There’s always something to howl about

Archive for July, 2007 takes on BloodhoundBlog, attempting to crush The Future Of Real Estate Marketing in the process

In a move that is either inspired or incredibly stoopid, will this afternoon launch a brand new group weblog devoted to real estate technology issues. This of course is a large part of the content of BloodhoundBlog and it is the entire focus of The Future Of Real Estate Marketing. The new weblog, called GeekEstate Blog, will draw its contributions from a cadre of real estate technology vendors. Presumably this will be pleasing to the foxes. The hens? Not so much.

From the Zillow Blog (this text is extracted from a pre-launch press release):

As much as the real estate industry is based on people-to-people contact, there is no denying that technology is becoming ever more crucial for real estate professionals as a way to reach consumers and each other. With this in mind, we are proud today to announce the launch of a new technology blog that Zillow has founded — GeekEstate Blog!


GeekEstate Blog is a multi-author format and is launching with seven contributors. Our kickoff team of regular contributors includes Michael Price from MLPodcast, Matt Dunlap from Realivent, Damon Pace from Incredible Agent, Brendan King from Point2, WordPress designer Cory Miller, and Steve Jagger from Ubertor. I’ll [Drew Meyers] be the seventh contributor rounding out this group.

I happen to think Steve Jagger is a nice guy, as is Mike Price. Jay Thompson likes Point2. Even so, what we have is a union of fairly low-tech tech vendors, none of whom is going to issue a discouraging word about one of the others’ products, nor about INTJs like Drew Meyers might say something interestingly impolitic from time to time, but the rest of these guys got the windowed offices because they know how to tailor a response to the demands of their marketing. In other words, if you’re looking for independent balls-to-the-wall analysis, it won’t be at the GeekEstate Blog.

Nota bene:

Zillow will play an administrative role on this blog and keep the wheels turning. We’ll also occasionally provide our own insight based on our understanding of real estate technology. Lastly, we’ll head up the process of recruiting other bloggers as contributors to continue to grow GeekEstate Blog’s reach and content.

If’s Glenn Kelman has an infinite supply of feet to shoot himself in, has the world’s heaviest thumb. I cannot imagine what a delight it would be to write under that kind of supervision, but I expect I wouldn’t have to imagine it for very long.

From the GeekEstate Blog (again quoting from the press release):

The seven at-launch contributors listed below have been selected for their understanding of both technology and the real estate industry and share the belief that educating potential clients is the best form of marketing. These people work in technology companies who serve the real estate industry, but they aren’t here to hard-sell you on their products. They are:

  • Michael Price – President/Founder of MLPodcast, a video pod-casting service for the real estate industry. Mike’s background includes experience with most facets of applied real estate technology and its convergence with marketing, including data distribution, Web application development, listing enhancements, marketing metrics, and new media.
  • Damon Pace – Founder and CEO of Incredible Agent, a provider of real estate marketing systems for agents and brokers. Damon has also been an active Realtor with RE/MAX Excalibur in Scottsdale, Arizona.
  • Stephen Jagger – Co-founder of Ubertor, a real estate technology company that builds websites for real estate professionals. Stephen is actively involved in the real estate industry as a public speaker and co-founder of the largest real estate agent meet-up in North America. He has been an avid real estate blogger since 2004.
  • Brendan King – COO of Point2 Agent, a national marketing and advertising platform exclusively for real estate professionals. Brendan is responsible for the strategic vision, direction and execution for the company. He has more than 17 years of business, sales and marketing experience in the information technology and software industries.
  • Matt Dunlap – CTO of Realivent Corporation, a marketing platform for real estate agents, brokerages and communities. He has more than eight years’ of software and online application development experience.
  • Cory Miller – Founder of Cory Miller Design, a web development and marketing studio, focusing on WordPress blog design. He has more than eight years’ experience in journalism, marketing and Web design. (Note: Cory designed this blog).
  • Drew Meyers- Community Relations Specialist at Zillow. Co-founder and administrator of the Carnival of Real Estate, he is a regular contributor on Zillow Blog.

Zillow swears this is not product promotion, but I can’t imagine what else it would be, nor why these front-office marketers would be involved for any reason other than the admittedly subtle long-term process of blogwise product promotion. This is why we are very careful either to exclude or to strictly contain vendors on BloodhoundBlog.

I don’t think there is anything inspired about this. I think it’s just stoopid. There are already excellent real estate technology sites out there, some of which (ahem!) are written by people who are not selling anything.

My own position is vendor-skeptical if not outright vendor-hostile, but I cannot for the life of me imagine what Zillow thinks it has to gain by doing this. Control, I suppose. It seems always to boil down to control with Zillow. Time may prove me wrong, but I think this was a dumb move. can control its own message — man, can it do that! — but it shouldn’t be trying to control the rest of the conversation. But the company is well-favored by luck. If they get lucky, the GeekEstate Blog will die a quick and quiet death.

