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Archive for December, 2008

A sermon for the ninety-and-nine: Don’t mimic bad examples among big-name real estate webloggers

I’m kicking this back to the top from December 21, 2007. This was, I think, the second the the last time that I pissed off the echo chamber clique of big name real estate webloggers by pointing out that they were thoughtlessly committing a serious error. I was right about the issue addressed here, which is why, despite three or four days of mob outrage, no one adopted the insulting video tactic discussed in this post.

I don’t like the way people behave in these mad spasms, but I don’t care, either. The only behavior I control is my own, and, as I discussed last night, I never take an action I know in advance is morally wrong. Doesn’t mean I’m never in error. My contributions to BloodhoundBlog, very often, are discussions of what I’ve learned from my many, many errors. But I strive never to be intentionally in error.

But I have a unique understanding of the ontology of human ethics, and it’s something I feel a responsibility to share with the readers of this weblog. If you want to see everything I’ve written here on the subject, pursue the Egoism in Action category.

Or don’t. I’m easy enough to ignore — which will tell you a great deal about those mad spasms, if you trouble yourself to think the matter through. But if you want to profit by my experience at this kind of mass communication, I’m happy to share what I know. –GSS

 
I always thought that bible story about the lost sheep was stupid. If it were me in the story, I would stay right there with the ninety-and-nine, making damn sure that tomorrow it wasn’t the ninety-and-eight. Too bad about the lost sheep, but the mission-critical job has to come first.

Here’s an interesting fact about weblogs, and about internet discussion forums in general: You will almost never hear from the ninety-and-nine. If you manage to build an audience, you will hear from people who are reading your site. That’s a good thing. But if you take those people as being representative of your audience, you are making a mistake. You don’t know with any certainty who your audience is. All you really know is that you will probably never hear from most of them — at least not until they want to hear directly from you.

I’m writing this post to the ninety-and-nine among the readers of BloodhoundBlog. I actually do know quite a bit about y’all, from your emails and from link trails that I follow. The Unchained interest list has been a big eye-opener just by itself.

Anyway, here’s what I have to say: Be careful about the behavior you emulate. I’ve been thinking for days that I wanted to take on this topic in some way or another, but I wasn’t sure how to address it. The issue is this, and it’s something that has bugged me since BloodhoundBlog was just a puppy: As good as the big-name real estate weblogs can be at their best, there is an incestuous kind of cliquishness to them that can lead them — and you — into error.

On BloodhoundBlog, about half of the commenters are big-name real estate webloggers. On other blogs in the RE.net, virtually all of the comments come from other real estate webloggers. Just to make things worse, many of those weblogs deploy the MyBlogLog widget to show pictures of those visitors who are also MyBlogLog members. From the comments and the visual record, you would think that most real estate weblogs are read only by other widely-known real estate webloggers.

This is false. I say this all the time, but obviously I can’t say it enough:

Real estate webloggers are not talking to each other. No matter what we think we are doing, no matter what we might rather be doing, we are always talking to the ninety-and-nine.

This is easy for me to see and to talk about because it is not that important to me to be “buddies” with everyone. Love — romantic and filial love — matters to me, but nothing matters to me more than principle. Unless you are infantilized by circumstance, you can be assured I will never tell you any comforting lies — but that means I will never lie to spare your feelings. If I think you’re wrong, I’m going to say so.

I’m not going to link to it, but the Daniel Rothamel video that was all the rage among real estate webloggers yesterday is wrong, badly wrong, madly wrong, irredeemably wrong. And it stands for me as a textbook example of how the incestuous cliquishness of the RE.net can lead the whole enterprise into irredeemable error.

First, so you know, the video is not funny. It might seem funny to you, but this is because you know — or know of — Daniel. There is actually only one joke in the entire film, which is repeated ad tedium. If you send the link off to people who don’t know Daniel, they will probably be willing to help you understand how unfunny it is.

Second, the video is not important. Your reaction to it as a real estate insider means nothing — less than nothing.

Third, and most importantly, if you don’t know Daniel and if you’re not a real estate insider — if you’re just an ordinary person — the video is deeply insulting. It seems funny to you, if it does, because it would be perceived as being deeply insulting by ordinary people.

Understand that I have a lot of respect for Daniel Rothamel. I don’t know what he thought he was doing in making that video, but what it actually communicates is a profound contempt for ordinary people. Were I to guess, I would guess that he was indeed playing it for laughs among the RE.net clique — and, if this is so, he was completely successful. But I cannot imagine that he thought for even one second that the ninety-and-nine on his weblog would regard themselves as having been complimented by the attention he pays them in that video.

And what of all the other real estate webloggers who picked up that video and embedded it on their own sites? What message are they hoping to convey to the ordinary people who show up, read, absorb and never say a thing? In what way are those folks to regard themselves as having been informed, edified, improved? What conclusions might they draw about their host, when he posts a video that implies that ordinary home sellers are slavering idiots who must be led — like sheep — to their shearing?

I wrote a long time ago that nobody wants to be treated like a lead. Add to that this note: No one, ever, wants to be treated like an idiot, like a child, like a retard. The actual form of the video, qua philosophy, is post-modernism — stolen from here. And like Bob Dylan’s pomo masquerade of a performance, the idea was to include the insiders by excluding the “squares” who just wouldn’t see how funny it is to give a pomo masquerade of a performance. The difference is, Dylan was selling his bunk to the insiders, where the RE.net’s objective is to appeal for business to the “squares” it just went out of its way to insult.

This is not a debatable proposition. The essence of post-modernism is that everything is a joke until suddenly it isn’t. There is no one who thinks his own home is a joke. There is no one who wants to be treated like a joke by a salesperson. There is no rationalization to make this wrong right.

