Archive for the 'How A Realtor Helps You' Category

Just in time for Independence Day, a real estate consumer’s Declaration of Independence.

My friend and colleague Al Lorenz, who sells real estate and develops real property in Lake Chelan Washington wrote and posted this Real Estate Declaration of Independence.

Al and I are in complete agreement about these principles, so I’m delighted to share them with you:

Real Estate Declaration of Independence

We, the people who buy and sell real estate, hold these truths to be obvious:

  • We the people believe that information on real estate for sale should be readily accessible without surrendering our private information. We reject having to register on a web site in order to view listings in an area. We value our time and will contact a real estate professional when we are good and ready for their services.
  • We the people reject all policies of the National Association of Realtors that are not in the best interest of the real estate buying and selling public. Limiting our access to information, restricting our ability to a free and open market through regulation and limiting our market choices are all examples of policies we reject that are designed to line Realtors pockets at the expense of the public.
  • We the people reject “Dual Agency,” where a real estate agent has an inherent conflict of interest with his agency and fiduciary duties by attempting to represent both the buyer and seller in order to earn a larger commission on our transaction. If the agent is truly delivering value, both parties of a transaction have an equal right to that value without a conflict of interest and each party deserves their own agent in the transaction.
  • We the people reject the practice of real estate agents trying to “Buy the Listing” by telling a potential seller an above market price in an attempt to secure a listing. This practice costs sellers time and money while their home sits on the market as the agent waits for the seller to cut the price to where it should have been to start.
  • We the people reject the practice of real estate MLS systems that limit a home seller’s exposure to potential buyers in an attempt to control access to a market. A listing agent’s responsibility is to market a property to the best of their ability and limiting the exposure of our home costs us money.

We the people are independent in a country that still allows us to make market choices. We the people demand better service and will exercise our freedom of choice and only choose Real Estate Professionals who deliver better value.

In Arizona, a real estate licensee has a fiduciary duty to his client. That means that, when we decide to work together, I am obliged to put your interests ahead of all others, including my own. Too often, and much too deservedly, Realtors are perceived as being self-dealing, self-serving and self-absorbed. If you keep this Real Estate Declaration of Independence in mind, you’ll be better prepared to avoid that kind of agent.

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Even though much of the current real estate “news” is really just hype, there can still be good reasons for you to be in the market

This from my Arizona Republic real estate column (permanent link):

Get a load of all that great housing news! Median prices are up! Sales volumes are up! The prognosis for the future? Up, up, up!

Here’s a different take: If it looks, walks and talks like hype, it’s probably hype.

Are houses selling well, compared to a year ago? They are — but the federal government is giving first-time home-buyers $8,000 in free money to buy houses right now. If that tax credit is not extended or replaced with something even more generous, the music will stop on November 30th.

And while median home prices may be up, prices for homes that normal working people actually buy are flat at best — and they have been trending downward since December of 2005.

But what about the shortage of available homes you have read about? What about the multiple offer scenarios, with homes selling for thousands of dollars over list price?

What would you expect to happen when you artificially stimulate demand at the same time that you artificially limit supply? We should be doing what your grandpa used to call “a land-office business.” Instead, even with $8,000 in free money, prices are still trending downward.

And that artificially-limited supply — all of the foreclosed homes that banks are withholding from the marketplace — will flood the market sooner or later.

If you’re in the real estate market right now, what you should do depends on your circumstances.

If you’re a seller, make a deal. Your carrying costs will almost certainly exceed any gain you can hope to realize by waiting out the market.

If you’re a first-time home-buyer, jump. If you’re not under contract by October 15th, you’ll probably miss out on the tax credit — and houses are not easy to get, taking account of the artificially-limited supply.

Buying with a loan? Interest rates are low for now, but they may not stay that way.

Buying all cash? Sit tight. As sweet as prices look right now, it seems likely they’ll get a lot sweeter when the banks finally release all the homes they’ve been hoarding.

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Does your smart-phone hold within it the future of real estate marketing?

This from my Arizona Republic real estate column (permanent link):

Do you have a smart-phone like the iPhone, Blackberry or Palm Pre? How much time do you spend on it? Is it possible that your smart-phone is your primary interface for accessing the internet? If you’re not there already, can you foresee a day when that might be the case?

It’s certainly that way for us, and we see smart-phone surfing as the next big wave in internet use. Because of that, we’re devoting more of our marketing efforts to promoting real estate by smart-phone.