Moreover: How Zillow could have gotten this right:

  • A daily compendium of links to technology posts from the and the nets at large. Benevolent and beneficial, and as arm’s-length as a vendor can get.
  • A true technology blog, meaning a blog written by actual front-line geeks. would never let its own geeks speak without filtration, though.
  • A true vendor’s group blog, with the group consisting of people like Rich Barton, Pete Flint and Dave Liniger. I would want it to be no-rules cage-fighting at that point. I would pay to read a weblog like that.

Meanwhile, Zillow introduces with great fanfare a brand new weblog with no content. Dumb. Vendors are not webloggers and vendor blog-analogues are not weblogs.

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Why Author 12 Hates to Fly

And so it was that I arrived in San Francisco for the big event looking as if my hair had been styled by an angry ring-tailed lemur.

My trip began innocently enough. Operation Packing Plan B was an enormous success. Sure I was a little short on time, but I compensated by piling my artificially golden, wet locks up in a fashionable clip. For every person that would think I was a wreck, I was certain that another would consider me whimsically, see-how-much-I-don’t-try-too-hard eccentric.

I made it to the airport with an hour and a half to spare. I immediately parked at Terminal 2. I did this for two reasons. First, I was flying American Airlines. I knew I was flying American Airlines because my eTicket, which I booked on, said “American Airlines” all over it. Second, American Airlines is located in Terminal 2, that is if you believe the numerous airport directional signs, the logos on the parked planes at Terminal 2 gates, and my experience from having lived here for the PAST 30 YEARS! True, my eTicket didn’t specifically say “Go to Terminal 2”, but I suspect few can argue with my logic here.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t privy to one little detail, a detail written in secret, invisible ink on my eTicket, a detail so safely guarded that only the truly psychic would possibly make their flight this morning. As I attempted Self-Service Check-In, I got an error message on the screen along the lines of “Danger, Abort, Unauthorized Access Attempted, Hide Your Children, Secure Exit Doors!” It was then that Helpful Lady at the Check-In Counter, shaking her head in disgust, explained that San Francisco departures are on their Partner airline. “You will have to walk down there“, she said (pointing to, oh, North Dakota), “carry your (49.8 pound) suitcase down that flight of stairs, and check in at Terminal 1″.

No problem! I had time, and as luck would have it, Terminal 1 was not nearly as crowded as stupid-snooty Terminal 2. Then came (insert creepy music) SECURITY. This is where I and my fellow Terminal 1 travelers began the off-loading, disrobing process. I am next in the public scrutiny line, I can see Mecca (Pizza Hut) from where I stand, and then it happens. “Baggage check at Security Three!” Apparently, and we only learned this after ten long minutes standing in our scantily clad, bare-footed bodies, the man in front of me is trafficking Scope. Just this morning Steve tells me that they are now allowing lighters on planes which, I think in some cases, could actually be used to set fire to things like, say, PLANES! Yet, under no circumstances are we going to allow this nice looking man to get away with kissably-fresh breath. The gall of him.

Crisis averted, toiletries confiscated, and it is finally My Turn! As I am now wearing very little, I proudly strut through the metal detector. BZZZZ. At this point, I am directed to relinquish the only thing holding my tenuous outward appearance together: The hair clip. Men reading this will not get it; women are no doubt pouring a double just to get through the thought of the disastrous consequences.

I immediately navigate my way to the Pizza Hut, knowing that I will need sustenance for my long, tedious (90 minute) flight. Due in part to the delay caused by the mouthwash debacle, I now find myself in line behind a party of three, each of whom is staring paralyzed with fear at the Personal Pan Pizzas™. Pepperoni? Cheese? As if peace in the Middle East was entirely dependent on their making the correct choice, the little boxes were alternatively removed from and returned to the heat lamp until another ten minutes of my life had gone down the toilet and all were satisfied with their selections (Pepperoni).

I did make it to the Palace, but only after spending forty minutes at the gate in San Diego while the American Airlines Partner (the one with the Eskimo on their tail) arranged to have another oxygen tank delivered to the plane (presumably from Tibet), having realized that the one on board was lonely.

Having freed the random and questionable personal items from the confines of my suitcase (my initial survey suggests that I have one black pump but two feet), my immediate plan is to wear my best Paris Hilton disguise and sneak through the lobby of Suits in pursuit of a bite to eat before the games begin. I’m hungry, and they were out of Pepperoni at the airport.

Next on the agenda is tonight’s Beer with Bloggers event. Tastes Great or Less Filling? I’ll let you know tomorrow.

