Posts Tagged ‘Vt Real Estate’

January 2013, from Bloomberg Businessweek, Global Economics

The Great Canadian Maple Syrup


On the morning of July 30, 2012, an accountant named Michel Gauvreau arrived at the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, housed in a huge red brick warehouse on the side of the Trans-Canadian Highway in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, about two hours northeast of Montreal. Inside, baby-blue barrels of maple syrup were stacked six high in rows hundreds deep. Full, each barrel weighs about 620 pounds. With grade A syrup trading at about $32 per gallon, that adds up to $1,800 a barrel, approximately 13 times the price of crude oil.

Global Economics

Global Economics

The fiscal year was coming to a close, and the Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers had hired Gauvreau’s company, Veragrimar, to audit its inventory. Québec dominates the maple syrup market, and since 2002 the Federation has operated as a legal cartel, setting production quotas and prices, authorizing buyers, and stockpiling syrup. There were around 16,000 barrels here, about one-tenth of Québec’s annual production. The gap between the rows was barely wide enough to walk through, and the rubber soles of Gauvreau’s steel-tip boots stuck to the sugar-coated concrete floor.

He scaled a row of barrels and was nearing the top of the stack when one of them rocked with his weight. He nearly fell. Regaining his balance, he rattled the barrel: It was light because it was empty. He soon found others that were empty. After notifying the Federation’s leaders and returning with them to examine the stockpile, they unscrewed the cap on a full barrel. The liquid inside was not goopy, brown, or redolent with the wintry scent of vanilla, caramel, and childhood; it was thin, clear, and odorless. It was water.

The Federation would need two months to tally the losses to the stockpile. Sixty percent, or 6 million pounds of syrup, had vanished, worth about $18 million wholesale. The bold and baffling heist counts as one of the largest agricultural thefts ever, dwarfing the 860 head of cattle snatched in Queensland, Australia, last spring and the potato patches the size of a football field that were dug up in British Columbia in August. Siphoning off and transporting so much syrup was no mean feat. It would have taken more than 100 tractor-trailers. “To steal that amount of maple syrup means you have to know the market,” says Simon Trépanier, acting director of the Federation. “We are talking about big players.”

See the Bloomberg video on the inside story.

The theft was also an existential threat to the Federation, which had viewed its growing strategic reserves as the final step in stabilizing prices, locking in buyers, and ensuring loyalty from its producers. For the past decade it had struggled to overcome opposition to its reign in a series of legal battles the local media had christened “The Maple Wars.” Some observers have suggested that their attempts to control the syrup supply had, in fact, catalyzed an underground economy.

“With the benefit of hindsight, this is something you would have expected,” says Marc Van Audenrode, an economist with the Analysis Group in Montreal, who has studied the industry. Indeed, the syrup trail soon led to free-market renegades inside and outside the province who opposed what was, in their view, a Communist program. It wasn’t just about syrup, or money. It was a miniature Canadian Cold War.

Maple syrup may not rank among Canada’s most financially important agricultural exports, but nothing says “Eh!” quite like a liter of boiled-down tree sap. Ten species of maple, including the sugar maple, are native to Canada. By the early 19th century the multipointed leaf had become a popular icon for French-Canadians living in the Saint-Lawrence Valley; it wasn’t long before the leaf became a national symbol featured on coins, military uniforms, and eventually the country’s flag.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper travels abroad, his gift bag for foreign leaders includes a selection of the country’s finest maple syrup. It remains both a national point of pride and a durable punch line. At Canadian markets, you can find maple sugar, maple butter, maple pork rub, maple vinaigrette, maple coffee, maple tea, and, as of last year, maple perfume.

Syrup production occurs between February and April, on the 20 to 25 days when the temperature rises above freezing, creating pressure that forces the energy-rich sap—which is about 3 percent sugar—out of a tap hole in the trunks of maple trees. On a recent morning, Philippe Turcotte, 39, an affable man with a speckling of gray in his goatee and mustache, took an ATV tour of his family’s 12,000-tree sugarbush in Drummondville, Québec. A tangle of plastic tubes stretches from tree to tree, converging on a vacuum pump in a wooden shack at the back of their property. From that shack, the thin sap gets pumped about half a mile over the hill to a barn, where reverse-osmosis raises sugar concentration to 14 percent. Then Turcotte fires up his $25,000 stainless steel Dallaire evaporator—model name: L’Enfer (“Hell”)—and boils the syrup until it reaches a sugar concentration of exactly 66 percent.

For 2012, Québec estimated maple syrup production of 96.1 million pounds, which has a wholesale value of about $270 million. Approximately two-thirds of bulk exports head to the U.S., with the rest going to Japan, Germany, France, the U.K., and other countries. For most producers, maple syrup is either a hobby, a second career, or a source of retirement income, but their investment and revenue are not trivial. Turcotte’s sugarbush can produce 35,000 pounds of syrup each year, worth about $100,000, but it’s going to be many years before he pays off his equipment improvements. Turcotte, who also works for the telecommunications company Bell Canada (BCE), says he would not be where he is today were it not for the Federation. “They took this industry out of the backwoods,” he says. “For myself, business has never flourished so much.”

Early on, maple syrup producers banded together in this region to form trade groups and develop joint marketing plans. In 1989 the Agriculture and Food Marketing Board in Québec, which sets regulations and arbitrates legal disputes, oversaw a vote that empowered the Federation alone to set the rules for the production and marketing of maple syrup throughout the province. Over the next 10 years, the number of tapped trees increased from 20 million to 35 million. The short production season often resulted in price fluctuations, and by 2000 supply had also outpaced demand: Syrup prices fell to C$1.56 ($1.57) per pound from C$2.20 in 1998. Producers were unable to get bank loans or invest in new equipment.

