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Archive for August, 2008

Prom night in Dayton: Politicians pucker up, but I’m keeping my assests close to home.

Ah yes, it’s an election year. How do I know for certain? As Jeff Brown, who’s married to a native Ohioan- smart guy- recently twittered to me: “Ohioans’re gonna be very popular in the next 9 weeks. As usual, you guys are the babe at the prom without a date.”

Every four years we are courted and kissed by those same folks who forget we are here the rest of the time. I don’t welcome or enjoy the attention. I wish the federal government would forget we are here completely. I don’t want to be trotted out as an example of what went wrong with this or that administration. Don’t use Dayton to push your agenda and don’t use Dayton to make yourself feel good. Don’t do me any favors.

Dayton native Emily Langer wrote an article, Excuse Me, But I’m From Ohio, in the Washington Post today, accurately describing the strange political position in which Ohio, and the Midwest, finds itself every four years. In part:

Presidential candidates, in their efforts to look like regular folks, are among the chief purveyors of one of the most destructive stereotypes of Midwesterners: the working stiff who can’t work, thanks to the Rust Belt hemorrhaging all those jobs. During a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry set up shop outside a boarded-up building so that photos and television footage would show the city’s “ugly rump,” as the New York Times wrote, rather than the new office building across the street. No hard feelings, senator. The voters of Youngstown understood: It was easier for you to show that Ohioans needed your help if you pretended that they couldn’t help themselves.

Reporters do their part as well, stocking their dispatches from the Midwest with caricatures of down-at-the-heels factory workers and embittered waitresses. If you read enough of that prattle, you might start to wonder: Don’t these people have anything better to do than sit around carping about NAFTA? Don’t they know that McCain was just being honest when he said that some of Michigan’s vanished jobs won’t reappear? And by the way, don’t they realize that anybody who thinks Obama hates America is a fool? The answer to all those questions is, yes, of course they do.

Forbes.com would also have you believe that there is no hope for the heartland and recently put eight Midwestern places, including Dayton, on a list of America’s 10 fastest-dying cities. But they failed to factor into their questionable formulas and calculations the resilience of a population whose land used to be a frontier. Corn grown by Iowa farmers looks less quaint and more cutting-edge now that it’s helping run cars. Illinois businesses are making good money exporting computers and electronics to China. And somehow, the Indianapolis 500 keeps putting butts in the seats.

I can’t change the perception the rest of the country has of Dayton and Ohio. Nor do I really care to. As Larry Yatkowsky says: “there’s a lot wrong with lots of places but each of them are our homes and that makes them special.” We all have our reasons for living where we do. I’m in Dayton because the people I love more than anything else in the world are here, and that’s a damn good reason to be anywhere. I would argue it’s the only damn reason to be anywhere.

Ms. Langer writes:

My Midwestern parents are sophisticated enough to know that children have been venturing out on their own since the beginning of time, sometimes to look for someplace more exciting, other times because that’s just how life unfolds, hardly ever to turn their backs on their families and almost always to make them proud. I hit pay dirt the day I was born in Ohio, and if I ever move back, I’ll hit pay dirt again.

“I hit pay dirt the day I was born in Ohio” My god, that’s lovely.

I just started working with a native Daytonian who is moving back from a stint on the east coast. Why? To come “home”, to be close to family, to settle down and start their own family, right here in Dayton. I’ve been showing properties to a couple who are moving to Dayton so he can start a business. These people aren’t investors scooping up deals, these are “just folks” who are happily putting down roots, right here in Dayton.

While I can’t say I’m putting up yard signs all over this town, I can say that I’m still plugging along in this business, in this town, both of which should be belly up by now, according to news flashes all across the country. Boo hoo, poor poor pitiful me? Hell no! I won’t go! This is my home: I work here, I live here, I love here. And I’m happy to be helping other people find a home so perhaps they can experience the same sense of… I dunno- Daytonianism? Home? Ease? Contentment? Whatever it’s called, that intangible sense of ownership that we as Realtors help people achieve, is something I love to do, and whaddya know? That sense of owning a home is something that people in Dayton still desparately want to do. My guess is that people in your town feel the same way about owning a home.

Dear Mr. McCain, and Mr. Obama, while you are attentive now, I know how fickle politicians can be. I also know who I am, and unlike you, I know this place in which I live. I have a life to attend to, and believe it or not, it doesn’t have much to do with you. And now if you’ll excuse me, I prefer to dance with them that brung me.