As an example, we just added SMS messaging from a company called Drive-Buy Technologies. If you happen to drive by one of our listings, you can text a short message to a pre-set SMS account number and you will get a return SMS message with a link to a mobile web site featuring property details, photos and a link to that property’s main web site.

Want to see it in action? Text HOUND1 to 88000.

I’ve never been a huge fan of video as a real estate marketing tool. But smart-phone technology is changing my opinion. The integration of YouTube into smart-phones is so seamless that touring a home by video — as you sit outside in your car — is suddenly a viable option.

Another use for real estate video on smart-phones would be a sixty-second neighborhood tour — photos of houses, nearby stores and restaurants, schools and parks. And that video might link back to a Google map of the neighborhood, with each featured landmark shown on the map.

We’ve also just added the SmarterAgent smart-phone MLS client. This is a tiny app that gives you access to the full Phoenix-area MLS database. You can search for homes any way you want — by address, zip code, school district, MLS number. Even cooler, the app will use your smart-phone’s built-in GPS system to show you listings at your current location.

Is the smart-phone the future of real estate search? Maybe not, but when you spot the house of your dreams, won’t it be nice to find out all about it — right there on the spot?

You can download our smart-phone MLS client by clicking on this link, or simply text HOUND to 87778.

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Unleashing the power of internet technology on real estate transactions

This from my Arizona Republic real estate column (permanent link):

We’re wired Realtors, and we always have been. The very first thing I did as a Realtor was to set up a web site to attract clients. We made money on the internet from the very beginning.

Since then, we’ve adopted every new idea that’s come around, along with inventing quite a few of our own. We publish a national real estate weblog — BloodhoundBlog.com — to help other wired Realtors come to grips with technology.

Because I’m working with a lot of buyers right now — and because buying a home has become such an ordeal — I’ve been working to make my technogeek status even more robust. Good enough is not good enough any longer. If I want for my clients to get the home of their dreams, my offers have to be first, fastest and best.

To that end, I just bought a new Apple MacBook Pro, and I’ve been outfitting it with the software I need to do contracts from anywhere, in the fastest possible time.

The Arizona Association of Realtors gives us all a program called ZipForms as part of our dues. In the abstract, ZipForms makes filling out forms fast and painless. It falls somewhat short of that ideal in reality, but it will do for now.

But ZipForms integrates with a web-based service called DocuSign, which permits me to capture signatures on-line, in the form of e-signatures.

So I can whip out a purchase contract in ZipForms while standing in the kitchen of the house we’re buying. Mrs. Buyer might be at her mom’s house in Albuquerque, while Mr. Buyer is in New York on business.

No matter. I can set up DocuSign for each buyer to sign the contract in sequence, then have it come back to me for my own signature, then forward the whole package to the listing agent. We can literally do the whole job in a half-hour or less — a big improvement over printing and faxing and running documents around to get signatures.

There are more new technologies we’re playing with. I’ll talk about some others next week.

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Why does BloodhoundRealty.com not require registration to use our MLS search? It’s a matter of morality — but the moral is the practical

The issue of whether or not to require registration to gain access to MLS search came up at BloodhoundBlog.com, our national real estate industry weblog. This is a topic about which reasonable people can differ, but we have very strong moral reasons for making MLS search freely available. But, as always, the moral is the practical: Behaving the way we do tends to attract precisely the kinds of clients we want to do business with — and for whom we can achieve the best results. The world runs by itself.

This is my take on the issue, quoted from the comments at BloodhoundBlog:

We don’t ask visitors to register for IDX search. We are having our second best year ever, and we should finish the year — having started with five months of near-drought — in the top 1% of income-earners — “the rich.” I have zero data to support my position, because I haven’t collected any, but I believe that much of our recent success owes to the FlexMLS IDX system and our deployment of it. But, even so, we have never insisted upon registration and we never will, for the simple reason that I am not going to treat guests in my home as prey, not now, not ever. Your mileage may vary, and I don’t care, but everything in our lives is philosophy first, and we do not change the way we behave until we have become convinced that our past position was morally wrong. That will not happen in this circumstance.

I would have to go and do the math on self-selected Flex registrants (we register a lot of people who come to us by other means on the site — emails, form responses or phone calls, etc.), but my guess is that we’re skinning cats with one out of three, perhaps more than that. The people we work with tend to repeat, to refer or to become full-blown sneezers, so we know that our overall approach to the people we work with is effective. In any case, I have zero desire to have 24 phone conversations to unearth the one motivated buyer or seller in a double-dozen “leads.” I expect I could do better making random phone calls or handing out business cards at the Circle-K.

