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There’s always something to howl about

I’m making Christmas goodies, so here’s all the stuff I don’t feel like fighting about right now

I was on Fox Business Network yesterday bitching about all the ways the U.S. government has interfered with the residential real estate market, resulting in both our recent boom and our current bust. The topic itself is not new to me, but it’s not something I’ve addressed in a full-blown philosophical argument. Surely that would be Quixotic, but when did that ever stop me? But: I’ve been very busy, and I’m about to get a whole lot busier. So last night I set that idea and everything else aside to bake some Christmas cookies. It was fun, it made the house smell good, and it actually brought Cameron out of his cave for a while. As soon as I can clear the decks today, I think I’m going to make fudge. Here’s the thing, and I have to remind myself every year: It’s Christmas. I don’t ever not work, but there ought to be room for play in the working day — at least some working days.

Meanwhile, here’s a bunch of stuff I might-could be dealing with, but ain’t:

Kelman had a post on all the crap he was force-fed prior to going on TV. I’m not picking on the man (for a change), this is a segue: I think we’re fools to buy into that crap. First, the mainstream media, to the extent that it clings to its creepy Vaudeville past, is the enemy of truth. Second, weblogging is the best friend the truth has made so far. The conclusion that I draw from these premises is that, even when we are on their turf, we should still behave our way. I hate everything phony, but even allowing for that, I think we damage our own credibility by playing their game their way. There’s no shortage of commercials on TV, but there’s damn little authenticity.

Zillow had a software release this week. How important was it? Important enough to be released eight days before Christmas, when no one is paying attention. What it amounts to, as far as I can discern from the effusive PR-speak in the press release, is smarter routines for determining when to show you listings and when to summarize the data. This is good for you, in the sense that you won’t be stuck waiting for 98,413 listings to emerge from the fog of AJAX, but it’s way better for Zillow, since it won’t be wasting so much processor time and bandwidth coughing up results you can’t possibly use.

There were also enhancements to Zillow’s wicked-lame neighborhood pages. (I could show you a neighborhood where the millionaires are alleged to be street-sweepers, but why bother?) And like Kelley Koehler, I can’t for the life of me figure out how this

is not a Federal Fair Housing violation. I’m not arguing for these laws — nor for any laws, ever — but that looks like nationality, nationality, family status to me. And if those are violations, there are at least ten others on the page I took that image from.

I keep thinking that I want to take on the title industry — more Quixotism. We closed a house yesterday — with Brain Brady as the lender. I didn’t like the way the title company prepared the HUD-1, so I ended up reading it over and over again. A couple of weeks ago, Diane Cipa argued that title companies should get paid for their efforts even if the transaction does not close. I think this is completely plausible. On the other hand, I’m at a loss to understand why my buyers paid yesterday for thirty years worth of title insurance when they will own the home for five years, tops, and when they will probably refinance within two years. And when they do refinance, how much title insurance will they pay for? We all know, don’t we? Could they be refinancing multiple times in a short span of time, as many people did in 2004 and 2005? Ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching!

Thanks to modern title farms, the chance of a title insurance policy paying off is substantially less than the chance of hitting a Royal Flush in video poker. I think paying for what you get is a fabulous idea in every possible circumstance. But I think it would be beyond excellent if buyers and sellers were to pay the actual value of title insurance. The sellers would still have to pay a lump sum, but it should be based on the actual — actuarial — likelihood of a tenable claim against the title. Buyers should be paying month-by-month for the benefit received, just as with property taxes (feh!) and hazard insurance. Forcing buyers to pay huge sums over and over again for insurance that is almost entirely without value is obscene.

And: Don’t get me started. If would-be disintermediators are looking for a real estate profit center that is an awful lot like stock brokerage and travel agency — a business where efficient data processing and cheap outsourced labor can achieve huge economies of scale — they should calibrate their noses to the smell of burning ears. If a start-up were to charge what title insurance is actually worth, it could own the entire industry in two years.

The last of the BloodhoundBlog Unchained lapel pins

is on the auction block. If you want one of these pins, procrastination is not your friend.

If I took all the time necessary to defend myself from things I’ve never said, I’d do nothing else. But here are two that pop out right now:

First, what we do here is not what you should be doing. Given that we wrote a book on a workable real estate weblogging strategy, I shouldn’t have to keep saying that, but apparently I do. For what it’s worth, I don’t see the commercial benefit of the post I’m linking to to the author of that post, but I do think that 2,300+ email subscriptions argues that weblogging really is a good way to stay in front of your clients.

Second, I’m not arguing against search engine optimization, but I would make a broad and general argument against SEO instead of or as a presumed replacement for serious, relevant, interesting content. Getting people to your pages is a challenge, one worthy of thought and effort. But as far as I’m concerned, the more important job is keeping them there, and keeping them coming back. I don’t think there is any actual disagreement here, I just want to make sure I’m not being misunderstood.

For what it’s worth, there are lessons to be learned from the BloodhoundBlog experience in building lead-seeking hyperlocal real estate weblogs. I’ve talked before about the most important leveraged SEO optimization you can do to your weblog — “leveraged” meaning that the ratio of benefit to effort is enormous. But, even so, the most important action of “optimization” you can do, in terms of meeting precisely those people who can — and will want to — do business with you, may have nothing to do with search engines. What would it be instead? How about building relationships with the local weblogs where your potential clients already congregate? BloodhoundBlog has very strong SEO reach on a lot of interesting search terms. But we have grown as big as we have — and we are but begun — on the strength of our connection with the RE.net. Starting, not coincidentally, with Dustin Luther.

I wrote Think globally, blog locally almost a year ago. How many of those ideas have you implemented? Me neither — at least not as much as I wanted to. There are search terms we dominate, but what I want, in the long run, is a set of long-tail keywords that work for me like this does. This is nothing but organic results, a page and a half of total Google dominance from nothing but relevant content built right. My plan is to achieve that kind of dominance on every long-tail keyword in my real estate farm. Meet me in the right place, and I’ll show you how to do it, too.

But not today. Today I’m going to push everything I can off my desk. And then I’m going to make fudge. It’s Christmas, after all…

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