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    With its new iPhone application, Trulia.com is taking on-line real estate search to the streets

    This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link). There is a fuller review of this new technology here.

     
    With its new iPhone application, Trulia.com is taking on-line real estate search to the streets

    So who is winning the Realty.bot race, Trulia.com or Zillow.com? Your guess is as good as anyone’s, but this week marks a decisive change in the game: Trulia just released an iPhone application.

    Trulia Mobile will offer a limited set of location-based searches from Apple’s iPhone, from an array of other smartphones and from Dash Navigation GPS devices. The user-experience will differ by device, but the design premise is based on location-sensitivity: Your iPhone always knows where you are, so it can interact with Trulia’s file servers to show you a list of nearby listings or open houses. You can get a detailed summary for each home on your list, and you can then email the listing to a friend, contact the listing agent directly or map the home so that you can hop over for a quick peek.

    It’s hard to argue with the design premise: If people are going to go out house-hunting on their own, whether they are really looking for a house or simply touring open houses for decorating ideas, why not use the location-sensing power of modern electronics to hook them into Trulia’s listings database?

    The ability to contact the listing agent plausibly increases the likelihood of dual agency transactions, but the fact of life is that many, many people are at least starting their home search without the advice of a buyer’s agent.

    But here’s the bonus that popped out at me when I heard about Trulia’s iPhone application: Listing agents who want to compete for mobile-empowered buyers need to get their listings into Trulia and they need to keep their open house schedules up to date. I like anything that makes listers more diligent in their duties to their clients.

    The iPhone application is slick and useful as written, this because “data is the new Intel-inside” and Trulia has a rich store of data to draw upon. The usual caveats about opt-in versus MLS listings apply, along with concerns about decay among voluntarily-maintained listings. But, all that notwithstanding: Trulia’s mobile-computing initiative is cool.

    Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

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    Adam Brickley – Do you know him? You should.

    Who is Adam Brickley?

    Well before I go there, let me say that this post is NOT political. It is about the power of blogging. When Dan Rather and CBS news botched their report of George Bush shortly before the 2004 elections, it was bloggers who brought it to light. A novel concept at the time. But those bloggers went largely unnamed. This one won’t.

    Now enter Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, but a virtual unknown to the Washington DC power circles. Besides, who would want someone from ALASKA to be a VP candidate? It went against all of the normal calculations of the electoral map.

    Enter a 21 year old college sophomore and blogger, one Adam Brickley. Hat tip to Slate.com. He and a few friends started a blog to DRAFT Sarah Palin as the Republican VP candidate. The month was February 2007. They started into Facebook, Wikipedia and other venues as they went. Totally new media at first. 100% EARNED media.

    Then some media members started to notice. Notably Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard. Later that exposure grew to include Rush Limbaugh. This merry little band started to grow and even some of the campaigns took notice…

    And then Sarah Palin was named to be John McCain’s running mate.

    This last Friday, young Adam got a phone call from two new friends, Todd and Sarah Palin, on the day she was announced as a candidate for Vice President. Here are the details. And he has not slept much at all since then, handling all of the press. Pretty cool, huh?

    Like I said, this post was not about politics, but rather about the power of blogging and its ability to influence the media and the powers that be.

    If a 21 year old college sophomore blogger can impact the presidential elections, we (collectively) should be able to impact the constant negative spin of the mainstream press on OUR industry, don’tcha think? (grin)

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    Living in the cloud, Part I: Rethinking our email strategy

    The other day I went through our cloud-centered email strategy:

    I have my mail set up like this: From my iMac in the office, certain categories of email — initial client contacts plus mail from anyone in my Address Book — are redirected to a unique iPhone-only gmail account. That way, I get echoes of the mail that matters to me, with zero spam. The iPhone’s mail account won’t honor my gmail Reply To setting, which sucks, but, as above, the advantage is that I have my important email wherever I happen to be working.

    I thought it was adequate at the time. But then the power failed…

    In circumstances like these, I have fallen back to SquirrelMail, a Unix-based server-side mail client. That turns out to be less than ideal.

    We got the power back today, and I was ready at once to implement our new email strategy.

    Note that this little episode illustrates why it is so useful to control your own web hosting, at least at the mail-server level.

    Here’s what we’re doing, as of this afternoon:

    At the file server, my main email account (GregSwann@BloodhoundRealty.com) is being echoed to a new gmail account I created today. That account is simply intended to be a duplicate catch-all for all my inbound mail.