I spoke about this at the first BloodhoundBlog Unchained. Everything we do for marketing is devised to get our ideal clients to firmly self-select for us before they ever do anything to make contact. I had a relo form like that today. The form came in at 6:18 am — the prospect is in the midwest. I had a walk-through with an investor, so I didn’t call him until noon. He had found us and stopped shopping. He hadn’t talked to anyone else in the six hours I left available to him. And he thanked me several times, first, for not insisting upon registration, and, second, for not dumbing the IDX system down. In fact, we configured our installation of MLS search to be much more robust than ordinary real estate sites, but we love it — and our clients love it — because we can make it so much more rigorous than ordinary IDX sites.

We target-market for high-Ds and high-Cs — thoughtful, prosperous people who don’t intend to be jerked around. Not jerking them around seems to be a very effective marketing strategy. When we finally add a high-C of our own to our team, we can start to make a stats-based argument. But it won’t make any difference to me. We do business the way we do because we believe it is the right way to do business — in every detail. We have never betrayed our principles for money, and we never will.

When you search the Phoenix-area MLS system on our site, you are using exactly the same tools we are using, from exactly the same database. We give you the most robust search we can, because if a central vacuum system or a heated pool matter to you, then they matter.

But if you want to search the MLS here and then work with another Realtor, feel free. We know we deliver better value to our clients, but we also know that that value proposition only appeals to people who are actively seeking better value. If any old Realtor will do, in your view, then we’re probably not the Realtors for you. The world runs by itself.

But if you have not yet played with our MLS search, dig in. In forthcoming posts, I’ll talk about how to use the logic of the system to pull out some amazing results. But the FlexMLS software is amazing right out of the box. If you take the time to play with it, you’ll never search anywhere else — no matter who your Realtor is.

And if you should start to wonder why other Realtors provide a clunky, dumbed-down MLS search — and have the nerve to ask you to register for the privilege of slogging through it — give us a call. We do everything better, not just MLS search.

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How real estate transactions can fall apart — and how Realtors work to keep the parties together

This from my Arizona Republic real estate column (permanent link):

For a Realtor working with home-buyers, there are three times where a transaction has a high likelihood of falling apart.

The first is during the initial contract negotiations, of course. Buyers and sellers can go through a lot of haggling by counter-offers before they reach a meeting of the minds. And with so much competition for low-priced houses right now, it’s very easy for buyers to dicker themselves right out of a deal.

The second opportunity for a deal to fall apart is during the inspection process and the subsequent repair negotiations. My stock argument to sellers is pretty simple: If you don’t fix it before the buyers move in, they will have to fix it before they move out. If we’re paying full price or something close to it, we deserve to buy a property in turn-key condition.

To complicate matters, FHA and VA loans require that homes be in habitable condition. But lender-owned homes are sold “as-is,” as are most short sales. And even sellers with equity may not be able to afford to undertake needed repairs.

Perhaps surprisingly, the third time when a home sale is at risk of falling apart is at the very last minute, when the Realtors, the lender and the title company are all working full-blast to close the transaction.

It is at this final stage of the process that seemingly insuperable obstacles arise: The lender blocks funding over some previously unobjectionable contract language. The seller has turned off the utilities before the final walk-through. One or more parties get cold feet so bad they are frozen stiff.

Add to all this the outrageous emotional stress that goes along with such a huge, life-altering change. The smallest disruption can set people off when they’re this tightly strung.

But as crazy as things might get, the buyers still want to buy and the sellers still want to sell. It is the job of the Realtors to hold the transaction together when it seems as if every force of nature is conspiring to tear things apart.

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Why should you enlist a buyer’s agent to help you buy a home? Because you’ll get a much better deal — even if you pay full price

This from my Arizona Republic real estate column (permanent link):

Are home-buyers best served by the vigilant efforts of an experienced buyer’s agent? Consider a transaction we have in play right now.

The buyers are a young couple, about to be married. They have about $10,000 in cash.

With a conventional loan, they could put 20% down on a dismal starter home. Or, with Private Mortgage Insurance, they could put 10% down on a nicer home.

But with an FHA loan, $10,000 is 3.5% down on a $285,000 home. We can argue the wisdom of making so small a down payment, but the FHA loan program is the path to homeownership for millions of Americans.

