and water being two of nature’s most sustaining forces. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Chinese culture and Chinese goods were much admired in the West and minds were open to Feng Shui, though Feng Shui Masters needed to mold the tenets to fit the evidence based mindset of the American public. And today, practices like acupuncture and alternative medicine using Chinese herbs are becoming more widely accepted, so how can the real estate profession ignore the purported benefits of Feng Shui?

There can be no denying that we all strive for peace and tranquility in our lives in general and more particularly in where we live and work. Concepts like good light, balance and being uncluttered, resonate and appeal to people. We have all experienced joy when entering certain homes, even if we cannot articulate exactly why we feel good in those places. All of our senses are calibrated to like or dislike every presented stimuli in varying degree, whether it is a pleasant smell, a loud noise, a soft touch, bitter cold or a sunrise over a meadow; we feel a certain, predictable way and we share those emotions with all of humanity.

Feng Shui Masters will tell you that all objects have energy, called chi and this chi can be directed to improve luck and opportunity. The concepts like arranging homes and rooms to take advantage of good light, clearing clutter, furniture placement, using big plants and water features to enhance the environment and make spaces more pleasant even if you are not conscious of how these objects alter the flow of energy. Call it chi if you must, whatever is happening, is happening for the good.

Feng Shui practitioners may not even know they are Feng Shui Practitioners. They may be home stagers or kitchen designers who use their intuitive skills and by their designs, they are causing energy in objects to bring wealth and other forms of good luck. Sometime there are conflicts with this ancient practice. Water features have good Chi while toilet areas do not which was not a problem for centuries when toilets were not inside houses.  Today’s advice: always keep the lid down on your toilet.

Birth dates are important to your personal Feng Shui. Your birthday determines your Kua (pronounced kwah) number which leads to your auspicious direction. Placing yourself in this direction is recommended for sleeping, eating, and working among some of the more mentionable things we do every day. My auspicious number is 6. One Feng Shui advisor recommends that I create a wealth bowl out of porcelain and add gold-colored objects, semi-precious stones, and dirt from a wealthy person’s home, and faux diamonds to boost my success. I think I will stick with de-cluttering.

Even if you have trouble dealing with auspicious directions, you can benefit by Feng Shui. Why not hear what the Masters have to say about our houses and the places in them.  The interpretations of the best intuitions may be obtuse, but the results could be profound. By the way, The Resident Expertssm know something about Wind and Water, check out some tips from them.


“If your front door leads straight to the back of the house to a window or door, hang a round crystal in the hallway to disperse the good energy round the house – otherwise it marches straight out the back!” ~Frances Anderton

“If you hang a mirror in a foyer directly in front of the front door, all the good luck coming into the house will reflect right back out. So not a good decorating idea…​” ~Leslie Hogan


The Spring Market in the Digital Age

By: Victor Normand
Published: March 2016

Acton Real Estate now wears the “Crown of Excellence” for its overall relocation and referral accomplishments. Again this year, the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World ® ranked our company in five different measurable categories of performance at the annual conference held in Miami. Based on our accomplishments in 2015, Acton Real Estate bested 140 other independent real estate companies from across the country to take top honors in our class.

So what does relocation have to do with the spring market? Well, everyone likes the idea of buying a home in the spring and moving in during the summer, but it doesn’t always work out that way. People change jobs, retire, blend families and generally have many reasons to buy a home throughout the year, not just between April and June.

If you have planned ahead and followed the drill to prepare the house for sale this spring, you won’t be disappointed. Inventories are still below average, interest rates remain at historic lows and the economy continues to improve. Every indication points to a very strong real estate market this season. Use this checklist to see if you are actually ready:

  • Hire a real estate professional
  • Know the general condition of the market
  • Declutter/depersonalize
  • Consider a home inspection
  • Fix-up/remodel
  • Set a price

But don’t despair, all is not lost, people are buying homes all during the year, even more so in this digital, virtual age.

Taking buyer and seller behavior into consideration is a good thing, and an experienced Realtor can give you up-to-the-minute information on what those current mindsets are. If timing is everything to you, you might want to get Di Vincenzo’s best seller, Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There. Besides the benefits of listing during the spring market, some interesting factoids include:

The best month to make an offer on a house is January
The best day of the week to list a house is Thursday
The best day of the week to make an offer is Tuesday
The best time to tweet about the listing is 4:00PM

Trying to time a listing can be a challenge, but you don’t have to think you have made a big mistake if your timing is off. We know that buyers are looking at properties 24/7 all during the year. Just because they are not circling the block doesn’t mean they are not shopping. The combination of good weather and the start of school in September have created the traditional spring real estate market, but everything else about how, when, and where we shop for everything has radically changed.

