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Integrity — It’s more than just a word…

We were just assigned our seventh Team Lead since Catholic Healthcare West had outsourced me to PerotSystems. I’d been part of Perot’s Business Applications team for about sixteen months, and this seventh Team Lead was the first to come to Phoenix to look her team members into our eyes. She was brand new to the account and now had to give us our annual reviews, without the benefit of ever having viewed us. Like so many other corporations, Perot has the employee review herself, then during the annual review the employee and her direct supervisor compare reviews to come to an agreement. I’m often my own worst critic, so I was modest in ranking most of the achievements I was being measured on. But when I got to Client Satisfaction and Integrity, I gave myself the highest possible scores. Nina (pronounced Nine-ah), had seen a few of the accolades given me by clients who I supported, so she conceded the penultimate score on Client Satisfaction. But she had no way to assess my integrity. So she apologized, explained she was handling everyone on her new team the same, and gave me the average score, what would be a “C” on Cameron’s report card, for my Integrity. My reaction? This was the most honest evaluation that Nina could have given, given the circumstances. How can anyone judge another person’s integrity without evidence?

First of all, just what is integrity? I like Wikipedia’s definition:

Integrity is the basing of one’s actions on an internally consistent framework of principles. Depth of principles and adherence of each level to the next are key determining factors. One is said to have integrity to the extent that everything one does on the same core set of values. While those values may change, it is their consistency with each other and with the person’s actions that determine the person’s integrity.
(Emphasis mine.)

Words have precise meanings, and it’s the imprecise use of words that causes so many problems.

(My Mom and I had this debate yesterday: She — “I heard it on TV today… we’re definitely in a recession.” Me — “Definitely, as in by definition?” She — “What does that mean? Brian Williams said we’re definitely in a recession. Why do you have to be so argumentative?” Me — “I mean, the definition of a recession is we’ve had a declining GDP for at least two consecutive quarters.” She — “Oh, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.” Me — “Disagree about the definition of Recession?” She — “If you say so… it’s just a word.”)

Well, just like “Recession,” “Integrity” is a word that has a precise meaning. I wonder how many Realtors who use the word “Integrity” in their marketing think that it simply means “I’m a good person… really I am. People like me, and so will you!” I think of this whenever I see this word tossed around. Like this: There’s a local Realtor who I started noticing a while ago because she came up on my searches on Historic Phoenix. At first when I read her blog, I was impressed that she was such a fine writer, until Greg pointed out that most of her articles, maybe all, were plagiarized. This is easy enough to discover. Just ask Tim Goeglein, the President’s aide who resigned on February 29th because Nancy Nall Derringer accidently discovered that Goeglein had plagiarized a 1998 article by Jeffrey Hart. What gave Goeglein away is he so faithfully copied Hart’s article that he included the misspelled name of someone Nall Derringer decided to Google on.

Our local, plagiarizing Realtor, was just as faithful, without giving credit to the actual authors, or even linking out to their original columns… Greg once had to ask her to remove something of his she had used without credit. Eventually she caught on. And now, though her blog still consists of other people’s articles without using her own voice, she does give full credit to where the articles originated.

Yesterday I stumbled across her top ten reasons to list (key-word packed) houses with her. In contrast to the twenty-two specific tactics that BloodhoundRealty.com uses when listing homes, this Realtor uses a countdown of ten reasons to list with her, which are all pretty well covered in the Realtor’s Code of Ethics. And — this is important — the Number One Reason You Should List Your Home With This Realtor is… She has Integrity!

I have no problem imagining that this woman is a very nice person who hadn’t fully understood that having inaugurated her blog with stolen content demonstrated an inconsistent “framework of principles.” There’s another local Realtor who I know for a fact is a really nice woman, who is listing a house that her sellers had bought a year and a half ago from my sellers. I wish her the best, and so I haven’t made a complaint that the pictures she’s using in her listing are all my photos, stolen from my listing of that same house. Had she called me to ask my permission, I would have readily given it. The house is listed for upwards from $100,000 less than her sellers paid, so I can imagine that the property doesn’t photograph as well as it did when I took those pictures. But even though she most likely took this shortcut to help her clients, I wonder whether she ever considered what this says — if only to herself — about her Integrity.

I respected the healthy skepticism that Nina displayed when she gave me my “C” in Integrity. And I could only wish that real estate buyers and sellers would develop this same skepticism. I think that if more of our clients required that we prove our claims it would help those in our profession who are willing to skate by with C’s to rise to the occasion and become “A” practitioners… that or leave the profession all together.

As for Nina from PerotSystems, she stuck around, and during the next twelve months made a point of working closely with her team. And the respect the two of us had for one another grew exponentially. Throughout the year — and to this day — she apologized again and again for having rated me as having merely average Integrity (whatever “average” means… you have Integrity — even when you’re in a tough situation — or you don’t). When my next annual review came around I received the best review given to any of the employees on that account… it included an A+ in Integrity.

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  • 6 comments

    Defining disingenuousness: Am I beating a dead horse? Or am I staring down a headless high-horseman?

    This is a comment I just posted to Dustin Luther’s weblog. I’m putting it up here, too, so that people can see it (without the typos I found after I posted my 4Realz comment) and so that I can include links without getting shunted into moderation.

    To be honest, I hate this kind of ugliness. But one of the reasons I am married to Greg is because I learned the hard way, a long time before I met Greg, that if you are not willing to stand up for what’s right, you are surrendering to evil.

    This is my comment:

     
    Dustin,

    Disingenuous? From Dictionary.com: “lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity; falsely or hypocritically ingenuous; insincere.” You believe that anything here is descriptive of me?

    And let’s look at your entire concluding paragraph:

    “And finally, Cathleen, I’ve been avoiding responding to comments on this thread because there is a small group of people (dare I call it a “pack”) who seem to be searching for any opportunity to defend Greg by criticizing people who were offended by Greg’s comments (seeing as how we’re in the midst of a political season, it seems appropriate to call it “negative campaigning”). I don’t assume you, or anyone else, was offended by Greg’s post, but it certainly seems disingenuous for you to insinuate that those of us who were offended must have an ulterior motive.”

    How is that not a personal attack? You are smearing the integrity of people who have disagreed with you as a means of undermining their arguments without addressing them. How is this not an ad hominum attack? Or, do you claim to be righteous in offending Teri, Mike, Brian, Russell, Geno and me (the only six from, excluding Greg, twenty-two BHB contributors who have commented on this thread) because you’re Dustin Luther? And, by the way, isn’t your blanket statement that the BHB contributor’s comments “search for any opportunity to defend Greg by criticizing people…” a straw man argument? I certainly didn’t read the kind of defense you describe into either Teri’s or Geno’s comments. So that leaves Russell, Brian, Mike and me. Have you ever seen any evidence that any of us is disingenuous? Do you deny that this entire thread is strewn with personal attacks on Greg, Teri, Russ, Mike, Brian and now me? Is it your opinion that personal attacks are bad only if someone who doesn’t agree with you is making them?

    By the way, thank you for taking the time to clarify the difference in timing, from the time Greg wrote the post you disagree with till you opened this “debate.” And perhaps, like Jay Thompson, you didn’t intend for this to get so personal. But are you surprised that the likes of Joseph Ferrara and Keith Brand of Housing Panic would jump at the chance to slam Greg under the blanket of your authority? And why didn’t you comment that they are disingenuous? Or do you believe they are candid and sincere?

    Now, just how about your personal attack on Greg — when you imply that he is somehow “negative campaigning”. Greg hates any sort of collective action. He “jumped on the grenade” Sunday night because he thought Teri Lussier and Mike Farmer were taking pot shots that should have been directed at him. I know from living with the man that he thinks it is very noble when people stand up for what he calls rectitude, but he doesn’t want for other people to get hurt in his battles.

    This is quoted from a comment Greg made to a post by Russell Shaw:

    [Russell Shaw] > As to the specific statements regarding was Greg making personal attacks?

