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Archive for May, 2008

Who’s a Mortgage Fiduciary?

Are you ready for the next big argument about fiduciary capacity? It’s coming in the form of national loan originator licensing and it promises to be a doozy.

The Federal Housing Finance and Regulatory Reform Act of 2008 is proposed legislation that seeks to license anyone who quotes rates or fees to borrowers (among other things). It’s a political stunt, veiled as consumer protection that is yet another revenue racket for the government. It’s requiring a 20 hour pre-licensing course, with testing and national fingerprint registry.

Anyway, there’s a lot of talk about “acting as a fiduciary” to the borrower. The rhetoric leads me to this conclusion; it just can’t be done (at least under the current environment). A fiduciary is someone who subordinates her interests to her client’s. I just can’t determine how a mortgage banker can TRULY act as a fiduciary; they don’t have all the product offerings available.

Wells Fargo doesn’t offer negative amortization loans . Contrary to what you hear in the media, there are times when a negative amortization loan is JUST what the doctor ordered. If someone has a large amount of debt, it might be in their best interest to defer interest (at 6.75% pre-tax) so that they can free up some cash flow to pay down the higher interest debt (at 13% post-tax). In this flat housing market, it may be the only chance someone has to improve their credit score by swapping 13% money for 6.75% money. Many bankers can’t offer that product. Would they refer that loan out to a specialist (like an attorney or doctor would) or “sell” the client on the “in-house” loan program?

Conversely, would a Wachovia originator, who just cashed a check at Bank of America and noticed that they aggressively priced their 15-year loan, refer that loan across the street or write it at .25% higher?

Mortgage brokers, then, should be perfectly positioned to act as “true” fiduciaries. If transparent brokerage compensation was pre-negotiated in an exclusive right-to-finance agreement (much like a buyer brokerage agreement for REALTORs), mortgage brokers would be the natural choice.

Two problems arise:

1- Borrowers are contractually bound to one lending option – no more shopping.

2- The mortgage broker may be duty-bound to offer a loan program which might conflict with the timeline of the purchase contract.

Would a “mortgage fiduciary” be required to offer valuation advice? Oftentimes lenders cut loan-to-value offerings after an appraisal review. That’s done to mitigate market risk to the lender. Should the “mortgage fiduciary” insist on offering that valuation opinion to the client, so that they can instruct their REALTOR to renegotiate the transaction?

See where I’m heading with this?

The true fiduciary, in any real estate transaction, is the representing REALTOR.

REALTORs recommend financing experts based on pricing, service, and most importantly, performance. Is it a breach of fiduciary capacity to recommend a higher priced loan originator with superior performance? Not if the lower-priced lender neglects the contractual obligations which might lead to a higher-priced transaction (penalties or forfeited deposits).

REALTORs are the “pricing experts”, attuned to the machinations of the local markets. Their valuation expertise is granular by design and superior to the “ivory tower view” lenders have in with “computer-modeled” opinions.

This essay sounds like I’m glorifying REALTORs and bashing lenders- I’m not. The current system, in my opinion, offers borrowers the best opportunity to get competitive advice and financing, through an open market system. Suitability should be recognized in the underwriting guidelines and proper client disclosure. If lenders want to lend people money, why should an originator deny the client that opportunity?

Borrowers need to read their loan disclosures, do their homework, and seek good mortgage advice…all under the watchful eye of the only fiduciary in the transaction; the REALTOR.

Sorry REALTOR gang. I think it sends a mixed message to have two “bosses”. This ball belongs in your court.

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  • 61 comments

    Imagineering Unchained Orlando: The All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

    Everything about taking BloodhoundBlog Unchained to Orlando is in flux until we find out what we can do about meeting rooms. Even so, I’m swimming in ideas for how I want it to work.

    As before, as always, I want for there to be a ton of hard-headed content. We set a new high-water mark for real estate conferences in Phoenix, and I want to bump that mark quite a bit higher.

    Here’s how my thoughts run right now, all subject to amendment by cruel reality and subsequent brainstorms:

    This is a one-day affair, and so it has to be a concentrated dose of that Unchained attitude. We also have to accommodate the comings and goings of the conventioneers, since it seems less than likely that they will all be available for the same one huge block of time.

    What I thought we might do is run the circus from 8 am to 8 pm, with Brian and I doing a four-hour show three times or a three-hour show four times — thus to deliver the most that we can to the greatest number of people. An even better idea: Two different three-hour shows, each delivered twice. Unchained in Phoenix was eleven-plus hours of content, but we could condense that down to a very highly-concentrated six hours of material.

    Then, in the next room over we could have a trade show floor with vendors we trust having an opportunity to present their value propositions and give away tee shirts and frisbees.

    And then in a third room, this one cut into three or four breakout rooms, we could offer hour-long breakout sessions aimed at every level of geek, from infra to ultra. We need beginner sessions. We need expert sessions. This is a way we can meet a multitude of needs. Twelve hours times three rooms could accommodate up to 36 unique class sessions. I would expect many sessions to be repeated through the day, but 36 class slots presents a lot of teaching opportunities.