When the time is right for you to list your property, bring in a professional for a consultation. The Resident Expertssm know all about timing and everything else involved in the home selling process.

Chaos Theory and Real Estate

By: Victor Normand
Published: February 2016

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) was established exactly 100 years ago in Chicago for the purpose of making the real estate industry into a highly regarded profession. Despite its influence on national housing policy as the largest trade association in the country, its true mission remains to elevate and sustain, high ethical and professional standards in its membership.

Consumers have a right to assume that their real estate agent has integrity, knowledge and experience, as well as the motivation to bring those qualities into every aspect of every deal. But is it also reasonable to expect the real estate agent to make sense of the chaos that often prevails in the marketplace? The answer is that a good real estate agent recognizes chaos for what it is and is positioned to guide clients through the disorder.

Sometimes real estate chaos has a limited effect on market behavior, like very low housing inventory level; and sometimes the impact is profound, like the bursting of the sub-prime lending bubble. Real estate is a dynamic segment of the larger fluid economy. As much as we would like to think that there are hard and fast rules governing the buying and selling of real estate, experience tells us otherwise.

Mathematicians were the first to realize that chaotic events are not random events. Chaos theory emerged in the 1970’s, as a way to predict behaviors. We have all come to know this theory by what is referred to as the butterfly effect, where the air currents generated from the wings of a butterfly as the initial event, can result in a hurricane pounding a distant shore. The hurricane is no random event, in this sense, chaotic events are predicable, but just because an initial event is known, meaningful predictions cannot always be made.

So, when a consumer is trying to figure out their next real estate move; trying to understand the “chaotic” market which is subject to the flapping of butterfly wings both far off and around the corner, it’s no wonder that confusion or misjudgment can rule the day. Thoughtful real estate agents cannot with absolute certainty predict the future, but they realize that chaotic systems have some kind of order.

A good real estate agent understands the complex cycles of the housing market, and also understands that specific situations are rarely repeated exactly. And an accomplished real estate agent knows that clients have chaos in their lives as well. Families get larger before they get smaller, financial circumstances change, and life events are unstoppable, and these things are not random either. Having these insights is what makes a real estate agent a professional.

Chaos theory is complicated, but has been useful in real life applications. It has been used to solve previously unsolvable problems in quantum mechanics and cosmology. It has revolutionized the understanding of heart arrhythmias and brain function. Computer simulation games would not exist without it.

Understanding Chaos theory is not required as part of real estate licensure, nor are continuing education courses ever offered on the subject. But true real estate professionals, like every Resident Expertsm, use its principles every day to understand the market and as importantly, to understand their clients.

Real Estate and the Sharing Economy

By: Victor Normand
Published: January 2016

Since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, all businesses and industries have been under siege by technology. In England, the Luddites attempted to stop progress by trying to get Parliament to outlaw the use of spinners and power looms in the making of cloth. That did not work and so we have all come to accept that there will always be better ways of doing things, though the pace of innovation seems lately to have us all spinning.

The term “sharing economy” understates the revolution in both technology and social norms that has affected almost the entire economy. We can trace this movement, of course, to the internet which only exists because of programs that allow all our computers to share information, communicating openly and in a common digital language. We have swiftly moved from sharing content on line to sharing our lives on Facebook and now in ever increasing ways, sharing our things, not the least of which are cars and houses.

Real estate has been affected by both the sharing of information and the sharing of physical places. The success of Airbnb has made huge inroads into the traditional lodging business by making it easy and safe for people not in the lodging business to get into the business. With sites in over 8,000 cities worldwide, Airbnb participants are offering everything from igloos to medieval castles. Although widely accepted by consumers, Airbnb lodgings have caused disruptions in some communities, particularly in tourist locations where the income from the rentals has had the effect of causing property values to rise.

The popularity of co-working spaces is another example of the acceptance that having access to space is more important than ownership. At Acton Real Estate, we have a regular periodic need for a large conference room, though not every day. So instead we share that space with other businesses in our building.

Information sharing is another opportunity often used to upend traditional business models. Real estate brokerages have long been in the sights of technology innovators who have made numerous attempts to lower costs, reduce waste and create value by offering consumers an alternative approach to the sale and purchase of real estate through expanded technologies.