In 2002 and 2003 the Federation created a central sales agency and a quota system for bulk sales. Producers obtained their quota based on their two best production years. The rules have nudged the wholesale price up from an average of C$2.06 per pound in 2002 to C$2.82 today, but the province’s 7,300 producers also have to pay their dues: C12¢ per pound sold. For the 20th anniversary of the cartel, in 2010, the Federation’s enthusiastic young inspector, Mathieu Audy, penned an ode: “With the principles of unity, solidarity, and social justice, producers have pursued their common interest and traveled the countryside in search of consensus!” It sounds better in French.

Solidarity to some, however, is devilish centralized planning to others. If you live in Québec and want to tap a maple tree to sell syrup wholesale, you either have to buy land from someone who has been granted an allocation or apply for a new allocation from the Federation, an uncertain process that could take years. Twelve hundred producers are on the waiting list. Producers are free to exceed their quota, but they’d only get paid once the Federation’s entire inventory was exhausted. They’re also on the hook for storage fees. The quota also calls for intrusive oversight at times. For instance, if a producer fails to sell to the Federation one year, Audy or his peers could ask him to provide electricity bills to prove he wasn’t boiling syrup. Buyers and producers caught circumventing the system are hit with hefty fines. “We have a rotten system in Québec,” gripes Roland Champagne, a producer in Inverness. In the woods, a rebellion started.

Nevertheless, by the summer of 2012, the Federation had largely prevailed over its malcontents and was nearing a milestone that would cement its dominance. To fully stabilize prices, actuaries calculated that the Federation needed to maintain reserves of 40 million pounds of syrup, and the Federation was building a facility to accommodate that. Meantime, it had begun stashing its surplus syrup at a rented warehouse in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford. The only security was a guard who was supposed to stop by each day.

Etienne St. Pierre, a 69-year-old widower, has lived his entire life in Kedgwick, New Brunswick, a working-class logging town 100 miles from Maine surrounded by mixed evergreen forest in the northernmost remnants of the Appalachian Mountains. His great-grandfather settled here in 1905 as part of a land grant program; today, his four brothers and two sisters all have houses along one short stretch of Route 17. After retiring as a mechanic in the early 1990s, St. Pierre started a sugar farm producing about 65,000 pounds of syrup each year and selling it to Québec. But for three straight years, from 1993 to 1995, he lost about half of his sales as one buyer after another declared bankruptcy.

He decided that if anything went wrong, he’d rather be the one declaring bankruptcy. He sold his sugarbush to his only son and set up shop in an office attached to his home, launching SK Export in 2002 to package and ship syrup. His business plan was simple: Avoid the Federation and sell directly to distributors in the U.S. In the first year he exported thousands of barrels of New Brunswick syrup to Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, whose syrups, candies, and baking mixes sell at Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), Safeway (SWY), and other chains. In 2006 he sent advertisements to producers in Québec, promising 25 percent to 50 percent cash. “Our system is very confidential,” one flyer noted. “St. Pierre is a very honest person and very well known in the region,” said another. St. Pierre’s opinion is that Québec’s provincial rules don’t apply to him. “As soon as you cross into New Brunswick, the Federation can do nothing. There’s no border. No duty,” he says.

The Federation begged to differ. On April 17 an undercover investigator working for the Federation—and operating under the dashing alias Jacques Leblond—phoned St. Pierre, asking if he’d buy four barrels of Québec syrup. Mais oui, said St. Pierre. The next day, Leblond’s partner drove four barrels from the stockpile to New Brunswick. St. Pierre graded his syrup and assigned Leblond a confidential number, 95, by which he would be identified. One month later, Leblond received a check for C$3,550.65 made out to Buyer 95. That was less than the Federation would have paid, but the payment came promptly.

The Federation expanded the investigation the following year, discovering more about St. Pierre’s trade network. Québec producers were shipping thousands of barrels of syrup to St. Pierre via a remote farm, where the owner earned a dime for every pound it stored. One couple, Jean-Pierre and Lise Caron, ignored the quota system and sold St. Pierre their entire annual production in 2005 and 2006. The Federation demanded that St. Pierre pay C$264,166 in damages and submit all his bank statements from 2004 to 2008.

St. Pierre, a mellow man who dons a navy shirt and slacks to work each day, ignored this and other demands, believing the Federation is not entitled to any money. His second-in-command, Julienne Bossé, took a stronger tack: She scribbled her response on a subpoena and faxed it back to the Federation. “F-‍-‍- you gang of A-holes,” she wrote. “Ha! Ha! Ha! … We will keep buying maple syrup forever.” In another letter, she taunted the Federation for continuing to get the address of SK Export wrong and helpfully provided a creatively spelled alternative: “7348 Rue Funck You.” When Bossé wasn’t penning screeds to the Federation, she helped make syrup-filled chocolate maple leaves and melt-in-your-mouth maple meringues for sale in the gift shop.

After the Federation reported the theft from the Strategic Reserve to the Québec provincial police, known as the Sûreté du Québec, the agency began a vast investigation that would involve interviews with nearly 300 people in the industry, reviews of export statistics, and forensic analyses of syrup kettles, forklifts, and scales, tracing two-thirds of the stolen syrup to companies in New Brunswick, Québec, Ontario, and the U.S.

