Fireside Chatter

Kindling and sparks from Cozy.

How to shoot real estate photos like a pro

Written on May 25, 2016 by Lucy Burningham

These days, most of us carry a camera every time we leave the house. But smartphones may have made us less smart about taking good photos.

Here at Cozy we review thousands of real estate listings every month, so we know what captures a renter’s attention.

First, always add photos to your rental listings. (We’ve said it before: photos are just one part of a great rental ad.)

Second, take good photos.

We asked professional photographer Matthew Ehrmann, who’s based in Santa Monica, California, for some tips on taking great real estate photos. Don’t worry, he says your smartphone is up for the task.

How did you get into photography?

I majored in fine art at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, then attended The Art Institute of Seattle to study graphic design. I have always had an interest in photography and painting, so I’ve done those things alongside my graphic design work.

When I’m not doing my road photography, which I show at various galleries and on a few television shows, I do real estate photography. I got into it because because I was a building manager for apartment units, so I started photographing our units for rental listings.

What’s the most important thing to consider when taking photos of real estate?

Everything comes down to light. Bad light is the worst contributor to bad photos, because it makes things blurry or muddy. I always prefer shooting with natural light.

Let’s say you’ve just arrived at a property you’re going to shoot. What do you do first?

I walk the whole house and do a loose assessment of what I want to shoot, and I look at the light. Then I do a sweep for easily correctable things (a hose spread out in the yard, visible trash cans, open cabinets, open toilet seats, and toilet paper that’s rolled weird). Once that’s done, I start shooting.

I usually go in a very deliberate order, so I don’t forget any room or spaces. In each room, I take a shot from each corner, then I start focusing on the unique details of the space.

What do you avoid?

Anything that doesn’t look great. The “railing and up” porch shot is one example. You wouldn’t believe how many people have really dirty porches.

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when taking photos indoors?

Again, it comes back to light. Maximize the natural light you have. Open a window if you can. Even though I don’t like shooting with a flash, sometimes you need to do it. You can also set up a small light in a closet or corner to give you some additional lighting.

What’s the best way to get great shots outdoors?

That’s the fun part, assuming you have good light. Take a few photos straight on, so people can see how the property looks as they approach. The path leading up to front door is a nice shot. Get one from street, so the entire place fits in one shot. Photos of the sides of the house show people where the windows are.

Make sure anything you’re going mention in the ad is photographed, including garages or sheds. It sounds cliche, but people love flowers. For example, a shot of a window with flowers underneath can help a renter who likes gardening imagine themselves living there.

I like getting the standard exterior shots, then I take more artistic shots of roof lines and dramatic angles.

What kind of photo screams amateur?

Seeing the photographer in the bathroom mirror, or any mirror. Nobody wants you in the shot. Bathrooms are notoriously hard to shoot, especially if there are 2 or 3 mirrors. Just do your best!

Aside from light, what are other important factors for getting a good shot?

Furnished homes look better in photographs than big empty rooms, every time. Also, don’t crop the photo with your camera. Take a bigger picture than what you think you need. That way, if a photo’s crooked and you need to straighten it, you’ll have the extra space.

Do you think iPhone photos can do the job?

If you have enough light, an iPhone (assuming it’s a newer one) takes great pictures. Considering you can adjust the photos on your phone or using Photoshop or other editing software, you can correct some of the shortcomings of a smartphone photo.

I shoot with a digital SLR, and I use the wide angle lens 90% of the time for real estate photography. I recommend the wide angle, because it makes small spaces look bigger, which is great for smaller houses and apartments. If you stand in corner and shoot with wide angle, you can usually capture both walls.

Is a tripod essential?

Again, you need to gauge your light. In a lower light situation, you’ll be happy you had one.

Any final tips?

Shoot more photos than you need and edit later. Try different things: different types of lighting and taking a shot from different spots. Then you’ll have the perfect mix when it comes time to post your ad.

Rent prices on the rise in Portland, Oregon

Written on May 17, 2016 by Lucy Burningham

It’s no secret: rent prices are rising in Portland, Oregon, and they might rise even more this year. To counter the trend, some Portlanders are asking for a rent freeze. Others need help to stay in their homes.

Our data at Cozy confirms that rent prices are going up.

In April of this year, the median Portland rent amount paid through Cozy was $1,489, an increase of almost 25% percent from April 2015, when the same median rent was $1,195. This month, the median Portland listing price is $1,695.