Real estate consumers seem to have an endless appetite for information. With this in mind, the innovators set about gathering and organizing information and sharing it as it had never been shared before. They rightly assessed that by and large, real estate agents, not unlike others in sales, regarded information as power. In the old days, consumers were required to subject themselves to identification by logging in to websites, and as well, real estate listings were often short on details. All this was intended to make consumers seek out and deal with those “knowledgeable” real estate agents.

What these innovators failed to realize was that we live in a dynamic economic environment. Most real estate brokerages did realize that this old school model was not going to survive in a sharing economy. And they opened up and did not fight technology as Luddites might have recommended, but rather embraced the free flow of information. An added benefit of this transparency has been a higher level of trust between the real estate professional and the client.

Not every service or commodity is suitable for the sharing economy. A software engineer named Punsri Abeywickrema, who worked for LinkedIn and built platforms for the rental of everything, concluded that the most suitable category for the sharing of things should cost more than $100, but less than $500. This may also help to explain why more consumers use a Resident Expertsm now than they did ten years ago…….

Who’s Going to Buy My House, and Where Am I Going to Live?

By: Victor Normand
Published:December 2015

Your house is going to be purchased by someone between the ages of 25 and 34 (a Millennial) and you are going to move to a condo in Boston to be near others who are also over the age of 55 (the Boomers). So says the Chief Economist for®.

The Greater Boston Association of REALTORS® recently held their annual Economic Expectations event at the Federal Reserve building in Boston. The speakers presented their forecast of the housing market in 2016. The main speaker was Jonathan Smoke who is Chief Economist for®. He discussed national trends in general and the greater Boston regional market in particular. Boston is one of the strongest housing markets in the country as measured by sales volume and housing appreciation.

Over the next five years, population in the United States will grow by 4%; the fastest growing segment will be the over 55 crowd who will be downsizing which in this part of the country, means moving to the Big City in larger numbers than any other age group. The Millennials in the Boston area, unlike their counterparts in other parts of the country, are managing their college debt because this is where the better, higher paying jobs are.

The Boston region, which includes many Middlesex County communities in our market, continued to benefit from low mortgage interest rates, a strong job market and rising home prices. Although interest rates are expected to rise, probably less than a full percentage point in the coming year, employment numbers will increase and unemployment is likely to remain below the national average.

Demand for housing continues to exceed supply, helping to keep home prices rising although housing production, particularly in the multi-family sector, has begun to increase eventually helping to moderate rising prices. The city of Boston and the near suburbs have seen the greatest price appreciation in 2015 at 15.3%, followed by Middlesex County with a healthy 7.1%.

Even though high home prices make continuing to rent the better economic choice over buying in this area, younger buyers have the income to buy, and in increasing numbers are responding to still favorable interest rates and are just plain tired of their current housing by their own admission. Further, they recognize the demonstrated effect home ownership has on long term savings.

The most significant trigger for Millennial home shoppers is a change in family size. Sixty-nine percent of millennial respondents to a recent survey reported that the actual or expected change in family size including getting married or having a parent move in has made them active home buyers. Historically speaking, not surprising for this age group.

The fundamentals are finally healthy again. The economy is steadily improving, home prices are on the rise, but not unreasonably so, older homeowners are moving on and younger buyers are acting like first time buyers again. The inventory of homes for sale both existing and in the new construction market is getting better and credit access is slowly improving.

Finally, Jonathan Smoke believes there is no US housing market, only local and regional markets and we happen to live in one of the best in the country. So the expectation for the year ahead is that Millennials will be buying and Boomers will be selling, and life goes on.

2015 NAR Survey of Home Buyers and Sellers

By: Victor Normand
Published: November 2015

The National Association of REALTORS® has conducted the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers since 1981. It’s just- released survey for 2015 contains many interesting changes and trends. While the survey is national in scope, much of the information is helpful to Buyers and Sellers in our market. The report is over 140 pages in length and is the result of responses from over 6,000 individuals. Demographics, housing characteristics and the experiences of consumers in the housing market are covered in the report. Below are some of the major findings.

First Time Home Buyers

The percentage of first time home buyers continues to decline. Down from last year to 32 percent of buyers, this is the second lowest percentage since the 1987 rate of 30 percent. School loan debt was cited as a contributing factor along with the rising cost of housing. First time home buyers tend to be single men and women who are at an economic disadvantage to married couples with two incomes. In addition to school loans, credit card debt and car loans were cited as impediments to accumulating funds for the down payment.