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Left out at Inman: The truth is, Kris Berg is a blogging supernova, and her cosmic brilliance leaves everyone glowing

Is there a Carnival of Off-to-Inman Posts? If so, Kris Berg won:

So, this morning, I am off to the Inman technology conference in San Francisco. I am off in theory, at least. I haven’t exactly packed. Packing Plan A always involves meticulously planning out wardrobes, including appropriate accessories, neatly laying out the items the night before, and then, the morning of the flight, casually arranging the military-folded articles in the suitcase. I’m going with Plan B. Within the next hour, I will be shooting every item of clothing I own out of a cannon into an undersized carry-on and hoping for the best. Pity the poor, random power cord. If it simply looks like it might fit into one end of a camera, video recorder, voice recorder, iPod, or laptop, it’s coming along for the ride. I will have enough electronics and peripherals to inspire the Port Commission to beef up staffing at the security check point, and I can all but guarantee that at least half that make the journey with me were designed to power the VCR I sold at a garage sale in 1993.

Not a convention goer by nature, I was sucked into this one for a couple of reasons. I am looking forward to actually meeting the many people I have met online over the past year. Mostly, though, I am hoping I can bring back some better mousetraps to help us with our business. I’ll try to report back with updates, that is, if I can find the right power cord.

One of the break-out sessions at Inman Connect is called “The Blogging Superstars.” Kris Berg is not on that panel. In rebuttal I offer this lengthy argument:


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Black Pearls: Custom directional signs can draw buyers to your listings — and make your listings seem to multiply

Okay, here’s a Black Pearl made from sandy irritants we picked up at the StarPower Conference.

First, one of the Stars is making custom signs featuring photographs of the listed home. I’ve been writing about custom yard signs for more than a year now, but, so far, I haven’t heard from anyone who is doing them — other than us, that is. What the Star is doing is not our way of making the signs. He’s putting up his regular brokerage sign, then supplementing it with a separate sign that features photos of the home.

Second, another different Star is using directional signs to direct buyer traffic from main thoroughfares into the subdivisions where her listed homes are to be found. These are the size of an Open House directional, but they’re mounted in the yards of cooperating (or compensated) neighbors.

This idea I liked a lot for two reasons. First, it would tend to bring more buyers to the listed home. And second, using these directionals would tend to make it look like you had half-a-dozen listings nearby, rather than just one or two. You could be half the signs in the neighborhood with one listing. If you list in that subdivision frequently, the directionals need never come down, and they could serve more than one home.

Where’s the Black Pearl? Put the two ideas together in custom-made directionals:

These would be coroplast signs mounted on wire H-frames. Any sign printer can do them. Any Kinko’s can do them. They’re cheap to print in bulk, so you can hold out some replacements for stolen or damaged signs. Meanwhile, the photos do some of the jobs we expect from the custom yard sign: They stop traffic and preview the house. At the same time, they radically differentiate you as a lister.

This is pretty simple compared to some of the ideas we’re playing with, but it seems like a sweet little supplement to the idea of custom yard signs.

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6 comments wants to know: Is my neighborhood walkable?

Hey! Maybe it is!

Uh… Maybe not…

Assuming you don’t have an intemperate climate where you live, will tell you if your neighborhood is walkable.

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The Carnival of Real Estate . . .

…is up at Sacramento Real Estate Voice. The theme is a Monopoly tournament, but I can’t tell who won. Kris Berg triumphed at her table with I’ve Been Working Too Hard! Ask the Wall Street Journal. Brian Brady, writing from his home blog, took over the real estate on his table with San Diego Mortgage Advice: Call to ARMs. There are five other table winners to be seen, so get yourself to Sacramento Real Estate Voice to check them out — without passing GO, of course.

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A comprehensive take on the StarPower Conference: Reinventing the pearl the Bloodhound way

Here’s my final evaluation of the StarPower Conference in four short words: I didn’t hate it. The intellectual content of the thing was oversold by a hefty percentage, and virtually everything in the curriculum was an upsell for something else. We were entreated all week to gather “pearls” from the presentations, but the best I was able to come home with are grains of sand from which we will craft pearls of our own. The event was stage-managed with precision and flair, although a little cheerleading goes a long way with me.

This post is largely a critique. In the coming weeks, I want to detail some of the pearls Cathy and I will be assembling around the gritty sand we brought home. Here I want to enumerate what I considered to be important defects in the StarPower Conference. I don’t know that this will do anyone any good. Most of the companies I take on seem not to spring into action to address my concerns. But I find myself taking an anti-vendor position again and again, and my four days at StarPower served only to reinforce that redoubt.