But that’s not the issue. Regardless of what I say here or elsewhere, the incestuously cliquish part of the RE.net will insist that it is talking only to itself. Okayfine. I am talking only to the ninety-and-nine. If your objective in reading BloodhoundBlog is to build and improve your business, do not do as they do. Don’t treat people as leads, and, whatever you do, don’t treat them like idiots. Don’t insult them to score points with your buddies. If you find you’ve stepped in shit, admit it at once, clean up what you can and move on. Do whatever you have to do to remember that the people you are most interested in talking to are the ones you will never hear from until they are ready to hear from you. If you blow them off in some misguided idea of pomo “fun,” they will turn instead to someone wise enough to show them respect.

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40 comments

How Much Does Knowledge Cost?

We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”  quoted by John Naisbitt.

As RE Web 2.0 has evolved, there has been so much emphasis on the data, yet as we sit and evaluate the present solutions, consumers are still unclear how to interpret the information.

“Information is not knowledge.”  quoted by Albert Einstein.

Buying and selling real estate isn’t all about the data – it’s about knowledge and expertise.

If knowledge is not information, what is knowledge?

According to Merriam-Webster online, knowledge is defined as the following:

Knowledge (1): the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2): acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique b (1): the fact or condition of being aware of something (2): the range of one’s information or understanding <answered to the best of my knowledge> c: the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning : cognition d: the fact or condition of having information or of being learned <a person of unusual knowledge>
If consumers are to gain value from technology in the real estate arena, the solutions must be focused on the interpretation of the information.  Interpretation of information is knowledge.
Who possesses knowledge in the real estate arena?  Experienced Realtors, brokers, mortgage professionals, attorneys, title/escrow agents, property inspectors, experienced investors and others involved in the transaction.  Experience gained over time, after executing a number of transactions.
The prevalent mindset is to reduce the cost of the transaction by reducing the commission paid to the real estate agent because technology delivers information more openly to the consumer – but what value has been created?  Has true value been really created if more information has become available?
Reduced fee business models often focus on reducing the most value aspect of the transaction – the knowledge and expertise of the real estate professional.  Granted, if the knowledge and expertise is not readily identifiable, it makes sense to pay less.  I believe reduced fee models address the barrier to entry for new agents who may lack the knowledge and expertise more seasoned and experienced agents have gained over time.
Do you know how much your knowledge costs?  How is your value being communicated to the consumer?

“If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning.”  quoted by Carl Rogers

The future direction of RE Web 3.0 technology solutions should be to exploit the unique expertise possessed by the professionals who “own” the knowledge.

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Over $100? You Better Improve My Friggin’ Bank Account!

I was inspired to write this post as I read the comments on Brian Brady’s recent post on Cyber Pros… The conversation turned to the relative value of various barcamps, seminars, and conferences. As you might’ve guessed I have some thoughts on the subject. Go figure.

I’ve attended seminars etc. since the mid-70’s. Back then, and until the internet created its own mushroom cloud of ‘experts’, they existed for the sole purpose of sending you back home better off than when you arrived. In those days the seminars were taught by the giants of the industry. I spent much of my late 20’s attending seminars in awe of the speaker. Unfortunately that’s not so these days.

From 1976 through about 1999 I was able to rely on coming away with much more than fool’s gold or networking opportunities when I laid my money down on seminars, or conferences. The gold standard (pun intended) was in 1980 when I completed the intense/expensive six day long CCIM courses, all five of them then. The info I learned and applied in those five weeks was phenomenally effective, salient, and results oriented. They were there to teach — and let the chips fall where they may. The failure rate for CI 101 back then was about 50% — with an open book final. That’s real. They didn’t, and still don’t tolerate posers.

I don’t know a single soul from those courses to this day.

Of course, if I’d taken them recently, that wouldn’t be the case. I’d of been better off having networked with classmates. But given the choice of either or? Give me the information, the knowledge, the ability to successfully apply every time. Though I attended investment real estate seminars like a groupie back in the day, nothing impacted my ability to produce positive results for my clients and my business more than the CCIM classes. Nothing, not even close.

I’ve been to a couple barcamps. The cost is usually so low, from free to $100 or so, that if I take away the proverbial ‘one nugget’ plus the cool networking, I’m a happy ‘camper’. I go expecting nothing but networking, and am pleased with any worthy new knowledge passed my way.

I’ve polled at last count over 30 people I respect, for their opinions of Inman. And for the record, I don’t have an ax to grind either way with them. Without exception the first thing out of their mouths was how truly impressive the networking was. Yet not one gave the various topics taught an ‘A’ grade. Not one. Most said they blew off many of the topics, or found themselves lookin’ at their watches while attending.

Unchained on the other hand is to my way of thinking pretty analogous in concept to what I experienced with CCIM. They’re there to show you what works — to empirically lead you down the path of greater success in the real estate business.. They give details, the nuts and bolts of what gets bankable results, which is what attendees are there for, right? What I like best about Unchained is how the speakers also give up their failures, especially the ones which lead to what actually ended up putting skinned cats on the wall, or got them belly to belly with someone who could tell them to go to hell — or become a client.

One thing seminars of the 21st century have reenforced for me is that calling the guy is, for the most part, far more productive and cost effective than doing it yourself. CCIM, Unchained, and some of the barcamps are the exceptions. If I ever wanna pay several hundred bucks plus even more than that to network, do me a favor — shoot me. I already have a cell phone and know how to use it. The only time I gladly paid to ‘network’ was when I didn’t have time to meet potential new ‘bosses’ and paid to join several online dating sites. I dare ya to claim any networking you’ve ever done at a real estate conference yielded those kinda perks. 🙂

It’s when times turn tough that most folks begin in earnest to discern the wheat from the chaff when endeavoring to improve their game through seminars/conferences/barcamps or vendors’ products. Look at what’s out there now and ask yourself the bottom line question: Will attending this result in more cat skins on my wall? Theory is what makes your grass greener. Empirically proven methods leading to bigger bank accounts is what makes these things worth the time, effort, and money to attend. The rest is crap on a cracker dressed to look like fondue.