    My iMac continues to receive my mail and to process it according to the rules discussed above — provided my iMac is working.

    Under normal conditions, my email will be handled just as described above. But in the event of a power failure or serious crash, I will still have access to all of my mail from any computer anywhere, including my iPhone, without having to screw around with SquirrelMail.

    Our cloud strategies are all about redundancy. I don’t care that I might have to react to up to three copies of any piece of email. My fear is that instead of three copies I will have zero copies to work with.

    I worked out a redundant cloud-based fax strategy, too, that I’ll be talking about later.

    Technorati Tags: , ,

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    Zillow.com: The “REconometrics” Firm of the Future?

    Have you been watching Zillow.com lately, in the press? They’ve done a nice job at selling the mainstream media that they are the “real estate statistics” firm of choice. With the introduction of Zillow Mortgage Marketplace, they are aggregating real-time live quotes and are positioned to trump other media sites for accurate mortgage rates reporting.

    I”ve admitted that I’m a Zillow-phile. As a mortgage wonk, I love the data they gather and the reports they publish. I read Spencer Raskoff’s Active Rain Blog, weekly. I’m constantly comparing my terms offerings to the realistic quotes on ZMM (I’m a few hundred bucks more expensive but a helluva lot cheaper than the average quote-ask me why sometime). Their Zestimates are getting more accurate as they rewrite their algorithms and gather more market data. As a reporting service, Zillow could and should take the national lead.

    Lately, I’m starting to see Zillow try to emerge as an advisory firm of sorts which is fascinating to me. I’m not speculating here, watch what’s happening:

    I started reading Spencer’s blog with this post about trading commissions; I realized that we had a common background and that we probably speak the same language. This recommendation confirmed that thought.

    This was the first time I saw Zillow offering its data as analysis, by Zillow economist Stan Humphries. Then, Spencer Raskoff suggested that Zillow would have prevented the rampant speculation, from 2004-6. Interviews on Bloomberg, radio shows, and CNBC, all “reporting” about the rapid decline, with really cool granular data. Most recently, I spotted Spencer on Bloomberg, reporting about the decline and offering his prognostication about the market. Today, Spencer took a well-deserved pot shot at the NAR economists.

    Silly Active Rain chatter? I think not. It’s my opinion that Zillow.com is fashioning itself as the econometrics firm for real estate, I call it “REconometerics” just to give it a name. Where will they take that “new” product? They can:

    • Publish the data, like a newspaper, as interesting content for readers,so that Zillow can sell more ads.
    • They can create an investment advisory service, helping wealthy landowners properly manage their real estate assets.
    • They can create a research service/newsletter, destined to become an industry standard.

    Maybe I’m wrong but I’m watching the wonks at Zillow start to make market predictions. I’d like to see them publish their predictions rather than criticize the other economists. We can start right here, on BloodhoundBlog Radio.

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    Mortgage Market Week in Review…..

    Sorry this is a little late.   Had a closing out of town and it tied up a lot of my afternoon.

    Happy Labor Day weekend! I hope that you take some time to enjoy a very relaxing weekend on the last long weekend of the summer.   Due to the fact that it’s the Holiday Weekend, I’m not going to make this as long as some of the others have been.    So here’s what’s been going on in the mortgage world:

    1. Fannie and Freddie – while nothing has changed substantially, the immediate market fears over Fannie and Freddie have diminished somewhat.   I guess you could describe it as a situation where it’s still cloudy and rainy, but the worst of the storm has passed for now.

    2. Credit Markets – there is continuing fear and questions regarding the status of the credit markets.   How big of a problem is there floating under the water yet?  I’ve heard rumblings that as Fannie and Freddie’s shares have fallen in value and as it’s rumored that when (not if) the Fed does bail out Fannie and Freddie, the shares will go to zero.   Many banks own substantial shares in those two companies and a reduction in their holdings to zero will require additional writedowns and additional belt tightening on their parts.   That doesn’t bode well for the health of the banks.   Speaking of banks, there’s some questions about a certain bank out in California (Washington Mutual) because they are currently offering CD rates that are approximately 25% higher than the going rates most banks are paying.   The thinking is that they are paying higher rates because they need cash and need it desperately.