And $285,000 is too much house for our buyers. They found a nice lender-owned two-story home in the suburbs selling for $169,000. The down payment on that home would be $5,915. But the closing costs would probably run to another $5,000 — which comes to more money than they have.

They qualify for the $8,000 first-time home-buyer tax credit, but they won’t get that until they file their tax return. They also qualify for a state-funded grant program that will contribute up to 22% of the purchase price — but which can’t be used for the down payment or the closing costs.

Here’s the deal we put together. We offered $175,000, $6,000 over list price. In exchange, we asked the seller to contribute 4% of the full purchase price to defray the buyer’s closing costs.

The down payment will be $6,125, leaving the buyers $3,875 in cash to pay for the endless expenses of moving into a new home.

And there will be about $2,000 left over after the closing costs are paid. This will be used to buy down the interest rate. The buyers will end up with just over 25% equity in the property for a cash outlay of $6,125 — all at a very low monthly payment. And they’ll still have their $8,000 tax credit to look forward to.

This is the kind of outcome a skilled buyer’s agent can achieve.

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With MLS listings available everywhere on the internet, why do you need a buyer’s agent?

This from my Arizona Republic real estate column (permanent link):

Here’s an intriguing question: Given that it’s so easy to search for homes on the internet, why do you need a buyer’s agent?

Face it, if you use the MLS search tool on my web site, you’re seeing exactly the same listings I see. And you know better than I ever could what you like and what you don’t like.

By now, the home search process is at best a partnership between the agent and the buyer. In some cases the buyer and I will work together to perfect our search criteria. But many buyers simply search the available inventory on their own, emailing me the MLS numbers of the homes they want to see.

So why do those buyers need a buyer’s agent?

Realtors hoarded the MLS data for so long that even they came to believe it was the source of their value to buyers. But this is very far from the truth.

You don’t need me to search for listings, although I’m happy to do that. And you don’t need me to open lock-boxes. You need a buyer’s agent to guide you through what is in fact an arcane and perilous process — potentially a financial disaster. You might not need me to find your next home, but you need me to make sure that you get it — or that you pass on it, if that is what is truly in your best interests.

A skilled buyer’s agent will write the kind of purchase contract that will prove surprising to you at every turn, with every term and condition tailored to achieve your best advantage. Your agent will supervise the inspection process and negotiate the optimal solution to the repair issues. Your agent will be prepared for every pitfall in the escrow process.

If you bought and sold houses every day, you could do all these things yourself. It’s because you don’t — and because the seller and the listing agent are looking to take advantage of your naivete at every turn — that you need a skilled buyer’s agent as your steadfast champion in the home-buying process.

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The goal of the BloodhoundBlog Unchained training conference is to push the bums out of the real estate business

This from my Arizona Republic real estate column (permanent link):

We publish a national real estate industry weblog called BloodhoundBlog.com. There are 42 contributors from all over the country, each one an expert in his or her own right. Together we talk about real estate marketing and technology, lending and investment. If you want to know what Realtors and lenders really think, BloodhoundBlog is your keyhole into the industry.

The blog is all about the wired world of real estate, how the participatory internet is changing age-old paradigms of real property and mortgage marketing. When we started three years ago, the Web 2.0 idea of online interaction was still very new. By now, it’s hard to remember a time when these technologies were not ubiquitous.

BloodhoundBlog’s mission is to help Realtors and lenders keep pace with internet tools. In service of that objective, we produce an annual conference called BloodhoundBlog Unchained. Real estate professionals come from all over the country to learn how to market their services in what amounts to a post-marketing marketplace.

This year’s conference ran last week from Tuesday to Friday. We encamped in a hotel near Skyharbor Airport and worked all but continuously for 72 hours. Our world is changing so fast that we felt we had to work that hard, just to learn everything we need to know.

What’s all this to you? BloodhoundBlog is all about promoting excellence in every conceivable way. We do everything we can think of to train Realtors and lenders to provide a better-quality experience by every means attainable.

My objective, expressed baldly, is to chase the bums out of our business. Licensing purports to do this, but it has not. Trade organizations like the National Association of Realtors should do this, but they don’t. But if we can educate consumers to demand better service, better information, better representation, then the bums and the crooks will go get jobs. That’s the way free markets work, when they’re working properly.

Meanwhile, real estate professionals are just catching on to the idea that consumers can see everything we do. Drop in on BloodhoundBlog and keep an eye on us.