And for the record, I don’t make the same distinction some do when it comes to vendors. If they can make money ‘off of the real estate’ industry, instead of sharing their expertise from within, so what? My firm just installed a new database program called REST, and we’ll be shouting ’till we’re hoarse about how superior it is. They don’t have a single worthy competitor. You don’t have to listen to me though, and no, they won’t have paid me. And if they did, so what? Integrity says I must believe in products I’m paid to endorse. Getting paid to endorse products in which I believe is called, for lack of a better phrase, The American Way. In fact it was just last year when on these very pages I unashamedly trolled for a database vendor to pony up to the Put Up Or Shut Up Bar. REST put up.

Ironically, the newest ‘vendor’ product to interest me big time is Greg’s new single-property websites. For a relative pittance I can give him the pictures and whatever else he needs, and voilà! there’s the website, no muss, no fuss, and I take all the credit with my client to boot. Works for me. I love the fact it’s Greg, but do you seriously think I’d give a damn if it was some other web guy who couldn’t spell real estate if you spotted him the ‘real’? Don’t answer that, it’s a trick question. If that product doesn’t earn Greg a truckload I’ll be surprised.

Whether it’s paying for learning excursions or vendors’ products, the bottom line is this: It was either more than worth the time, effort, and money to buy in, or it wasn’t. And the only way to measure that is how many cats gave their skins to prove it.

The rest is, as I said earlier, crap on a cracker no matter how attractively it’s spread.

10 comments

The Case Against Paid Reviews: Why Agents & Vendors Should Never Use Them.

First a disclaimer:  I’ve done fine on the web.  Made great money connecting with clients that don’t know, used to know, and kinda know me.  A lot on LiveJournal till I left, and even more on Facebook.  I’ll make more money in 2009.   A second disclaimer:  I hope that this post makes me tens of thousands of dollars by attracting to me the type of person I wanna do business with.  So this post is written for perfectly selfish reasons, but we all have that on the table now…and can move forward.   I guess with that said, every single post I write here or elsewhere…I write with the intent of connecting with someone cool.

When I first joined BHB, no less than 3  ‘vendors’ that currently advertise elsewhere on the RE.NET looked at me and assumed that I’d be the type to shill their products.  I wasn’t ever offered cash, but I was offered to use the product and see if I like it.   I was too busy at the time, and didn’t give a shit about those particular products. I don’t know if I would have taken cash, I wasn’t asked, so I can’t answer that question.   What I do know is that I blew it off because the products didn’t seem interesting.  Who cares about some new CRM that manages your showings or whatever…

Vendors invariably harm themselves with paid reviews.   When you coopt a voice like Agent Genuis with ad money and reviews, you short circuit your ability go gain feedback.    If you’re trying to make anything better and different, you must be able to rely on places like AG to give you honest feeback on your product.  You either want to advertise it–which is what Todd at Lenderama does transparently and honestly…or you want to improve it.   Co-opting the people that have influence is not the way to get actionable feedback. It’s also an insult to them: it basically says hey, we like your readers, but we will give you money instead of listening to your ideas.

The RE.NET is packed with bright people.   More valuable than the 3-4 subscribers that you might get from a campaign…is a test of the viability of your product.  Stuff like RateSpeed could have been improved to the point of usability rather than being the soup du jour of the echo chamber…had  there been an earnest effort to get real feedback in lieu of promoting the product.  But you rarely get good feedback from people when you’re writing them checks.  They are happy enough with the checks.  A prostitute will make you believe that you’re a world class lover.  There are people in every blog that freely give up ideas, and to short circuit the feedback loop to merely promote your product is low minded thinking.

What’s more valuable: a plug from a guy that built a great blog?  Or some honest feedback to hone your offering?

Think bigger.

On your own blog, accepting ads changes you, like it or not.  Anything but MAYBE anonymous google ad words, and putting an ad up changes the way you think of your blog.  A display ad is pressured to perform, and instead of exploring and writing and processing thought, you think of making someone else’s idea make money.   And your blog loses its originality and creativity.  Best example of this is LifeHacker. When they really monetized themselves they became borderline unusable, probably about 18 months ago.  (Thanks to my  friend Keith Baker for pointing this out to me some time ago on one of his many blogs).

Your blog is a chance to get lending, listing & selling clients, it’s a chance to demonstrate the level of service your customers will expect to get, and the most valuable is the chance for you to clarify and hone your thoughts.  Corrupting that process with a few hundred or even a few thousand bucks a month can’t possibly be worth it, unless you vew your ideas as only worth that much.   Why limit yourself?  I’ve gotten & will continue to get gigs, I’ve gotten &  made referrals, and it’s because my blog is ‘really me.’  If I sell that process, or lend whatever credibility my blog has,   I wouldn’t at this point–be likely to do anything with display ads, my own thoughts are too valuable to lease out to anyone who has cobbled together some LAMP widget for Realtors.

Paid reviews are a stamp of a moron.  And, they make you unbelievable.  If you promote Heap, then you promote ZohoCRM and then you promote Highrise…all with affiliate links, what value can you be giving to them?  You’re just demonstrating to all that you’re for sale, have no integrity or standards, and every word you write was influenced both consciously and un…by other folks.   Let’s leave paid reviews back with 1.0 and retain our integrity.  When you gather an audience, be careful not to sell them because you become a drooling and pandering fool.

Oh..by the way, Heap is genius, but needs work, Highrise is Excellent but underpowered, and Zoho CRM put me back on paxil.

Finally, something truly positive that is more or less a test to see if Greg really did fix his video posting problems…Bruce in his Prime. Nothing finer:

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Eartha Kitt, R.I.P.

It won’t be Christmas without her

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Do You Know How to Iron?