At 10 a.m. on Sept. 25, Etienne St. Pierre was in his usual navy-blue outfit, working in the office after a recent scouting trip to China, when two police officers from the Sûreté du Québec arrived with a search warrant. Bossé knew their Québec warrant was no good in New Brunswick; at one point she says she pretended to wipe her derrière with it, gave the police the bird, and locked the side door. When the officers went to another door and asked for the keys to the warehouse, she snatched them from St. Pierre and tucked them into her ample bosom.

The police relented, returning that evening at 11 with a stamp of approval from a New Brunswick judge, but they still had to pry open the warehouse door with a crowbar. Inside, St. Pierre had more than a million dollars’ worth of syrup. The next day he told the authorities that about 700 to 800 barrels came from Richard Vallières, one of Québec’s most notorious “barrel-rollers,” an unauthorized middleman who had run afoul of the Federation in the past and paid thousands of dollars in fines. The police seized St. Pierre’s forklift, his confidential list of suppliers, and all his syrup for forensic analysis. The next month they took between 75 and 100 barrels from an unmarked warehouse near Québec City that Vallières had rented to stash and cook fermented syrup. Neighbors said they frequently smelled the maple wafting across the parking lot, and Vallières made no attempt to hide his operation.

In early November, I met Vallières in Kedgwick, where he was keeping a low profile, regularly lunching with St. Pierre and establishing his own sugarbush. A chubby, nervous guy in his 30s with a six o’clock shadow and a baseball cap, he was willing to speak only for a few minutes through the open window of his idling pickup truck. He owed back rent on the warehouse and hadn’t returned to it since the raid. He said he typically bought from producers who had exceeded their quota but couldn’t guarantee that purloined syrup didn’t pass through his hands, and he had no idea who could have carried out the theft.

Five weeks later, on Dec. 18, as snow blanketed the Saint-Lawrence Valley, the Sûreté du Québec arrested Vallières at his home near Québec City, charging him with conspiring with five others to commit the theft at the warehouse and sell the stolen maple syrup. TV cameras filmed him being hauled into the courthouse in handcuffs. One member of the gang had rented space in the same warehouse, merely moving the syrup from one section of the warehouse to another and out the other loading dock. In total, prosecutors have charged 22 suspects, including St. Pierre, who is accused of knowingly possessing and trafficking the stolen syrup. St. Pierre is out on bail and says he had nothing to do with the theft.

The stolen syrup still worries law-abiding producers within the Federation. “My biggest fear is that this syrup is going to hit the market, and big buyers are not going to buy our syrup,” says Turcotte. The Québec television station TVA Nouvelles reported that at least 70 truckloads of stolen syrup have already made it to three distributors in the U.S., including Bascom Maple Farms in New Hampshire, one of St. Pierre’s clients and the largest maple supplier in the U.S. Bruce Bascom says he fully cooperated with the Sûreté du Québec and they have ended their inquiries, but he declined to answer whether the company purchased any stolen syrup. Two Vermont companies that reportedly purchased the syrup, Maple Grove Farms and Highland Sugarworks, did not respond to requests for interviews.

Gone Forever?

Gone Forever?

There is no guarantee that the Federation will get its syrup back across international boundaries. “This is what bothers us,” says Trépanier, a slim technocrat who is passionate about the Federation. “Everybody knows it is stolen, but nobody can do anything about it. It’s incredible.” At least until the full story comes out, he says the Federation is obligated to sell to Bascom and other companies that reportedly received stolen product.

Large questions loom about whether Québec’s tightly controlled system will survive in the long term. In 2002, the first year the new rules went into effect, Québec claimed 80 percent of world maple syrup production. The Federation has raised its quota from 68 million pounds to 115 million pounds today, but its market share is slipping. In 2011, its share dropped to 71 percent of the market as U.S. states and Canadian provinces without quotas have risen to supply cheaper syrup, according to buyers. Last June, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) inserted the Maple TAP Act into the draft of the Farm Bill to provide grants to farmers to tap trees on private lands and to promote the industry. New York has 280 million tappable maple trees—three times more than Québec—but very few are tapped. The bill stalled in the House in September and may not pass until well into 2013. Trépanier is watching all these developments closely. “We are not idiots,” he says, adding that in his mind climate change ultimately will tip the syrup scales in favor of his countrymen.

On a recent afternoon, the side door to the warehouse where the theft took place was open, and a clanging sound echoed off the walls. It had a funk of spilled beer, and the floor glistened with patches of dried syrup. Two men with grimy work gloves climbed up stacks of battered barrels in the dark, knocked them down with a boom, and rolled them into the back of a trailer. “They’re empty,” said one of the men as he banged on the barrel. “Scrap!”

Twenty-five miles away in the town of Laurrierville, the Federation was preparing its new warehouse. When the Sûreté du Québec called to say they had no place to store the syrup they seized from St. Pierre, Trépanier offered to help. “We have a new building,” he said, “and there’s some space in there.”

Borrell is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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De-Mystifying Vermont’s Current Use Program. Forest Management, Tax Reduction, Harvesting

Vermont’s forests

are lush with treasure. Exquisite tiger maple, hemlock for tenacious post and beam house frames, sweet maple sap which sugared down, covers pancackes across the land and gives our green mountain state a claim to fame.

Misty Trail

Defining Current Use

What then is Vermont’s Current Use Program? It’s often referred to as “the most important, most successful conservation program in Vermont.”

If you own 27 or more acres, you’re already likely familiar with this increasingly popular land tax reduction and deferral opportunity, but to the layman less familiar with tree related tax breaks, the name Current Use itself is cryptic enough without tackling taxation intricacies.

Current Use landowners practice long term forest management to achieve taxation based on forest valuation vs fair market valuation. This very substantial savings which can be as much as 70 to 80 per cent of what the taxes would be otherwise, comes at a cost. The state attaches a permanent lien to the deed until such time as the landowner withdraws, the legislature ends the program, or the parcel is discontinued by the Division of Property Valuation & Review.