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A good Realtor may be the key to preserving your parents’ legacy when they pass away

This from my Arizona Republic real estate column (permanent link):

Here’s a horrifying thought. It’s late at night and you’re at home in bed in Manhattan or Manhattan Beach when you get an emergency phone call from Thunderbird Hospital. Your widowed mother has passed away unexpectedly.

And now you must take on the burdens of the grieving. In addition to making the funeral arrangements, you have inherited your parents’ estate. You’ll need to talk to their estate planner, and possibly also to their accountant. But the financial professional who could have the greatest impact — positive or negative — on the legacy your parents have left is the one with whom they very probably forgot to forge a relationship.

That would be a Realtor, of course. For many retired people, the most valuable investment they have will be their home. Many will own the home free and clear, a six-figure asset. But how the heirs manage the sale of their parents’ home can make a huge difference in how much the property sells for.

Here’s one way of looking at things: Your folks have died, may they rest in peace, and everything they left behind is free money. Sell it cheap, sell it fast and move on.

But your parents worked hard all their lives, in part to leave you a significant legacy, and with just a little bit of planning and husbandry, you can realize thousands more on the sale of their property — perhaps to pass along to their grandchildren.

You’ll need to have an estate sale, first. Cluttered houses sell slowly and for less money. Then you’ll probably have to arrange for repairs, painting and cleaning. You can sell the home as-is, but then you’re competing with all the low-priced foreclosed homes out there.

What you’ll need more than anything is a Realtor who is accustomed to handling estates in your absence. To sell for top-dollar, the home will need a thoroughgoing marketing effort — staging and decorating, open houses, internet promotion.

Your parents are gone and nothing will bring them back. But a little bit of forethought will go a long way toward preserving their legacy.

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What’s the obstacle to a paperless, iPhone-able real estate transaction? The sclerotic real estate industry itself

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

 
What’s the obstacle to a paperless, iPhone-able real estate transaction? The sclerotic real estate industry itself

I carry my digital still camera and my Flip video camera with me wherever I go. I have belt-mounted camera cases, so they’re easy to carry, never in the way. I keep those two cameras with my car keys, along with everything else I take with me when I put my keys in my pocket: My wallet, my business cards, my watch, my phone, my Bluetooth headset and my MLS key.

All of these things are small and portable, either pocketable or belt-mounted, but I have almost all of the tools of my trade upon my person when I leave the house. I look like a cop — not always a bad thing — but I have my stuff with me so that I can work when I need to.

This is what I want for the iPhone or for some later iteration of the idea of a hand-held computer. A laptop or a notebook computer is luggable, not portable. Even rechargeable printers are luggable, not portable. I might have a laptop and printer in my trunk — absorbing damage from every bump in the road and cooking in the summer heat — but I don’t have that computing power on my person.

My dream is simple: Everything that I might do on a desktop or laptop computer, I want to be able to do from a hand-held computer. I’m perfectly happy to give up printed documents if I can shoot PDFs in all directions at will. This sounds almost implausible, but I think we might be down to the sclerotic real estate industry itself as the obstacle: Realtor associations, lenders, title companies, and all of the many branches of government.

It’s common, when discussing ideas like this, to throw up technical issues. The technical problems are truly trivial. The problem we face in real estate is the dinosaur mentality of our leadership. Properazzi.com has an iPhone interface, as do Zillow.com and Trulia.com. The National Association of Realtors doesn’t even have a clue, much less a plan, even though the importance of the iPhone has been undeniable since January 2007.

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Listing real estate the Bloodhound way: Everything we do to list historic, architecturally-distinctive and luxury homes for sale

“We feel that you and Bloodhound Realty did an excellent job and we are extremely happy that you selected us as one of your clients. Your diligence and hard work were both refreshing and somewhat unexpected given our previous experience with ‘traditional’ real estate marketing.” –Ken Green, formerly of 1322 East Vermont Avene, Phoenix, AZ 85014


This is a detailing of the things we do to list a home for sale. We don’t do every one of these things on every home. For example, we know that if we list in a newer tract-home subdivision, much of the noise we try to make will fall on deaf ears. If I am listing a tenant-occupied investor-owned home, we won’t do much beyond the normal MLS, lockbox and sign kind of listing. But this is what we do when we pull out all the stops for those homes that are likely to excite the most attention among buyers.