I attended a Christmas dinner party earlier this week.  It followed the script of most such dinner parties, which is to say: it was remarkable – the same way almost all social gatherings turn out to be remarkable.  They start slow: a few people in various corners of the living room, their conversations hushed and directed at the same person who accompanied them through the door not ten minutes earlier.  Then the wine is opened, some appetizers are laid out and enough people show up that a tipping point occurs.  As if by design the conversation hubs begin to move, some groups grow in size while others diminish, strangers are pulled in and couples become less dependent upon each other.  Eventually, the dinner is served and new friends engage in cross conversations around the table.  It is a predictable, if not awkward transformation leading to a unique treasure each and every time.

This party was no different.  I sat down on the couch and was soon engaged in a wonderful conversation.  Forced to guess her age I would say sixty, but she could have been seventy and she could have been fifty.  She was well traveled and she was observant.  It was easy to sense a certain wisdom in her person and I was fascinated.  She had recently returned from a trip to Europe and exuded a confident happiness that intrigued me.  “What’s the secret?” I asked.  She looked at me for a moment, trying to gauge whether I would understand her answer I supposed, then replied, “I iron my clothes now.”  She could see in my face that I was confused and I could see in hers that she had gauged correctly.  “Over in Europe, people still care,”  and she went on to explain how Europeans were more considered in the clothes they wore and how they looked.  This appealed to her in comparison with the casualness prevalent in America.  So… now she irons her clothes every morning.  It requires a little extra time and a little extra effort but it makes her day special.

I thought about that conversation all the way home.  She had chosen a small habit, applied it consistently, and changed her entire day.  The truth in that statement is universal.  We can effect tremendous changes by simply applying a new habit consistently.  What do you do for a living?  Would you like to be more successful doing it?  Choose one action – one simple activity  – and commit to doing it EVERY DAY.  That’s it really.  You do not need a complicated plan with multiple marketing objectives and the latest, most expensive, high-tech shiny object.  You only need to execute one well chosen action every day.  You could call ten people from your data base for referrals, you could add three new people to your contact list,  you could even leave the office and get belly to belly with at least one person; just make sure you are creating a habit that directly leads to business.

Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”  My new friend from the party said “Iron your clothes every day.”  What do you say?

9 comments

Holiday Greetings from the left coast

A classic Holiday (er, winter solstice) Greeting from a friend in Lodi (hat tip to Rolff):

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit my best wishes 
for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, 
non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice 
holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the 
religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice, with 
respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of 
others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all;

PLUS

A fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically 
uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted 
calendar year, but not without due respect for the calendars of 
choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped 
make America great, (not to imply that America is necessarily greater 
than any other country or is the only “AMERICA” in the western 
hemisphere), and without regard to race, creed, color, age, physical 
ability, religious faith, or choice of computer platform.

(Disclaimer: By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these 
terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is 
freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It 
implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the 
wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by 
law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish 
is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of 
good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a 
subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is 
limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the 
sole discretion of the wisher who assumes no responsibility for any 
unintended emotional stress these greetings may bring to those not 
caught up in the holiday spirit.)

And you wonder why they can’t balance the budget in California.. Merry Christmas..

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Merry Christmas to everyone who runs with the Bloodhounds!

This is just for fun:

Here’s wishing all of us — contributors, commenters, subscribers and the ninety-and-nine — happy and healthy holidays and the best year yet in 2009!

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My own little gift on Christmas Eve: I’ve discovered a way that a contributor to BloodhoundBlog can get fired…

I would ask, is this sick-making to me alone? — but I heard about it from a nauseated reader before I had seen it myself.

We don’t take any money out of this site at all, not even Amazon affiliate fees. I don’t want for anyone reading BloodhoundBlog ever to doubt our integrity.

I am repelled by advertising on real estate weblogs, but taking in-kind bribes for pimping vendors and their dubious wares is simply corrupt.

Until today, there were no rules for BloodhoundBlog contributors — if for no other reason than because it had never occurred to me that anyone could do something this disgusting, much less celebrate it. Today we inaugurate our first rule:

If you write for us and if you have taken bribes in the form of cash or merchandise from a vendor, please send me your resignation. If I find out that any BloodhoundBlog contributor has taken bribes from a vendor, I will fire you on the spot. I love having our contributors here, but we each one of us have to be above reproach, now and always. This is the way I built this place, and thus it will remain, even if I have to go back to writing alone.

The one bright spot in this, for me, is that not one of these jackals made their bribe offers to me.

Un-frolicking-believable…

I have two more posts scheduled for the day, but I’m so angry I could spit. I’m going to mix myself a drink and toast, one by one, the people I know for sure I can trust.

110 comments

By publishing enough of the right information, Mom and Pop teams can triumph over Redfin, VOWs, Realty.bots or big-name brokers

I’d like to introduce you to some really nice folks. Take a look:

The couple on the left are the Anybodys, Jeff and Janice. Jeff is a middle-manager for GE. Unless he owns a Pizza Hut. Unless he’s a Civil Engineer for the county health department. Janice is a schoolteacher — or a stay-at-home mom — or the assistant manager of the parts department at the Saturn dealership.

On the right is their real estate agent — real live real estate agent Allie Howard.

This is good real estate marketing, profoundly effective in all kinds of ways. Virtually anybody can see themselves as the Anybodys. They are exceptional examples of everything that is unexceptional in American middle-class life. And Allie is just geeky enough, just semi-hip enough, just po-mo enough and just down-to-business enough to connect with the Anybodys in the intense but decisively temporary marriage that is a home search.

Everything in this photo is perfect. The clothing is casual but expensive — in just the right colors. That hand-written type face is an homage to the “Hello!” of the original Macintosh. Everything about this image is devised to make you feel comfortable about proceeding with a real estate transaction with Allie.