    And with this I respectfully disagree — and I’m only even addressing the issue out of respect for you, Russell. I have every right to take satirical jabs at vendors — this is an ancient tradition in art. Glenn Kelman has had by far the worst of it from me, but most readers here are delighted when I take him on. I would expect his wife and mother are not, but, nevertheless, I have the moral right and the intellectual responsibility to express my views as compellingly as I possibly can.

    I agree with Russell completely about the mob behavior, but I care only this far: This quote from Dustin Luther

    I’m going to leave my opinions out of the discussion in order to leave more space for these people to see the error of their ways, apologize profusely, and re-enter our community in a constructive manner.

    could have been cribbed directly from a Stalinist show trial.

    Inlookers: If you laugh when I pick on your enemies — as Dustin Luther did when I was tormenting Matt Heaton and Jonathan Washburn of ActiveRain — and cry when I pick on your buddies, that just means you don’t think consistently. What matters to you is neither the argument nor the satire, but simply whose ox is gored. One could wish this were rare. Tune in or tune out — no one cares. Our traffic is off the charts, if that matters to you — and none of that is due to this controversy.

    But if you cede your power over your own free expression to the rule of the mob, you will not have fallen victim to evil — you will have volunteered to make yourself a victim of that evil.

    And you had better believe that everything turns on philosophical principles at BloodhoundBlog.

    My opinion, stated as an opinion, is that Greg understands this episode far better than you do.

    In any case, you haven’t answered my question: Why, when you have sent Greg hundreds of emails – and when he had gone well out of his way to get you into the L.A. Times article that is the actual subject of BloodhoundBlog post number 2592 – why didn’t you email or pick up the phone before attacking BloodhoundBlog in a huge public display? And if your attack was not aimed at BloodhoundBlog Unchained, why did you post a one-word attack starting with the letters “UN”?

    I don’t know whether or not you care, but I really would like to hear a rational defense from you — one that doesn’t just obscure my question with yet another personal attack. But so far this just doesn’t pass the smell test with me. I’m speaking only for myself, but I’m very disappointed in you, Dustin. I’ve always thought better of you.

     
    Follow ups:

    Dustin’s reply to me:

    Cathleen:

    You really are serious about trying to turn this into something about me instead of examining Greg’s actions… It’s fascinating to read, but I won’t go there.

    Dustin

     
    My response:

    Dustin,

    But I genuinely think it is about you. At worst, Greg was being very, very rude. But how is that new? He lampoons people and ideas that he thinks are fair game. This includes vendors. And I believe that you must have known this even before. So what has changed? I’ve got to go back to this:

    I’m going to leave my opinions out of the discussion in order to leave more space for these people to see the error of their ways, apologize profusely, and re-enter our community in a constructive manner.

    No, Greg hasn’t changed, but here you are trying to intimidate him into changing. He cannot “re-enter (your) community” until he falls on his knees and begs your forgiveness. Greg might be rude, but you are coercive. Which is why I think it is about you.

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    Gifts of the Real Estate Magi, circa 2007

    Thank you, Russell, for the gold you so generously share.

    Was Brian the mortgage industry’s Clarence this year?

    I think the difference between frankincense and myrrh is appropriate to this metaphor: Compilation and organization of the holy oil of Real Estate Weblogging came to us by way of the prickly shrub.

    Merry Christmas to all!

    See you next year…

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    Noodlin’ around with Social Media

    Teri Lussier loves Twitter so I’ll give it a shot

    That was my “Hello World” last night on Twitter.

    At the 2007 Star Power conference in Phoenix I learned about Jott, the safe and legal way to text message while you’re driving; so when I noticed Greg using it to send himself a reminder, I signed up, too. This is a tool that has really come in handy. When my dad was still alive he would tease my eighteen year old niece and me about text messaging. He couldn’t understand why anyone would prefer something so clumsy over simply using that cell phone to talk. But there are times when text messaging is more appropriate — for example, when the timing of your message might be an inconvenient interruption for the person who you telephone. You may want to connect with someone in a more passive way. You’re not disturbing them like you might be doing with a phone call, but your message is more intimate, direct, immediate than email. My dad was right… texting manually can be clumsy, tedious. And what do you do when you’re driving? Here’s where Jott is champ. I hold down the J key on my Treo, tell Jott I want to jott Cindy Client, say “please call Cathleen when you’re free to talk,” and hang up. My voice is transcribed to text and that’s sent to Cindy Client’s phone as a text message.

    I know I’m behind the times… as long ago as last month blogs were abuzz with the cool ways the cool people at the NAR convention were mashing up Jott and Twitter and Utterz and WordPress. And here I was, like my dad when he was questioning texting: Why use Twitter? How will that help me, my family or my business? Since last night, when I signed up on Twitter, I’ve connected in a different way with people whom I’m already reading and feel kin to by blogging. And I’m not sure yet whether this Twitter-difference is better. It’s not as though I’m going to save any time by reading a 140-character version of their full-length blogs. And I haven’t found a single non-blogging friend who Tweets, so I don’t expect this to help me stoke the friendships that I already neglect way too much without having added another Social Media toy to my life. So for me for now, Twitter is a matter of faith.

    Then while I’m tooling around in the Web 2.0 world, why stop at Twitter? Jott had just emailed me:

    Joining in the Jott Link fun are our friends at Mosio, Xpenser, Gumiyo, and Vitalist. They offer amazing services, and now they’re even more accessible to you with Jott.

    Being in an ADHD mood, I had to go out and explore these. Like the rest of the social media phenomena, you can sign up for all of these for free for now, at least with basic features.

    Mosio will let me ask any question on any subject from my cell phone and expect an answer a la Ask the Audience or Phone a Friend lifelines on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Now if this delivers what it promises, I can certainly see value in it. But Mosia is in Beta, and when you sign up you are nudged to be available to answer the questions that people like me are bound to be asking when out in the world. Questions inspired by hearing a song on the radio and wondering who wrote it, or by getting a call from Mom, who wants help with filling in her crossword puzzle… you know, important things. So the jury’s out on this SM, too.

    Xpenser sounds like something I really will put to use. It lets you create expense reports on the fly. While you’re out running around running up expenses you can Jott your way into Xpenser and record your business expenses while you’re incurring them. So during that dead time between ordering those Eggnog Lattes and taking them to the table where my client is sitting, I can make an Xpenser note rather than a mental note of this expense being related to business, as compared to a Starbucks stop for just Greg and me.

    Then there’s Gumiyo, which I really wasted my time on last night. I know this will be anathema to Eric, but I like broadcasting our listings as broadly as possible. Gumiyo promotes itself as “Connecting Buyers and Sellers.” So, if there is a buyer out there who is using his phone rather than a Realtor, the MLS, Realtor.com, craigslist, Zillow, Trulia, a lit-up custom sign, or open houses to search for his new home, then I had better get my listings onto his phone! I signed up for the free version of Gumiyo and entered the details for our listing at 901 W Willetta.

    The process took me way too long, and I’m the queen of shortcutting tasks like this. I use iClip on my Mac to store details about each of our listings, each in its own Clipping Set. So I thought that I already had everything I needed to easily set up this listing. But the site was kludgy for me. It kept failing to accept my photo uploads if I included captions. I tried several times until suddenly all the photos showed up at once, many duplicated for each time I had tried to enter them. The detailed description of the house didn’t show up the first several times I entered it. And when I would try to save my work I’d get bounced back to the login screen. After about an hour of struggling with something that takes me 60 seconds in craigslist, I finally got the listing posted. But Gumiyo stripped out any mention of the home’s custom website, price or our phone number wherever that information shows up in our copy. So the copy for this house on this mobile site can be nonsensical in places.