    In the end, we end up with a sort of All-You-Can-Eat Buffet: Show up when you can, stay for as long as you want, learn as much as your brain can contain. That fits Orlando so well that I want to take it to Vegas, too!

    If you have ideas that I’m missing, don’t be shy about speaking up. We are what we are here because we engage some of the best minds in real estate. This is our big chance to talk to Realtors who want to do their best but, in many cases, know nothing at all about our world. If there is something more that we can do to make our case to them, we’ll be indebted to hear what it is.

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  • 26 comments

    Looking for the bottom? Real estate speculators are establishing the bottom-dollar price for lender-owned homes in Phoenix

    This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link).

     
    Looking for the bottom? Real estate speculators are establishing the bottom-dollar price for lender-owned homes in Phoenix

    If you’re looking for the bottom of the real estate market in Phoenix, chances are it’s right up the block. It’s that house with the jungle of overgrown weeds in front.

    It used to be for sale. Then it was a short sale. By now it’s lender-owned. A year ago it might have been listed for $250,000. Now the price has been slashed to $120,000 — maybe less.

    That’s a sad story, particularly if you knew the owners. And now, as you watch the parade of investors checking it out, you might feel a certain anger toward them.

    If so, your anger is misdirected. Between syrupy books and movies and high-strung high-school-teachers, we have been indoctrinated to despise speculators. But the truth is, speculators are the garbage collectors of capitalism. They come in and clean up messes they did not create, returning productive value to underperforming assets.

    It you’re looking for a villain in these stories, look to the borrower, to the lender or just to the vicissitudes of life. But it is the speculators who are going to bring the real estate market back to a viable state.

    How? By establishing the bottom-dollar price.

    What is your home really worth right now? It’s worth as much as the lowest-price lender-owned comparable plus the cost of returning that home to turn-key condition plus a small convenience premium. In other words, if the lender-owned house sells for $120,000, and if it will take $10,000 to make it as nice as your home, then your home is worth $135,000 — $140,000 at most.

    And if you’re not willing to sell you home for that price? Get it off the market right now. It will not sell for more, but the surplus of over-priced inventory is a false signal to buyers that the market has not found its bottom.

    If you must sell into this market, you’ll sell at the market price. If you can afford to wait, you will almost certainly do better after the market has turned.

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  • 13 comments

    1.0 = !.0 For Most Agents — What Old School M.O. Works For You?

    I used M.O. so once and for all I can say something here in Latin. Modus Operandi — there, I said it. In simple terms it means mode of operation. In real estate parlance, you work one way, the lady down the hall works another. Same results, different M.O.’s.

    So, in the 1.0 world of generating business — closed business — what works for you best?

    Let’s limit this discussion, for the benefit of those who aren’t doing as well as they’d like, to those agents closing a minimum of 24 deals a year. And remember, 1.0 M.O.’s only. This isn’t about the 2.0 world of electronic wizardry.

    Tell us what your M.O. is. What’s generating 24 or more transactions a year for you? How’d you learn it? From whom did you learn it? Have you added your own special sauce? Are you adding other 1.0 M.O.’s to your repertoire? Are you considering increasing your efforts using the same one?

    OK — your turn — fire at will.

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  • 24 comments

    Are you a professional practitioner or just an order-taking lackey? How to list a home for sale like you own the damn place

    I’ve written a ton about how we list homes for sale (and not just in that post; surfing the archives repays effort). At Unchained I illustrated some of our ideas, and you can catch this show on the DVDs if you missed it live. Everything we do is about selling the house — not selling us as a brokerage or as agents and not attracting buyers for other listings. We reap a substantial secondary marketing benefit from listing as hard as we do — both the efforts we undertake and our victory dance when we succeed — but our entire focus is on selling the house.

    There is more stuff I could talk about, and we are always playing with new ideas. It’s fun — for me at least — to work with buyers, but listing is a perfectible praxis: By the assiduous application of thought and effort, we can get better and better at it the more we do it. But there is a limit to that proposition: You cannot sell a house that won’t sell, and that’s what I want to talk about.

    But first: Listing in Phoenix right now, and in many other markets, can be a heart-breaking endeavor. There is too much inventory and there are too few buyers, and even the most perfect home can come up second-best again and again. “If you list, you’ll last,” but it could be that you’ll last a little better right now if you focus your attentions on motivated, qualified buyers, rather than speculating on sellers. You don’t have to blow off sellers, but I think you might be wise to reschedule listing appointments in favor of showing appointments, if one has to give way for the other.

    Here’s the real meat of the matter, though: How much will you get paid for a listing that does not sell?

    We charge a $1,500 non-refundable retainer when we list, but that doesn’t begin to cover our costs before we even hit the MLS. I’ll come back to this idea, but the point for now is that we actually lose money if our listings don’t sell. Even if you aren’t doing the kinds of things we do, the same must be true for you. You’re out your time for getting the listing into the MLS, and you’re out of pocket for expenses like virtual tours. If your listing doesn’t sell, you’re not only working for free, you’re actually taking a loss for your clients’ sake. They will continue to own the house if it hasn’t sold, but your investment is gone.

    (Just in passing, listing our way is a much bigger financial risk, but you stand a much better chance of actually selling the house — and hitting grand slam home runs will get you more listing appointments. It’s worth thinking about.)