However: I think it’s important to note that the StarPower organization is not unique in exhibiting the defects I will catalog, nor does it come even close to being the worst specimen of the milk-the-Realtor industry. I could have wished for a lot more — and more-rigorous — information in exchange for my time and money, but I did not come away empty-handed, and I may yet succumb to one of this week’s incessant upsells.

First, with a couple of exceptions, StarPower is stuck at about 1999. Web sites, lots of web sites, all of them static, almost all of them templated, most of them mindlessly mimicking the me-me-me meme. There is weblogging, sort of, substantially worse than what I’ve been bitching about and yet utterly invisible to Technorati and the Googlesphere. In the StarPower universe, there is no Web 2.0, nor any derivative implications of Web 2.0. I heard the words “long tail” out of my own mouth only. This thing that we do — this idea of a massively linked, massively interactive conversation — does not exist where StarPower orbits.

There was a weblogging class offered, but I didn’t go to it. I figured I could laugh, scowl, gripe or sleep, but I wouldn’t bring any benefits to myself, to the teachers or to the students. I’m pretty sure I know more about real estate weblogging than anyone else who was there, so it would have made a certain kind of sense to have had me as the teacher of the weblogging break-out session. This I offered to do many months ago, but StarPower people didn’t take me up on it. The conference had a sponsorship deal with, and my expectation is that the purpose of the blogging class was to upsell canned, templated weblogs that are invisible to Technorati.

This seemed to be a common arrangement. RealPro Systems benefitted from constant promotion in the events I attended, as did the vast StarPower catalog of CDs, tool kits and upcoming events. This is the format of a StarPower class: “I was unable to achieve the objective that is the subject of this class. But then I started using the very expensive sponsored product you can obtain right out in the hall and my business turned around almost overnight!” If you use a RealPro web site, for example, you will get thousands of leads. No kidding: Thousands.

As Russell Shaw pointed out the other day in a comment, I misrepresented the StarPower premise. “Catching success” is Russell’s idea. The base premise of StarPower seems to be an inversion of the pragmatist epistemology — the truth is what works. That’s an anti-epistemology, since it turns on a definition swap, but StarPower inverts it to an even more dubious proposition: What works is the truth.

StarPower founder Howard Brinton finds and interviews mega-producing Realtors from all across North America. These are the Stars behind the StarPower program. He induces them to reveal their “secrets,” then repackages that content as the curriculum for StarPower products and events. Again and again, students are advised not to “reinvent the wheel,” but, rather, simply to copy the ideas the Stars are presenting — a pack-rat empiricism. How bad could it be?

How about this bad? RealPro Systems will sell you “stealth” web sites which seem to offer transparent values to the consumer — home evaluations, school or neighborhood information, free FSBO listings — but are actually lead-gathering systems. They are not quite blind ads — the agent and brokerage will be identified at the very bottom of the web page in small print. Meanwhile, the large print will promise that you will not be hounded by a Realtor. But if you take the bait these sites offer, you will be drip-spammed immediately, incessantly and inextinguishably. Ordinary spam seems clean by comparison.

Not bad enough for you? At a special event sponsored by ProStep Marketing, one of the Stars admitted that she has her team spy on the content of tell-a-friend forms within her web site. In other words, you find a home on the site and use the form to send the link to your mother. Thinking your communication is private, you write, “Mom, I think this is the one!” The Realtor and her buyer’s agents now know how to milk you for full-price on a double-dip commission.

This stuff is sleazy, as are many of the scripts and dialogues I heard recited during the conference. At a certain phase in our industry’s checkered past, time seems to have stopped for the StarPower Stars. Not only do they nonchalantly issue completely — to my ear obviously — unethical advice, it seems not to occur to them, nor to their auditors, that there is anything at all wrong with what they are saying. Of course you fool people into surrendering their contact information. It gets you thousands of leads! Of course you spy on what should be confidential communication. In a tough market, you need every edge you can get!

And at this point, someone will say: “Did y’all catch that? That was a real pearl! Let’s all stand up and applaud.”

There’s more.

  • In two separate classes, breathless Stars sold me on the boundless impact of putting a sewing needle in a box full of straw. “Finding a good Realtor is like finding a needle in a haystack!” Now that’s marketing!
  • In a session on listing presentations, a Star insisted that he makes his sellers sign a contract that cuts the list price by 3% every 15 days — and automatically extends the listing by 45 days with every automatic price cut.
  • Former CRS President Randy Eager (corrected per comment below) will sell you SEO optimization — just like those nice folks who spam your inbox 47 times a day. The premium product goes for a start-up fee of $1,995 plus $75 a month, presumably forever. That might sound like highway robbery, but consider that the StarPower attendees are being entreated to build many, many vendor-templated web sites, each one of which will also have start-up fees and monthly charges. And if that sounds obscene, stop to consider what is likely to happen to your data should you decide to stop paying those monthly fees or to take your business elsewhere.
  • In a rare concession to the twenty-first century, a Star allowed that newspaper advertising does not work. Every other form of interruption marketing still works, however, provided it’s really corny.