    Go to for more details, and to see many more pictures of this home’s beautiful features:

    Well, that doesn’t make sense…
    I read a little further and figured that I could keep this information in our listings by enrolling in the $9.95-a-month GumiyoPro, which will let me link to my website, get calls directly from prospects, plus get nifty pdf, “preprinted templates” that I can send to my own printer to create lovely black and white flyers promoting the listing number on Gumiyo.

    I just can’t justify spending any more time or money on this one. There are 12,756 active MLS listings in the city of Phoenix. And how many more houses are being sold by owners? On Gumiyo, twenty listings total are returned when I set the search criteria for any house within ten miles of Phoenix. Gumiyo promotes itself as being so easy to use that you can create listings from your phone. Not only is this not worth pursuing as a real estate lister, but it’s not even worth going back to fix the gaps Gumiyo created by removing the information it wants to sell.

    So that leaves Vitalist for me to explore. Vitalist is a task management tool. This is the third task-list partner that Jott has linked up with. It looks like a good solution, but it will require some research to see if it’s the best solution. And even then, is it better than the system I have set up in MS Outlook? And even more important, where do any of these fit in with REST, which is what I shoulda been working on when I got distracted by Jott and its new partners.

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    Memories of my Dad in the house he never got to see

    Remember Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? Well, Broker Greg’s theory is Men are Sellers, Women are Buyers. His observation is that prominent in a selling couple is the man — dickering over commission then exacting justification for those commissions; and when offers come in it will be he who will haggle over the details. On the other hand, when shopping for the new house, he doesn’t want to shop: “Garage for my stuff? Fridge for my beer? Sold!”.

    So Thursday night, Husband Greg was perplexed. First, he surprised himself by doing physical labor. This is against his credo — the human mind is supposed to engineer methods to circumvent physical toil. But it was time for me to unstage Oregon. It closed yesterday and I had to get all my stuff out. When I buy staging inventory, I’m always careful to limit the heft of each item to something I can move in and out of the house without (Greg’s) help. However, I’m just recently recovered from pneumonia — a solid month of complete bed-rest. So there was Greg, huffing and puffing with the grunt work as I daintily packed my pashminas and platters.

    But what really floored Greg happened after he had packed up our last load, while we were sitting in the drive-through line at Wendy’s, waiting to celebrate with Frostys. And I broke down crying. Through my sobs I hiccuped that I would probably never be inside of 718 West Oregon again. This brought my dear articulate Greg to speechless amazement.

    We Realtors know we bring value to the real estate transaction… each in our own particular way — our value proposition; but we all offer the consumer the value of our experience from sheer numbers of transactions we work with. In comparison, years and years typically pass between transactions in which any individual consumer is involved. What is so easy for us Realtors to lose sight of, specifically because we do handle so many transactions, is the emotion involved in the process. Those of us who work with buyers get to see the elation of clients preparing for their new lives in their new homes. We’re there during the inspections, the walk-through, and we get to hand them their keys as they embrace this brand new promise. But how often are we there with our sellers, packing up, reminiscing?

    I was reminiscing Thursday night as I pulled the bed linens off the inflatable bed, as I pulled the Hercules Hooks from the walls.

    I thought about last summer, when we were making our plans to list this house. We had already seen the house and were just waiting for the tenants to move out on August 15. I knew it wanted a mid-century modern theme and had been watching craigslist for just the right accessories. I described my scavenger hunt to my father to pass the time while we waited in the ER the Thursday before the house was free to start our work. And the week we started preparing Oregon for market, the same week my dad slipped into an unconsciousness he’d never recover from, I’d spend the nights at the VA, describing my day’s work, convinced that my words would find their way into his memory and comfort him with the familiarity of their sound. Until I sat down to write this post I had forgotten that I hadn’t actually discussed the house with my father, that the “conversation” had been my voice alone.

    It was raining — as it is today — the Saturday before our first open house on Oregon. My crew and I had been out in the neighborhood as the day dawned. I needed to finish distributing the invitations before my one o’clock meeting with the head of MICU. I sat there muddy from the morning’s work as the doctor told my family that Dad would never come home again, even if he miraculously lived. Summer ended the day my dad was buried. Five more open houses and the house was under contract. My memories of the last days of my father’s life will forever be tied up in my memories of that smart little house. I guess the melding of stories like the death of my dad and the sale of the house on Oregon is how family legends develop. The legends that families everywhere remember as they empty and ready their old homes for the new buyers to create memories of their own.


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    Christopher Columbus… a top producer for the ages!

    I had a buyer in my car the other day. A nice, interesting, serious lady whom I’ve been emailing back and forth, and talking to for the past many months. But this was the first time we had met face to face. I thought we had built a truly congenial rapport over the summer. She was a referral. She is a dog-lover. Sadly, her mother had died during the past year after having spent some time in hospice. A lot of common ground and mutual respect. She was ready, willing and able to buy a house and I wanted to help her buy her ideal house for a price that’s right for her.

    This should be easy. In this market there are ten homes for every buyer. We like each other. And I had an armful of worthy listings and a tank full of gas. So I was admittedly surprised when hours into our house-hunt I started to sense hesitancy from my client in response to some of my questions: basic questions like, “How much cash do you have to put into this transaction?”; “Have you thought about the earnest money?”; “Your loan officer said he can close within two weeks, how quickly are you planning on moving?”. I was surprised to find myself having to explain that I will be better able represent her if she’s forthright with me.

    Later that evening I described the situation to Greg, my mentor, broker, husband, etc. He suggested that I still don’t see myself as a salesperson. I’m still operating in the project manager mode of my previous livelihood — facilitating the outcome rather than influencing it. But even though I don’t see myself as a salesperson, my clients all do. And along with that perception comes all the baggage that clients bring from having had a bad experience with a salesperson, or having heard of someone else’s bad experience, or having seen a movie like Glengarry Glen Ross, which portrays slimy salespeople.

    Greg’s solution? Address the problem head-on. Go beyond where I had gone, which was to justify my need to know: Acknowledge that I’m in sales. Ask whether the client/prospect has had a bad experience with a salesperson and listen to the response. Then explain that I will do everything within my power to not make the same mistakes. Explain that the success of my business is directly tied to my clients loving having done business with me… Sage advice.

    And later still that evening, while doing chores to the beat of podcasts on my shuffle, I listened to Zig Ziglar’s inspiring “Everyone is a Saleperson.” In this classic, Mr. Ziglar reminded me that sales — providing products or services for a profit to solve someone else’s problem — is a noble profession. In this podcast he demonstrates that this country was founded by salespeople and has become great because of sales.

    I highly recommend you download and listen to the podcast yourself, but in honor of Columbus Day here’s an excerpt:

    Not by any stretch of the imagination could you accuse Christopher Columbus of being a navigator. He was looking for India! He missed it by over twelve thousand miles. But was he a salesman? Well, he only had one prospect to call on… Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain kept saying to him “Chris, price too high; can’t afford it; we just can’t buy; don’t have any money actually.”

    But Columbus persevered. The queen hocked her necklace to invest in the dream — an investment that earned her country riches beyond anyone’s imagination. And the rest is history…

    So how appropriate is it that we celebrate this day with Columbus Day Sales? Happy shopping!

    P.S. The lady got over her fears, we found a great house for her… better than she had hoped for. And we’re on track to close before the next holiday!

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    Three-Hundred-and-Sixty-Five Days of the Dog: Happy birthday, Baby…

    During all my running around today, I had meant to buy a silly little party hat for Odysseus to wear to celebrate BloodhoundBlog’s first birthday… but I never got around to it. And by the time I had picked up Ophelia from doggy-day-care, I’d missed my opportunity… can’t leave a dog in a 110&176; car. So on the way home I thought of the balloons Kris and Steve had sent us to commemorate the occasion (and show off their slick marketing swag… oops shouldn’t have said “show off”… didn’t I read that showing off is bad?). Anyway, when I got home, Greg voiced what I was already thinking, but he in a much more practical way, “Don’t be silly! Don’t go out any more tonight! Use Kris’ balloons, take your picture, write your post, then let’s raise a couple of glasses of Bushmills!” You see, I needed some sort of prop to take a photo of Odysseus because I love photos of my pets, and didn’t I read somewhere that you should always use photos on your blog posts? ‘Course neither hat nor balloon could guarantee a good picture, not when we’re talking about getting one dog to look into the camera long enough without other dogs and cats breaking his concentration or outright getting in the way. Anyway, here’s the best we could get:

    (Sorry Kris and Steve, we couldn’t get one that shows your phone number, but you can see “erg” and the castle.)