    But the most important element of listing a home for sale like you own the damn place is to take account of your own investment in that home. If you know for sure that it will not sell — that it is over-priced or under-maintained or if the seller is so obnoxious that you know you’ll end up hating each other — don’t take the damn listing!

    If you list a home that won’t sell, you are not working for free. You are working at a loss! You can work for free by staying home and investing time in your social media marketing. You won’t make any money, at least not immediately, but you won’t lose anything beyond your daily bodily-maintenance expenses.

    You may think you can cajole an obstinate seller into seeing things your way eventually. But what if you can’t? You’re not only out your time and money, you have advertised to all the neighbors, for up to six months, that you stink as a listing agent. That’s a loss that just keeps on losing.

    We list on Price, Preparation — repairs and staging — and Presentation to the marketplace, and if we can’t have all three exactly the way we want them, we won’t take the listing. We will negotiate on smaller issues, but we won’t give any ground on our must-haves, and we’ll decline the listing if we feel we haven’t made it sufficiently clear why they are musts.

    This is a place where our blogsite helps a great deal: We want to work with people who understand exactly what they’re getting by engaging us — and who don’t want anything else. We know from experience that our marriage to our sellers will never be happier than it is at the listing appointment, so we won’t list the home if we’re not in love with them and them with us. Yes, this is business, but it’s a very emotional business. As with a real marriage, if one party is looking for the exit on the way in, the relationship is not going to work.

    And this is why the retainer is so valuable to us. It’s not a profit center: It covers some, not all, of our out-of-pocket costs and none of our labor. But it “pre-nups” the sellers: It puts them on notice that canceling the listing or blowing off less-than-ideal offers has a financial cost. We want for our sellers to have some skin in the game, so we make them write us a check before we will lift a finger in their behalf. Our listing presentation takes the form of a very friendly conversation, never the same thing twice. But if you want to find out if you can sell, sell the idea of an upfront retainer when all homeowners expect listing agents to work “for free” until close of escrow.

    This is our attitude going into a listing appointment: We are going to do our work our way. The sellers are engaging us to sell the home, but we are engaging them as well. We’re going to have a long list of things we will want them to do, and, if they won’t do them, we won’t take the listing. We’re going to set the pricing strategy, we’re going to formalize it in the contract, and then we’re going to hew to it as written. We’re going to market the home our way, picking the arrows from our marketing quiver that are most appropriate for selling that particular home. And if we can’t have all of our must-haves the way we must have them, we walk away without a backward glance.

    Are we mean about this? To the contrary. I might seem brusque to people, but it’s impossible not to love Cathleen. But we know from hard experience that yielding on any of our must-haves is a recipe for failure. If the sellers simply cannot let us do our work our way, we let someone else lose his or her money and reputation failing to sell that home.

    We’re working all of this out at just the right time — I hope. We turned down many millions of dollars of listings in the last eight months. It’s possible we might have sold some of them — but the agents who got the listings instead have not sold those homes. We’re not hitting home runs on every home we did list in that span of time, but we didn’t list a single home we didn’t believe we could sell. And if we’re right about what we’re doing, we should emerge from this downturn in a position where we can write our own ticket in the neighborhoods where we are strong.

    The bottom line: If you really are an expert at selling homes, sell that idea. When I’m showing, I see a lot of houses where the listing agent is obviously not in charge of the marketing process, but I cannot think of any reason why this should be so. Bad sellers deserve bad listers, I suppose, but why are there any bad listers? And why would anyone want to be a part of a marketing effort that is either doomed to failure — or can only succeed by massively discounting the property?

    You have a choice when you go out on a listing appointment. You can take listings that you know cannot sell on the terms set in the listing contract, which means that you stand at great risk of taking not only a financial loss but incurring an enduring loss to your reputation. Or you can list only for sellers who know — and know why — they are lucky to have you on their side.

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    True Confessions of A Real Estate Broker

    The times are indeed changing.  I am not a real estate salesperson.  I am the broker/co-owner of a small real estate office.    Please put the hammer away, Greg.  My partner Bob, and I, opened it up precisely in order to own our own systems,  and develop our own approach to business.  Initially, it was just us, but after over 25 years in the business I realized I wouldn’t mind having a few agents on board to help with the heavy lifting.  And while I certainly don’t want to milk any underlings, there are bills to pay.

    So here’s the question … In true Web 2.0 spirit I am putting it out to the community.

    Gentle readers, if you were a broker-owner of a small independent real estate office, just precisely how would you structure your business to survive in the Web 2.0 world?  Or is the extinction of the broker/salesperson model so close and inevitable that it would not be worth the effort?

    Could a small independent brokerage reinvent itself based on, say, a team concept?  What commission split would you offer agents?  What services would you provide for agents, or not provide?  

    Any and all comments and opinions are welcome.  Thank you, everyone.

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  • 44 comments

    Damn-straight department: “Greg Swann I believe has a better understanding of where the real estate industry is going than most people out there right now.”