Woodpeckers of North America

The Tax Benefits

can be huge. By placing your forest or agricultural property in Current Use you can dramatically decrease your yearly tax burden. For forested land graced with valuable timber, periodically required forest management (ready the chain saw) can yield the added bonus of incoming checks for the land owner from the logger harvesting precious hardwoods.

Starksboro Chain Saw Workshop, Addison County

For forest land to qualify, you need at least 27 acres for 25 to enroll with a two acre exclusion for your house site. When purchasing land already enrolled, with the plan to continue enrollment, you can’t move the excluded area but, assuming you have well over 25 acres, you can withdraw another section to build your home, though you’ll incur a land use change tax. This withdrawal penalty is also levied if you decide to withdraw the entire property from current use. One of the most common questions and concerns: so how much will it cost me to withdraw from the program?

Use Change Tax Calculation

Elizabeth Hunt, one of the three Current Use personnel listed on Vermont’s current use website is immensely helpful. According to Elizabeth, Use change tax determination is based on the assessed value of the land enrolled divided by the town’s CLA, or Common Level of Appraisal or Adjustment, the tax department’s attempt to adjust assessed values to fair market value. To get the state’s assessment of your enrolled current use acreage, call Elizabeth or the state’s current use department. Once you’ve divided the enrolled acreage current use assessment by the CLA, and multiplied that figure by the percentage of the number of acres being withdrawn, you’ve got your alleged fair market value of acreage being withdrawn. Your use change penalty depends on how long the land’s been in current use. If ten or more years, the penalty is ten per cent of the fair market value of the land being withdrawn; if less than ten years, then 20 per cent.

Pine, Areas to Prune

H.237, a bill intended to strengthen the current use tax base, proposed a change in the percentages the use change tax is determined by. Property held less than 12 years would incur 10%, property held 12 to 20 years 8%, and property held over 20 years just five per cent. It passed the House in 2011 but not the Senate. An effort was made to incorporate it into miscellaneous tab bill H.782 this year but it stalled in the Senate Finance Committee. Proponents of the bill include the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

Vermont Hemlock, Strong Post & Beam Frames. Billings Museum, Woodstock, VT.

For more details on penalty calculation  see pages 16-18 of Vermont UVA (Use Value Appraisal) manual. Family members can step into the shoes of a current use owner but new owners inheriting an unrelated property owner’s current use land have to start the clock ticking all over.

State of Vermont Acres Enrolled in Current Use Graph

For more details on the entire program, see the same manual and the Vermont Division of Forestry site.

The Vermont graph below shows the increasing popularity of Current Use, especially in Forest.

Foresters, Loggers & Harvesting

Engaging a forester to prepare your forest management plan may run up to a couple of thousand, varying, including application fees.

Be sure to get a contract with your logger once you get that far. There are stories of property owners wondering what happened to their checks once the loggers were long gone.

Have Culvert, Will Travel

Vermont County Foresters are excellent resources for current use information and can recommend non-county foresters to prepare forest management plans and help you oversee your forest  during program inclusion, as well as recommend dependable and honest loggers to work with.

Click here for a Current Use Application, and here for a Change of Ownership Form.

Before cutting any of your enrolled forest, you or your forester must submit your forest management plan, or all the land must exit the program, a change tax levied, and eligibility denied for the ensuing five years during which taxes would go back to normal.

Gustav Klimt, Tree of Life

If your management plan calls for cutting but the timber values are depressed, you can delay cutting up to a couple of years with county forester approval.

On harvest yield, you might expect 1,000 to 1,500 board feet per acre. Harvesting may occur every ten years or more. Wind throw from storm damage can necessitate cutting earlier.

Connect to maplesweet.com, e-mail info@maplesweet.com or call toll-free 1-800-525-7965 to arrange for showings,  list your property,  or look further into Vermont’s real estate market.

Referrals & recommendations are welcome & appreciated.
Vermont Required Consumer Information Disclosure: please note Vermont  real estate agencies represent Sellers directly or indirectly. Buyer representation can be gained for properties not already listed by Maple Sweet Real Estate. To better understand the merits of or arrange for buyer representation, please email or call for further details.

Information Disclosure: information provided and relayed by Maple Sweet Real Estate is not represented to be accurate or free of errors. While substantial efforts are made to obtain and convey information from sources deemed dependable, Maple Sweet Real Estate does not guarantee or warranty such information is accurate or reliable. All information should be independently verified.

If your property is already listed for sale with another real estate agency, this is not intended as a solicitation of that agency’s listing.

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Maple Sweet Real Estate

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The Economist Magazine Special report: Personal technology  Beyond the PC

Mobile digital gadgets are overshadowing

the personal computer, says Martin Giles.

Their impact will be far-reaching.

IF YOU HAVE a phone, these days even space is within reach. Last year Luke Geissbühler and his son, who live in Brooklyn, popped a high-definition video camera and an Apple iPhone into a sturdy protective box with a hole for the camera’s lens. They attached the box to a weather balloon, which they released about 50 miles (80km) outside New York City, after getting the approval of the authorities. The balloon soared into the stratosphere and eventually burst. A parachute brought it to the ground. By tracking the iPhone’s inbuilt global positioning system, the Geissbühlers were able to retrieve the box and the video of their “mission”, which shows the curvature of the planet clearly. The results can be seen at www.brooklynspaceprogram.org.