    All this just to illustrate (poorly I fear) my pure joy with being a part of this wonderful site and fabulous group, as we enter Year Two. If you’ve put up with me this far, I ask you to stay awhile longer as I share my favorite moments during the pup’s first year.

    Yesterday, Greg wrote about our humble beginnings, so I’ll fast forward from there to my first honor here… being featured in Zillow’s inaugural edition of the Carnival of Real Estate. During the next few months Greg wrote a lot, I wrote a little, and Greg incorporated posts from an earlier failed blog by attributing them to Odysseus.

    By September, Greg had earned a reputation among real estate bloggers as being a prolific and interesting writer, and when Ardell DellaLoggia challenged him to a “blog-off,” I encouraged him to accept. I’m not certain about Ardell nor Greg, who each posted over 100 articles in less than 24 hours, but I had a blast! The challenge was especially funny through the Property Monger, Jon Ernst’s, play-by-play chronicle.

    Another gift that this pup has brought is Russell Shaw. I was tickled to sit down to chat with him, and thrilled beyond words when he agreed to become a contributor on BHB. This led us directly into the Dual Agency Smack-Down. Because he had commented in opposition to Greg’s and my view on dual agency, we asked Jeff Brown, from BawldGuy.com to join BHB as a guest, arguing on the side of Russell for dual agency, against Greg and me. Jeff honored us by staying around.

    Once there were five of us (including Odysseus), we asked a few more friends of ours, who are interested in real estate, and who were sharing really interesting ideas with us via email, to contribute. Most notably, Richard Riccelli, a direct-marketing guru, wrote some brilliant articles on marketing.

    In October, BloodhoundBlog hosted the Carnival of Real Estate for the first time. I think we made a lasting contribution to the CoRE that week. Being the judges was so much fun, we got to continue our campaign for more meaningful judging when we hosted the CoRE again in February.

    Also in October, Greg heard from Mark Nadel, from AEI-Brookings Joint Center, who had written a white paper on real estate commissions.

    Soon afterward, Greg Defended Zillow in an article that made me very proud of him, especially after his article Debunking Zillow had brought so much attention to BHB. Both articles demonstrated his veracity, with no concern about whose ox might be gored.

    The energy of the group blog was exhilarating. We wanted more! Greg, who doesn’t shrink from anything (except housework), reached out to some of the most inspired bloggers in the nation, and soon we were joined by Kris Berg and Doug Quance, and then Dan Green!

    Now that the Bloodhounds were a minority on BHB, we agreed on making our home a more civil one. Greg and Russell can take all kinds of heat, but I always hated what I considered graffiti in comments. So I was really pleased when BHB instituted a rigorous Comments Policy, which made it clear that we welcome guests to share their opinions, but ruffians are not welcome. With all the differing opinions that exist among our authors, a different point of view is not an insult, but an insult is…

    For Christmas we got a wonderful gift: Brian Brady! And the New Year kept on giving with Michael Cook. Jeff Turner and Norma Newgent joined us briefly to leave some real gems in this treasure chest.

    Then just when we really needed him, Allen Butler came on board as we began exploring podcasting. Just in time to pull Kris’ music out of her interview of Glenn Kelman from Redfin. Just in time to capture the gifts that Russell gave us with his Sales Success Seminars.

    And on the tail of sound came movies! Starting with Greg’s interview on Fox News Channel, complete with a Director’s Cut!

    And our family continues to grow. James Hsu lends us his technical views, Morgan Brown is our mortgage industry crusader, Lani Anglin gives us the down-home point of view of the consumer, and Jeff Kempe gives us yet another, fresh rebel-Realtor point of view.

    And then there’s Teri Lussier. What an inspiration she’s been. So much so, that the work she has done with Greg evolved into the web’s first BlogBook, Real Estate Weblogging 101!

    As I say goodnight to our baby blog on this celebration of its first birthday, there’s one last note I want to congratulate it on: I love the serendipity that on BHB’s first anniversary, InmanNews announced that we are among the finalists for this year’s Most Innovative Blog.

    It’s been a great year. Thank you all for joining us!

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    Department of redundancy department: How to get those living subjects to hold still for photographs

    Today our ever more irrelevant Arizona Republic demonstrated again that it is clueless about what over 1,100 daily readers of BloodhoundBlog.com know, which is… here on BHB you will find some of the finest weblog writing by real estate professionals available anywhere in the English speaking world. With the addition of so many fine writers with awesome credentials, since Greg and I started this site almost a year ago, I’ll admit that I feel outclassed. There’s really not much for me to deliver that teaches and informs and entertains like what our other illustrious contributors give us. ButTom Johnson from Houston has given me an opportunity to show off my expertise…

    In a comment on Teri’s post, “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window,” Tom talks about his dogs, Sophie and Duke, and asks

    If I could figure out how to photograph them together, we could go for the all sizes, all families type thing. Suggestions?

    Oooh, oooh, I can answer that! Take lots and lots of pictures! I know what I’m talking about! For our December 2000 holiday card I wanted to include our entire family, even those with fur or feathers, in the family photo. So I recruited my sister Terry, and she managed to shoot a perfect portrait. Took her only 40 shots to get it. Here are 16 of those pictures:

    Fortinbras the Cockatiel and Gwen the Gerbil, alas, met the fate of animals who decide to escape the cages that protected them from their bigger sisters and brothers. And Charley, the regal Akita mix who Greg’s sitting on, and Peritas, the black Lab puppy with the bubblegum tongue who’s sitting next to me, were the ill-fated dogs Greg talks about in his comment on Teri’s post, whose loss led us to Odysseus. My heart still aches over that loss. In fact, you’ll notice, the sadness has been so profound, that it turned me blonde!

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    Delighting customers and clients: Doing the thing that no one thought to ask for

    As real estate professionals, our clients’/customers’ satisfaction with our service and the outcome of their transactions is unquestionably key to business success. In fact, I’d bet this has been true in every career you have ever had. It sure has been for me… beginning with my first jobs as babysitter, then as counter help at The Red Barn, and then throughout my various corporate positions in management, finance and information technology. Whether my customer has been internal, external, faceless or my very best friend, I’ve always done very well by doing very well for him and her.

    And so it’s always been maddening for me to see someone or some organization fail to recognize that the “customer is always right,” or if the customer isn’t right to help the customer become right… at least to try to help. We all know the adage that a happy customer will tell someone else about his satisfactory experience, but an unhappy customer will tell the unhappy story ten times more often. Well, I want to tell you about great customer service that I was just the happy recipient of.

    But first some background… It begins with Greg and me wanting to attract more clients than we were getting from reputation alone. Around the end of the amazing sellers’ market of 2004/2005, around the first anniversary of BloodhoundRealty.com, we hoped to jump-start our business by giving someone who didn’t know us personally (or through referral) a reason to believe that we put our clients’ interests above our own. We wanted to offer something more tangible than a motto or a sincere-looking pose. We were doing well when we took listings, but we were turning down more listings than we were accepting, because home owners, who didn’t yet know us, didn’t yet believe us that the buyers were no longer willing to pay top dollar. So we figured we would try to attract buyers by offering to let them keep their money in their pockets — money they would be paying the seller to pay to us. We thought that once we got this word out, we would get a sensational response! So we took out ads in the Arizona Republic, and when we were approached by our national association’s fair-haired lad, Realtor.com, we took out an ad with them, too. While we were at it, we ordered a toll-free phone number to put into those ads.