    Real Estate Success Tools CEO Matthew Hardy speaking on BrokerIPTV.com:

    Greg Swann I believe has a better understanding of where the real estate industry is going than most people out there right now. Greg has a perspective on understanding that this is a bottom up industry, that the individual real estate agent, their ability, their ability to own their own technology, to own their own systems, to own their own approach to business, is what is changing the entire industry. It is wrapped up in this thing called Web 2.0, but it is all based upon the idea of control and the power for the individual real estate agent to do what they want to do for their business.

    You bet. We’ve known Matthew for more than a year, and his approach to business is very much like ours. If your income depends on milking underlings you think you have hypnotized into believing they need you, I cannot wait for the hammer of justice to fall on your head…

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    Mortgage Rates Higher at the End of May

    Here’s how bad it gets when the mortgage-backed securities market deteriorates:

    From May 21:

    This is a chart for the last 30 days for mortgage-backed securities.  When MBS prices go up, mortgage rates come down.  In this case, I noticed a meteoric rise in MBS prices in the last week in April (off a low of 99.5).  I called for clients to lock on May 2, 2008, when the 30 year fixed rate mortgage was at 5.875%.  Today, it has improved to 5.625%.

    Today, mortgage rates are over a half a point higher (in rate) :

    This is panic selling that we’re seeing in the fixed-income securities market.  I knew it would happen but I was early.  The 30-year fixed rate mortgage was at 5.625%, nine days ago.  Yesterday, it went to 6.0%.  Today a 30 -year fixed rate mortgage is at 6.25%.  Expect rates to be above 6.0% for the next two weeks; we should see them creep down by the end of June to the sub-6 level.

    Don’t fret- they’ll be back.

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  • 7 comments

    Agent branding is good, but Trulia.com is still deliberately hi-jacking street addresses, frustrating the interests of sellers

    I’m still digging out from Unchained, so this is not as timely as it might have been.

    First, I think we might have gotten distracted by whatever cozy arrangement does or does not exist between Trulia.com and Number 1 Agent.

    Second, I think Trulia’s recent announcement that agents can “brand” their own listings is a move in the right direction. Trulia has always seemed to me to play favorites with the White Shoe set, and giving the grunts on the ground a chance to compete with their bosses for their own business is… damned near decent.

    But: I am not prepared to yield on the main issue. When Trulia.com puts a “nofollow” on the link back to my single-property web site for my listing, it is depriving my sellers of the natural dominance they should have in Google over their own street address.

    The issue is one of canonicity. If Truila were giving my URL an ordinary HTML anchor link, then Google would know that my site is canonical and Trulia’s is derivative — which is undeniably the truth.

    By putting the “nofollow” tag on what is in fact a JavaScript link, Trulia is falsely implying that it is the canonical resource for information about that property.

    That much is a lie, but it gets worse: If someone Googles the street address for my property and finds my single-property web site, my sellers — through me — have an uncontested opportunity to sell their home to that potential buyer.

    If instead that potential buyer finds Trulia’s link to that home, the buyer is thrust into a vast supermarket of real estate, and the sellers are deprived of their opportunity to sell their home and their home only.

    This is not a dual agency issue here, this is simply a matter of giving sellers the best advantage they can possibly have from searches on their own street address.

    Because Google would regard a normal link as leading to a more canonical resource — regardless of differences in Page Rank — by putting a “nofollow” tag on its links to agent- and broker-supplied real estate listings, Trulia.com is deliberately hi-jacking the street address of the home as a search term.

    Enabling agents to brand their own listings is a move in the right direction, but it is not nearly enough. Trulia.com needs to revise its software to provide open and honest links to the actual canonical sources of information about its real estate listings.

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  • 17 comments

    What Hi-Tech Tool Helps Agents/Lenders The Most — Bottom Line Most

    Though I think I know the answer to this query, the answers might just surprise many of us. Also, it makes sense the answer for me might be third best for you, right? Hi-tech tools, not toys, are what we’re lookin’ for here. Though for some, blogs and/or websites might top the list, I’m eliminating them from the menu. For me they simply don’t qualify as hi-tech. I’m lookin’ for what you closet geeks out there are leveraging to the max.

    An incomplete list might include spreadsheets, presentation apps, Blackberrys, iPhones, data bases, and the list is almost endless.

    Or maybe there’s an office machine to which you attribute increased income. What hi-tech tool is performing like a champ in your business these days? How much impact has it actually had on your bottom line?

    For the legitimate geeks on steroids out there, what hi-tech stuff have you combined in order to build your personal Frankenstein tool? Or maybe there’s a group of apps out there that play well together.

    There’s no right answer here. Well, that’s not really the case. I think there’s a right answer, but what’s right for my operation might be on your B-List. As I’ve been known to say once or twice in the past, bottom line results is what we’re searchin’ for with this question.

    There you have it. Now, what’s performing for you from the Hi-Tech menu that’s translating into dead presidents?

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  • 34 comments

    A Little Tough Love: We Don’t Get Paid For Tryin’ — We Get Paid For Doin’

    Before beginning, and to head off the ‘you’re so mean’ crowd at the pass, I’m talking here of those things in our careers for which we, more or less, hold the reigns. We never totally control everything when it comes to our scorecard (read: results), but we can reasonably agree most (80/20?) of what we wish to accomplish is under our control to a greater or lesser extent.