All of that notwithstanding, we did not come away from the StarPower Conference empty handed. A lot of ideas were presented, and while I think most of them were unsupported crap, the Bloodhound way of going at things is to build upon our way of doing business. We brought home quite a few grains of sand, soon to be new “pearls” of Bloodhound marketing wisdom. These came from four sources:

  1. Things we thought of on our own while we happened to be at StarPower
  2. Ideas that we hated and will invert as counter-marketing
  3. Ideas that we liked and will improve upon
  4. Hard-headed nuts-and-bolts techniques we went to StarPower to learn

Contrary to the StarPower premise, I think the “secret” of the Stars is very simple: They are highly-organized managers who can build, implement, supervise and sustain a large real estate practice — which would be a medium-sized small business in any other line of work. The hokey marketing “works” because they way overspend on it. The smarmy scripts “work” because they are preying on amateurs. What really “works” is the machine the Stars have built to convert a large number — but a low percentage — of the many leads their marketing systems generate. It seems plausible to me that some Stars are not just chasing the last profitable dollar but are in fact chasing the weakest of their leads into net losses on the ensuing transactions. Even if this is not the case, the net profit per conversion seems to me to be a lot lower than it could be.

All that’s as may be. We went to StarPower to learn how to build that kind of lead-management machine. I would hope we can convert a higher percentage of the leads we get, at a higher net-profit per sale. But what I wanted from the StarPower Conference — and what I think we got — were the basic ideas behind that kind of systematic incubation of client relationships from first contact through closing and from there to a life-long repeat and referral relationship. The “what” of it all is certainly a discernible target, and the “why” is obvious. It’s the “how” we went to learn. And today we had a two-hour meeting to plan our implementation of the ideas we brought home.

Here’s the thing: I am probably the worst candidate for these kinds of things. I like CRS classes — and the Council of Residential Specialists is an earlier Howard Brinton invention — because they are very dense in information. But: I really don’t like classes at all. I would much rather learn by reading, and, even more than that, I would much rather work things out on my own. Holy cow! I do want to reinvent the wheel! It’s not a joke, I do. I hate almost everything, and I want to rebuild everything that matters to me in the Bloodhound way, stripping it down to the essence and building it back up with nothing but the most perfect expressions of that essential idea. That is how you reinvent the pearl.

And that is what I got out of the StarPower Conference. There is a lot I would rather had been done differently, but we came home with a better business than we had this time last week. As I have time, I’ll write about the things we have planned for the coming months, the pearls we will have crafted.

Will I go back next year? Probably not — at least not on my own nickel. But we not only safely jettisoned the very bad ideas that were presented, we learned quite a bit more than the presenters thought they were teaching. So, even with all my caveats about the conference weighed, measured, counted and catalogued, I still have to rate the event as an overall win.

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A Simple Question, What Can You Blog About?

I imagine that many of the readers of this blog are bloggers themselves; who in their daily perusal of the blogosphere for inspiration and news land here as a reliant destination for intellectual discussion of the issues at the fore of our industry. If I’ve got the readership pegged then I will assume that most of you tend to write about the issues you feel most strongly about. Divorced commissions or Zillow or discount real estate operations are all part of the cacophony. Amongst this backdrop of honest, well-reasoned discourse I pose a simple question:

“What can you really blog about?”

Let the initial reaction of “anything I feel like” go by the wayside and think about it for a moment. What can you really blog about? The reason I bring this question up here is that there is a rather disturbing series of events developing in the blogosphere – not too far from the over at a web site called Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter. As members of the real estate community I’ll assume that you’ve heard of it – an f’d company for the new bust that is mortgage lending. It may be loosely grouped with housing bubble blogs; but really it is an aggregation of news and information about the “implosion” of the mortgage industry. It is written with a “Daily Show” sarcasm that I personally find enjoyable; and although it is a private site, conceived and started by one man – it has become the web site of choice for thousands in the industry each day looking for the latest news.

Regardless of your personal feelings about such housing bubble sites you must admit that ML-Implode is quite a phenomenon. One man starts with an idea – to aggregate and track the downfall of mortgage companies via a personal web site; suddenly thousands of people visit it every day for news and information. Such is the power of the Internet.

