[Russell Shaw taught a symposium today in Phoenix on Geographic Farming. Cathy and I were there, and Russell was sweet enough to give a plug to BloodhoundBlog Unchained. At the break, I was swarmed by people wanting more information on Social Media Marketing, especially weblogging — most regretting that they hadn’t gotten started sooner. Teri Lussier is a scorching read on those same kind of ideas today. Both events put me in mind of this post, which I wrote on July 23, 2006 — a Sunday — I can remember the day. This is flagship content for BloodhoundBlog, one of the posts that established who we are, our steady position in this discussion. But it’s amazing to me how timeless this advice has turned out to be — how much we are all still “situated at various points from painfully awful to Insanely Great on the continua for each one of these skill sets.” This one is worth studying — and worth pursuing the links. –GSS, 03/05/08]
People leaving comments at BloodhoundBlog keep confusing Cathleen Collins for me, so I decided to steal an idea from Rain City Guide and put our photos beside each of our posts. That entailed revising BloodhoundBlog’s weblog template, of course, which also meant adapting its Cascading Style Sheet. A significant number of people reading this already don’t know what I’m talking about, so I’ll endeavor to lose most of the rest: I had to rewrite a few little bits of PHP to make everything work.
That puts the pictures, which I had prepared in Photoshop, in place. This code:
is the actual name of the photo. That dumb little bit of PHP says, “Get the ID number of the current author and replace everything from the < to the > with that number. The photos are named 1.jpg, 2.jpg, etc., so the PHP substitution makes the right photo show up for the right author.
PHP is an amazingly robust and incredibly loose language, but the amount and kind of PHP you use to manage a WordPress weblog is minor and very simple — baby-steps PHP.
But this occurred to me while I was working: What a daunting quantity of knowledge you have to have to be a Realtor in the 21st century!
Last week, I said, “Realtor 2.0 is either going to be adept at internet marketing — or unemployed.” Our own answer is that there is always room at the top, but that room at the top will be won by effective internet marketing. What disintermediation means to traditional Realtors is a reduction in the marginal cost of pursuing alternatives to traditional real estate business models. For-sale-by-owner might be a losing strategy, but how about a FSBO with an RSS feed? Even at the level of competition among individual full-service Realtors, the internet will prove to be a progressively more decisive factor. Die-hard dinosaurs counting on repeats and referrals from their sphere of influence will find their prospects drifting away one by one, some for lower prices, some for better service.
Better service means better service at every step of the process — and Apple’s Steve Jobs gave us the ideal metric for measuring quality of any sort: “Insanely great!” Insanely great real estate will necessarily be personal-service real estate, but capturing the attention of prospective clients, earning their trust and loyalty, delivering the product, delivering the documents — delivering practically everything except the keys — much of that will also move from the world of atoms to the world of electrons.
At their many, many conclaves and conventions, the suits in the NAR and other Realtor organizations ponderously intone, “The Realtor of the future is an internet-savvy Realtor!”
Ya think? That understatement is a real mouthful!
In the wired world, at least, I am preaching to the converted, I should hope. But out in the real world, things are not so advanced. More than a year ago, Cathy and I were at a real estate seminar where the speaker proudly announced that you could even customize the product with your own email address! Even that!
Not so impressive. But sit still and learn nothing at all? Not me. I asked, “Can you make it a hot link?”
“Can I put anchor text around the email address so that my prospect can just click on it, rather than copying and pasting it into his email client.”
“I… uh… We’ll have to check with our programmers on that question.”
Meanwhile the other Realtors were rustling and grumbling. I’ve seen that “natives are restless” mood all my life, so of course I stirred them up: “This is not hard. You should know how to do this. You shouldn’t be waiting three weeks and paying some vendor $300 to write simple HTML for you.”
This won me no friends, of course, but — guess what? — Realtors are not my friends. Their former clients are. I’m not competing to be Good Buddy Realtor of the Year. I am in this business to bring the best possible benefits I can to the greatest attainable number of clients to whom I can deliver Insanely Great service while enriching myself and my family beyond my wildest dreams. (Holy smokes! I just wrote a Mission Statement! Those GRI classes finally paid off!) What happens to other Realtors is their own lookout.
But unlike the ponderous convention intonators and all those mesmerizing seminar mechanics, I can actually tell you the specific skills you will need to master, if you wish to prosper in an environment where successful full-service Realtors will deliver Insanely Great service, down to the last man or woman, and where all other Realtors will be — or will be on the path to being — former Realtors.
Tim O’Reilly wrote about Web 2.0 and Joel Burslem at The Future of Real Estate Marketing is blogging about what he calls Real Estate 2.0. In that spirit I bring you the seven essential skills of Realtor 2.0, by experience and expertise empowered to compete against any real estate business model:
- Web authoring. By this, I mean HTML, but that’s just the first step in your education. If you’re already blogging, so much the better. You’ll learn a lot of basic coding from repeated use. But the HTML that is taught in the “HTML for the Helpless” kind of books is HTML 3. You need to learn HTML 4, too, which means Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), XHTML, XML, etc. You don’t need to be able to qualify for a job hand-coding web sites, but you need to know web coding well enough to hold your own hand when you have a problem.