What’s the best deal?

The median Portland listing price this month is $1.56 per square foot, which makes a four-bedroom (plus) property the best deal at $1.17 per square foot. The median listing for a four-bedroom property is currently $2,350.

Studios and one-bedroom properties tie for the most expensive per square foot, with rates in the $1.90s. Those listings have a median range of $850-$1,098.

Which neighborhood is the hottest?

Portland zip code 97217, which includes the Kenton, Arbor Lodge, and Overlook neighborhoods, has the highest number of Cozy listings this month. In that zip code, the median rent listing is $1,925.

With no sign that rent prices will flatten anytime soon, some people are starting to say that the current boom will lead to a bust in affordability and popularity for Portland.

For media inquiries or to learn more about Cozy’s data, please get in touch: hello@cozy.co.

Digital Nomads: Dakota and Chelsea

Written on May 05, 2016 by Lucy Burningham

Chelsea and Dakota didn’t plan to spend two-and-a-half years on the road. It just happened.

The way they tell it, one day they were living in a 1904 bungalow in the Hawthorne neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. The next thing they knew, they were making their way south along the Oregon coast in a juiced up Sprinter van with a mobile hotspot.

Their reasons for uprooting and living in the van—which began as a 4-month trip—went beyond the lure of adventure and freedom. Dakota and Chelsea knew life on the road would help them rethink how they used their time, cultivated personal relationships, and valued possessions.

Turns out they were right. Living in a 6-by-12-foot space on wheels spurred plenty of insights.

Sharing their story

In the fall of 2013, Dakota launched a blog called Traipsing About, so he could share updates and observations about life on the road. Dakota wrote the posts and took the pictures, and Chelsea edited his words. Their story has been unfolding there ever since.

There was the post about how he fixed up the van and why he and Chelsea chose to have the adventure. They chronicled how they spent time in nature and introduced the characters they met along the way.

They noticed how living a mobile life changed them.

“I used to be kind of nervous about meeting strangers,” Chelsea says. “I was cautious.” Suddenly she found it easy to connect with anyone, even without small talk. “You go deep immediately,” she says. “What do you care about? What are you interested in?”

Going by bike

In 2014, the couple took their nomadic life to the next level when they parked their van at Dakota’s parents’ house in Idaho, and started riding their bicycles across the U.S.

They rode 4,000 miles that summer, a trip that included moments Dakota says he’ll never forget. Like the time they placed flowers on the graves of Chelsea’s paternal great-grandparents in Iowa. And the surprise flight in a 1946 Piper Cub seaplane in upstate New York.

The next summer, Chelsea and Dakota loaded up their bicycles again, and rode from London to Prague. While they were in Belgium, Chelsea commented on the Bruges Vegan blog, and the bloggers invited them to come stay in their picturesque home in the countryside.

Curating their digital tools

Not only did technology help them connect with new people and stay in touch, it allowed them to keep up with other parts of their lives.

Dakota continued to run his business from the road, thanks to what Chelsea calls a carefully curated set of digital tools. In addition to the wireless hotspot, Dakota installed solar panels on the van to keep his laptop running and used everything from visual voicemail to digital signing software.

“Our life wouldn’t have been possible a handful of years ago,” Chelsea says. “We are so grateful for the technology we have now.”

One Traipsing About post talked about how Cozy was an essential tool that helped them keep their “passive income more passive.”

Landlording from the road

They hadn’t planned to rent out their house, but instead of leaving it empty, finding a short-term renter made financial sense. Dakota and Chelsea already had experience renting out a condo they owned in Portland, but finding someone to live in their house—the place they’d called home for seven years—felt different.

They decided to rent the house fully furnished, which required a new attitude about their stuff, from couches to wine glasses. They collected their personal items—including a set of dishes made by Dakota’s mom and family pictures—and put them in a closet and one cabinet.

Sometimes, it’s hard to think about other people using their furniture and living in their space, Chelsea says. “But I’d rather have the adventure than be precious about my things.” Besides, Dakota, points out, it’s just stuff. Any damaged items could be replaced by the security deposit.

When they first started traveling, Dakota and Chelsea didn’t know about Cozy. Their renters had to physically visit the bank to make monthly rent deposits. The next set of renters made direct deposits into the couple’s bank account.

“It was dumb,” Dakota remembers. “You had to give them your bank account number.”

Finding Cozy was a relief. “Using Cozy is like Paypal,” says Dakota. “You have my email? Great, we’re done!”