    3. Economic reports – the Gross Domestic Product report came in much stronger than expected.   Does that mean that the economy is going well?   Let’s put it this way, the aircraft industry had a very good quarter.   The vast majority of the increase came because of the aircraft industry.   Apparently some airlines are upgrading their fleets to improve fuel efficiency.    Consumer Confidence came in higher than expected as well.   The market consensus seemed to be that it was because the drop in oil prices is making people feel better because they aren’t paying as much at the pump.   Personal incomes fell in July (not good).   Inflation numbers came in higher than anticipated and that put some pressure on the bond markets.

    4. Home Sales – I’m starting to see and hear some anecdotal evidence of certain parts of the housing market showing some signs of life.   What parts?   Distressed portions of certain markets, like the foreclosure and short sale markets in some areas, are starting to move faster.   Is this a sign of a bottom?  It’s too early to tell.   I really think that before we see a bottom in the housing market, we’re going to need a couple of things:  1) A stabilization in house prices (so far the house price indexes are showing that the rate of decrease is slowing, but it hasn’t stopped yet).   2) A reduction in inventory levels. So could some of the signs that we’re seeing lead us to say 6 months from now that this was the beginning of the bottom?   Very well could be, but it’s too early to tell for sure.  Oh, and will some of these things happen sooner in some areas than others?   Absolutely.

    5. Oil and the guy named Gustav – there’s a lot of nervousness on what the pending Hurricane could do to the oil production in the Gulf.   I can imagine that the Weather Channel’s ratings are going to be pretty high this weekend.   How does that effect mortgages?   If oil production takes a major hit, we could be looking at higher gas prices which will be a drain on the economy.

    With all of that, rates have actually drifted down a bit this week.

    Until next week…..

    Thanks!
    Tom Vanderwell
    Cell (616) 292-7559

    Quote of the week:  “A word to the wise ain’t necessary – it’s the stupid ones that need the advice.”  Bill Cosby  (thanks to Bawldguy for the quote!)

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    Power Is Down in Phoenix

    As jarring as Senator Mc Cain’s announcement, in Teri-Town, was, an Arizona monsoon was the culprit for the Phoenix power outage.  Greg Swann’s mobile and headed to an undisclosed location to keep the wheels of BloodhoundBlog turning.

    If you’re a first-time commenter, you may have a comment held up in moderation.  Please be patient until the lights come on, in Phoenix.

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    Every picture tells a story: Orphaned lockboxes…

    I see this all the time lately. The blue lockboxes are Supra boxes. They cost about $75 each.

    The vendor box and the front blue box belong to the current lister of the home.

    We do our homes this way, too, with a Supra box for Realtors, appraisers and inspectors and a vendor box for any tradesmen we send into the house — and also to have a spare key on the property. For reasons that seem obvious to us, we don’t put the two lockboxes in the same place.

    The blue box in back belongs to the last listing agent, for whom the home didn’t sell.

    I’d have to run the lockbox to know for sure, but when I see more than one blue box on a property, my assumption is that the previous agent has left the business. Otherwise, why leave a $75 asset hanging on the hose bib?

    We’ve thought about offering $20 for the release codes for these orphaned lockboxes: A little dough for you, and we’ll pick up the lockbox.

    A sad story, but it’s not the liquidator’s job to weep over the mess, but simply to clean it up.

    Technorati Tags: ,

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    Understanding RE Web 2.0 – btw Where are my meds?

    Lately I have an overwhelming feeling that I have schizophrenia – to those who know me well, they simply ask why it took me so long to figure it out.

    What happened to the days when searching for a home doubled as a work out?  Lugging around 25 lbs MLS catalogues – flipping thru the black and white property snapshots – it was clean – it was simply – it was – well – leisurely.

    You know – with the advent of new technology – evolving from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, the amount of choices and technological advancements in developing online communities and data analysis has my mind spinning – so many choices

    • how do I use these new solutions?
    • How will my clients benefit?
    • How will I benefit?
    • Which ones should I invest in?
    • Which functionality provides the best return?

    As I discover new sites and options, I can’t seem to keep up with the “older” ones.

    So – I decided to try and put it all together.  So here I am – at homethinking, on my computer, trying to assemble my thoughts – Trulia wondering what this all about – I mean, in general, I feel I am a realseekr of knowledge – where data’s concerned, I am good at Krunching the numbers.  But the mind map of the Web 2.0 space has really Motovoated me to look at how this fits together.

    Personively, I want my clients with BiggerPockets to see the benefits while I become a SmarterAgent.  That way we all win.  Ok – so let’s Zolve this problem.