    There was a short period when I was a trier. I empathize with those who say they tried hard in this business. I don’t feel sorry for them, but I empathize. I realize it sounds hard-hearted, but for Heaven’s sake, they don’t even believe themselves. They were the ones not doing what they knew what had to be done to produce results, right? My money says they were there at the precise moments they weren’t doing them.

    In other words, around here‘The dog ate my homework’ will fall on deaf ears.

    I made a comment on Russell Shaw’s most recent post. I’ve always loved the way Russell pokes good hearted fun at old sayings. In this case it was, ‘work hard, play hard’. I’m with him in saying, whatever that means. I prefer to work hard and play however it pleases me. Isn’t that at least part of the reason I’m working hard in the first place? Duh. Sorry, I digress.

    Anyway, he pointed out the difference between ‘having to’ and ‘wanting to’. As usual with Russell, he nailed it. Russell inspires me with his uncanny ability to do surgery painlessly, yet without anesthesia. His post is what brought to mind the whole Try vs Do thing with which we all have struggled at one time or another.

    Here’s my comment verbatim.

    I truly don’t mean to be harsh here, as there is some real suffering out there amongst the RE community. Still, there are two classes of agents.

    Those who DO, and those who Try.

    Do you ‘try’ to prospect daily, or do you ‘prospect daily?’

    Labeling this line of thinking as ‘positive thinking’ replaces doing with trying.

    Those for whom results are the only measuring stick, don’t ‘try’ to do anything — they’re too busy getting things actually done.

    As a young agent I was constantly told, “Don’t make excuses Brown, make good.”

    I wasn’t allowed to try.

    For those out there who’ve survived, even by the narrowest of margins, to commit the daily act of real estate once again, I posit the following.

    Trying and failing is still failing. We’re not paid for trying, and certainly not for failing. Those for whom the appearance of intense effort provides salve for your conscience? Thinking is only productive when it’s followed by doing — some would say action. It’s amazing what fantasies we create as we plot to guarantee our own failure, all the while ensuring it appears we did everything possible to succeed. We humans are unreal at times, aren’t we?

    Do yourself a favor and stop putting out what comes from the south end of a northbound bull. This isn’t the ‘everyone’s a winner’ pretend world of kids’ sports leagues, where showing up ‘merits’ yet another trophy, or blue ribbon. This is real life. There are winners and losers. Successes and failures. Large financial rewards and ‘I gotta get a real job’ reality.

    This is the world where trying is never rewarded in terms your banker, or your clients understand.

    Since Nixon’s first year in office I’ve watched those, including myself at times, perfect the skill of appearing to be working in the real estate business. Russell speaks about demanding what we want to accomplish instead of thinking in terms of wanting.

    We can put it in so many ways.

    From where I’m sitting it comes down to two principles.

    1. You’re gonna become what you think about most. Hat tip to Solomon, but quoted in various versions by everyone everywhere. And for the record? It matters not who quotes or paraphrases it. A principle is a principle regardless of who applies it. Whether it’s Forrest Gump who says gravity will makes us fall down instead of up, or Einstein himself — down is still the direction we’ll be falling.

    2. There are those who try, and those who do. The way to tell the difference is listening for the excuses, dressed up as explanations made by the triers.

    When was the last time you tried to eat lunch, fill your car with gas, or hug your kids? Ah, I sense lights going on.

    We don’t try to succeed in our real estate careers, we decide to. We decided to get married. Or did you just try to get married? Really? Yet there are those who will look us right in the eye, serious as a heart attack, obviously thinking we’re stoopid, while telling us they’ve been trying really, really hard to earn their way in real estate.

    I feel for these folks, ‘cuz just as Russell so expertly put it, they wanted to do what it took, but didn’t have to. I’ll take it a step further, and say, as we all know in that special part of our hearts that never lies to us — they knew every single time they wanted to do what would produce the desired results, but chose some other course.

    They preferred the appearance of trying to the act of doing.

    How are they not mortally embarrassed by this script, reminiscent of a lousy sit-com? Do they realize their listeners are embarrassed for them? I look back when it was me lobbing up lame excuses, and am red-faced to the point of glowing in the dark just thinking about it. Though it was in another lifetime, I still remember how important it was to convince my audience of my heroic, yet fruitless efforts to succeed. By the time I was finished spinning my tales of woe, Homer was ashamed he’d ever called himself a poet.

    Again, I don’t mean to be harsh. But sell that crappola to someone who is buying. And you know who the #1 person in your life who isn’t buying?

    I mean, besides your spouse?

    That pesky person in the mirror.

    Turn the page. Beginning today, stop trying and start doing. It’s an incredible lifestyle. Once you’ve done it a few times in a row, you’ll never go back. It’s addictive. Before you know it, you’ll be going from success to success. When it seems difficult, ask yourself how difficult it was to eat lunch yesterday.

    Pretty soon you’ll be eatin’ everyone’s lunch.