    Now, we had a relationship with the Arizona Republic, and we had one with Realtor.com, but I found the company who we ordered the toll-free phone number from through Google. I’m not even sure what the term was that I Googled on, because I’m not able to find their site through Google right now, so I’ll just tell you about them: The telephone number vendor is Budget800. I liked what I read when I found their site. We could chose from available 800 numbers, not just any 8xx toll-free number — I liked that. And our contract would be month-to-month — I liked that, too. And we thought their rates were fair.

    Greg described the results of our marketing campaign to promote our extraordinary client-focused business model as “crickets chirping.”

    Well. As I’ve said, key to a successful business is great customer service. Also key, is not going broke. We have an annual contract for our ad on Realtor.com. We paid for the year up front, so though we haven’t enjoyed even one prospect from our ad on Realtor.com, we’ll play it out till it’s time to renew. We had an annual contract with the Arizona Republic, which we were paying for monthly. When it became clear that passive marketing isn’t bringing us prospects, we agreed that we shouldn’t throw good money after bad, so we paid the penalty to get out of the contract.

    That leaves one vendor who we had hired to support our foray into advertising (as compared to marketing) for new clients — Budget800. I had forgotten all about them till I was reconciling our bank account this week. Then it occurred to me that we were paying $25 a month for 500 minutes… we were sooo optimistic! Turns out that we’ve used up a total of 56 minutes in the four months we’ve had our 800 number. We decided we still need to have an 800 number, and we might as well keep the one we already have. But a more realistic expectation of usage is the least expensive tier that Budget800 has — $5.95 a month for 100 minutes.

    I called Budget800 and asked them to change our plan. I spoke to Nathan, who promised to make the change effective by our next billing date, and I was satisfied. But Nathan delighted me when he sent me confirmation of the adjustment to our plan. After our conversation he took a look at our account and when he saw that it hadn’t been used at all since the last billing date, he changed our plan to the less expensive one retroactively, giving us a credit balance that will be applied toward the next few months of our service.

    Let’s hope that Budget800′s business plan is a profitable one, because here is a company that goes beyond great customer service. They are exceptional. I only wish that every vendor who real estate agents use could deliver such a happy experience.

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    What’s better than having a Realtor’s advice? Having a Realtor’s advice for free!

    Last Friday, on January 5, our nephew Bryan celebrated his twenty-first birthday. Less than a week earlier, on New Year’s Eve, he wasn’t yet old enough to join in a New Year’s champaign toast at the club where’s he’s played gigs for the past few years. He graduated from high school three Decembers ago, last month he celebrated his second wedding anniversary, and later this month he’ll begin his fourth year in the US Navy, where he plays sax in the Navy Band Southeast’s Jazz Ensemble in Florida. And… he has already had three real estate transactions in escrow, every time without having been represented by a real estate agent. How has he fared in real estate? Not very well, despite being the favorite nephew of real estate professionals in Texas and Arizona. And why would that be? Because after having listened to the advice of his doting aunts and uncles, he followed the course that made the most sense to him and his young bride.

    I don’t blame youth for real estate decisions that Bryan has made contrary to loving expert advice. I blame “human nature.” There is a reason that everyone who speaks English knows the old saw, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I began this post with Bryan’s bio to demonstrate that despite his tender years, he has made several life altering decisions. And I should also point out that Bryan actually solicited our opinions, rather than having them forced upon him, which is so often the lot of young people. So you would assume that he asked our advice so he could mull it over, weigh it and then make a better decision having had the benefit of expertise. There’s even a good probability that Brian no longer remembers that Aunt Denise suggested he not walk away from his first purchase contract and his $5,000 earnest deposit, nor Aunt Cathy’s caution against buying a much lesser property, a condo, six months later, during Florida’s bloated seller’s market, for the same price he would have payed for the first house. But at last he heeded us when during his third real estate transaction we recommended that he sell his property without using a Realtor, in order to mitigate a short sale.

    Wha-wha-what?!!! Don’t use a Realtor? Isn’t that blasphemy among the initiated? Nope. Sometimes that’s just good advice. In Bryan’s case, he has an aunt in Texas who is a very successful mortgage banker. She helped him understand his financial options and got him to enlist the mortgage holder in a solution to his problem, rather than avoiding the lender. And he has another aunt (me) who is successful at selling listings during a buyer’s market, so I coached him on presentation and marketing. And he’s in the US Navy so he has free access to an attorney. Although I am trained to write contracts incident to real estate transactions in Arizona, I had Bryan run every contract that he asked me to review past the Navy’s attorney — I just helped him understand the questions he needed to ask.

    Using the resources that were available to him for free, Bryan was under a purchase contract in less than sixty days, one that actually would have let him walk away with a Happy Meal profit. We’d touch base during the escrow period so he would know what to expect… simple things that a professional thinks about that are not commonplace to the do-it-yourselfer… Things like getting to know your escrow officer… Things like what to look for in the title commitment and later in the preaudit… And later, staying up on the buyer and the status of her loan. Even so, the buyer couldn’t close on time. In fact her lender failed to meet the extended date to fund, which put the young couple yet another month behind in payments. But at the counsel of their aunts they sucked it up, rode it out and accepted that they’d have to forego their Happy Meal. And by the time the holidays had begun, they were free of their encumbrance.

    I wish that real estate transactions would always work out well for everyone, represented, not represented, or represented for free, as was the case with our nephew. But of course there will always be transactions where someone walked away unhappy. We’re sure to hear about those transactions if there was representation or implied representation, and that’s appropriate. The same is true in any segment of a customer service industry — I’m sure you’ve all heard the maxim, “For every one person a satisfied customer tells about his experience, a dissatisfied one will tell ten.” (I know I’ve paraphrased that, but the meaning is right.) We probably won’t hear many complaints from the unhappy represented-for-free buyers and sellers, because they would have been represented by a close family member. And when FSBOs (For Sale By Owner) or BUBBAs (Buyer Unrepresented By a Buyer’s Agent) have successful transactions they love to brag, but not so when there are unhappy consequences and there’s no one to blame but themselves, so we won’t hear much about those transactions.

    My point is that I don’t believe anecdotes about an unhappy friend’s (once or twice removed) experience with representation by an unnamed agent should be or is the determining factor in whether a buyer or seller should hire a real estate agent or go it alone. Everyone should weigh his own circumstances to make this decision. People without real estate licenses who have the time and experience to represent themselves, like many of the non-licensed commenters (at least I assume they’re not licensed) who brag that they’ve been pleased with the outcome of transactions that they’ve handled themselves, might never want to use a professional agent. But if they had the burden of liability that a real estate agent has when counseling people on real estate decisions, would they go on their virtual soapboxes and preach that everyone would be better off handling their own transactions?

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    Punch and Pie At This Week’s Carnival of Real Estate

    In my world, I need order, rules. This may be hard to believe when you consider I manage a household that includes thirteen rescue animals and a colony of about a dozen feral cats in our side yard. Ever hear of “herding cats”? This is something I try to effect every single day. I was the one, for example, who asked Greg to modify his open-forum policy on BHB comments, by removing extreme profanity. I understand that trash talk needs to be trashy or it loses its flavor, but sometimes comments on this site go beyond the pale. For a standard of what’s acceptable I like to use South Park. I realize this is a pretty low standard, but IMHO Matt Stone and Trey Parker are so spot on philosophically that I’ve learned to accept the verisimilitude of the vernacular of their eight-year old characters. If Comedy Central is up to it, then I suppose BloodhoundBlog can be, too.