    So – I’ve found some of the sites to be useful.  I actually have found some great clients using some of these sites.  But still – the list is Vast.  Bottomline – clients are still seeking help – they view me as their HomeGuru.  Let’s face it – for the client seeking a new home, they generally still need to walk thru the Frontdoor of a prospective property to know whether or not it’s a fit.

    I will admit, I used to think Hoodeo these people think they are, having to walk UpMyStreet, up and down EveryBlock, insisting on seeing every Hacienda and Retrove mid-century in every RottonNeighborhood.

    But – Alas!  With the advent of advanced search capability – my clients can now Zipvo through listings at break RateSpeed – no longer do they insist on seeing everything!  Even during Active Rain storms, I know our search can be Realivent – it’s worth getting a little wet when we know our efforts are N-Play.

    Ya know – maybe all this Hubbuzz is worth a serious look.  The more I learn to leverage the Oodles of solutions, I might actually be an one of the best of all the Incredible Agents out there.  Just think about the fame and fortune!  The Properazzi will be waiting outside at one of those fancy restaurants while I dine on Redfin soup.

    Geez – this is Realius exciting!  … but I have to admit – all this thinking really has kinda tired me out.  I guess I’ll head off to bed – I’m sure once my head hits the Zillow – I’ll be out like a light!

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    Five for the road: iPhone apps for the real estate road warrior

    Jott. Jott is preternaturally useful, since you can just phone yourself notes from the road and have them waiting for you when you get back to the office. Here’s an iPhone strategy: Install the iPhone app, but continue to use Jott by phone. That way, your Jotts will show up on your home email account, but they will also sync wirelessly with the iPhone client. You’ll have your notes with you wherever you happen to be working.

    NetNewsWire. NetNewsWire is by now the de facto category-killer feed reader. The desktop version syncs wirelessly with the iPhone client, so you never see the same news twice: If you read it on your iPhone, it won’t show up on your home client and vice versa.

    Mail. A built-in app? You bet. I have my mail set up like this: From my iMac in the office, certain categories of email — initial client contacts plus mail from anyone in my Address Book — are redirected to a unique iPhone-only gmail account. That way, I get echoes of the mail that matters to me, with zero spam. The iPhone’s mail account won’t honor my gmail Reply To setting, which sucks, but, as above, the advantage is that I have my important email wherever I happen to be working.

    Maps. Another built-in app — and it made me look look smart twice yesterday. I’m very kinesthetic. I rarely get lost, and I can remember any route I have ever traveled. Even so, directions in real estate listings can suck. Having on-demand GPS mapping is a life-saver for a working Realtor.

    Where. If Where did nothing but find the nearest Starbucks, I would still love it to death. But Where finds and maps anything that can be found — with a fast, clean interface.

    Cathy has four pages of iPhone apps so far. I am very conservative by contrast. But I have two voice dialers that I’m trying to find time to train. If one or the other does the job, I’ll be sure to talk about it, because hands-free dialing would make the iPhone that much more valuable — to a man who can end up filling his gas tank every day.

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    Racing the Clock on DPA Programs: Will The Dems Save the Day?

    I had some fun, yesterday, with a report about the down payment assistance ban and the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit.  I poked fun at the hypocritical nature of the Down Payment Assistance Programs and speculated that the Tax Credit might be collateral for a “tax refund loan”, thereby, facilitating the need for down payment funds today.

    The whole thing is silly when you think about it.  100% financing, through the FHA, is the answer.  Then, we can stop winking at the violation of the spirit of the law.  Some commenters, suggested that 100% financing, or attempts to provide down payment assistance, is dangerous and might bankrupt HUD.  The fact is that down payment assistance programs have a default rate that is twice the normal acceptable FHA default rate.  The universe of FHA loans have a default rate of 3-3.5% while DPA loans are 7-9%.

    While it’s easy to say that over 9 out of 10 buyers, who use the DPA program to buy a home, succeed, the high default rate COULD bankrupt the FHA insurance fund.  I queried some senior bank credit officers about this.  What I discovered is that those defaults CAN be managed if we layer the risk.  For you non-mortgage types, that means that we tighten one C if we loosen the other.  I was astounded to hear that over half the DPA defaults could have been avoided if underwriters strictly adhered to a recommended debt-to-income ratio of 29/41 and a minimum credit score of 620.

    Compliance to the underwriting guidelines then, could make DPA programs, or 100% financing work.

