high-tech investment is still paying off

by Valerie Hubbard

Two years ago, Jim Duncan of Century 21 Manley Associates in Charlottesville and Merv Forney of Choice3 Realty Group in Leesburg were on the cutting edge.

As two of the first Virginia REALTORS® to explore web logs or blogs in their real estate practice, the two lauded the marketing and educational benefits just waiting to be tapped with this new technology tool in a feature article on blogging published in the march-april 2006 issue of Commonwealth magazine.

“Technology is moving at an incredible rate,” Duncan was quoted saying.

Indeed. Just like dogs who live at a faster pace than we humans, technology also laps us many times in the span of a year. It’s as if its evolutionary speedometer is set somewhere around “warp.”

so we wanted to know – are Duncan and Forney keeping up? you bet they are.

After only three years in real estate, Forney – a former senior executive with the technology firm EDS – has exponentially increased exposure to his blog askmerv.choice3realty.com. Just Google “Northern Virginia real estate” and see what shows up at the top of the list of results.

“My blog,” Forney says.

“For about the past 12 months I’ve been getting 100 percent of my business from the blog, and the high Google ranking has helped people find me.”

And the blog does not disappoint. From a comprehensive assortment of statistical analyses of the Northern Virginia real estate market to economic news, everything a consumer might need to explore when buying and selling property in the area is included. Forney includes articles on social networking, real estate trends and national housing market news.

“I started blogging at the beginning of the real estate bubble talk,” said Forney. “It was just as the consumer was starting to pay attention to the direction the market was taking, so I decided to provide market data on the site…lots of charts and graphs.”

Now, Forney says, it’s about taking the fear out of the process of buying and selling real estate. He stresses that it’s important to give real data, not sugar-coated statements about what might be happening, because consumers are savvy. “They’re looking for authenticity,” said Forney.

Duncan agrees. The 30-something REALTOR® who started his blog realcentralva.com to provide a news source to fill what he felt was a void in local real estate market news and analysis, says many consumers are looking for a way to passively filter out sales pitches in order to make a choice on their own. “They want trusted advisors and non-biased information about the market,” he said. “Blogs create more accountability for everyone and more transparency in how we do business.”

Although making money was not his motivation in the creation of his blog, today he estimates about 50 percent of his business comes through it. He spends about two to three hours every day preparing posts – a process that requires lots of reading, processing and analyzing, he says.

“So much is happening in the real estate market and online that it’s a phenomenal amount to process,” Duncan said.

Both Duncan and Forney stress that realizing the impact of blogging on business takes time. “It’s a gradual
process,” said Duncan. “It has not happened overnight, but I am realizing more and more that my business is benefitting from the blog.”

Forney, who recently started coaching others in the profession how to create and maintain blogs, urges those who are interested in using blogs as marketing tools not to look for instant results.

“For those REALTORS® who are looking for the silver bullet that will bring them business next month, blogging is not the vehicle to use,” said Forney. “No social medium is a fix-my-business-tomorrow proposition. It’s something that you have to start, and keep doing and doing to see results.”

The good news is that early hard work pays off for bloggers. Forney, who initially posted about 18 to 24
times per month now only posts two to three times monthly and hasn’t seen a decrease in traffic to his blog as a result. Duncan says his blog has been an invaluable educational tool and made him a “better REALTOR®.” “It’s raised my profile and my credibility in the market. I’ve gained national recognition and local connections that are critical to my success.”

And their new technological frontiers? Duncan is using Twitter (see page 23) to connect with other REALTORS® and neighbors throughout the day, but his main tool for staying connected to clients is instant messaging and texting on his cell phone. About six months ago he created a page on Facebook, which he admits doesn’t get a lot of attention – from him or clients. Its cousin, LinkedIn is more to his liking because it “feels more professional and more focused on business.”

Forney says he’s been distracted by another real estate-related project to bring together a consortium of real estate practitioners and educators to address the changing nature of the profession, but wants to stay on top of social media’s evolution.

“We’ve got all of these ways to create relationships with people. They get to know you and then you never know when you’re going to get the call, but you will,” he said.