    All of this to get to why I would even care to paraphrase a quote from South Park – Bigger, Longer & Uncut. This is a very clever parody on, among other things, Les Miserables. Greg’s teenaged children have demonstrated to us that we’ve garbled the Eric Cartman quote, “people like pie,” but we remembered this quote by implication. There’s a scene in which the boys are trying to figure out how to get people to care about a meeting they’ve called to save the world, and Cartman suggests “more people will come if they think we have punch and pie!” Actually having punch and pie isn’t important… it’s only important that the people think there will be punch and pie, and people like pie (I still believe this must be an actual quote in one of the ten-seasons-worth of episodes), so give them what they want.

    And it’s with this in mind, that I commend you to this week’s Carnival of Real Estate, which is up at ActiveRain, for some punch and pie.

    More on me and rules… When BloodhoundBlog hosted CoRE this past October, we set up a system for ourselves to judge the entries, and recommended to the community of contributors and future hosts that they adopt some standards of judgement to avoid robbing the CoRE of relevance. The community responded with what I think was an improvement by agreeing to some structure. Then when BHB became a group blog made up of some of the finest contributors in the nation, we needed to come up with a way to make sure the best of the best from BHB was represented at the weekly carnivals. We came up with a nomination process among the contributors, with me being the ultimate judge of which essay would be submitted, and a democratic decision on which essay would be elevated to winner of the weekly Carnival of Bloodhound.

    Privately, I explained BHB’s entry this week to our contributors:

    There was a lot of meaty stuff published on BHB but I think the topic of most moment to the industry was Zillow’s news of posting houses for sale. Among the Zillow posts, I thought 2006 is the Year of Zillow: The 900 pound AVM has been upgraded to be a free listing platform and the presumptive natonal MLS system… and Zillow.com versus Realtor.com: Nothing grows in the shade of a great tree… best clarified what Zillow’s news means to the business of real estate transactions. The former was, I believe, the authoritive explanation in the entire “blogosphere,” and the latter did a fine job of fleshing that out. But my choice was all about authority this week, so I recommended 2006 is the Year of Zillow: The 900 pound AVM has been upgraded to be a free listing platform and the presumptive natonal MLS system… to represent BHB at the CoRE this week.

    The essay I nominated brought us a huge surge in traffic, of course. Before it was 24 hours old, it had risen to be the third most clicked-upon post in the history of BloodhoundBlog — a stiff competition. It was linked by dozens of other weblogs, including 38 weblogs that had never linked here before. That is, we went from 247 Technorati links to 285 in five days. It beat Britney Spears on Tailrank.com, for goodness sakes. But it didn’t win the Carnival of Real Estate. It didn’t even place in the top ten. It did have the distinction of losing two coin tosses, however, with the coin brought in as a substitute for — what? — you decide…

    The worst of this is, BHB might have, maybe should have entered Kris Berg’s Louis Vuitton and the French Revolution. But I have veto power over Greg, who had nominated Kris’ essay, and Kris agreed with me that the Zillow news mattered most this week. Perhaps so, but Kris’ post rocked, and I’m afraid I cost her the spotlight. No Monday morning quarterbacking here — even yesterday, I advised the BHB contributors:

    And now, for our own BHB Carnival, I cast my vote to Louis Vuitton and the French Revolution. As usual, Kris grabbed my attention with her humor, then she went on to make an important, substantive point. From now on, when I get annoyed at the poor reporting done by mainstream media, which most Americans still use for their news source, I’ll meditate for a moment on the image of Rousseau at Venice Beach buying a Louis Vuitton knock-off!

    And indeed, this post of Kris’ won the Bloodhound Carnival, by getting a majority of our contributor’s votes.

    I still believe the Zillow news mattered more than anything else this week, and as Kris noted in her Louis Vuitton essay, the RE.net simply blew away the mainstream media and even the tech press on this story. My own Carnival of Zillow News, omitting BloodhoundBlog posts: Galen Ward, Kevin Boer, and Drew Meyers’ chronicles. And the buzz continues here with Russell Shaw’s POV in Thank You, Mr. Barton, May I Have Another?.

    We also entered Jeff Brown’s Retirement Lifestyle: 3 Quick Peeks Into Your Future in the Carnival or Real Estate Investing.

    I think I can safely speak for everyone here in extending our heartiest congratulations to this week’s Carnival of Real Estate winners. If ActiveRain’s judge, Matt Heaton, has nothing brighter than a shiny coin in his possession, this takes nothing away from this week’s winners. And to Matt, I pass along the immortal words of Louie’s luckless bride Marie Callender, “Let them eat pie.”

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    In the trenches with Zillow.com: A working Realtor’s first-hand experience listing a home . . .

    Zillow has had Greg’s attention for a long time, going back to an Odysseus post from last February, when we were blogging for our own entertainment. Greg has debunked Zillow, he’s defended Zillow, but till this week I’ve been indifferent. Zillow has held as much relevance for me as Ragnarok Online. Both have inspired a lot of buzz among their audiences, but neither made my life better, easier, happier, so I’ve not wasted time on them.

    But this past Monday, when David Gibbons told us about Zillow’s plans to add the For Sale and Make Me Move tools to their comprehensive database, he gave me a reason to care. When someone hires me to sell her house, one of my jobs is to let as many prospective buyers as possible know that this house is for sale. Zillow will help me find an audience that I might not already be getting through buyers’ brokers, drive-bys, Realtor.com, open houses… So now Zillow has made my life better, easier, happier, by giving me a tool to bring my client’s house to more potential buyers.

    To get to know this new tool, I claimed our own house on My Zillow. Here I got to experience first hand the problem with using Zillow for an accurate estimation of a house’s value. We live on a wonderfully eclectic street of ranch, bi-level and split-level 1960′s houses in the North Central Phoenix subdivision, Terry Terrace. Lots are all around 8000 square feet, but the houses range between 1400 to 2850 square feet. At 1993 square feet, ours is about average. The people who remodeled the house before we bought it did some wonderful things — enclosing the carport to make a 2-car garage and landscaping were minor compared to the the major improvement of raising the ceiling and removing the labyrinth of walls common in 1962, to open up the living area side of the house into two huge, very livable and very workable rooms. Then they added requisite granite, 18″ tile, designer cabinets and upgraded appliances. And, since we’ve moved in we’ve upgraded the bathrooms and all the light fixtures. Zillow doesn’t know any of this, of course, unless I tell them. Smaller houses, more unfashionable homes on our street are listed right now at between $429,000 to $510,000. We’re in process of refinancing just now, to retire an ARM, so Greg ran comps on our house. They range from $438,500 to $480,000, so we conservatively estimated it for the lender at $438,000. Imagine my surprise to learn the Zestimate on our house is only $376,637! The Value Range they assigned is $331,441 to $421,833. The good news is that once I fed Zillow with the corrected information on our house, The Owner’s Estimate went up to $464,067. Then, compare this to the professional appraisal of $503,000 that came in just today!

    Whew… did you catch all those wildly divergent numbers to describe one fairly average house? Galen Ward wrote on Rain City yesterday about why he thinks Zillow isn’t taking API feeds from Real Estate brokers. But here’s what I think the problem is — reconciling the list price with the Zillow price. I told David Gibbons that this was going to be a problem for me. So yesterday, when I inaugurated Zillow with my first listing it took me longer than I would have liked. Before I could enter the listing, the house’s owner and I had to fix the estimate.

    One thing that I learned by claiming my own house and helping my seller claim and correct his is that the comps that Zillow uses are less reliable than even the tax comps. My seller had no problem going through the first three steps of Zillow’s five step “My Estimator”.

    In Step 1 the home owner edits the home’s facts. On my own house, here is where I showed the number of bedrooms we have and the year the house was updated… information missing from the Zestimate. On my seller’s home, this step resulted in his house being valued $17,926 more than the Zestimate.

    At Step 2 the home owner enters recent home improvements and their costs. Here’s where I described the “Upscale” kitchen remodel in my own house. The recent upgrades my seller made in his house improved the Zestimate by $10,020.