    Last year, I wrote a letter to Senator Dodd, here on Bloodhound Blog.  That letter introduced me to a few contacts inside the Beltway; I called them today .  What I heard was classic political maneuvering.  The recently passed Housing Law was a compromise.  Republicans, siding with the HUD Commissioner, effectively banned the DPA programs and INCREASED the minimum down payment requirement, on FHA loans, to 3.5%.  Democrats, capitulated on the eventual DPA ban because they prohibited HUD from engaging in “risk-based” pricing, which is, higher rates for people who might not make timely payments.

    The delayed ban on DPA programs is allegedly the brainchild of Congressman Barney Frank.  It is said that he believes that risk-based pricing COULD be abused but is holding it as a trump card to restore the DPAs.  My call to his office went unanswered but I left a message inviting him to be interviewed on Bloodhound Blog.  Should Congessman Frank accept, I’ll share it with you on a podcast.

    The answer is, of course, layering the risk and charging for it (through higher upfront mortgage insurance premiums) for 100% FHA financing.  If the default rate can be lowered to a manageable level, and the potential credit loss can be mitigated through higher MIP, we might just have a winner.  Rather than focusing our efforts on the irresponsible (through the short refinance program), we could be encouraging responsible home ownership for new buyers.  The expression “It’s easier to give birth than to raise the dead” comes to mind.

    Easy money isn’t the problem; cheap, easy money is. 100% financing can make sense for the young cop, firefighter,  or teacher, who wants to buy a bargain-priced home in their community….

    …provided they have superior credit and a demonstrable ability to repay the loan.

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    Going to ground, clearing cobwebs, finding balance: I’m back in the saddle again.

    I know when my life is out of whack when I lose things. I’m a great organizer, but not on a day-to-day basis. Daily, things pile up: Paperwork, bags of unloved clothes for Goodwill, the experiments in microbiology that grow in my refrigerator. Day by day, things are no longer where they should be and I’m misplacing those pesky emergency medical forms for school, or a magazine article I wanted to blog about, or a receipt for a lamp that I want to return. Then, quite suddenly, or so it seems to me, I’m losing big things: My camera! A credit card! A potential client! Danger! Danger! Now it’s time to stop and regroup, and so I’ve gone to ground for a few weeks.

    I love the term “gone to ground”. It’s usually in reference to the hunted burrowing into their holes to avoid being killed, and that seems appropriate to my situation. I wonder what rabbits do when they go to ground. Do they tidy up a bit? Take a nap? Make more rabbits? I was spinning my wheels, overwhelmed by unproductive minutiae and unable to accomplish meaningful (income producing) work, so I took some time to refocus my attention.  The bad news is that my staycation lasted much longer that I thought it would. The good news is that I accomplished much more that I thought I would.

    All refrigerated biology experiments have been duly noted and concluded. We now have a remodeled bathroom, and our household files have been purged and tidied up. Both kid’s bedrooms have been cleaned and sanitized. One high schooler started the year uneventfully, and one has finally finished high school (we hope) with an indifference that is matched only by my frustration with his public school experience. Closure. Moving on.

    Brad Coy felt stuck. I was spinning my wheels in unproductive navel gazing but didn’t realize it until things disappeared and I got buried. I needed to take the time to focus on a lot of little things which piled up to a really big thing which was standing in the way of me getting anything done.  I went through the piles and files of real estate flotsam and jetsam: Organized, purged, shredded, filed, rinsed, repeated. Time away from anything lets me get back to it with fresh eyes and new insights. I can see where my work is suffering and I can see different methods of strengthening weaknesses.

    I have online and offline real estate systems that I want to combine into something that I can really work and that really works for me. I want to do a better job of lead management. I want to get a new theme for The Brick Ranch that reflects a new focus and allows me to do a better job of providing information to consumers. I need to get back in touch locally.

    And whaddya know? As quickly as I switched my focus back to things that matter, my business has begun to sing. Not an opera perhaps, but a quiet little tune, perfect for humming to myself…

    I’m back in the saddle again
    Out where a friend is a friend
    Where the longhorn cattle feed
    On the lowly gypsum weed
    Back in the saddle again

    Ridin’ the range once more
    Totin’ my old .44
    Where you sleep out every night
    And the only law is right
    Back in the saddle again

    Whoopi-ty-aye-oh
    Rockin’ to and fro
    Back in the saddle again
    Whoopi-ty-aye-yay
    I go my way
    Back in the saddle again

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    You can’t commit to anything if you can’t commit to yourself…

    As an expression of profound self-knowledge, tonight I am going to mount a power strip between the sofa and the loveseat in our living room…

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    L.A. Times sells Real Estate now…

    Jon Karlen continues to beat me to the punch! Yesterday he reported the Los Angeles Times’ new real estate auction venture. The original hat tip goes to Forbes.com this time.