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    All roads lead to Rome, but where three roads converge, the trivia that is yet another meme game is to be found

    Eight questions, eight mostly inadequate answers:

    1. Who is your favorite musical artist? (post a youtube video)

    I like so much stuff that this becomes completely unfair. If you watch my choices of videos on BHB, those doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of my tastes. The folks at Unchained got to hear songs from my iTunes library, which includes a lot of bootlegs and otherwise unobtainable stuff. All that notwithstanding, if I had to pick one first-among-equals favorite, it would be Bob Dylan. But just writing that feels like a betrayal, because everything I love in art comes from a kind of visceral honesty that Dylan almost never achieves — mostly studiously avoids. But take a look at this:

    The real Blind Willie McTell was a fairly ordinary early blues musician. He was nothing compared to Skip James, in my opinion. And why is Dylan celebrating the blues in a ballad? I think McTell is a cypher for Dylan in this song, and I think this is as close to an auto-encomium as we can ever expect from the man. In any case, this is great art from the first note to the last, an Apollonian frenzy made more violent because it is so tightly constrained.

    2. Who is your favorite artist (post a flicker photo)

    I don’t have a favorite visual artist. Of everything I’ve seen, Rodin is the most interesting to me, this because he is truly in love with humanity. I’ve worked in photography most of my life, at one time very seriously. I hate almost everything associated with the visual arts.

    3. Who is your favorite blogger?

    Again I must disappoint. Everything I love in art is a form of literature — even the music I love best. Almost no one in the history of literature was able to write both very quickly and very well. Shakespeare could, as could Mencken, but they don’t update their blogs that often. There’s no one in the world of weblogs who makes me crazy like the great writers of the world’s literature. How could there be? That’s an unfair standard to judge by. To have even one great mind alive and writing at any particular moment in time is rare enough. To have that person writing a weblog would quite possibly be an obscene waste of an irreplaceable talent.

    4. If you could meet anyone (alive or dead), who would it be and what is the most interesting thing about them?

    I could name dozens of people I would like to talk to — and this is a vanity at best. There is no reason to think that I could gain access to Socrates, for example, nor any reason to suppose that he would not cut me to ribbons with half an incisive question. I believe a Harvard MBA and a pilot of military jets is probably a very smart man, despite his verbal infelicities, but I have so far been unable to obtain an interview with George Bush to determine to my own satisfaction if he is a tongue-tied genius or a very fortunate dunce. Why should I have any better results with dead people?

    Even so, I would dearly love to spend half an hour with Gaius Julius Caesar. We live in the world we do — up to our ears in riches we don’t have the grace to appreciate — because of maybe ten or twelve true geniuses in human history. Without those dozen giants, the rest of us would never have risen from the mud and blood and shit that is the “natural” destiny of most human “civilizations.” Caesar was killed because he was a truly great man in what was by then an oligarchy of mediocrities. It seems plausible to me that, had he lived, he might well have brought the maths of India to the Western world centuries ahead of their slow transit across the Middle East. Had Caesar lived, the by-then decadent Roman empire might have been revitalized. The Dark Ages might have been avoided, and the age of wonders we live in now might have come to us a thousand years sooner. What a hugely consequential murder!

    We are an implausibly lucky species — and an atrociously ungrateful one. The 300 was a thrilling action/adventure movie, but the real story is this one: If Leonidas had not held out at Thermopylae for that third day, everything that we take for granted would have been destroyed. We would live as virtually all of humanity has lived for virtually all of human history — as slaves to scheming despots. We are lucky enough to be what we are because of the strength and genius of a very few great men — whose names we never trouble ourselves to learn.

    5. What did you want to be when you grew up?

    Untouched. It’s a lot more work than you’d think.

    6. What is the most interesting piece of trivia you know?

    Apparently, that genu in Latin means “knee.” Seriously, I have a brain full of neat ideas that most people would call trivia, but nothing of humanity is boring to me. If people are listening to me, I can make anything fascinating. If they’re not listening to me, then everything I say is boring. I mainly don’t want to talk to people at all, but I can always tell if they’re not actually listening to the words I’m saying. That’s about as close as I get to sadness, to feel that I’m saying things that I know are novel and fun, and to watch the person I’m talking to try to respond to what they think they heard, rather to the actual sounds still ringing in the air. People who pay attention to real life, rather than to scripts in their minds, matter to me a great deal. Incidentally, tri via is the intersection of three roads. The Romans would post news there, so it would be carried off in all directions.

    7. If you could live in any point in history what would it be and why?

    Now. No other moment. I am fascinated by many key events in history, but there is no other world more perfectly suited to me than this one. I mean that without reservation. The world I grew up in was inadequate in many significant ways, but it seems like, year-by-year, the world is growing more and more like the one I would design for myself as an artifact of the imagination. I could wish that people were better educated or wiser or more thoughtful or more willing to rebel against authority. But hide and watch: The internet is inculcating humanity into the Liberal Arts in a way that no other civilization has done before ours. It’s plausible to me now that I could live to see the perfect freedom of Greek civilization spread to every corner of the earth — and to every corner of every human mind. This is the most amazingly beautiful time for anyone to be alive.

    8. What is the most interesting job you have ever held?

    Husband. If I live long enough, I might get good at it.