The iPhone and other smartphones are proving extremely useful on Earth too. These devices, which let people download and install applications, or “apps”, from online stores run by phonemakers, telecoms companies and others, are starting to displace ordinary mobile phones in many countries. Ofcom, Britain’s telecoms regulator, recently reported that more than one in four adults there uses a smartphone. Nielsen, a market-research firm, reckons the devices make up the majority of mobile-phone purchases in America. Emerging markets are embracing them as well: in Indonesia, BlackBerry handsets made by Canada’s Research in Motion (RIM) have become a status symbol among the country’s fast-growing middle class.

Sales of tablet computers, though still small, are also growing rapidly. Since Apple’s iPad arrived last year, a host of rivals have appeared, such as RIM’s Playbook, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and Sony’s Tablet. All eyes are now on Amazon’s Kindle Fire. With smartphones, which seem to be surgically attached to the hand of every teenager and many an adult, tablets have opened up a new dimension to mobile computing that is seducing consumers. Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, believes that in 2011 combined shipments of smartphones and tablets will overtake those of personal computers (PCs).

The revolution is mobile

This marks a turning-point in the world of personal technology. For around 30 years PCs in various forms have been people’s main computing devices. Indeed, they were the first machines truly to democratise computing power, boosting personal productivity and giving people access, via the internet, to a host of services from their homes and offices. Now the rise of smartphones and tablet computers threatens to erode the PC’s dominance, prompting talk that a “post-PC” era is finally dawning.

PCs are not about to disappear. Forecasters expect 350m-360m of them to be sold this year and the market is likely to keep growing, if slowly. With their keyboards, big screens and connectivity to the web, PCs are still ideal for many tasks, including the writing of this article. And they continue to evolve, cheap, light “ultrabooks” being the latest in a long line of innovations. Even so, the Wintel era—dominated by PCs using Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Intel’s microchips—is drawing to a close. The recent news that HP, the world’s largest computer-maker, is thinking of spinning off its PC business to focus on

A new tech landscape is taking shape that offers consumers access to computing almost anywhere and on many different kinds of device. Smartphones are at the forefront of this change. The Yankee Group, a research firm, thinks that sales of these phones will overtake those of ordinary “feature” phones in many more countries in the next few years. But other kinds of machine, from Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming console, which allows gamers to contact friends while they play, to web-enabled television sets, are also helping people stay connected.

In part, this emerging array of devices reflects changes in society. As people come to rely more heavily on the web for everything from shopping to social networking, they need access to computing power in many more places. And as the line between their personal and their work lives has blurred, so demand has grown for devices that can be used seamlessly in both.

The consumer is king

The rise of tablets and smartphones also reflects a big shift in the world of technology itself. For years many of the most exciting advances in personal computing have come from the armed forces, large research centres or big businesses that focused mainly on corporate customers. Sometimes these breakthroughs found their way to consumers after being modified for mass consumption. The internet, for instance, was inspired by technology first developed by America’s defence establishment.

Over the past ten years or so, however, the consumer market has become a hotbed of innovation in its own right. “The polarity has reversed in the technology industry,” claims Marc Andreessen, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist whose firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in several consumer companies, including Facebook and Twitter. Now, he says, many exciting developments in information technology (IT) are appearing in the hands of consumers first and only then making their way into other arenas—a trend that tech types refer to as the “consumerisation” of IT.

The transformation may not be quite as dramatic as Mr Andreessen’s remark implies. Armies, universities and other institutions still spend vast sums on research, the fruit of which will continue to nourish personal technology. Moreover, this is not the first time that individuals have taken the lead in using new gadgets: the first PCs were often sneaked into firms by a few geeky employees.

Nevertheless there are good reasons for thinking that the latest round of consumerisation is going to have a far bigger impact than its predecessors. One is that rising incomes have created a vast, global audience of early adopters for gadgets. Around 8m units of the Kinect, a Microsoft device that attaches to the Xbox and lets people control on-screen action with their body movements, were sold within 60 days of its launch in November 2010. No consumer-electronics device has ever sold so fast, according to Guinness World Records. “These people will absorb new technology on a scale that is simply quite stunning,” says Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s head of research and strategy.

The cost of many gadgets is falling fast, giving another fillip to consumption. Smartphones priced at around $100—after a subsidy from telecoms companies, which make money on associated data plans—are starting to appear in America. The cheapest Kindle, an e-reader from Amazon, sells for $79, against $399 for the first version launched in 2007. The cost of digital storage has also fallen dramatically. A gigabyte (GB) of storage, which is roughly enough to hold a two-hour film after compression, cost around $200,000 in 1980; today a disk drive holding a terabyte, or 1,024GB, costs around $100.

The growth of the internet and the rapid spread of fast broadband connectivity have also transformed the landscape. So has the rise of companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon, whose main aim is to delight individuals rather than businesses or governments. Apple, in particular, has been to the fore in the democratisation of IT, creating a host of impressive devices such as the iPhone and the iPad. Much of the credit for its success goes to Steve Jobs, who stood down in August as its chief executive.

Techtonic shifts

This special report will examine in more detail the forces underlying the reversal in polarity to which Mr Andreessen refers and how they are affecting individuals, businesses and governments. The combination of new devices with pervasive connectivity and plentiful online content is raising citizens’ expectations of what personal technology can achieve. And it is leading them to bring their own devices into the workplace, where some of the technology they are expected to use now seems antediluvian by comparison. This trend is challenging companies to rethink their IT departments’ habit of treating employees as digital serfs who must do as they are told.