So who is responsible for this inspired piece of marketing?

Redfin.com, that’s who.

That’s right, the home of the geeks is working very hard to become the just-geeky-enough place for Janice — not Jeff — to shop for a home.

Just two weeks ago, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman was wondering among the Bloodhounds if hi-tech companies like his would crush all the Mom and Pop brokerages. But here we see that self-same Kelman working very hard to compete with Mom and Pop on their own turf.

Let me make two interstitial points, if I might.

First, do not underestimate Glenn Kelman. We’ve beat up on a lot of people in the last 30 months, but, as far as I can tell, Glenn Kelman is the only one among them who is actively trying to figure out what he’s getting wrong. That doesn’t mean we have been right, necessarily. But Kelman is going to keep testing and revising his work until he either achieves perfection, runs out of investment capital or takes on an even harder job.

Second, Brian Brady and I are going to be speaking in public with Glenn in February. I’ll let Brian make the official announcement, but we’re going up to Seattle to do a one-day Unchained pre-event, and Glenn is going to join us to talk about his squashing the little guy post.

Now back to the picture. The old image of Redfin was a skinny, geeky guy with glasses and his skinny, geeky Asian wife — what we might call Microsoft diversity. Redfin built all of its marketing around geek-appeal, and it looked for a long time as if it were going to do geek-mining as its niche. This bold new thrust into the soft white underbelly of middle America is only skin deep — for now — with the rest of the site being the expected tableaux of tables and forms. But the day is young.

And that brings me back to Glenn’s post. This was my take at the time, quoting Glenn then responding:

Consumers now want tax records, bank records, property outlines, school data and neighborhood outlines, all of which are expensive.

Really? Other than school info, I’ve never had anyone show any interest in any of this stuff. Except for the bank records, all of that is available in one way or another on our IDX site, but I don’t get the impression anyone cares. It might matter from a bullet-point point-of-view, but none of it will replace the warm-and-fuzzy factors that actually cause houses to sell.

Women buy houses. Men sell houses. That’s not universally true, obviously. Not everyone is married, and married couples can differ in the roles they take on in the marriage.

But experienced Realtors know exactly what I’m talking about. When mom is ready to move, she is done with the old house. She sticks dad with job of selling it so she can have the money to buy the new homestead, which she may have already picked out. Dad cares about nothing but the net proceeds, which is why listing is so hard for eager young puppies and so easy for grizzled old hound dogs. But the implication is, if you’re going to sell to buyers, you’re going to sell to mom. You can’t exclude dad, but he will often be very grateful to be cut out of all but the most critical scenes in this particular family drama.

Who cares about houses — with an emotional zeal that soars and plummets by the ticking of the clock? Mom. Who cares about money? Dad. Redfin’s initial selling proposition was all about money — a cold and lifeless appeal to the guy who would rather just stay put. Janice Anybody is the first step in the process of correcting that marketing error.

But let’s turn the tables on Redfin. The other piece of Redfin’s value proposition — theirs and all the other VOWs and Realty.bots — is access to data: Listings, tax records, school information, etc. But that kind of data is a dad thing, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with it, especially a robust home search with access to every available photo. But is the mom who is searching for the home she will love beyond all reason going to examine the tax records once she finds it? INTx’s and High-C’s might. For most moms, once they’ve homed in on the home of their dreams, their fancy is most likely to turn to thoughts of redecorating.

I’m not minimizing or making fun of this process. It’s always delightful to be a part of it. But the decision-maker in a home purchase will be driven almost entirely by emotion and almost not-at-all by reasoned reflections upon hard-headed data expressed in tabular form. I think it’s incumbent upon buyer’s agents to make sure their clients don’t let their emotions run away with them. But it remains that one of the key motivations for buying a home is to experience that rush of falling-in-love-all-over-again emotions.

So how do you — Misses Mom and Mister Pop, Realtors — fight back against the VOWs and the Realty.bots? If your answer is with syrupy, saccharine emotional appeals, you might be fine — for a while.

If you’ve got a decent home search, I don’t think you suffer a hard data deficit. If you have tax records and school records and lot outlines and that kind of stuff available to you, by all means make it available to your visitors. But don’t be dismayed if only the INTx’s and High-C’s ever use it.

But you do need data — not so much hard data as softer stuff. And note that I am talking exclusively about web-based marketing strategies, because I think that is all that matters going forward. Older agents will do well, for a while, with older techniques, but the Anybodys, in due course, are everybody. If they don’t find you on line, they won’t find you at all.

So what kind of data do you need? In that same comments thread, in response to a question from Bloodhound Tom Hall about a relocating mother concerned about schools, I had this to say:

First, you know which school mom would really want, if she had six months on the ground to scope out everything.

Second, you have no compelling way of telling her this. “I think you’ll find…” is just salesblather. A GoodSchools.net link is technobabble. “My son goes there,” is maybe the best arrow you have in your quiver.

So, third: Stop thinking that way. Sales is not how I get you to see things my way, sales is how I help you find the world you long to see.

So what do you do?

My take is that you help the school you know Mom would pick sell itself to her. That’s a weblog job, at least, maybe a weblog plus a forum. And setting something like that up is a lot of work for you as a Realtor, but if you’re really working in that kind of a relo culture, it’s what you have to do.

[….]

Once you’ve identified the objections that really matter, you can devote your marketing efforts to solving those particular problems. As you note in this example, home search is almost a side-issue. You have to solve a school problem before you can even get to housing. If you solve the school problem well enough, no one will be able to touch you with a mere search engine.

[….]

I want to make sure I’m being clear about this. The mom in this example doesn’t have a problem that can be solved with data. It can only be solved with experience — rich, deep, visceral experience. This is what you have to deliver to take away her fears.

Mom and Pop don’t have an image problem. They’re much better-situated than either Redfin or a Big Name brokerage to do more transactions per head at a greater per-head profit. The problem Mom and Pop have, going forward, is a publishing problem.

