A look inside the hard drive of “Real Estate Zebra” Daniel Rothamel

by Valerie Hubbard

If it was 1825, Daniel Rothamel probably would be the guy packing up the wagons and the horses to lead an expedition west. But since it’s 2008, he’s blazing his trails on the internet.

Rothamel, a REALTOR® with Strong Team REALTORS® in the Charlottesville area, began his real estate career in 2003 after graduating from the University of Delaware. In late 2006, he and his wife, Kari, and her mother, Patsy Strong, opened their own real estate brokerage.

Daniel began blogging in 2005 as a way of informing his clients and customers about the Charlottesville area. He eventually combined his passion for real estate with his passion for basketball offi ciating and launched RealEstateZebra.com — the referee’s uniform has black and white stripes. Get it?

Daniel views social media as a powerful tool that serves to strengthen the relationship between real estate agents and their customers and clients. He firmly believes that social media can improve your business and at the same time enhance your profession.

With his abundant experience and enthusiasm for virtual social networking, we decided to poke around inside his hard drive, so-to-speak, and find out the why, what and how of Daniel Rothamel’s secrets to marketing real estate in 2008 and beyond…

VAR: When and how did you fi rst get involved with social media?
Rothamel: In real estate, I’ve been blogging about a year and a half. I started doing it as a way of connecting the local community, in Fluvanna County. That was my original blog’s purpose. I didn’t really have a good plan for it. I thought it would be a good place for people to come together and share stuff, but it didn’t really take off. So then I thought maybe it would work with real estate, and I started a blog called cvillearearealestate.com. It went well and started taking off after a few months. I was really getting into it, but the name wasn’t catchy enough for me. My wife suggested that I call myself the ‘real estate zebra,’ and I thought that sounded pretty cool. So that’s how I started realestatezebra.com. Once I got into it, I realized that this was really powerful stuff, and I needed to really be utilizing it.

VAR: What types of social media are you employing now as marketing tools and how effective have they been?
Rothamel: The main tool I’m using is the blogging. I’ve also been using Facebook and Twitter to a lesser extent. Twitter’s not really a marketing tool. It’s more of a relationship/conversational tool, and I’ve used it to connect with REALTORS® all over the country. I’ve done some advertising through Facebook. I’ve used some of the social networking aspects of Zillow.com and Trulia.com.

A lot of people have asked me how many leads I generate using these things. And basically in two years I’ve had two – a buyer and a seller. But, I’m not using these for lead generation. Can you? Yes. And that’s something I’m going to be going for next year.

It has most certainly enhanced my business, so far, though. I’m definitely a better educated agent than I would have been otherwise. In order to blog, you have to have content. In order to have content you have to look for stuff, and as you look for stuff you end up learning. The internet is a treasure trove of information. I’m always finding different things and ideas that have been very useful. A lot of my clients have really liked the posts I’ve written about pricing a home or the tips for keeping your home ready for showing. Once you put those posts up, it’s a resource for your clients, and they really appreciate that. It also helps me establish relationships with people, because I’ve had a number of people who haven’t called me as a direct result of reading a blog, but in the conversation they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I remember seeing your blog on that,’ so they feel like they know me a little bit. It’s a great way to really establish a relationship with people.

VAR: Tell us about the other types of social media you’re using.
Rothamel: I was amazed at the number of my clients who are on Facebook. I’ve gotten about a dozen clients from there. And then there a number of others…like service providers who are on there, too. The thing that’s been good for me is that it’s a way to stay in touch with those people without having to really expend a tremendous amount of effort. I’ve tried starting groups for buyers and sellers, but I haven’t really had a lot of success with that. I’m going to try marketing those a different way. I put an ad on Facebook for the blog, and we’re building a page for Strong Team REALTORS® on Facebook. We’ll probably start advertising for that, too. But I don’t expect the returns to be tremendous. The beauty of Facebook is you don’t have to pay if nobody is clicking through. Right now I’m using videos on my blog. I started at the NAR convention last fall recording myself giving my thoughts and breakdowns of the days that I was there, and I thought it was pretty cool. One of the things I realized was that people respond differently to the video than to the written word. That’s why on realestatezebra.com now I’m doing both. You learn differently through the video. Also when people can see you, establishing a relationship is a little bit easier.

With videos on the blog, you can meet me. I just started getting into it, so I’m trying to think of ways I can utilize them.

It’s all about building relationships. It will definitely pay off in the future. As the market changes, it’s important to be prepared for those changes. I think of my brother, who’s in college now and obsessed with Facebook. He’s going to be buying a home in five to seven years. By the time he’s ready to buy a house, postcards and yellow pages ads aren’t going to cut it. He doesn’t respond to media that way. If you look at the trends in media in general, it’s trending a lot more towards future generated content. So if you can figure out a way to connect with people that way and make it interesting, it gives you an advantage for the future.

I guarantee you my brother will find his REALTOR® on the internet or from his friends. And that’s one of the beauties of social media, it lets you easily establish relationships with service providers like REALTORS® in a meaningful way. When I have a new client, the first places I go are Google, LinkedIn and Facebook to see if they’re there, so I can stay in touch with them that way.

People who interact on the internet feel more connected with each other. There is a trust established that you don’t get talking on the phone. You can engage in a much more comfortable environment and on your own terms.

VAR: So you believe that blogs will be serving in the future in a much more substantial way.
Rothamel: Yes. Definitely. It’s not as if 80 percent of REALTORS® are going to have blogs, because it’s just not for everyone. But, there are things that everyone can do. Blogs require the ability to create content. A lot of people just don’t want to do that. It’s not easy.

VAR: What blogs do you read?
Rothamel: I read different blogs for different reasons. Bloodhoundblog.com is one I read a lot. It’s a leading blog in the industry. AgentGenius.com is another one. I write for that one. There are probably 100 blogs on my Really Simple Syndication (RSS) reader. I scan the posts so it doesn’t take me all day to read through these. Sometimes I stop to read more if the headline grabs me or if the content grabs me. I share all that stuff in my reader that I find interesting. It’s linked in realestatezebra.com. Some people post more often than others.

VAR: How much time do you spend blogging on a daily basis?
Rothamel: Reading and writing, probably an average of two hours a day. At the beginning, it was a lot more time. Creating content takes the most time. I don’t have to do this everyday anymore. The content is much more important. As long as you’re creating good content, people are going to find it. You don’t have to publish two times a day or even daily. In the beginning it’s important to establish yourself and your readership, but as you get rolling you don’t need to. It’s really not a lot of time.

VAR: What do you say to REALTORS® who are afraid of social media?
Rothamel: The key thing to remember is that there is nothing to be afraid of. Social media is a tool. It’s not an entity in and of itself. It’s not as if there are people out there trying to destroy the practice of real estate. Quite to the contrary, most of the people you find using social media are some of the most affable, kind, most willing to help people you will find anywhere. Information being shared in real estate blogs is incredible. You won’t find it matched anywhere. Social media is just another tool in the toolbox to help you achieve the goals that you want to achieve in real estate and in life in general. People aren’t scared of continuing education classes, and social media is just another form of that.

There’s that fear of “how do I do this?” and that social media is just going to be “too difficult for me,” – too time consuming. I’m writing a lot right now for realestatezebra.com to try to assuage some of those fears. If you can learn email, you can learn social media. It’s just not that different.

And another thing about social media is that you don’t have to dive all the way in. You don’t to be involved with every little thing necessarily. For some people, the extent of their social media involvement is going to be LinkedIn, and that’s fine. As long as it works for you, that’s great. If people would learn how to use RSS they would be amazed at how it will expand your knowledge base and connections to what’s going on.