The burgeoning global market for smart consumer technology is also inspiring an outpouring of entrepreneurial energy that will create many more remarkable products. And it is encouraging organisations of all kinds to adapt innovations from the consumer world for their own ends. Companies are setting up online app stores for their employees; hospitals are handing out specially modified smartphones to nurses; soldiers are trying out tablet computers to control drones and experimenting with “battlefield apps”. Many more such opportunities are likely to emerge as the technological and economic forces behind this popular computing revolution gather steam.

Connect to maplesweet.com, e-mail info@maplesweet.com or call toll-free 1-800-525-7965 to arrange for showings,  list your property,  or look further into Vermont’s real estate market and using your own technology to access property.

Vermont Required Consumer Information Disclosure: please note Vermont  real estate agencies represent Sellers directly or indirectly. Buyer representation can be gained for properties not already listed by Maple Sweet Real Estate. To better understand the merits of or arrange for buyer representation, please email or call for further details.
If your property is already listed for sale with another real estate agency, this is not intended as a solicitation of that agency’s listing.

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By Kerri Panchuk, Housing Wire, a LinkedIn Today Post

Barclays Capital (BCS: 11.84 0.00%) analyst Stephen Kim predicts a housing recovery buoyed by improving jobs numbers and the fact prices for nondistressed homes will have stabilized without government support.

“In the absence of a government homebuyer incentives, prices for non-distressed home sales have stabilized for almost a year,” Kim said. “This is the most important trend in the housing industry right now, and we are amazed at how little attention it has been getting from the media and the street. This stability on the part of nondistressed prices has occurred despite a very high share of distressed activity and continued declines in overall prices.”

Barclays said recent economic data — including higher job creation in November, housing starts and improved homebuyer traffic — point to some improvement potential in the sector.

In mid-2010, the federal homebuyer tax credit expired, leaving the housing market without training wheels for the first time since the 2008 economic meltdown. Yet, prices in some housing markets remained stable on the back end.

With its new outlook in the market, Barclays upgraded D.R. Horton’s (DHI: 12.68 0.00%) stock to buy and raised price targets for D.R. Horton, Lennar (LEN: 19.27 0.00%), Toll Brothers (TOL: 21.30 0.00%) and Meritage Homes(MTH: 22.92 0.00%).

At the same time, the investment bank raised its 2012 earnings-per-share estimates for D.R. Horton, Lennar, Meritage Homes, Pulte (PHM: 6.48 0.00%) and Toll Brothers, while lowering its estimates for KB Home (KBH: 8.23 0.00%).

“Thus, the key to timing housing’s recovery depends primarily on when these first-time buyers decide it is safe to buy a house,” Kim concluded.

Write to Kerri Panchuk.


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 by Carla Hill, Law Office of Fred Peet, South Burlington, Vermont

While the Federal Reserve has promised to keep rates “low” until 2013, it is clear to many experts that the current historical lows we are experiencing will not last.

According to the latest projections from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), interest rates should gradually rise out of historic lows as we move through 2012.

This isn’t the most welcome news for a housing market that has continued to falter and a credit market that already has tightened lending standards

The NAR reports that current surveys reflect the tight credit conditions. They report that recent buyers are staying well within their means, with higher incomes and higher down payments.

Richard Peach, Senior Vice President at the Federal Reserve Board of New York, who said the economy is under-performing, reports, “Nearly two-and-a-half years since the end of ‘the great recession,’ the economy continues to operate well below its potential. Among the significant structural impediments are the legacy of the housing boom and bust, and fiscal contrition at the state and local level.”

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors®, said home sales should be stronger. “Tight mortgage credit conditions have been holding back home buyers all year, and consumer confidence has been shaky recently,” he said. “Nonetheless, there is a sizable pent-up demand based on population growth, employment levels and a doubling-up phenomenon that can’t continue indefinitely. This demand could quickly stimulate the market when conditions improve.”

It is this improving jobs markets that many analysts are waiting for. Yun projects the GDP will grow 1.8 percent this year and 2.2 percent in 2012. The unemployment rate should decline, albeit modestly, to around 8.7 percent by the end of 2012.

Around this same time, experts expect that “mortgage interest rates should gradually rise from recent record lows and reach 4.5 percent by the middle of 2012.”

This is still an incredibly low rate and many experts feel that housing market, while still struggling, will improve throughout next year and after. In fact, the NAR expects new home sales to reach 372,000 next year. Existing home sales could fare just as well, rising 4 to 5 percent in 2012.

“Housing affordability conditions, based on the relationship between median home prices, mortgage interest rates, and median family income, have been at a record high this year,” Yun said. “Very favorable affordability conditions will dominate next year as well, which will probably be the second best year on record dating back to 1970. Our hope is that credit restrictions will ease and allow more home buyers to take advantage of current opportunities.”

The bottom line is that the housing market should improve over the next year and along with that improvement will come higher interest rates. Buyers interested in making a move should take heed of today’s historically low rates and high levels of affordability.

Connect to maplesweet.com, e-mail info@maplesweet.com or call toll-free 1-800-525-7965 to arrange for showings,  list your property,  or look further into Vermont’s real estate market.

Vermont Required Consumer Information Disclosure: please note Vermont  real estate agencies represent Sellers directly or indirectly. Buyer representation can be gained for properties not already listed by Maple Sweet Real Estate. To better understand the merits of or arrange for buyer representation, please email or call for further details.
If your property is already listed for sale with another real estate agency, this is not intended as a solicitation of that agency’s listing.