  1. We know from hard experience that if a home is priced wrong, nothing else we do will make a difference, so the very first thing we do for our listings is price them properly. We will work hard from the MLS system, looking at each comparable home physically to see how it really compares. If we have any doubts about the price we arrive at, we acquire a full appraisal at our expense. We want to make sure we get every dollar that we can actually get for the home. By pricing to the current real estate market, we can get the maximum price in the minimum time.
  2. Setting the stage for staging. Cathleen Collins will go though the house with a fine-tooth comb, often taking many photos. She will make lists of repairs, touch-ups and redecorating she wants to do, and she will plan her staging strategy.
  3. Home-warranty pre-inspection. We put a home warranty on our listings covering the listing period and the buyer’s first year in the home. We use American Home Guardian, and they do a fairly rigorous pre-inspection so that any pre-existing conditions can be addressed.
  4. Repairs, painting and cleaning. This can take anywhere from a few days to more than a week. Everything’s a trade-off, and we can’t always do everything we might wish for, but we want for our homes to be as clean, as homey, as livable and as turn-key as we can possibly make them.
  5. Staging. This is Cathleen, and she is a master at it. We own about three houses worth of furniture, and she is always trawling Craigslist to find more — period, modern, eclectic. She has tons of art and decorator items as well, and her modus vivendi is to take everything she thinks she might need to the house, then move back what she doesn’t use.
  6. Professional photography. We have just switched to Obeo for our virtual tours. They send in a local professional photographer to do hi-resolution and panoramic photos. In addition to forming the basis of the virtual tour, the hi-rez photos are also used for Obeo’s Style Designer, virtual remodeling of selected spaces.
  7. Floorplan measurement. We put an interactive floorplan on the web site for every listing. Buyers can interactively place their furniture, plus there is a printable PDF version that they can pass along to movers or decorators. We use Floor Plans First, but this is a service that Obeo offers, as well.
  8. Amateur photography. That would be by us. We like to have dozens of photographs of everything, including photos of the interior and exterior of the home in all the different colors of light of the day. We can end up taking photos of the home over the course of days, just for the sake of a static kind of verisimilitude. For what it’s worth, I think it is incumbent upon Realtors to do the bulk of their own photography. Use a pro for the print stuff, if you lack confidence, but acquire a camera appropriate for real estate work and learn how to take good real estate photos. You should get in the habit of having a good-enough real estate camera with you every time you leave the office. The language of real estate is photography, after all.
  9. Neighborhood photography. We like to have a fairly comprehensive selection of photos of other homes in the neighborhood. We know that buyers want to know for sure that they’re moving into a neighborhood that fits the home we are selling. We show them many of the nearby homes so they can get a feel for the neighborhood.
  10. Videography. We don’t do this for every listing. We only do it when we have a story to tell, because video without a story is anti-marketing — worse than doing nothing. If the sellers or the neighbors have an interesting story to tell, that can work. Often, just using the neighborhood photos with a voiceover can make an interesting film.
  11. Building business-card-sized Open House invitations. I do this, printing them with OvernightPrints.com. We print these in the thousands.
  12. Building custom yard signs and directionals. This is me again. We print these locally, with a company called Signs By Tomorrow. Why do we put a paragraph of small text on our yard signs? To stop traffic. The purpose of the sign is to sell the house, so we do what we can to make sure people stop and take a look. We also add a “rider” to the sign showing the price of the home in six-inch high numerals. It’s the first question anyone is going to have about the home, so why not answer it in no uncertain terms?
  13. Building the custom web site for the home. Generally, we will acquire the domain for the home before we even go on the listing appointment. Using engenu, I can set up the gross anatomy of the single-property web site, then Cathleen or I can go in and finesse it page-by-page. In addition to many, many folders full of photos, which engenu will render as slide shows, we supplement our web sites with all the additional information we can find or create. For example, if we can lay our hands on historic photos of the home or neighborhood, we will scan them in order to provide that background information. The same goes for historic documents or newspaper articles. We will research the builder, the architectural styles or the construction methods and document those. Lately we’ve been building custom maps in Google Maps to help buyers discover local amenities. We try to have all these ancillary items done before the listing hits the MLS, but that’s not always possible. But we live by the idea that, if it looks done, it is done, so we don’t tell people about features that are still to come. That way, the web site always looks and feels finished, even if we don’t yet have the link for the finished virtual tour, for instance. Our sites are built to permit the easy addition of new or changed content, so we keep working on the site before and after the MLS listing goes live.
  14. Starting now, we are building coffee-table books for distinctive homes. We always have dozens of striking photos of the home, so a coffee table book is just one more way we have of getting those images in front of buyers.
  15. Listing the home in the MLS. By now we will have written a ton of text about this home. We use it all and then some in the MLS. We get 680 characters in the remarks and six photos with 250 characters each for captions. If we miss out on using three of the characters available to us, that’s a lot. We can have an unlimited number of “virtual tours,” which are essentially off-site URLs. We use as many of these as we have content for. One of our working precepts is that the listing may be our only chance to make our case for the home to the buyer, so we try to leave nothing to chance. If we can feed the buyer’s agent a good closing argument, we’ll do that, too.
  16. Compose the flyer. We build a full-color flyer using our best photos and our most rhapsodic text, printing it on heavy coated stock. We use flyer boxes that will hold the flyers but also have a pocket at the top for business cards. We put the Open House invitation cards in there, just in case someone doesn’t want to take a full flyer. We normally put flyer boxes facing in both directions on the post, and we will store extra flyers and Open House cards inside the home.
  17. Set the post, hang the signs and flyer boxes, mount the lockbox. For now we use a normal six-foot 4×4″ white post. When we can afford to have it done, we’re going to switch to a custom-made sign structure, framing off the big sign and the riders and attaching everything will small bungee cords to keep things from flapping around in the wind. We’re always looking for better sign-lighting solutions, too.
  18. Promote the listing with online listing bots. We’re using PostLets for the broadcast distribution, but we do Craigslist our way, by hand, and we will go in and hand-finesse other online listings.
  19. Write a weblog entry promoting the listing and linking back to the single-property web site. This has all kinds of benefits, as we’ve discussed, but here’s one we haven’t talked about: Linking to your single-property web site from a trusted weblog can break you out of the Google sandbox.
  20. Distribute the Open House invitation cards. We will do this with nearby employers and in two sorts of neighborhoods: Move-up areas for our listings, and neighborhoods where BloodhoundRealty.com has a lot of fans. We know that people who like us will try to send us buyers, so we always want to let them know when we have a new house for sale.
  21. We hold Open Houses every week until the home is sold. Why? Because there are an awful lot of un- or under-represented buyers out there, and we want for them to be able to see our home. We avoid dual agency, but we have no problem showing the home to buyers who accidentally left their buyer’s agents at home. If a listing is near the commuter traffic flow — and most of ours are — we like to hold after-work Open Houses, too, just to see if we can snag people sick of driving. We hold Open Houses to sell the house — everything we’re talking about here is about selling the house — but we have met a lot of very interesting people at Open House. Sellers come to check us out, of course, and we meet a few buyers. But we also get to become acquainted with fascinating people who love our houses and know a ton about them. I can’t count how many times we have gained access to historic photos of our listings because someone wanted to see what had become of their old home.
  22. We service our listings. For vacant homes, we want to be in the house every other day, at the outside, ideally every day. For one thing, a home needs regular maintenance, and we can’t see to it if we aren’t seeing the home first hand. But very often we will end up taking new photos of the home, which we then incorporate into the web site.