This is me in email to people working on the Scenius scenes we’ve been talking about:

56WestWillettaStreet.com is 178 megabytes on the server. There are a total of 38 folders which contain a total of 1,237 unique files, mostly photos. Including PDFs but excluding off-site links, there are more than 40 unique pages to the site, including two embedded videos and an embedded Google map.

After all the source files were assembled, I built the whole site, including writing all the copy, in two hours. Without the copy, the same site would have taken around 20 seconds, with all of the links, slide shows and headlines in.

With the right dataset, a database publishing solution can pound out a lot more data than this. But the difference is, I’m delivering to the home shopper — mom, usually — exactly what she wants to see in quantities so vast she will never leave my site feeling hungry for more.

The data the VOWs and Realty.bots bring to buyers is not the right data, for the most part, but they bring a lot of it. For Mom and Pop to offer meaningful competition — in the critical period when buyers are making a choice about which buyer’s agent to work with — they have to offer a satisfying quantity of data.

It has to be the right information, to begin with — rich, deep, visceral, experience-based evidence and testimony about the lives buyers will lead in the home of their choice. Here Mom and Pop can do what software-centric brokerages can never do. But there also has to be enough of that information — more than enough. We’re selling emotion, not calculation, and satisfaction is an emotional state, not a rational measurement. If Mom and Pop can publish enough of the right information about making a home of the houses available for sale, there is nothing that Redfin or any VOW can do to compete — at least not cost-effectively.

I think that means that the hypothetical “little guy” is gone. He can’t publish enough to keep up with the race. And Mom and Pop really have to become Mom and Pop and Team. But, despite the best efforts of Sean Purcell, Mike Farmer and Rob Hahn, there are no economies of scale left in publishing to justify the value of a brokerage — as distinguished from a real estate team organized as a brokerage. If Mom and Pop and Team can publish enough to provide a satisfying experience to homebuyers, they can compete against anyone, earning more money per agent and keeping more in profits per transaction.

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The Frog and Scorpion (Millenium Edition)

Rod Blagojevich tried to sell the Illinois Senate seat, recently vacated by President-Elect Obama.  Blago is to public service what Bernard Madoff is to investment advisory; a modern day pirate, raping and plundering.  Their sociopathic behavior is exacerbated by their belief that position implies entitlement.  If you’re a believer, there is a special place in hell for them. You’ll hear Blago take the stand and offer this defense, in a classic Midwestern dialect,

“I didn’t do nuttin’ wrong. Daat’s how things get done in Chi-caago. ”

He’ll walk and that will be that.  How do I know this?    He wants to fight the charges:

“I’m not going to quit my job. I’m not going to do what my accusers and political enemies have done and that is talk about this case in 30 second sound bites. I am dying to show you how innocent I am. I intend to answer every allegation that comes my way.”

I think Blago’s DYING to speak out because he’s got the dirt on the whole Illinois political machine.  It’s a festering wound, oozing pus from a century of infection and I believe it’s reach extends from the freshest of aldermen to the highest office in our land. You shouldn’t care about this because “Daat’s the Chi-caago Way”.  Illinois voters price corruption into the market when they vote because they have no choice.

Here’s why you should be pissed off; Banks are refusing to disclose the uses of TARP funds:

Goldman:  When pressed for what the TARP money was being used for, Goldman Sachs replied that it is spent to “facilitate client activity in the capital markets.”

Morgan:  Of the 16 banks that were contacted by ABC News and asked how they were spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, only one bank pointed to a specific loan that it made with the cash. That was a $17 billion loan that Morgan Stanley made to Verizon Wireless.

Keep in mind that both Goldman and Morgan relinquished their status as securities firms and applied for Federal bank charters.  The brokers became bankers; members of the 3-6-3 club.    Did you expect this to be dusk on the Wall Street Era?  Michael Lewis was wrong.  The pirates found new booty and their looting under the protective veil of a Federal charter.

WELLS FARGO: Wells Fargo said that of the $25 billion it received, it “cannot provide any foward-looking (sic) guidance on lending for this quarter [and] Intend[s] to use the Capital Purchase Program funds to make more loans to credit-worthy customers.”

BONY: More typical was the generic response by the Bank of New York Mellon, which said of the fortune it had banked in public moneys: “Using the $3 billion to provide liquidity to the credit markets.”

Bank of America, one of Hank and Ben’s anointed children, assured us that they’re doing the right thing with your money:

Bank of America, which got $15 billion from TARP, said only, “Have reduced the incentive targets by more than half. Final awards have not been determined.”

State Street seemed offended that they were queried:

“Will not use any of the proceeds from the TARP Capital Purchase Program to fund our bonus pool or executive compensation,” the bank insisted.

Finally, in the ultimate thumbed nose to the public, insurance giant, AIG, is paying out an average of $600,000 for “retention” of key employees, after the boondoggle in Scottsdale:

Last week Congress was angered to learn that giant insurance company American Insurance Group, which received $150 billion in TARP cash to stay afloat, was paying more than $100 million in “retention bonuses” to 168 employees.

What ever happened to the concept of “Noblesee Oblige“?  Bankers are supposed to be the frogs, helping you navigate tumultuous waters to get to the other bank of the river.  There used to be a “higher calling” in the banking vocation; a pride of helping a family, small business, or corporation advance the ladder while protecting the principal of those who climbed it before.  Chalk it up to my Jesuit education but I actually believed that a banker was a stolid icon, dedicated to a cause greater than himself.

Don’t be mad at Blago, folks; he’s just doing what scorpions do.  The frogs are the bad guys today.