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Maple Sweet Real Estate Happy Thanksgiving 11.24.11

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Irene. A Retrospective by Waitsfield, Vermont Photographer David Garten

After the Flood, Sediment Streets

Hands On, Silt Patterns

The Green Cup's East Wall Facing the Mad River

Route 100 Submerged @ Bridge Street Shot From Garten Studio

Studio Birke Engulfed in the Rising RIver Tide

Studio Birke Swept Off Foundation

Route 100 Become River

Ravaged Pavement

Ravaged Pavement

Couples Baseball Field of Grass No More

Best Laid Plans, Architectural Misfortune

Radio Wreckage

Relief Organization Born

David Garten has photographed weddings throughout Vermont and New England, as well as New York, California, and Madrid, Spain for 23 years. From 1994 to 2004 David traveled often to Havana, Cuba where he photographed the worlds of music and dance, as well as daily life. His cuban photos have been published in the New York Times, Latin Beat Magazine, books such as “Cuban Ballet” by Octavio Roca and “My Sax Life” by Paquito D’Rivera, and on Grammy-nominated CD’s by Cuban musicians such as Chucho Valdés and Irakere. David has exhibited at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, and the Jazz Gallery in New York.

To reach David Garten for weddings, portraits or other assignments: dgarten@madriver.com

4412 Main Street #2, PO Box 210, Waitsfield, VT 802.496.5516

Connect to maplesweet.com, e-mail info@maplesweet.com or call toll-free 1-800-525-7965 to list your property, arrange for showings, or look further into Vermont’s real estate market or Act 250 reform.

Thank you for visiting Maple Sweet Real Estate’s blog, Light Amber.
Vermont Required Consumer Information Disclosure: please note Vermont  real estate agencies represent Sellers directly or indirectly by default. Buyer representation can be gained for properties not already listed by Maple Sweet Real Estate. To better understand the merits of or arrange for buyer representation, please email or call for further details.
If your property is already listed for sale with another real estate agency, this is not intended as a solicitation of that agency’s listing.

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Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg : “The mission of the company is to make the world more open and connected”

Derived from the Phillips Exeter Academy printed student manual where Zuckerberg went to boarding school, Zuckerberg wrote Facemash on October 28th, 2003 as a Harvard University sophomore hacking dormitory ID images and generating 22,000 views in the first four hours online, later facing dismissed charges of breach of security, violating copyrights & individual privacy and expulsion.

After putting it on Harvard’s Kirkland online mailing list there were somewhere between twelve and fifteen hundred registrants. Initially limited to Harvard students, half of the undergrads signed up within the first month, and facebook later expanded to other Ivy Leaguers, university students, high school students and finally anyone 13 or older with a valid email address.

Zuckerberg incorporated “Thefacebook” in 2004 and formally launched facebook with his Harvard roommates in September 2006 after purchasing the domain name facebook.com in 2005 for $200,000.

By 2005, the use of facebook had become so ubiquitous, the generic verb “facebooking” was born describing the process of browsing others’ profiles or updating one’s own profile.

Financial investors have included PayPal founder Peter Theil with a 2004 $500k investment, Accel Partners, Greylock Partners, and potential suitors Google & Yahoo. Microsoft purchased a 1.6% share of Facebook for $240 million in 2007, giving Facebook a total implied value of approximatey $15 billion and the same year Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing invested $60 million.

This controversial social stimulant has been blocked in China, Vietnam, Iran & Syria. Over a dozen privacy and consumer protection groups filed actions against facebook for violation of consumer privacy rights. facebook privacy has  been compromised a number of times including the sale of fans and friends, most recently highlighted with Time Magazine’s May 31st, 2010 cover story.

60 Minutes televised interviewed Mark Zuckerman & did a piece on facebook in January of 2008 as the momentum was gaining and on facebook’s challenges.

For a concise review of criticism leveled at facebook, including successful lawsuits, see this Wikipedia article.

According to Time, one in four browsing the internet not only have a facebook page but have been to the site in the last 30 days and 28% of the users are over 34.

In contrast to MySpace which allows users to decorate their profiles using HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS),  facebook only allows plain text. iPhones, Google’s Android and other smart phones are facebook compatible and some include facebook apps you can download for mobile posting and connecting.

Create separate pages for each of your businesses separately from your individual profile which friends can shine favor on by bestowing their “like” blessings. Create groups like the one Time magazine put together to solicit the photos on it’s cover of 1,295 savvy participating facebookers.

A 2009 compete.com study ranked facebook as the most used social network worldwide by monthly active users followed by MySpace. Facebook is expected this year to include 500 million active users or “citizens”.

In December 2009, the New Oxford American Dictionary declared their word of the year to be the verb “unfriend”:

unfriend – verb – To remove someone as a “friend” on a social networking site such as facebook. As in, “I decided to unfriend my roommate on facebook after we had a fight.”

This year facebook announced work on the company’s first custom data center in Prineville, Oregon. When completed this summer, the 147,000 square feet (13,700 m2) building will occupy 30 acres (0.12 km2) of the 124 acres (0.50 km2) site they purchased, and will house 35 employees. The company has soe 1,400 employees worldwide including the US, Dublin, Tokyo, Sydney and more, publishing in 70 languages while ensuring split second updates to keep the social interaction fresh.

Registrants beware. facebook is designed for maximum addiction, incorporating a series of what it calls “ah-ha!” moments crafted to pull you in to realize facebook is so smart it will be indispensible to your social future. If you aren’t audacious enough to venture out in real life or digitally looking for friends to invite into your world on facebook, it will recommend them based on your circles of influence, interests, location and existing friends. Social intelligence avails itself.

Here’s  a tongue in cheek video on facebook etiquette to help ensure you’re thoroughly schooled in the ins and outs of this brave new world:

If you’re feeling insecure, take your redemption campaign online. facebookers pay attention to how many friends they have and accumulate (or lose!) and you can spend hours searching facebook’s database for every soul you’ve been introduced to and send out a zillion friend requests to expand your social empire. That is unless you’d like to eat dinner or do something real like go out for some exercise.

