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Housing market hit bottom?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The lead story in today's New York Times talks about recent signs that the housing market has bottomed out in most metropolitan areas in the country. The notable exceptions are Phoenix and Vegas—the places where the expansion in housing ba-boomed in the past decade. An optimistic point of view from the story:
For the first time since early 2007, a composite index of 20 major cities was virtually flat, instead of down. “We’ve found the bottom,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for First American CoreLogic, a data firm. The release of the surprisingly strong Case-Shiller Price Index, compiled by Standard & Poor’s, followed earlier reports that sales of existing homes rose last month for the third consecutive time, while sales of new homes rose in June by the largest percentage in eight years.
And a word from the not-so-optimistic:
All of these improvements are tentative, and come after a relentless decline that knocked more than half the value off houses in the worst-hit cities. Some skeptics say they believe the market is merely pausing before it resumes falling and that much of the life in the market is coming from speculators. Even the most enthusiastic analysts acknowledge that rising unemployment, another leap in foreclosures or a significant jump in interest rates could snuff out progress.
Here's a link to a cool interactive graphic that gives details about housing prices in different cities. And here's the link to the story itself.

Someone help this town

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Despite lingering questions about the value of public surveillance, it's clear that public surveillance remains a viable market. At some level, it's not about rationality or statistics. It's about people loving video and wanting to be able to see for themselves. Check this classic small-town story: The good people of Waynsefield, Ohio, want to stop their graffiti problem. How badly to do they want to stop it? Well, they've dedicated $350 to solving the problem:
WAYNESFIELD — The search is still on as Waynesfield Village Council members continue looking for additional surveillance equipment to install in its park as an effort to prevent future vandalism. After checking with retailers such as Radio Shack and Sam’s Club, Waynesfield Police Chief Lee Ziegler said he found several cameras and receivers but they did not come packaged with anything like a DVR to record up to long periods of time.
Ack! Radio Shack and Sam's Club? Why would that be the first idea? Because maybe the security industry is kind of crappy about advertising its services and abilities? Hard to say.
“For me to be able to put something adequate together for the allotted $350 I was allowed might not be possible unless we were to purchase something used,” Ziegler said during Monday night’s meeting.
Somebody help these guys out. First of all, is it possible the graffiti is only causing $350 in damage? If it's a problem at all, you've got to think that's a really low number. Someone do an ROI analysis, STAT! Also, someone needs to be out there with a leasing option for these people. I'm sure this is based on an annual budget, so it's more like $350 a year they can spend. I'm sure someone could set them up with a nice $30 a month system using Videofied (or whomever - but this is sort of their bag right now) that would send video clips on motion to the cops and virtually eliminate the graffiti problem.
Councilors advised Ziegler to further check into purchasing additional park surveillance equipment through an on-line retailer or contracting the installment of a new surveillance system out with a security company. He is to have prepared with price quotes for council’s next scheduled meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 24.
Double ack! Option 1: Sam's Club and Radio Shack. Option 2: Online retailer. Option 3: security company! What's wrong here? Um, basically that the public, in this case, doesn't value the services of security companies in the least. The assumption is that that solution will be the most expensive and that there isn't value associated with that expense. That's bad.

False alarm education online

Monday, July 27, 2009
I was going through my email this morning upon return from my vacation last week when I came across this small news item from the Bay Area News Group's The news is from Vallejo, Calif. False alarms are obviously a huge problem, and it's great to see municipalities stepping in and helping out by providing end users a way to not only learn how to use their alarms, but also to learn why false alarms are such a big deal. The industry's various associations also have online training in false alarm awareness. CSAA has a course found here, while FARA has options here. SIA points out many municipalities are beginning to offer false alarm training/awareness schools and programs to help fight the problem. Especially in today's economy, let's all do our part to help solve the problem.

Study: Sprinkler mandates don't affect new home construction

Monday, July 27, 2009
The National Fire Protection Association shot down an argument by the National Home Builders Association yesterday, with the release of a study that shows that residential sprinkler mandates do not negatively affect the number of homes being built. Here's the press release. The homebuilder/sprinkler rivalry is nothing new. For many years, the national and local home builders associations have actively opposed sprinkler mandates on the grounds that they're too expensive and/or will have other negative effects on the real estate market and homeowners. The NFPA has been working more closely with sprinkler advocates of late to promote the adoption of residential sprinkler mandates at the state and local level. In January they launched the Fire Sprinkler Iniitative. Click here for more information on that effort.

A wrinkle in the CIT story

Monday, July 27, 2009
So, I got a nice email from reader Marty Mayo this morning alerting me to CIT's past connections with Tyco and the infamous Dennis Kozlowski. It was before my time, but in March of 2001, Tyco announced its intention to buy CIT for $9.2 billion, saying this:
"For years, our operating managers have advocated creating a financing capability within Tyco to support the growth of our businesses," said L. Dennis Kozlowski, Tyco's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. "After evaluating several paths to this goal, including developing a financing capability in-house, we concluded that acquiring CIT gives us a faster, more efficient and more robust solution at lower risk than anything we might have done internally or through joint-venture or other approaches. Putting in place a fully established leader in the commercial finance industry is the ideal platform for us to fulfill this need.
I guess that made sense at the time. But it was apparently a move made at the height of Kozlowski's hubris. Just a year later, Tyco was getting permission to sell CIT to the public via IPO, hoping to get just $5 billion back. Nice return on that investment:
Tyco also said it would take a noncash loss of about $6 billion as part of the offering. It will take most of the loss by restating its earnings for the quarter ended March 31 down by $4.5 billion, and the remainder after the deal is finished. The loss represents the difference between the value of CIT on Tyco's books and the amount that outside investors are willing to pay for it. Tyco values CIT at $11.3 billion, so if the company sells CIT for $5 billion, for example, it will have a loss of $6.3 billion.
Looking into this also brings to mind how short our memories can be in general. Take a look at this article about CIT, post-Tyco. It's just seven years ago, but at the time here were the concerns:
The problem CIT faces is that it's still a difficult business environment and companies it lent money to are struggling to pay their bills. Even though delinquency rate on loans in CIT's portfolio fell to 3.74% from 4.09% at the end of March, the company's executives say it's too soon to declare an end to the corporate credit problems.
Corporate credit problems? 2002 didn't know corporate credit problems. In fact, can anyone remember the corporate credit problems of 2002 in the context of the past year's credit disaster? These things can clear up quicker than we think. To get back to Marty's email, does the Tyco-CIT connection have anything to do with the company current problems? Doubtful. Does it have anything to do with CIT's former work with the alarm industry? Not really - though maybe their association with Tyco turned them on to the recurring revenue nature of the alarm business and it was part of what made them look more closely at the industry four or five years ago. Regardless, it's always interesting to see the hands of Dennis Kozlowski still touching pieces of the business world.