    Now: Here’s the real truth: I don’t like these silly games. Jeff Belonger nominated me for this particular episode of memeification. (Colleen Kulikowski, too.) I am obliged, in my turn, to nominate eight more victims. Except I don’t wanna. This is really a link-baiting game, and the “right” way to link-bait is “up” — to try to get higher-ranked weblogs to link “down” to you. I don’t want to do that at all, obviously, but I don’t want to stick eight innocents with an unchosen burden in any case.

    So: Let’s try things this way instead: If you want to have been nominated for this meme game, consider that you have been. I don’t care if that means eight people do this — or eighty — or none. But if you want to tell the world your answers to these questions, get busy. You can link back to me or not, your choice. Be honest. Be thoughtful. Have fun. Better yet: Do what you want. That’s what I’m doing.

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    As much as we love to make custom yard signs for our listings, we keep an inventory of our favorite sign in stock

    This is the sign that sells listings:

    It rarely hangs for more than a month. We keep ten of them in stock, and I can’t wait for the day when we need ten more…

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    NAR/DOJ settlement: “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…”

    After years of song and dance, the DOJ reached a settlement with the NAR that seems to have achieved absolutely nothing — except the waste of a bunch of tax and dues money. At least that’s what you would think if you read nothing but the NAR’s spin. In fact, the NAR lost the major point of contention, the attested right of brokers to withhold listings from Virtual Office Websites (VOWs). From eWeek.com:

    The Department of Justice said May 27 it has reached a settlement in its long-running legal dispute with the National Association of Realtors. Under the terms of the settlement, the Realtors will enact a new policy that guarantees Internet-based brokerage companies will not be treated differently than traditional brokers. 

    Under the new policy, Realtor-affiliated brokers participating in multiple listing services will be prohibited from withholding their listings from brokers who use virtual office websites, generally known as VOWs. The Realtors agreed to a 10-year settlement to ensure the group continues to abide by the requirements of the settlement.

    “Today’s settlement prevents traditional brokers from deliberately impeding competition,” Deborah A. Garza, deputy assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, said in a statement. “When there is unfettered competition from brokers with innovative and efficient approaches to the residential real estate market, consumers are likely to receive better services and pay lower commission rates.”

    The Realtors also agreed to adopt antitrust compliance training programs that will instruct local associations of about the antitrust laws generally and about the requirements of the proposed settlement. The National Association of Realtors is a trade association of more than 1.2 million residential real estate members who operate in local real estate markets nationwide.

    That sounds like something, but it ain’t. For one thing, the NAR gets to define what a VOW is. From its own press release:

    The terms of the proposed final order validate NAR’s position – that MLS members must be actively engaged in real estate brokerage by actually helping people buy or sell homes. This will ensure that MLSs are used for what they were originally intended to do – to help real estate professionals find buyers for people who want to sell their homes.

    But, even so: Who cares?

    No one uses VOWs by now, and it’s small potatoes if they do. Meanwhile, occupational licensing creates a cartel. Broker licensing creates a sinecure for brokers. Withholding tax exclusion turns brokerages into dairies for milking gullible agents. Sellers — via their listing agents — paying the buyer’s agent’s commission makes a mockery of buyer’s agency and enshrines sub-agency behind a camouflage of tattered lace. Persistent pressure by branches of the NAR to pass anti-competitive legislation sustains artificially high price levels and outrageously low service levels. And all of this entirely ignores the nation’s psychotic monetary policy, its insane real estate-favoring tax laws and the persistent pandemic mess in the mortgage markets. The real estate industry could not possibly be any more screwed up than it is right now. But don’t worry. After years of nattering and millions of wasted dollars, the deck chairs on the Titanic have been moved! Hurray!

    I expected nothing from this, and, lucky me, I got it.

    Thomas Johnson forwarded the NAR’s press release to me, and he says this in email:

    My take: DOJ has no interest in kicking an industry when it is down in an election year. Looks like the sellers will be paying both sides for another decade or so. We now get to see the victory dances of both sides in the media. DOJ gets to claim that VOWs have been cleaned up and the MLS’s get to keep on keeping on (who uses VOW’s, anyway?). Score one for the status quo.

    I’m inclined to agree. The press release itself is indicative: It’s almost entirely about how to spin the media. No kidding.

    Here’s my take: If you want to see a better real estate practice in the United States, you will have to make it better. You can’t do much about the NAR or the Fed or the DOJ, but you can do everything you can to push the bums out of this business. I hate it that my dues money goes to support people who will frustrate true competition in any way they can, but their days are numbered. The wired world of real estate belongs to us. My plan is to make it impossible for these lazy leeches to compete against me. How about you?

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    Building Content for Others …when is it right?

    First off, I’d like to thank Eric Bramlett for a great post explaining the BASICS of links and linking to other sites. What he was doing was setting a good foundational understanding based on known facts and avoid much of the speculation that exists out there in the world today about Search Engine Optimization. What he did not go into of that basic foundation, I’d now like to explore a bit further.