Inside facebook headquarters

At some point you may either tire of being so pubic or just want to leave the world of facebook behind. To delete your facebook profile, click here. Clicking on the link won’t delete your profile immediately but will set you along the thread to get it taken care of.

Information for this article is drawn from both Wikipedia and this week’s Time Magazine articles including direct quotations.

Check out Maple Sweet Real Estate on facebook, email info@maplesweet.com call toll free @ 800.525.7965 or visit www.maplesweet.com to sell or purchase Vermont property, receive information, submit your thoughts and comments or ask any questions.

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William Maclay on Net Zero Energy Buildings: Providing Stable Returns In An Unstable World

Maple Sweet Real Estate is proud to present the following blog submission on Net Zero Energy Buildings from esteemed and highly accomplished Vermont architect, William Maclay. William Maclay Architects and Planners mission is to enhance the world we inhabit through making places for people and nature to live and to flourish with dignity, spirit, and beauty.

Green design has taken on increasing importance and relevance for Vermont real estate purchasers, investors and home builders.  Bill Maclay’s team is particularly well equipped to design homes and projects on the cutting edge of the carbon footprint revolution.

Net Zero Energy Buildings: Providing Stable Returns In An Unstable World, by William Maclay

Faced with multiple challenges from environmental pressures due to climate change, energy price volatility and the economic downturn, there has never been a better time to build.

But we’re not talking about any ordinary buildings—we are talking about the design and construction of buildings that minimize the use of natural resources and energy. Such buildings protect the environment, pay for themselves through improved efficiency, lower operating costs through stable energy costs and avoid the need for outside (fossil-fuel based) energy sources.

We call these buildings Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB). There are very few standing in the United States today—many more are on the drawing boards. But simply put, Net Zero energy buildings should become the new standard in “green” building as they can provide the best long-term solution to the environmental, energy and economic problems we face.

Net zero energy buildings (NZEBs) generate as much energy as they consume on an annual basis. The energy used is usually produced on-site and comes from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal or biomass. Typically, the net zero building is connected to the electricity grid, using the grid as a balancing mechanism to accommodate the fluctuation of renewable energy sources.  Often, people will ask whether it’s possible to achieve NZEB in the cold climates of New England. While it’s certainly easier to achieve in warmer, southern climates, the net zero goal is very reachable, albeit more challenging, here in New England and other similar climates.

How to Get from Here to There: Efficiency First, Renewables Second

Because renewable energy sources are usually more expensive than non-renewable energy sources, the goal in any Net Zero energy building is to first reduce the energy needs of that building. Typically energy usage must be reduced by 50% or more (over current building efficiency codes). We call buildings that meet this greatly improved energy standard micro-load buildings.  After that renewables can be added cost effectively to make net-zero buildings.

Net Zero in New Construction versus Existing Buildings

Certainly, achieving micro load energy efficiency standards is easier and typically more cost-effective to do with a brand new building—essentially building it into the design plans from the outset. But it’s also possible to do when renovating existing buildings. With 300 billion square feet of existing buildings out there, bringing energy use down and improving building performance in the already built environment offers tremendous opportunities for savings.


Clearly, net zero energy buildings offer a tremendous opportunity for countering the environmental, energy and economic pressures we face today. But they will not become the standard for how we develop our buildings and communities overnight. It will take a concerted effort to educate business owners (and the public) about the potential these buildings offer and change the way we think. By taking a longer term view and seeing our buildings as the investments they truly are—investments into our energy future, the well-being of our planet and the health of our businesses—we will be moving toward a more stable, productive and sustainable way of life.

Some examples of Net Zero projects by Maclay Architects:

River House, Moretown, VT

The River House is a Net-Zero residence set on a stone dam abutment above the Mad River. It directly connects to the location through the use of site-harvested stone in both the building and the landscape. The house uses a super-insulated envelope, a 15 kW on-site photovoltaic array, and a ground source heat pump to achieve its Net-Zero energy goals. The linear structure is accented with three daylight monitors rising through a sedum-covered extensive green roof.

Dartt House, Waitsfield, VT

Renovations to this 1800’s era farmhouse, located in the historic village of Waitsfield, balanced concerns for preserving historic character and reducing energy demands. Insulating within the existing walls and roof preserved the historic quality of the building exterior, while improving efficiency. Similarly, high-performance, triple glazed windows were installed within existing frames. Energy reducing appliances, an air source heat pump, and heat recovery ventilation further reduced building loads.  These measures improve thermal comfort and indoor air quality to a micro-load building that is ready for an 8.5kW photovoltaic system to be installed in 2010 or 2011. This house is next to Maclay Architects offices which will be net-zero in 2010 with the addition of a 17.5 kW photovoltaic installation.

Putney School Field House, Putney, VT

The Putney School desired a new field house to meet their growing needs for high quality sports, wellness and social spaces, while seeking to create a model for the future that could be used as a tool for learning about the school’s core values of environmental based learning, sustainability and social consciousness.

The school also asked the design team to provide a building well-integrated into the existing campus and character of the local Putney community. With its 36.8 kW array, it is projected to be a net-zero building in 2010.

Learn more about these projects at  www.maclayarchitects.com

Special thanks to William Maclay for writing this, and to Lisa Sawin, Kevin Dennis & Eileen Hee of William Maclay Architects & Planners for their support in bringing this piece to press.

To list or look for central or northern Vermont real estate, email info@maplesweet.com,  call toll free 1-800-525-7965 or visit www.maplesweet.com

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