- Graphic design. Realtors — not all, but very many — are horrible designers. The ones who took the plunge and learned HTML 3 brought with them every bad habit they had learned in years of putting together circus-poster real estate ads. The people you will be competing against know how to design marketing material that will appeal to their target audience. If you don’t learn how to do this, too, you will be left in the dust.
- Search-engine optimization. Practically speaking, this should come first, but if you don’t have a significant web presence, you won’t be findable by your prospects, and if your web presence is visually revolting, your prospects will lose you as soon as they find you. SEO is half science, half art, but it’s mostly a religion — paradise tomorrow if we can just make it through today’s fresh hell. You might end up farming this out, but you need to understand it well enough to know what you’re buying, and well enough not to get swindled — or worse, to get your web site banned by the major search engines. Here is the best SEO strategy of all: Build your site so well that when prospects find you, they stay. Every time you end up in someone’s Favorites menu or RSS feed, that’s one less chance you have of getting lost in the swirling vortex of search-engine algorithms.
- Client- and server-side programming. You might farm this out, also. But you have to know what you want, and you have to know whether or not you got what you paid for. I think everyone should learn to write software — the most empowering, fulfilling and esthetically pleasing thing a human mind can do. I’m not holding my breath, however, waiting for Realtor-geek to become chic. Even so, I think that you as a Realtor 2.0 real estate practitioner must, at a minimum, have a relationship with a web programmer who can get you the results you need on your timetable. The vendors you’re competing against (including us) have internet programmers on staff. They can implement good ideas virtually on the spot.
- Web 2.0. Building on that idea, you should always be thinking about how to make your web offerings more Web 2.0-like. Some of the ideas O’Reilly covers are ephemeral and stupid, but others — such as, like Amazon.com, using the prospect’s known preferences and other, similar client’s known preferences to suggest likely alternatives — are Insanely Great services that you cannot afford to omit. If you are to succeed as a Realtor 2.0 real estate agent, a certain amount of your time, money and attention will always be devoted to observing new trends in the marketplace, implementing what works and jettisoning the rest.
- Photography and videography. If many Realtors are lousy graphic designers, it could be because so many of them are such rotten photographers. This must change. Photographs — and virtual tours and professional-quality video — sell houses. If you don’t know how to take a good real estate picture, learn. You might use vendors for the video or the print photography, but you should be able to do your web photos yourself — in vast abundance — along with your virtual tours, either directly or by direct supervision. You will lose time, but the gain in image quality will be more than worth it.
And now, for the absolute most important skill to be mastered by Realtor 2.0:
- Writing. Realtors for some reason seem to congregate over at the left edge of the literacy bell curve. We have clients who never tire of sending us ridiculous locutions they have clipped out of listings. Our current favorite: “Curve appeal,” seemingly a relevant factor in Realtor 1.0 marketing. We are entering an epoch where all of the dubious weapons of traditional real estate marketing are losing their potency. No one cares that you were a high school tennis star or the immediate past president of the Junior League. You probably can’t be physically repulsive, but your prospects won’t know that you are beauty-queen gorgeous until long after they’ve decided to work with you — or with someone else instead. That vast warm network you’ve cultivated, all those people to whom you delivered pumpkins and fly-swatters over the years, even your own extended family — none of what you think of as valued relationships will mean anything to a prospective buyer or seller carefully reading my weblog at 2 am. Merely writing well may not swing the balance my way. But if you write poorly or not at all, I have a huge advantage. Moreover, all of my writing on the web is a permanent investment in client recruiting and retention that also permanently improves my SEO performance. Writing frequently, prolifically, interestingly, sagely, on-topic and with style — which most certainly includes spelling and grammar — is the ultimate triple-threat Realtor 2.0 competitive tactic.
Note that we haven’t even talked about the hi-tech marketing you’re already doing — or should be! If you don’t have a great mobile phone — with email, a web browser and SMS messaging — you’re toast. If your office email is not forwarding to that phone, you’re history in the making. If you don’t respond to clients — and especially prospective clients — immediately, your clients will soon be someone else’s clients. That much is all a given.
What we’re talking about is developing the intellectual resources you will need to compete — delivering a premium product at a premium price — in a marketplace that will soon be overwhelmed by vendors offering next-to-no service at next-to-no cost. Please understand that we are not perfect at this, yet, either. We’re situated at various points from painfully awful to Insanely Great on the continua for each one of these skill sets. But this is an up-or-out proposition. The people working in personal-service residential real estate in ten years will be Realtor 2.0 realtors, Insanely Great at each one of these skills and others we’ve yet to think of, and the rest of the current membership of the NAR will be doing something else.
Don’t believe me? So much the better for me…
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Getting in touch with your inner geek:
- Apprehending Realtor 2.0: Seven essential skills of the 21st century real estate agent…
- How to make fast, flexible web pages…
- Catch your kid doing something right: Our son Cameron and the upgrade path of SlideShowMarge
- How to make Google your weblog’s best friend…
- Speaking in tongues: Presentable PHP in WordPress
- Speaking in tongues: Dynamically updated lists of links in PHP
- Speaking in tongues just for Cheryl Johnson: Building content-rich custom web sites in PHP
- Speaking in tongues for Morgan Brown: A quick and dirty contributors’ blogroll
- Speaking in tongues: A step-by-step guide to speaking in web sites