It is not unlike Bloodhound in that regard. Bloodhound started as one man’s idea and grew in to a vital resource of information and news for the (Any question about that statement can be answered with a quick look at the Technorati rank for Bloodhound.) While ML-Implode is a bit more sensational (as everyone loves a good trainwreck) it has many similarities to Bloodhound in terms of its importance to the industry, the discussion of ideas outside of mainstream media and thought, and a place free of corporate spin and public relations massaging.

So it is with great trepidation that I report on the unfortunate events that have conspired against ML-Implode over the past several weeks. You can read about them in detail here; but the gist of the matter is that a company cited on ML-Implode is now suing the site for the alleged deleterious impact that a news report on the site had on its business. The site filed a Motion to Strike against the company under California’s Anti-SLAPP law. SLAPP stands for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. The concept is that those with resources sue those without regardless of the merit of the suit simply in an effort to silence the “have nots” who cannot afford the legal defense to be found innocent and continue their activities.

The Anti-SLAPP laws were written to protect individuals in precisely this type of situation. ML-Implode, as an independent, personal web site is not capitalized or built to fight litigation. It is merely a pulpit from which one man started to track a phenomenon. Unfortunately this week the judge overseeing this case has tossed out ML-Implode’s motion to strike under Anti-SLAPP protections and allowed the litigation to continue. ML-Implode is now looking at legal defense fees in excess of $50,000. Which returns us to our initial question. What can you really blog about?

It appears that if this law suit is lost by ML-Implode a dangerous precedent will be set allowing any company to file suit against any blogger who disagrees with the corporate message being handed down from the PR department. Think about the implications that this decision could have to all of blogging. Not just real estate, but environmental, social, human rights, political, religious, or any other contrarian view that finds a voice on a blog or web site could be instantly silenced by one well-timed law suit. The possibilities are chillingly endless.

Further, it puts the future of blogging at risk from any meaningful discourse. Who wants the risk? Who will be willing to face frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit simply to voice their opinion. I can guarantee you that the powerful forum that has become the would quickly be eviscerated if some of the companies repeatedly bad-mouthed decided to start filing lawsuits. That is where the fatal flaw of blogging lies. Because it is private discourse quickly amplified and spread it has the potential to be more powerful than one person’s voice could ever have been in the past. It also makes blogs easy targets for companies to silence by simple legal intimidation.

Anti-SLAPP is the right start, but when it comes down to it we are dealing with a question of free speech. A question of whether one person (or a collection of people) has the right to harness the power of the internet to create a powerful soap box from which to share their views with all who would read. A question of what protections do we as bloggers have against those that don’t like our opinions and outlooks. A question of what can we really blog about?

Whether you like or dislike the ML-Implode site for its choice in content is irrelevant. If you are a blogger who has a penchant for taking on subjects outside of the safe mainstream you must agree that their loss will be your loss. Their loss will be everyone in the entire blogosphere’s loss. ML-Implode is taking up a collection to protect their right to exist, I hope that you will find that their existence is directly tied to your blog’s existence and find a small way to help.

Freedom of speech is a powerful right that has allowed blogs to become a powerful news and information ecosystem. It would be a shame if corporate America trashes the whole thing for the sake of restoring the news to their personal PR vehicle.


Cyberhomes vs. Zillow – Dueling Valuation Tools for Your San Diego Home

For the uninitiated, the title is a bad joke. Moving on…

At our most recent office meeting, between the property pitches and the vendor pitches, our office manager promoted our company’s new affiliation with Cyberhomes. Now, being too lazy to do a site search this morning, Cyberhomes has undoubtedly been talked about ad nauseam here. And, as I have confessed many times lately, I have been too time-challenged to be the good little feed reader “reader” I should be of late, so the subject of Cyberhomes has probably been beat to death elsewhere. That’s the beauty of ignorance – I will barrel bravely ahead.

Prudential California Realty is in Beta with their Cyberhomes affiliation. For now, a home valuation feature has been added to the Prudential website but, ultimately the feature will be included in all individual agent pages. It is being promoted to us as superior to Zillow in that (according to our office manager) it incorporates “MLS data as well as public records”. I found this confusing. Aren’t MLS sales ultimately a matter of public record and, therefore, inherent in the Zillow model as well? With the help of a colleague, we stumbled on what he meant.

My colleague and I decided to play a little Zillow. In our version of investigative reporting, we proceeded to embark on some exhaustive comparative analysis. By exhaustive, I mean, we decided to look up the value of both of our own homes on both Zillow and Cyberhomes. Elbow to elbow, armed with dueling computers, undaunted by the challenges which might lay ahead, we Searched.