    Step 3 lets the owner add other features he thinks are important for calculating the value his house. Here is where I told Zillow that the ceilings had been raised and walls removed to update my home. This step improved my seller’s Zestimate by $5,000.

    Step 4, I believe, is going to be the most difficult step for people who are not in the real estate profession to complete on their own. This is where the home’s owner needs to select the neighborhood houses that are most comparable to his own. Here’s where I had to help my seller, and here’s where I’ve found Zillow to be really out there in left field. I live in a very non-hemogenous part of Phoenix. From my front door, I can easily walk either to a really rough area of town or into a neighborhood of million dollar homes. While the Zestimate didn’t take the million-dollar homes in account, it definitely did include houses from the more depressed area in it’s Comps. In the case of my client’s house, Zillow compares his 1608 square foot, 2.5 bathroom home to condos that have less than 1,000 square feet! Once I fixed the comps, we added $5,366 to the Zestimate.

    Then Step 5 is a simple Save.

    When we corrected the Zestimate, the value given as “My Estimate” went from $233,443 to $271,755. This is good, because we’re listed at $270,000!

    Adding the listing itself was easy… as easy as putting the listing onto Craig’s List or eBay. But this is better than Craig’s list, because now that the information is entered I don’t have to enter it again, I just need to verify that the house is still for sale as long as it is. And this is better than eBay because it’s free! :)

    One more neat trick I found upon listing the house for sale: You know how GoogleEarth or MapQuest or any of the other mapping sites that overlay the address on top of a satellite aerial never quite match up the address to the picture of the structure? David Gibbons explains how Zillow matches the addresses to the picture of the house, and why these might not be perfectly aligned. What is really cool is when you list a house for sale, you can use your mouse to drag the little icon representing your house to the actual location that you’re able to visually locate on the aerial view. I would love it if Zillow used these adjustments to create better accuracy in the Geocoding, and then let my GPS provider use that data to give me better directions when it’s talking me to a house.

    There has been a lot of speculation about the long-term implications of Zillow. As usual, I’m interested only to the extent that Zillow makes my life better, easier, happier. Although I still have strong objections to the idea of putting one of my listings on Zillow.com if my list price is higher than the Zestimate, I’m game at working toward fixing the Zestimate. And as long as I can demonstrate why the Zestimate is wrong, and the Zillow listing introduces more potential buyers to the home my clients are selling, I’m all for it.

    BloodhoundBlog’s team coverage of the Zillow.com upgrades:

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    More on Jay Reifert’s crusade to give buyers control over procuring cause

    In his comments on Russell Shaw’s article, Jay Reifert Is Tired of NAR Hiding the Truth, Jay Reifert warns us early on that he is

    spoiling to get this fight into the public eye

    I suspect this may be driving his over-the-top diatribe. Too bad, because I think he makes a valid point that the practice of acknowledging procurring cause is not (always) in the client’s best interest. And in states like Arizona, agency is all about the client’s interest, which comes first, even ahead of the agent’s self interest.

    Jay describes a situation that really does happen, way too often:

    Buyers, though, are screwed over by Procuring Cause, PC, all the time. Here’s how it works: They go out looking at homes,willy nilly, not having any idea that they are creating bligations to any licensees. (The Secret Contract.) They find a house. Then, they begin researching their next steps.As part of their research, they discover buyer agency. Then,they start interviewing buyer agents. Then, they discover that the buyer agents are afraid to touch them, because they have already seen the home they think they want to pursue and the buyer agent doesn’t want to risk losing his/her fee to another licensee who may file a Procuring Cause claim.Hence, the buyer-due to no fault on their own part, as PC has NEVER been disclosed to them-loses their right to representation. It happens all the time. Theft of buyer rights. It’s heinous.

    I would absolutely love it if home buyers always came armed with the type of agreement that Jay suggests, putting listing agents on notice that the buyer is represented. Lord knows I try to educate my own buying clients — I explain the benefit of always having me escort them even to new home builds and open houses, I explain the disadvantages to the client that can be created if they don’t have me escort them, I give them a supply of my business cards, I even give them the American Dream Home Buyer’s Passport. Still, I find myself running interference because my buyer client just happened to stop at an Open House she had noticed on the way home from the mall, or took a ride out to Surprise to look at model homes without me, because they were just exploring the possibility of moving to Surprise and didn’t want to bother me.

    I agree with Russell that procurring cause snafus are not created, in general, out of real estate agents’ avarice. And certainly it’s foolish to claim that our entire industry, starting with the NAR, wants to shackle home buyers to a listing agent, when the buyer wants his own representation. The NAR represents all of us, listing brokers and buyer brokers. And most of us will wear one or the other hat in any particular transaction.

    Russell’s solution, of course, is the best one — that is to educate the agent to do better:

    If someone called my office and wanted to buy a house (that we had not shown them) the very FIRST question we would ask them is “how did you find out about this property?”

    Maybe the reason this isn’t the first question that every listing agent asks is that so many of us entered the industry in the past two years and are still getting our routines down; or maybe because too many of those new agents don’t don’t get the type of OTJ support from their brokers that agents used to get; or maybe there is a little desperation out there (as compared to avarice) resulting in sloppy practice. This happened to me early this past summer:

    I had been out shopping for houses with my pet-sitter. Over our years of working together, we have become friends and you can imagine that whenever she has a real estate question she comes to Greg or me for answers, much as my mother does. So we have nearly as firmly an established agency relationship as if I was looking for houses with my mother. One Sunday afternoon, my pet-sitter/friend/client was out with her husband and they stopped to look at an open house. This was after I had given her the speeches about procurring cause, after I had given her my business cards and a Passport, after we had figured on part of my commission going back to her to help her with closing costs. And of course, she liked the house and wanted me to write the offer. The buyer’s actions had created a procurring cause problem. I called the listing agent and explained the situation, but she stubbornly wanted to hang on to the buyer broker’s commission. Negotiation isn’t about beating up your opponent, it’s about understanding your opponent’s motivation. And during our conversation I learned that the listing agent had listed this $100,000 condo for 4%, offering 3 of those points to the buyer’s broker. An open house sale was the only hope this agent had of walking away with more than just covering her car expenses for the month. So we ended up splitting the buyer’s 3% three ways, which still gave my client the bump she needed to negotiate the rest of the terms of the offer. My guess is that even if this particular agent knew to ask the question that Russell’s agents always ask, she avoided it, hoping to earn a living that month off of the sale of this home.

    As with offering buyers a share of the buyer’s broker commission, buyers really don’t pay attention to our business. The buyer’s focus is on the house and how he’s going to pay for it. Maybe if our industry pays attention to Jay, this issue will trickle down and capture the buying client’s interest, too. Maybe, hopefully…

    I’m with Russell when he explains

    If it was you sitting on that Procuring Cause panel – would you vote to reward a poacher? Some other agent got them to the house or showed it to them and now “here is Jay to give them a discount if they would only use him”. What – really – is the difference between that and shoplifting? In both cases you are taking something that does not belong to you. You can say, “Well I am offering the consumer a discount – I’ll give them part of the commission back”. Only it would be a commission you did not earn. If you had your way there would be Realtors running ads that said, “After you find what you want with some other agent, call me and I’ll write it up for you – but I’ll give you some of the commission back”.

    Actually, that old cowbird Redfin is running those ads in Seattle and San Francisco.

    According to Jay,

    Until buyers are mirandized…letting them know, upfront, before any obligation is secretly created by thieves like you and your ilk, procuring cause has no place in the modern world.

    It is about a buyer’s right to representation. It is about a buyer’s right to know that they must do their homework-and decide whether they want representation, and from whom-before they are obligated by thieves like you.

    Yes, I know this is blustering, but maybe this is what’s needed to grab our attention. Not my personal style, but now Jay has been covered in two Bloodhound posts…

    Now that you have our attention, Jay, why don’t you share your solution with us? Would you just do away with using procuring cause as a means to understand who has earned the buyer’s broker commission? Just how do we get home buyers to protect their rights to chose their own representation?