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Learning to Appreciate the Arts

Not everyone appreciates the entertainment value of watching the body politic.  But I do.  I stand hands on hips, amazed by the intricate movements each player contributes to their tap dance around the truth.  I listen to their spin, enthralled by the rhythm and stunned by their ability to stand upon the dais and look us in the eyes.  For all its pleasures though, most dedicated fans recognize the elements of tragedy that underlie every production.  There may be action and there will most certainly be humor; but the end is always the same: hubris and self-importance combine to bring about tragedy.  In the audience we may see it coming, but our recognition is too late to avert the inevitable.

Residents of California have been blessed with a double header as of late; two shows for the price of one.  True aficionados of this delicate art form will not only revel in the production value both shows offer, but the clever juxtaposition between them – the contrasting views of power they represent.

On the main stage we find the Federal Players and their prime-time rendition of The King and I.  The legislative branch of democracy writes a blank check and hands it to King Henry (Paulson) and his trusty side-kick President Bush.  They spend it on assorted items, many never contemplated when the check was written.  The legislature must be commended, however, for its heartfelt portrayal of the country bumpkins who did not see any of this coming.  In the final act, a chagrined upper house – the Senate – reasserts itself.  They choose not to spend money they don’t have on an industry that does not deserve it.  (This decision aligns with the wishes of the audience, but we assume the relationship to be coincidental more than causal.)  At the last moment: a twist!  We see the King spending the money anyway!  He usurps the Legislature’s constitutional and historical role as the means of appropriation.  It is a dramatic twist, shocking in its brazen contempt for law.  As the curtain comes down the audience is too dazzled by it all to recognize the depth of the tragedy they have just witnessed.

On the secondary stages we find the State Players.  If you travel to the “Will Never Be Ready for Prime Time” tent you find the players particular to California, a state which all art patrons know to be the source of every decent slapstick comedy in the past thirty years.  Tonight’s presentation finds a Legislature stymied by the people’s will.  A proposition that allows tax hikes only upon a two-thirds vote of the house and senate prevents them from a continuous bacchanal of taxing and spending.  Like Nero, they fiddle while California burns.  There is a comic element in the beginning as the populace, forced to tighten their belts and deal with tremendous cuts to their budget, watches a government – unwilling to employ a budget – throw temper tantrums over their denied access to the public’s ever thinning wallets. But the comedy turns dark when the legislature realizes they can redefine taxes as fees.  For instance: define all gasoline tax as a fee and remove the fee.  Now they can raise income tax, sales tax plus a multitude of other taxes and offset it all by the elimination of the gasoline tax.  Thus they have a revenue-neutral tax bill which, in their humble opinion, does not fall under the two-thirds law enacted to prevent them from doing that which they have done.  The tragedy: the gasoline fee was immediately reinstated… and raised.  All of this was done with a straight and earnest face.  Afterall, for the play to succeed the audience must believe.

Great entertainment indeed.  A federal King usurping the power of the legislature and a state legislature usurping the power of the people – that’s quite a bit of power being transferred.  As an ardent fan of the tragic form I am enthralled by the drama of it all, but as a member of the audience I wonder how much power is left to us and suddenly saddened by the tragedy of it all.

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Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men…

One of the things you may not know about me is that I have two passions that most of my online friends do not see. I love to cook. I also love to sing (in a choir, where my mediocrity has a hiding place-grin). I particularly get a thrill out of Christmas carols. They are important markers of time and immovable objects for me in a life that changes at a frenetic pace.

My favorite Christmas carol? I heard the bells on Christmas day. Yet it was only yesterday that I took the time to learn the backstory behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it’s lyricist. Here’s a version of it from The Carpenters on YouTube.

I recommend a quick overview of his life here. I admire the man.

Much of the best writing in life comes from the dark place that is tragedy. What was going on in Longfellow’s life as penned the words “For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”? The war between the states. His own son was severely injured in the war and would be maimed for the rest of his life. What else was going on? He was grieving the loss of his beloved wife in a tragic fire that took her life and, (in his efforts to save her), burned him severely. The beard that Longfellow is known for reportedly came from the fact that he could no longer shave due to those burns. This happened in 1861.

The loneliness and darkness of the death of his wife along with the despair of the war were the backdrop for the poem that later became the carol. From those dark Civil War days of sadness and loss, came the beautiful words: “Til ringing, singing on it’s way the world revolved from night to day.” “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail…with peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Since we are REALLY good at procrastinating sending cards… From the real TeamEric to each of you:

We wish you “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.” Merry Christmas. And here’s to a successful 2009 for everyone who reads these words.

See you next year!

Eric and Jen (Cam, Craig, Jamie and Jordan)

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John Kalinowski’s custom real estate signs — and his custom-made approach to everything at his new Cleveland real estate brokerage

Totally stunning email this morning from John Kalinowski of LiquidBlueRealty.com. John is a profile in courage, to my way of looking at things. He’s just launched a brand new brokerage. In this real estate market. In Cleveland. He’s being very sweet to the Bloodhounds in this note, but this is an amazing amount of work he has undertaken:

I finally had a minute to sit down and send you a note, to thank you for all the help you’ve provided me, even though you weren’t aware you were helping! I’ve been following your site for quite some time now, absorbing every little tidbit possible, and in the last two weeks left RE/MAX to start my own brokerage in the Cleveland Market, Liquid Blue Realty. I’m building the entire company around the custom sign idea, and so far the response has been incredible, to say the least!

I am eternally grateful to the Bloodhounds (and to Russell Shaw) for all the inspiration that has pushed me to make this move. I even built my own website, using WordPress and the Thesis template, even though I’ve never had a blog or built a site before. I probably wouldn’t know what WordPress was if I hadn’t started following your site.

Our signs are 24″x36″, just like yours, but are actually printed directly onto a sign material that is made of some sort of hard plastic with aluminum bonded to each side. Our printer owns what amounts to a giant inkjet printer that can basically print on anything that will fit inside (I’ve seen them print on a bedroom door!), and uses waterproof ink. They use the same process to print conventional signs for other agents, and the panels are about 1/8″ thick and weigh about 5 lbs, so these are serious signs.