Characteristics of Home Buyers

The typical home buyers are in their mid-forties and married (67 percent); 15 percent are single women and 9 percent are single men. Thirteen percent of home buyers are purchasing multi-generational housing to accommodate aging parents and/or adult children still living at home.

Homes Purchased

No surprise, detached single family homes are preferred by 83 percent of buyers and homes requiring renovation are often avoided. Eighty-four percent of home buyers purchase existing homes; the average age of those homes is about 25 years. The median distance between the home sold and the home purchased was only 14 miles. Overall, buyers expect to stay in their home for 14 years, though the actual time in residence in 2015 was 9 years, down from 10 last year.

Home Sellers and Their Selling Experience

The average age of home sellers was 54 and the most common reasons for selling were: Their home was too small followed by job relocation and lastly, their desire to be closer to family and friends. For recently sold homes, the average sale price was 98 percent of the final listing price. Recently sold homes were on the market for a median of four weeks.

Home Selling and Real Estate Professionals

Most sellers used a real estate professional to sell their homes. Eighty-four percent say they would definitely (67 percent) or probably (17 percent) use their agent for future services. Seventy-two percent contacted only one agent to list their home.

For-Sale-By-Owner (FSBO) Sellers

Only eight percent (down from nine percent last year) of recent home sellers were FSBO sales. This was the lowest share since NAR began these surveys in 1981. FSBO sales typically sold for less than agent assisted sales, though FSBO homes typically sold in less time, usually because the home was sold to a relative or someone the seller knows.

Understanding real estate is a continuing process, just ask a Resident Expertsm.

Mortgage Interest Rate are Going Up…….Really

By: Victor Normand
Published: October 2015

Mortgage interest rates have been at historic lows since the Great Recession in 2008 and hovering around 4% all during the past year. As real estate professionals, we have been advising clients to expect the rate to increase for several years now, but they have not. As recently as last summer, rate increases seemed certain; likely in September, now early next year is the expectation.

The focus of attention is the Federal Reserve and their use of interest rates along with changes in the money supply to steady the US economy. In actuality, the Fed sets a “target” rate on the interest rate banks charge one another for overnight loans needed to adjust their reserve balances. This “target” rate setting strongly influences all other rates including mortgage interest rates.

The highest Fed Funds rate was in 1981 at 15.87% and the lowest is essentially now at .14%. The 30 year fixed mortgage interest rate in September of 1981, the peak, was 18.16%, the lowest rate was 3.35% in November of 2012.

Source: Mortgage News Daily

The further effect of the Fed Fund rate at near zero percent has been very low interest rates on bank deposits, money market funds and fixed income investments (bonds). Some economists suggest that the run up in the stock market is the result of investors and fund managers looking for higher returns and finding them only in equities. The result, which seems to be happening presently, is an overvalued stock market in need of a correction.

So, where is the best place to invest? How about residential real estate in general, a home you live in to be more specific. Financial advisors do not recommend that the average investor borrow money to buy stocks or bonds but borrowing money to invest in your home makes sense, though both approaches have the potential of leveraging cash and creating extraordinary returns. Both forms of investment have risk and as we have seen, values can decrease, sometimes significantly. It takes a great deal of investment discipline to hang on to devalued stocks but riding out the bad times in the home you live in, well……….not so much.

A recent phenomenon in the downsizing marketplace has been using most if not all of the proceeds from the sale of the big house to purchase the downsized or retirement home rather than investing any excess cash. The reasoning may be that the best way to preserve capital, which for the older buyers is their estate, is to keep it in real estate where, as an added benefit, they get to enjoy the upgrades in the new home.

As the economy improves, inflation will begin to rise at a faster rate, wages will start heading up and the Fed will definitely tighten the money supply and cause interest rates to rise. The resultant rise in mortgage interest rates will put some downward pressure on home price appreciation but the fundamental of home ownership will remain attractive. Turmoil in the financial markets does affect the economics of housing, but sleepless nights are less common in your own home.

Local, Independent and In the Lead


So far this year, through the month of August, Acton Real Estate has held the top market share position in the Town of Acton as measured by sales volume. Of the top ten offices that have done business in Acton during that period, all are affiliated with a national brand, except Acton Real Estate. Many of those franchises have more agents, some with 3 to 5 times as many. All of these franchised offices are technically small business as defined by the Small Business Administration as having less than 500 employees, but only Acton Real Estate is a truly local small business.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, virtually all goods and services were provided locally. Certain commodities were traded from great distances, but consumers got what they needed for daily living by producing it themselves, or buying items in the nearby village or village marketplace. Interest in returning to that way of life has never waned, renewed in the 1980’s with the modern advent of the Farmers Market. The term “localism” describes a popular movement that favors local production and consumption of goods and by extension, the promotion of local tradition.