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  • 7 comments

    The historical preservation movement deploys a veiled theivery to create compulsory museums

    Richard Riccelli asks

    Historic districts: Good for buyers? Sellers? Realtors? This guy??

    I say: depends on what the buyer wants; maybe but maybe not; neutral; that guy was robbed!

    Buyers of any property, real or personal, get to celebrate their own personal tastes by buying what they like and can afford. So are historic districts good for buyers? It depends on whether that’s important to the buyer. Some of my buying clients like HOAs, others loathe them. Some like brand-new builds, others want rambling ranches circa 1970. That’s their business. My business is to help them find whatever they want.

    I happen to prefer older homes to newer ones. But I don’t believe older homes are physically better than newer ones. Better architecture and craftsmanship come at a price… then and now. A house built for the middle class buyer of 1935 is probably of similar quality to a house built for today’s middle class buyer. Similar quality but less appropriate for today’s lifestyle. Yet the historic middle class home, particularly in an historic district, is more expensive for today’s buyer than the middle class home in the suburbs. Why? Because the historic home is more rare, and in a free market that makes it more precious.

    Right now there is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house listed on 124 W Coronado Rd in Phoenix’s Willo district. It’s a plain 2,277 square foot brick ranch with stained concrete floors and a single car garage that’s been converted to a storage facility. Because of the age, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of closets or kitchen storage. When the house was new, it would have been smaller — the second bath and master bedroom walk-in closet described in the listing would have been added later — and built for the working class. The asking price on this listing is $675,000.

    In Peoria, that $675,000 will buy you a 3 bedroom, 3.25 bath 3,045 square foot house with casita (separate guest quarters) and 3-car garage on a golf course lot. This house has a highly upgraded gourmet kitchen — stainless, granite, maple — with a wine room, among its luxury appointments. Peoria is a beautiful, upscale west-side suburb of Phoenix, and this property is in a gated adults-only golf community, Trilogy at Vistancia. The builder of this home had a more affluent buyer in mind than the Willo builder imagined in 1935.

    Both homes will appeal to people who care about living in a close knit, friendly neighborhood, but each of these homes will have its own target market. In both cases, rules are in place to keep the neighborhoods attractive. Trilogy at Vistancia has a home owner’s association, and houses in the Willo have to adhere to the rules of historic preservation.

    When a hopeful buyer offers to buy a house, standard language in Arizona’s Purchase Contract gives the buyer ten days to discover whether anything about the house is unacceptable to the buyer. During this period the buyer should look into the rules, covenants, policies of the HOA or historical preservation charter. If the rules are onerous to the prospective buyer, he can cancel the contract and be entitled to full refund of his earnest deposit — no harm, no foul. The buyer should know what all of the rules for owning the house are before he buys it.

    As long as this is so, as long as the house is bought by someone who is aware of the rules, and probably likes the rules, then when the buyer goes to sell the house, he’ll be selling to people of like mind. If being on an historic register is what tipped the balance on a buying decision when going in, then the seller can hope to appeal to the same sensibility on the way out. That presumes that the fashionable passion for older homes will persist, but it doesn’t seem likely to change in the near-term.

    But the case of Bob Higgins from Standish, Maine, which Richard pointed to, is a case where Bob’s family owned property, free of restrictions on their ownership. But busy-body neighbors used the long arm of the law to enforce their ideas of what to do with their neighbor’s property, even though the legal owner had other ideas for that property, and even though the community’s idea financially hurt their neighbor.

    Communities all over the country shuddered in the summer of 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that “local governments may force property owners to sell out and make way for private economic development when officials decide it would benefit the public.” That was wrong because the government took people’s private property and gave it to developers, who would profit from the theft. Compare that to neighborhood busy bodies who prevent a legal owner from making a profit off of his property if by doing so he upset the community’s sensibilities. If the neighbors didn’t want Mr. Higgins to sell his property to developers, they should have out-bid the developers, and then they could do with their own property as they wish. But wait… that means they, the busy body neighbors, would have to lose money, and that they couldn’t afford to do. Better to break Mr. Higgins!

    Greg and I live in North Central Phoenix. A couple of years ago property on Central Avenue became subject to land use restrictions, including prohibition on cutting down olive trees that were growing on private property. An old bridle path that extends several miles along the east side of Central, which is today used by joggers and dog-walkers, was designated historic. Now if one of the lovely mansions facing west on Central needs a new driveway, that driveway must respect the dirt ex-bridal path. This means the driveway can be concrete or asphalt or brick or marble, except where it crosses the ex-bridal path. There it must submit itself to a four-foot dirt interruption. Greg wrote a letter to the editor of the Phoenix North Central News when that issue was being discussed. He, of course, took the position contrary to the historical preservationists. The letter doesn’t survive electronically, but I’m copying it in part here:

    The word “community” always rankles me. It either means everyone (which is false) or a tiny minority of activists (which is true). Much if not most of the land in North Central is investor-owned (all of it is if homeowners consider themselves as investors, as they should). Investors seek the highest rate of return on their capital, and it seems specious to argue that they don’t want that in this special case. A tiny minority of activists might wish to take control of land they do not own, but this is clearly contrary to the long-term interests of the actual owners. If the laws sought are passed, their temporary effect will be to surround Central with higher-density development. The developers are already well-schooled in the amazing value of vertical development in the Central Corridor. (What’s slowing this, frankly, is that the ding-dong developers don’t know how to build in-city housing; project-by-project they’re catching on.) Some of the present residents may not want it, but all of the new residents are paying incredible premiums to get it. That’s why the long-term effect will be nil, because market forces, corruption or not, will prevail in the end. A possible short-term consequence of the passage of these laws will be a rash of hurried sales to take advantage of grandfathered rights — hastening rather than hindering the ultimate transformation of Central Avenue.

    Early this year, when Greg and I were listing one of our all-time favorite Phoenix houses for one of our all-time favorite friends, I took a friend to see the house. She had moved to Phoenix from Peru only about a year earlier, and had never seen any of Phoenix’s historical neighborhoods. She really had problems with the idea that this house had only one bathroom. She explained that in Peru even the smallest and cheapest home had at least two bathrooms. Her English is broken and I speak no Spanish at all, so we struggled as I tried to explain that I didn’t believe there are no Peruvian homes with just one bathroom. Before indoor plumbing, I explained, houses would have been built with no bathrooms. And some of those, the ones that belonged to the more prosperous, would have been converted to single bath homes at the advent of indoor plumbing. However, my friend kept insisting that every house has at least two bathrooms. So I finally concluded that any house built in Peru before say 1900, 1920, must have been destroyed before my friend was born. Finally she got it.

    “Oh no,” she said. “My grandparents live in an old house from the 1920s.”

    “And how many bathrooms does that house have?” I asked.

    “One.”

    “One?”

    “Yessss… but that’s not the same as this house.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because my grandparents live in a museum.”

    So again, we’re having a communication problem. But finally she gets me to understand that in Peru, when a house gets an historic designation, it is confiscated by the government’s preservation arm. The owners are given a life estate in the property, but they don’t have the rights to make any changes to the structure, nor to sell or bequeath it.

    And as contrary as this seems to the American idea of private property, it’s no more so than the confiscation by local, community preservation leagues.

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  • 2 comments

    Will real estate sell for higher prices in the company of a stunningly beautiful super model? And: What should you do about the drool . . . ?

    Our dear friend and marketing guru, Richard Riccelli, shared this marketing idea. Brilliant.

    The brokerage knows its target market, and my mom wouldn’t be in it. But Paramount Group wouldn’t want to sell her a home… and she couldn’t afford the houses they represent anyway.

    I don’t think we have enough super models in Phoenix for anyone here to steal the idea. Wonder if Phoenix prospects would settle for our own stunningly beautiful supermodel, Odysseus…

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