Believe it or not, I create my sign files on a PC! I start with MS Publisher with a full-size 24×36 image, then print to a PDF using Acrobat Distiller at 300 DPI. I then jump between Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to fix the CMYK values on the blue color, and to create the huge 350mb EPS file that is delivered to the printer on a CD or USB drive. Our printer is just as happy as yours, as he just has to load the file and print! It took a while (like several months) to figure out how to get everything right so the file would print properly, but now it’s pretty much a simple process. I use a hefty 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 PC I built myself a couple years ago, but even with 1GB of RDRAM it does take all of its processing power to chug out the bit EPS file.

I also designed and built my own post, using a combination of a white vinyl 4×4 fence post that slides over another custom PVC pipe-based device I designed that you pound into the ground (no holes to dig). The cross-bar is PVC pipe, carefully drilled with fixtures I designed, so all the holes line up, and the whole setup installs in about 5 minutes. We’ve had a few come off in recent windstorms, so we beefed-up the mounting hardware, and so far, so good!

The website was a lot easier than I thought it would be, though it did involve a lot of late nights and early mornings! I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes, and don’t know everything I need to know about SEO, etc., but the WordPress software is just simply amazing to me. Agents in my area think I spent a fortune, or hired a big-dollar designer, when the reality is the overall dollar cost is very low.

You can find several pictures of our signs here, and I can send you more if you like. One thing we’re trying is to offer the sign to our agents as part of what they get for their commission split. Instead of just advertising that we offer the “highest split in town” and other junk services, we are trying to provide our agents (and clients) with something that is truly different. I guess I’ve caught the Bloodhound fever! You can see our pitch on the Careers tab.

I hope to meet you some day, so I can thank you in person, as I just can’t say enough in words how much I appreciate what I’ve learned from you and the other Bloodhounds, and the insight I gain every day from your site.

Take care, and send some of that warm weather our way!

Oh, man, this warms the cockles of my heart. This is Splendor at its finest, and, along with everything else, I love to see the light of pure human joy shining through.

But John is taking on a tremendous risk in a perilous economy with no guarantees except his convictions and his willingness to back up those convictions with hard work.

But the cool thing is, everything is up for grabs right now. The turmoil in most real estate markets calls every long-settled certainty into question. Are Stuffington and Snobb the last word on listings? Then why do their listings languish so long on the market? People don’t change their habits when they’re comfortable. But once comfort has fled the scene, a marketer offering something new, something different — something better — has a chance to be heard. If you want to be the iconoclast who shatters the glass ceiling in your market, you’ll never have a better chance than right now.

First Mariana Wagner and now John Kalinowski. This is shaping up to be a great Christmas for the Bloodhounds…

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The Way of the Farmer, a video podcast from BloodhoundBlog Unchained in Phoenix, 2008: Using the internet, social media and direct marketing to farm for listings

Here is both the best and the worst of BloodhoundBlog Unchained so far.

It’s the best, or a piece of the best, because it covers a great deal of hard-nosed, hard-boiled, hard-headed nuts and bolts real estate sales technology in rapid-fire fashion.

It’s the worst, or of a piece with the worst, because it’s me delivering a lecture, rather than us doing the work I’m talking about.

There won’t be any lecturing at BloodhoundBlog Unchained in Phoenix, but there will be a whole lot of the doing of hard-nosed, hard-boiled, hard-headed nuts and bolts real estate sales technology.

This video represents just a slice of the content on the DVDs from BloodhoundBlog Unchained in Phoenix, 2008. We’ve learned a lot since then, and we’ve learned a lot about how to share what we know, so what we really want is for you to come to BloodhoundBlog Unchained in Phoenix this year. But if you can’t do that, there’s a whole lot of great information covered on those DVDs. If you can’t be with us in April — or even if you can — the DVD set could be a great Christmas gift for your career.

We’re marketers, and because of that we know that sales increase when the barriers to commitment are low. So let’s commit, shall we?

Enroll now for BloodhoundBlog Unchained in Phoenix

If you’re ready to rock, all you have to do from here is click a PayPal button to reserve your place at BloodhoundBlog Unchained in Phoenix. The event runs from April 28th to May 1st, 2009. Many more details can be found at the BloodhoundBlog Unchained in Phoenix weblog.

Fair warning: This won’t be cheap. If you’re looking for the best possible deal, and if you qualify, joining the CyberProfessionals might be your best bet. And if you’ve entrusted us with your money before, either last May in Phoenix or in November in Orlando, we want to express our gratitude with a special Unchained Alumnus price. But whatever you end up paying, we’re going to make it worth your while and then some.

Here’s how the prices break out. Just click on the appropriate button to make your payment:

CyberProfessionals: $397


















Unchained Alumnus: $497 (you must act on this offer before 01/01/09)


















Early-Bird Price: $597 (you must act on this offer before 01/01/09)


















Regular Price: $697 (after 12/31/08)


















Here’s the thing: We know money’s not falling from the skies right now. If you need to make payment arrangements, let us know by email, and we’ll work something out.

Not to rush you or anything, but the Alumnus and Early-Bird prices expire on New Year’s Eve. And even then, we’re selling out fast. If you want a seat, claim it now.

Or: Buy a set of DVDs from BloodhoundBlog Unchained in Phoenix, 2008

The DVD set from the inaugural session of BloodhoundBlog Unchained covers two full days of conference sessions on four DVDs. If you want to buy the DVD set, you can have them for $199 by clicking on the PayPal button shown below:

The DVD set, $199














The video runs around 100 minutes. You can view the podcast in the QuickTime window above, or you can click on the link below to view it in a separate window. The video is optimized for iPhone, iTouch or iPod screens, so you can also download it from our iTunes feed.

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