In each case, our homes were valued approximately $150,000 lower on Cyberhomes than on Zillow. Bummer. Being blessed with the keen eye for detail, we suddenly realized that we live in the same subdivision and in the same model, one block apart. Where scientific method is concerned, we are the Suxors. What about a different neighborhood? I threw out the address of an active listing I have a mile away. Ready, set, show us the money! His “Zestimate” returned a number in the ballpark while my CyberValue (back off, I’m copyrighting that) returned a “Listed for Sale” flag and the listing price. No CyberValue in sight.

Now, being the kind of gal that will do whatever it takes to get to the Truth (my client was running late), I began randomly looking up other company’s listings. The result? A CyberValue but no “Listed for Sale” flag or price. Ay, there’s the rub. As a listing agent for Prudential, I am totally digging this.

How many of us have placed our listing on Zillow to discover that the Zestimate is $6 million below our listing price? Another colleague recently asked me what I do in these circumstances. The choices include not placing the listing on Zillow, having the seller massage the number by assigning additional value based on their “upgrades” (installed naked cherub fountain – add $80,000 plus $1200 for the “harp”), or just ignore it. More often than not, I am opting for the latter. Now with Cyberhomes, my competitors are saddled with the CyberValue based on the complex Cyberhomes algorithm (rock, paper, scissors) while my listing is stupid-random-value free!

So, I am left with many questions. How will the consumers perceive this CyberTwist on the Zillow model? Will they go flocking back to Zillow for a property valuation on my listing, the “value’ being absent at Cyberhomes? Is Cyberhomes going to win one audience (the agents) and lose the, ultimately more important, other? Finally, and this is my real question, how can two models, each based on pubic records, return results which are so very different? To me, this difference of price opinion harkens back to the central issue. No online valuation tool can replace a living, breathing, knowledgeable professional, a category within which many licensed real estate agents happen to fall.

Anyone out there who knows more about this than I (which, by my estimation, is everyone), do tell!

(Press time update: My CyberValue just jumped $170,000 overnight, this for a home in a neighborhood where nothing has sold since the Eisenhower administration).


There’s no place like homepage: Insanely great Guerrilla Marketing tactic for locally-focused real estate weblogs

From ProBlogger:

I met a blogger recently who had a blog with a very local focus. His Guerrilla Marketing Tactic was to do a deal with three internet cafes in his area to make his blog the home page on all of the computers. In return for this he gave them some free advertising on his blog. The same blogger made a similar deal with the local library who also made his blog the home page of their public internet computers. This worked particularly well for him as his blog was on his local area.

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By-owner home seller is no match for a skilled listing agent

This is me in Friday’s Arizona Republic (permanent link):

By-owner home seller is no match for a skilled listing agent

We’re about to list a home for sale in a fairly pricey neighborhood, so we are very aware of our competition.

We knew a similar home was ready to go on the market, but we were convinced it would be marketed as “for sale by owner,” so we didn’t feel threatened.

Why not? Because a by-owner seller is no match for a skilled listing agent.

I’m willing to concede that there are some unskilled listing agents, but that doesn’t matter to us. We compete against professionals, not amateurs.

In fact, the seller instead went with a limited-service listing, which is slightly — but only slightly — more likely to succeed.

By now, go-it-alone sellers are thin on the ground. You can get a true MLS listing at a range of discount prices, from $3,000 down to $99.

So why is a limited-service listing unlikely to succeed? In this market, a home must be marketed perfectly from Day 1 or it will sell slowly and at a deep discount, if at all.

Except for the MLS listing itself, the home will be offered by owner in every respect: priced wrong, prepared wrong and inaccessible to buyers and agents.

This is not a necessary consequence, but it is very common.

In the case of our newly listed competition, the home is offered at $200,000 over its market value. It will not be a threat to our listing.

But it wouldn’t be a threat even if priced right. A professional home marketer will bring too many weapons into battle for an amateur, no matter how dedicated, to compete.

Even worse, a limited-service listing shouts out a warning to buyers’ agents to stay away.

Why? Because it is being marketed by an amateur. The seller will have no one to turn to for advice, exposing the buyer’s agent to double the legal liability in the transaction.

There’s nothing wrong with negotiating the best price you can get for a full-service listing. But in our opinion, limited-service listings are a false economy in this market.

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From the StarPower Conference: Reasons for optimism in the current real estate climate

From Howard Brinton’s closing remarks tonight at the StarPower Conference, here are Gregg Neuman‘s Top Ten Reasons for Optimism:

  • 10. 3,600 fewer agents in my market
  •   9. Downward pressure on commissions is gone
  •   8. Developers/builders welcoming us again
  •   7. Discount brokerages vanishing
  •   6. FSBOs are extinct or nearly so
  •   5. Foreclosure/short sale market thriving
  •   4. Great market for buyer’s agents (you can negotiate)
  •   3. Declining prices opens market to more first-time buyers
  •   2. Sellers willing to listen to reality
  •   1. Sellers need us now and THEY know it

Realtor optimism, yes. For sellers, not so much. But it is a real improvement over crying in your beer that times are tough.