These guys are full of hot air

Friday, July 24, 2009
I've been writing a fair amount lately on security companies that are productizing (nice verb, right?) solutions that they find themselves putting together on a regular basis for similar clients. Like these guys. And these guys. But brand-new ideas are fun, too, and it's hard not to like the flySWAT, a helium balloon with a camera attached to the bottom. They're not the first to have the idea, certainly. Here's a different version advertising a $1 million camera attached (which hardly seems possible, or smart, for that matter). But cCubed have clearly used their heads to come up with something that has a clear application.

Tired of waiting for HDCCTV?

Thursday, July 23, 2009
Well, these guys are selling HDCCTV DVRs and cameras right now. I'll be talking with them further in the near future, but for the time being, everything seems legit. The company is SG-Digital, a shortened version of the Security Guys, a distributor with whom some of you may have worked. They used to sell Kodicom, but Kodicom has gone primarily OEM, apparently. I'll have more in a story for the site next week.

The latest blog on the market

Thursday, July 23, 2009
I've added a new blog to the roll on the bottom right. ObjectVideo's got a new one, which, as you might expect, will talk about video analytics, standards, government initiatives, etc. Right now there's a sum total of two posts, the latest one from the first week of June, so I wouldn't get too excited. But it's another RSS feed to add to the Google reader, anyway.

Even more great press (though not for IP)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
For whatever reason, there's been a run lately of local media basically telling home and business owners they'd be morons not to invest in a security system. This seems like a good thing to me. Reporters, as a whole, are generally skeptical of anything that makes anyone else money (we're petty that way because most of us are so poor (if you want to be rich, do not, under any circumstances, go into journalism. Not all of us can be high-powered security-industry-periodical editors)). So, if they're saying you should buy a security system, the reader understands that, yes, the security company is making money on the deal, but the return to the customer is well worth it. What better viral marketing is there than that? Anyway, the newest example is from Salida, Colorado, a place I expect is fairly beautiful and beatific, but has apparently been troubled by break-ins lately. Police chief Terry Clark gave the security industry a ringing endorsement:
Clark said he's surprised more businesses are not using alarms and surveillance equipment. "If there is one thing a person could do it would be to install an alarm or video system," Clark said.
Can we get this guy on a national tour or something? Shouldn't one of you big alarm companies give this guy a medal and put him in an ad? Maybe this guy Joe will buy him a beer.
At Knight Security Services in Salida, owner Joe Ellsworth said he's done a few more bids lately and people calling about security systems, but "it hasn't been as drastic as you'd think." [That sentence is sic.] After the June burglaries, Ellsworth said one restaurant that was robbed called him to install a system. "I think there is still a notion, and I think it's true, that we live in a safe town," Ellsworth said.
Note to security guys: Maybe admitting you live in a safe town is not good for business. Just saying...
His business offers security and surveillance systems ranging in cost from $500 to $3,000. "For a typical business in downtown, for a really good system, is about $2,000," Ellsworth said. A popular item is a monitored security system that, once triggered by an intruder, automatically calls authorities.
Ellsworth also may want to rethink his pricing. A "really good" system for $2,000? I guess I can see intrusion-plus-DVR-plus-analog for $2,000, but he knows the market better than me, obviously. I'm guessing Salida is not a sprawling metropolis.
Monitoring for those systems costs $30-$35 a month, he said.
Again, seems like that's pretty cheap for a commercial account. But here's the kicker for the IP proponents:
A surveillance system typically uses analog cameras to capture images which are converted to digital recording machines, Ellsworth said.
This is the sentence that IP camera makers will ultimately have to wipe from the international lexicon: "A surveillance system typically uses analog cameras to capture images." That would make IP cameras "a-typical." Again, just saying...

Another way to cut you out of the deal

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
DIY home surveillance systems are getting ever more sophisticated, and the manufacturers are starting to figure out the recurring revenue part, too. Here's a new product called the AVC LiveLine. Basically, it's triggered on motion, sends you an email when the motion happens, and you can dial into it at any time to see what's going on with the ability to PTZ and whatnot. But, you've got to pay $9.99 a month for that functionality. Why? That's hard to figure, actually. I guess you get to use proprietary software. If enough people sign up, it seems like a cash cow to me. There aren't any operators to pay, just software to support. I still say that the majority of consumers will want a central station who can dispatch involved, as seeing there's a burglar in your house doesn't do you a lot of good unless you can actually do something about it and most people don't have the cops on speed-dial. But as a nanny-cam, this isn't a bad solution.