    Here are some facts that we know about Building Content on other peoples’ sites:

    Fact 1: Adding content on another person’s site builds opportunities for them to build internal links. Internal links (read: pages) have value

    Item #1 that he did not go into was internal links vs external links. Internal links are the links to and from pages within your site. Let’s (for now) avoid the temptation to go into page rank sculpting, internal link sculpting, or the details of internal page structure. Please note that I have linked to a couple of resources there on the subject for your further reading if desired. Do we KNOW exactly how Google values internal vs external links. NO. Is there much speculation and testing on the concept. YES. True search engine professionals TEST these concepts as they change over time and they RARELY comment on them publicly. They often compare notes with other search engine professionals who are testing similar concepts. What we do know is that experienced webmasters can made GOOD use of hundreds or thousands of indexed pages to internally link and support pages that they want to rank for a given term. They would not be SCULPTING it if it did not have VALUE.

    Fact 2: Adding Content on another person’s site provides opportunities for more people to EXTERNALLY link to their site.

    Whether I write here on the Bloodhound Blog, on Real Estate Webmasters, or as a columnist on RE/MAX Times Online, people who read that can link to it externally. This is also true of comments on blogs and forums, LISTINGS and really, on ANY online community that you choose to participate and spend time in. This not only DIRECTLY helps the site I write on, but also INDIRECTLY helps them by inciting more people to link to them. Several times (Think Todd Kaufman or E-Perks), the blogging community has linked to a specific post to promote a cause and give it voice. This is how BUZZ is developed online. It is the basis for how marketing works on the web. All business on the web is REFERRAL based in one way or the other (which is part of the genius of the original two Google guys’ approach).

    In this sense UGC (user generated content) is NOT about keywords. It is about thoughts and ideas and stimulating conversations. In my opinion, this has MUCH more value for the site that it is written on than most people realize.

    Fact 3: User Generated Content is FAR less costly to generate than website owner generated content.

    For a national site to generate enough content, interest, buzz and links in the real estate world, they NEED a STRONG community of REALTORS. It is cost prohibitive for them to hire enough staff or contract labor to accomplish this. Why do that when REALTORS will do it for FREE?

    As Greg as said previously (cannot find it–sorry Greg), “Vanity, thy name is author”. He was/is right.

    The bottomline:

    We DO know that user generated content is an asset and (especially in the hands of someone skilled at wringing the most search engine advantage out of it), 1000 pages of it can go a LONG ways.

    An equalizing fact:

    Fact 4: Adding our content to other people’s sites can build our own online authority, helping the author as much as the site it is on.

    From a purely SEO point of view:

    Yes, it is true that if someone TOTALLY made their decisions about where they write based on getting the MOST SEO benefit, they could derive benefit in the search engines purely from WHERE they choose to write their content. Is that the CORRECT way to evaluate it? NEVER, IMO. We have a NAME for people who SOLELY evaluate things that way. SPAMMERS. Why do they do it? Because it works, or did at one time.

    From a holistic point of view :

    I am a columnist for RE/MAX Times Online– an online magazine that is on the Password protected REMAX.net site that provides NO search engine benefit to ANYONE. Why do I write there occaissionally? Because it builds my online authority. It adds to my street cred and it furthers my personal mission of helping REALTORS. It is THIS kind of authority building that helps build relationships around the real estate world.

    I also (from comments, posts and relationships online) DO derive search engine benefit FROM writing around the web. Examples of this for me would be authoring here and at Real Estate Webmasters. This is a nice benefit. It should be considered IMO, when spending copious amounts of time authoring QUALITY material.

    For most types of content, it is better to spend time on your own site than authoring on the site of another. Having said that, becoming a member of an online COMMUNITY such as here at BHB can be a very good thing! Learning is one of those overlooked benefits that comes from an online community.

    Trading hundreds of hours of online time in exchange for a simple link from a profile page (although Greg pointed out CORRECTLY that if you participate, at least get the credit for it.), well ummm…SUCKS unless you AGREE wholeheartedly with the mission of the place you are adding value to and are WILLING to support their cause. Doing that for a competitor who is trying to outrank you in the search engines and who says **cough** “no agents required” **cough**…Truly (a) seems counter-productive to me.

    I realize that rather than delving into the vagaries of Search Engine Optimization, my post may seem very basic. The reason? IMO Basic principles work. From these basic truths come basic principles that form good decision making (again, in my opinion).

    If we KNOW that adding content to someone else’s site adds value to them (even looking at it PURELY from an SEO point of view–which I don’t recommend) , we SHOULD be able to develop our own algorithm for when it is good to add content to others’ sites, to wit:

    My bottom line ALGORITHM for authoring on others’ websites:

    F(good authoring relationship) = C(0) + 1Ag + 2R + 3S + 4ABO

    Where C = competition Note: I try to write on a competitor’s website as little as absolutely possible and ONLY when it benefits ME. That INCLUDES adding content in the form of listings. That is the MOST valuable and hardest to replicate form of content in the real estate industry today. That is an almost AUTOMATIC deal killer in my algorithm.

    Ag= Agreement with their mission

    R= Solid relationship with the owner of the site

    S= Search Engine Benefit

    ABO= Authority Building Opportunity DIRECTLY with potential clients

    So what’s YOUR algorithm and how do you decide how to prioritize YOUR social media and content generating time spend? If time is money (and it is…) are you budgeting and spending according to plan?

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