We never stop thinking of new ways to promote the home. Our future success at selling homes is directly related to our present success at selling homes, but that’s a secondary consideration. The primary goal is simply to sell the home. We are always thinking and talking abut new ways to draw attention to our homes, new ways to make them more appealing to buyers, new ways to get the best results we can attain for our sellers. We’re not shy about talking about the things we do. We’re always delighted when someone picks up on our ideas, but that’s the rare case. But, regardless of what anyone else does, we are always going to be working at getting better at listing and selling homes.

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Phoenix real estate conference teaches Realtors and lenders the brave new world of internet social media marketing

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

 
Phoenix real estate conference teaches Realtors and lenders the brave new world of internet social media marketing

What happens when you bring the brightest Realtors and lenders from all over the country to Phoenix for a social media marketing conference? Great ideas are cross-pollinated, germinated, planted, take root and flower.

We run a national real estate industry-focused weblog called BloodhoundBlog.com. There are 24 contributors — Realtors, lenders and investors from all around the country — and hundreds of daily visitors. We’ve been doing this for nearly two years, and, in that time, we have avidly pushed for excellence among real estate practitioners, especially in the burgeoning internet side of the business.

This past week we hosted the inaugural BloodhoundBlog Unchained event at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. People came from all over — a third from Greater Phoenix, a third from the rest of the Southwest, a third from places where it rains and snows. Together for three days we explored the world of social media marketing in real estate.