Returning to a more stationary life

These days, Dakota and Chelsea are taking a break from being digital nomads, at least for a few months, until they head to Iceland this summer.

They’re living in their house in Portland. Chelsea is starting a vegan cooking club and Dakota’s practicing the guitar and returning to rock climbing.

But they haven’t forgotten what they learned on the road. “You can’t get too set on having things exactly the way you want them to be,” says Chelsea. “It’s a practice in non-attachment.”

Chelsea and Dakota’s tips for renting from the road

  • Find out where your ideal renters go for online listings, and post there. (Dakota and Chelsea only post their Cozy listings on Craigslist.)
  • Use Skype to interview and screen potential renters.
  • Before you talk, prepare. Write down a list of things you want to know. For example, Chelsea says she tries to figure out if she were in conflict with the person, would they be able to sort it out?
  • Think about renting from the renter’s perspective. “I try to drop the walls between myself and the person who is the potential tenant,” Chelsea says. “I want them to know we’ll take care of them.”
  • Establish a rapport. It’s just as important for renters to get to know you, as it is for you to get to know them.
  • Don’t be afraid to request a background check and credit report.
  • Before renters move in, schedule another Skype call, and go through a list of info so they won’t be surprised by anything, from pet policies to parking.
  • For furnished properties, give renters a short list of what’s in each room so they know what they might want to bring. (For example, there’s no TV or coffee maker.)
  • Install a digital keypad to avoid having to do a physical key exchange.
  • Check out The Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Screening, which is downloadable and free.

Introducing Cozy Express Payouts

Written on April 27, 2016 by Lucy Burningham

We know many of you have been frustrated with the processing time for ACH payments, a lag caused in part by outdated banking technologies. We were frustrated, too. So we built a solution.

We’re excited to announce a new Cozy feature called Express Payouts that lets landlords and property managers get ACH payments in about half the time of normal ACH payments—3 business days. So if your tenant pays Monday before 2 p.m. (PT), it will be in your account Wednesday.

Here’s how Cozy Express Payouts works:

  • $2.99 for unlimited transactions per unit, per month
  • Activate Express Payouts for some or all of your units
  • No limit on rent amounts
  • If your tenant pays with a card (a 2.75% fee for tenants) instead of ACH (free for tenants), we won’t charge you for Express Payouts.

That’s it! Nothing about collecting payments through Cozy is changing. Managers can still collect rent for free. Express Payouts is an optional paid feature that moves your cash flow forward each month.

Start using Express Payouts now.

Or, if you haven’t signed up with Cozy yet, get started here.

Express Payouts

Also new! Landlords and managers can customize their email preferences. Lighten the inbox load or continue to receive all updates about payments, renter setup, applications, leases, and screening reports.

We’re improving Cozy all the time, and we couldn’t do it without hearing from our customers! Is there anything you think would make Cozy better? Let us know at hello@cozy.co.

Cozy: The Intuit PaymentNetwork Alternative

Written on April 20, 2016 by Jonathan Kuipers

Intuit PaymentNetwork Closed

We’d like to welcome some of our newest Cozy customers: former Intuit PaymentNetwork (IPN) users. Intuit PaymentNetwork announced that they’re shutting down and they’re asking users to move to QuickBooks, a more expensive service that doesn’t offer the same functionality as Cozy. We’re thrilled so many landlords and property managers have found us instead. Welcome.

If you haven’t decided whether or not to make the switch to Cozy, or if you’re curious about what Cozy offers, read on. Not only do we think you’ll like Cozy, we think you’ll discover that we’re much more than just an alternative to Intuit PaymentNetwork.

Built for Landlords

We created Cozy to improve the lives of independent landlords and property managers. We design everything we build based on input from our customers, and we’re focused on serving them with the best possible tools.

Outstanding Support

Our support team is made up of real people here in Portland, Oregon, and they’re happy to answer all your questions. They’re dedicated to helping you as quickly as possible, usually within 24 hours.

Free for Landlords

We know independent landlords and property managers operate on tight margins. That’s why Cozy’s core services are free. Tenants pay for credit reports and background checks, and they pay a fee for online rent payments when using a debit or credit card (paying with a bank account is free). But all our services for landlords are free.

If you’re ready to make the move to Cozy and haven’t already, sign up here. We’re excited to have you join us.

