Now you can use a camera phone to send picture postcards the old-fashioned way -- by mail. Cingular subscribers with newer Motorola (MOT) phones can snap a picture, type in a short note and an address, and zip it off. For $1.99, Fuji Photo Film (FUJIY) prints the card, affixes a stamp, and mails it anywhere in the U.S. Verizon (VZ) has a similar deal with online photo service Shutterfly, but it works only with a Kyocera KX2 phone.
Did you ever put a home on the market and wonder if the real estate agent pushed a little too hard to sell instead of holding off for a better deal? If so, you were right to be suspicious, conclude University of Chicago economists Steven Levitt and Chad Syverson in their just-released study "Market Distortions When Agents Are Better Informed." They surmised that real estate pros pressure clients into selling too cheaply and quickly, since agents get their commission when the deal closes. If they wait for a higher offer, they pocket only a sliver of any incremental profit.
To test their intuition, the authors compared home sales made by agents on behalf of clients with instances when agents sold their own houses. It turns out agents did well -- for themselves. They kept their own houses on the market roughly 10 days longer than their customers' and earned an average 3.7% more on the sale. The professors wonder why more people don't hire appraisers to value their homes. Since appraisers have no stake in when or whether the house is sold, their opinions may give sellers a better idea of what price to hold out for.
If you're a fan of Surrealist art, get yourself to Philly in the next three months. From Feb. 16 to May 15 the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be the only U.S. venue to host a major retrospective of works by the quirky and influential 20th century Spanish artist Salvador Dal?. The show, celebrating the centenary of Dal?'s birth, will feature 150 paintings as well as multimedia pieces, such as the painted plastic, plaster, and metal Lobster Telephone, films including the notorious Un Chien Andalou, and writings. The 200 works have been gathered from public and private collections in 14 countries. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $17 for seniors and students, $10 for children 5 to 12 (215 235-SHOW or philamuseum.org).
Save yourself separate phone calls if you want a free copy of your credit reports once a year, as now allowed by federal law. At www.annualcreditreport.com, you can make requests of each of the three main credit reporting agencies, Equifax (EFX), TransUnion, and Experian. The law is in effect for residents of 13 Western states, then it phases in regionally through September. A good strategy is to ask for one report from a different agency every four months. That makes it easier to spot suspicious activity over the course of a year.