What’s that? Social media marketing is the commercial arm of the participatory internet. As more and more people make the internet their primary means of interacting with the world, real estate professionals are learning how to move their own practices online.

The important question: What’s in it for you? The internet is a brave new world of commerce. No one likes sleazy sales people, but sleazy sales tricks cannot work on the internet, where every suspicious claim can be checked in an instant. Transparency rules, and the practitioners who succeed with net-empowered consumers are the ones who are prepared to back up everything they say.

The bonus for people willing to work this way is that consumers will have a much higher degree of trust in their Realtor or lender. Rather than picking a name out of a phone book or off of a yard sign, they will have gotten to know that person — passively and anonymously — online.

BloodhoundBlog Unchained was put on by me and my partner, Brian Brady of MortgageRatesReport.com. If you’d like to sneak a peek at the world of real estate as the professionals see it, feel free to join us at BloodhoundBlog.com.

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The Flip digital video camera makes illustrating real estate ideas fast, convenient and fun

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

 
The Flip digital video camera makes illustrating real estate ideas fast, convenient and fun

I’m becoming a fan of digital video for marketing real estate.

I’ve always hated the video home tour: “This. Is. The. Living. Room. This. Is. The. Dining. Room. The. Family. Dines. In. This. Room.” The images will be small, dark and grainy. The motion will be either jerky, swooping or both. And the tour itself will do nothing that could not be done better with digital photos.

But just lately I got a Flip video camera, and I can’t seem to stop thinking of real estate uses for it.

The Flip uses solid state memory rather than tapes to store its video. It’s a tiny little thing, about the size of a digital still camera, and you can operate it with one hand. It’s really only good for certain kinds of work. It would be useless at a wedding or a basketball game. But for capturing interviews, it is the prefect video camera.

Even better, it comes with a built-in USB connection and software for emailing videos or pumping them directly into YouTube or MySpace. Shooting, storing, editing and sharing videos are all painlessly convenient.

The first real estate application I thought of for the Flip was to collect testimonials from clients. That’s kind of self-serving, but the next idea was all about selling houses. In the past we have done video interviews with sellers or neighbors, but the editing process for normal video is onerous. But with the Flip we can just shoot the interview, upload it to YouTube and then link it from the web site for that property.

If I want to make a quick video to show weather conditions or traffic around a house, it’s easily done. I had a home inspector deliver a short video summary of the repair issues on a home for out-of-town buyers.

The breakthrough for me was thinking of video in the same way I think of still photography, as another way of illustrating real estate ideas. Because it’s so small and easy to use, the Flip now rides on my hip with my digital still camera.

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Will Realtors be disintermediated by on-line tools? Probably not, but tech-savvy Realtors will supplant those who do not adapt

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

 
Will Realtors be disintermediated by on-line tools? Probably not, but tech-savvy Realtors will supplant those who do not adapt

The big news in real estate is the market, of course. My view is that the American economy is much stronger and more resilient than you might guess from day-to-day reports.

But the other big story in real estate is the idea of “disintermediation” — replacing Realtors with some combination of do-it-yourself effort and hi-tech tools. The stock retort to this notion — and I have made it myself — is that people will never buy homes like they buy books on Amazon.

Perhaps so. But I lived through the desktop revolution in printing, so I have a different take about the dreaded word disintermediation.

If the triumphant yelp is that some travel agents and some stockbrokers still have jobs, I will point out that some blacksmiths still have jobs, too. Horses still need shoes. That much is beside the point.

Here’s my take on the matter: Don’t think in terms of disintermediation. Use the word “supplantation” instead. In industry after industry, old techniques are being supplanted by new ideas. More importantly, the old technicians are being supplanted by new ones.

This is not a necessary consequence, but it often works out that the “old hands” don’t want to make the change to the new ways of doing business. Even if they do, the “first-mover advantage” can be too great to overcome.

The same goes for everything — most especially real estate. Realtors who are not all the way onboard with the way business will be done in the future will be left behind at the station.

A real estate transaction is so complex that most people will continue to want professional advice — even as they handle many of the simpler functions Realtors might have done in the past. The work we do will be superficially similar to the work others have done in the past — but those others won’t be doing it any longer.

Will they have been disintermediated? Not if you insist that they haven’t. But they will have been well and truly supplanted.

When will that happen? Ask a blacksmith — if you can find one.

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