The Newest Member of Team Cozy: Lucy Burningham

Written on April 14, 2016 by Gino Zahnd

Hey-o! I’m happy to introduce Lucy Burningham as the newest member of Team Cozy. After working with us for the past six weeks or so, she has now joined us as our Editorial Director, and she will be owning and guiding the editorial tone, vision, and practice at Cozy. If it has words, chances are Lucy’s fingerprints will be on it.

Before Cozy, Lucy has built an amazing career as a freelance writer and author. She has written for Sunset, Imbibe, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bicycling, Saveur, and the BBC, to name a few.

She’s also authored two books, one of which is a permanent fixture on my coffee table at home: Hop in the Saddle. It’s a guide to Portland’s craft beer scene, by bike; a match made in heaven.

Her newest book will be published later this year, as well as a refreshed, new edition of Hop in the Saddle.

We’re happy to have Lucy on board, and we’re excited to work with her to continue evolving Cozy’s editorial efforts. Many big things on the way!

She’s @lucyburningham on Twitter. Say hi!

Lucy

The Newest Members of Team Cozy

Written on March 31, 2016 by Katie Harlow

We’re super excited to announce three new team members!

Maggie

We have Maggie Cooper joining us as our first Customer Success Manager. She’ll be focusing on new customer on-boarding and helping our customers get the most out of Cozy! Before joining us, Maggie helped build SurveyMonkey’s Customer Success team, and has a breadth of experience working with SaaS products. Maggie is an Oregon native who considers herself a breakfast burrito and puzzle enthusiast. She hasn’t commented yet on whether she partakes in both at once.

Holly

Holly Hampton is also joining us as the newest member of our support team. Holly joins us from AppFolio in Dallas, though she originally hails from Philadelphia. Her favorite things include hiking, writing, long runs, iced coffee, and pine trees, so we think she’ll fit right in in the Pacific Northwest.

Jonathan

Jonathan Kuipers also joins us to lead our growth marketing efforts. He comes to us from Jama, where he helped establish and expand the growth team as one its first two members. Born and raised in Canada, Jonathan moved south to Michigan for college and then ventured west to his current home in Portland. He loves the outdoors and spending a lot of time on his bike as a competitive Cyclo-cross racer.

We’ve Partnered with the Apartment Association of New Mexico

Written on March 30, 2016 by Lucas Hall

Apartment Association of New Mexico

Earlier this year, we announced our partnership with the National Association of Realtors and Move, a tremendous show of industry trust. Now we’re excited to let you know that we’ve partnered with the Apartment Association of New Mexico (AANM) to bring Cozy’s rent collection and screening tools to all its members.

As our first rental housing association partner, the AANM represents an important moment for us. It’s the first of many similar partnership we’re building nationwide.

The AANM serves about 725 individuals and companies, which own or manage more than 53,000 rental properties in New Mexico. Like most landlords around the country, the property managers of New Mexico still regularly deal with late rent, paper checks, and tenants who slip through the screening process. Cozy will help them avoid these pitfalls, by providing them with the tools they need to be successful.

During the next few months, we’ll be hosting a series of educational workshops exclusively for AANM members to help them learn practices that will lead to happier tenants and greater profits.

No matter where you own properties in the U.S., you can use Cozy for free.

And if you’re part of an apartment association, we’d love to talk to you about partnering with Cozy.

A new way to receive rent: your debit card

Written on March 21, 2016 by Lucy Burningham

We know it can be a pain to dig up bank account and routing numbers. It’s easier than ever to start using Cozy for free, automatic rent collection. Now you can add your debit card to Cozy, and we’ll automatically deposit your rent into your checking account every month.

If you’re already set up and collecting rent with us, you don’t need to do anything—we’re just making it easier to get started. In the coming months, we’ll be introducing additional payment options for everyone. Stay tuned!

If you haven’t started using Cozy to collect your rent yet, it’s free and takes just a few minutes to set up.

The Newest Member of Team Cozy: Kayla Warfield

Written on February 24, 2016 by Katie Harlow

We’d like to welcome Kayla Warfield as the newest member of Team Cozy! Kayla, an Oregon native, joins our support team after a stint as a Global Startup Battle finalist. On top of a degree in Molecular Biology, she boasts a 3.5 legged bionic dog and the unique ability to complete the Times crossword puzzle in pen.

She’s here to help with all things Cozy, so if you reach out to our support team there’s a good chance you’ll end up working with Kayla. We love working with her and think you will too!

Kayla