It would be naive to suggest that the evolution of small businesses into big businesses has not benefited the economy in many ways. Nor would it be wrong to suggest that there are many industries that could not exist except by being big. There are certainly economies of scale, expanded selections of goods and good old fashioned competition that all accrue to retail big businesses. While big businesses tend to pay higher salaries and offer greater benefits, the jobs they do create are often offset by direct and indirect job losses when small businesses in the community close their doors.

Characteristic of a local small business is its independence. The ability to operate and re-direct business operations in response to local needs on short notice in contrast to operating under policies and guidelines established by a corporate business model, which may be geographically distant from virtually every community it serves, has obvious advantages. Additionally, the corporate or franchise business model is often designed to serve typical consumer preferences, as in “one size fits all.”

And then there is the role that the internet is playing in the way goods and services are procured. Essentially, the internet has created the near perfect marketplace where all sellers are able to offer their goods and services to all buyers looking to purchase those goods and services. This explosion of opportunity and information is experiencing rapid growth and acceptance. Call this the experience where more and more consumers begin and often end their shopping on- line.

The internet is efficient and allows local small businesses a more level playing field when competing with the national brands for customers. Real estate is a good example of this. Sometimes the internet profile of a company will not necessarily focus on its size; rather it presents the consumer with information on its qualifications, experience and character allowing consumers to make better decisions on who they would be dealing with as well as what goods and services they wish to buy.

Research has shown that most buyers and sellers of real estate spend considerable time on- line gathering information. Sometimes real estate purchases are made on line, but that would be the exception. For the most part, consumers use the internet to gather information and then they will contact a Resident Expertsm to guide them along. Capturing market share is an important indicator of consumer satisfaction in the very competitive open market for real estate services. Acton Real Estate is committed to our local, independent business model.

A Move in the Works

By: Victor Normand
Published: August 2015

Acton Real Estate

Acton Real Estate Company is moving to new offices in West Acton Village. The new space will be in the recently built Villageworks complex on Massachusetts Avenue, in an area fast becoming the most active and interesting commercial center in town.

Just as living space needs for individuals and families changes over time, spaces for businesses evolve as well. Sometimes the current space is too large or too small, sometimes the type or arrangement of spaces has changed, a location closer to amenities becomes a consideration, and sometimes we just need a change.

Businesses, like families adapt their needs to whatever space they are in until they have reached the point, for any number of reasons, where something just has to be done and then the wheels of change are set in motion. Once that happens, the urge to move begins to build and all the pros and cons get listed to see which list will be longest and prevail.

For a business like a real estate office, the space has to be functional and efficient, but it must also reflect the way workers and clients expect to do business today. Work environments for customer service businesses are more open and inviting these days, physical barriers between workers and customers have fallen. Those who sell goods and services are no longer the fount of all wisdom they once were. The information age has armed consumers with abundant information, now it is all about forming trusting relationships along with a demonstrably superior knowledge of the product or service.

The new space we are moving to, first of all is new, and that is almost always attractive to staff and customers, not unlike the appeal of new homes over older homes. And it is not just that new is shining and bright; new is able to respond to the latest technologies, current design trends and proven innovative concepts. The new space and new furnishings convey forward thinking, an openness to all that is new and creative.

The decision to move Acton Real Estate was not made easily. The company has operated from 371 Massachusetts Avenue for almost exactly 60 years since it began as a business in 1956. The move to 525 Massachusetts Avenue is barely a mile down the road but the look and feel of the offices as well as its village setting will be a world of difference.

The means to access services now is almost exclusively by automobile; the new location accommodates parked cars nicely, but is in the midst of a walkable environment. The present location is a free standing building; the new office is among other service, professional, retail, food businesses and event spaces. A lively, interesting gathering of busy people makes us all feel social and engaged.

Now that we have made the decision to relocate, and construction has begun on the office fit-up, we are all anxious to be working in the Village and welcoming our friends, neighbors and other clients to the new home of the Resident Expertsm. You can check on the progress with weekly updates on our Facebook page and then come by when we open the doors early this fall.