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Making the connection: The objective of real estate weblogging is visceral and viral, not rape and run

This will have to be brief, because I’m crushed for time, but we’re promoting Real Estate Weblogging 101 at the StarPower Conference this morning, so it’s a topical topic.

The premise: The commercial value of real estate weblogging comes from making a visceral connection with future clients, ideally leading to viral results, not spam-trolling for short-term leads. In other words, where keyword-packed tapioca content may score well for now on search engines, and may bring in filled-out web forms, it will not create the kinds of enduring connections that result in repeat and referral business for generations. Certainly none of the people brought in by search engines will become loyal readers or subscribers to the weblog: There’s no there there. Even worse, spamvertising in weblogs surely repels at least as many people as it seems to attract, and the people repelled are very probably the ones most likely to yield significant viral results over the years. You’re not only not building bridges, you’re blasting the bridgeheads.

There’s more: What happens when Google changes the rules? When a vendor crows, “Ha, Ha! We tricked Google!” the demise of that particular trick is foreseeable. When Google discovers that favoritism towards weblogs is bringing spam to the top of its results, it will change the way it weights weblogs. Locally-focused webloggers like Jay Thompson who have made the effort to build a following will chug on unabated. Keyword-packing spamvertising weblogs will dry up and blow away.

This morning’s post from Jay is good example of how to do this job: The keywords are there, but they’re there because the post wouldn’t makes sense without them. Jay is providing real value to his readership, practical, relevant advice. Even so, the post should search very well. But here’s the interesting part: Even though Jay is writing about the news of the day, if someone should happen upon this post by search a year or two from now, it will still be serving the visceral, viral function: Jay Thompson cares about his clients, and he is working to provide meaningful benefit to them with his weblog. That’s a very powerful long-term sales message — because it’s not a sales message at all.

Here is a hierarchy of objectives you can pursue with a true weblog, as opposed to a hand-crafted keyword-packed splog:

  1. Readers who like what you have to say
  2. Enough to return to read future posts
  3. Enough to subscribe by email or RSS feed
  4. Enough to promote your weblog to their friends or associates
  5. Enough to use you for a real estate transaction
  6. Enough to commit to you for their future transactions
  7. Enough to refer you to family and friends
  8. Enough to refer you to strangers
  9. Enough to actively campaign for you with anyone who has a real estate need

The last is a true sneezer, the holy grail of viral marketing. You may never get that far up the hierarchy, but you will never get anywhere if you are deliberately saying nothing that anyone could like enough to return to your weblog.

The funny part is, the search results will come either way, for now at least, as will the often-flightly leads attracted by search results. But if you build a weblog that makes a visceral connection with your readers, leading in time to viral marketing results, you will put yourself beyond competition. Bad advice abounds, and the worst advice seems to cost thousands of dollars, but this is the true purpose of a commercial weblog. If you make the effort to connect with your readers, rather than trying to fool them, you will engender and sustain a warm network of people who will use you and only you for all of their real estate needs, now and forever.

And if some of those people should become true sneezers, here’s what you should say: “God bless you!”

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A peek into the inverted world of venture capital: “Business plans are overrated, and profits perhaps even more so”

Infections Greed:

VCs are professional nit-pickers. Give them something to find fault with, and they’ll do it with abandon. I generally tell people to come to pitch meetings with less information rather than more. Sure, you’ll get pressed for more, but finesse it. Presenting a full and detailed plan is, nine times out of ten, a path to a “No” — or at least more time-consuming than having said less.

Profits are a different issue. Being profitable too soon gives investors, rightly or wrongly, an idea of what the margins are on the business, as opposed to what they could be in some perfect world. As a result, it takes a mighty force for them to not start wading in with discounted present value worksheets, and the like, thus hammering your valuation and generally making funding much more complicated (and equity consuming) than if you were wildly unprofitable.

How could a story like this not have a happy ending?

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When you’re not busy searching for Maricopa County real estate, you can have yourself a great Maricopa County picnic: Just whip up some tasty Maricopa County sandwiches and pack some frosty Maricopa County beverages, but remember to keep an eye out for those nasty Maricopa County scorpions

Comes news today that a keyword-packed fake weblog is every bit as attractive and satisfying as an inflatable spouse. I don’t doubt it for a minute, but if the objective is to snare random morons by deception, I think a “stealth” web site is a better-yielding joy-doll.

I swear to god it’s Groundhog Day in the real estate industry — 1974 every damn day, over and over again. Does real estate weblogging offer a path to transparency? Not if it’s just another sleazy gimmick.

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