    When Bob Wilson mentioned in the comments of the last post about the LA Times that this was not the end of dead tree media, but the genesis of their online effort, he was correct IMO then. This certainly supports that.

    Thoughts?

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    Project Bloodhound: If your web site sucks — fix it

    As I’ve mentioned, I’m building a dedicated direct-response web site devoted to pre-selling listing clients. Our main Phoenix real estate weblog does a good job selling to buyers, sellers, investors and relocators, the four markets we target there, but it is my belief that I can build a sales engine that can pre-sell and pre-condition homeowners in such a way that, by the time they contact us, we will be completely Beyond Competition.

    I talked about a number of these ideas at Unchained in Phoenix, and we’ll be doing quite a bit more on this topic in Orlando.

    Consider this:

    21:28:40 http://distinctivephoenix.com/
    21:29:43 http://abetterlisting.com/
    21:32:18 http://abetterlisting.com/Presentation/
    21:46:29 http://distinctivephoenix.com/
    21:50:33 http://abetterlisting.com/

    That’s a set of visits from one unique IP address. I built minimal session tracking into the site, but I have Cameron working on a much more robust solution. But what you’re seeing is at least 22 minutes of someone’s life. Not counting search engine spiders, this site draws fewer than six unique visitors a day — but they’re all like this. Twenty-two minutes is a short visit. People have stayed for over an hour. Others have come back for three or four days in succession. The site is not converting as well as I want it to — yet — but I’m seeing exactly the kind of user behavior I want.

    There are points I want to make, but I’ll have to be brief. This site and our others are converting well enough that I’m short on time all the time.

    But let’s hit this much, at least:

    • Your web site or weblog is a perfectible selling tool. If it sucks now — and sucks only means something with respect to a commercial metric, not because of some emotional aversion — fix it. Good marketing is targeted at specific prospects, presents them with a unique selling proposition and rewards the desired behavior. It ain’t rocket science. It just takes effort and testing.
    • Your web site is potentially the most efficient sales tool you have in your sales toolbox. It might not convert at the same rate as other tools, but its cost per conversion is incredibly low, and it sells for you around the clock — to people you don’t even know exist. The fact that many of the people you would like to sell to will not contact you until they have vetted you from your web site is yet another reason to perfect your presence on the web.
    • Selling is personal, but personal prospecting systems are cost-inefficient. Yes, you can find clients on Twitter. You can also find clients by handing out business cards down at the Circle-K. But I can talk to four or five people in comprehensive detail for a total of two or three hours a day — highly-motivated, self-selected owners of high-end homes — while I am doing something else. Still worse, personal prospecting time is evanescent, where your web presence works today, tomorrow, forever.

    I’m not suggesting that you should devote yourself to web prospecting at the expense of everything else. For now, we depend on our “sold” signs far more than our web sites to bring us new sellers. But our single-property web sites are a huge reason that our listings sell so quickly, even in this market, and our sites taken altogether are bringing us two or three new clients every week. Not contacts, not leads, not inquiries — clients, fully committed to doing business with us before we begin to work in earnest.

    But: I’m not selling myself as the last word on this subject. We are constantly learning how to do better, and we are always testing new ideas. When Cameron builds his session tracker, I will put it on our single-property sites as well as on my new seller-targeted site. I want to know what people are doing, and I want to be able to demonstrate to our sellers how long individual people are staying on our sites.

    You have to deliver the whole package. There is no escape from that harsh reality. But your web presence is potentially the best marketing tool at your disposal. It can’t make a sale for you, but it can deliver true clients to you — not contacts, not leads, not inquiries — so that you can devote more of your time to selling, with a client-acquisition cost that approaches zero dollars. At its best — and this is the ultimate objective for us — your web presence can deliver clients who would never even consider doing business with anyone else — putting you Beyond Competition.

    Come to see us in Orlando. We’re going to be talking about the whole package, a complete business plan. But your web presence is at the heart of everything, so we’re going to show you how to use it to build a bigger, better approach to doing business in the Web 2.0 world.

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