Archive for January, 2008

I have two phrases to describe the first VAR Strategic Planning Committee meeting of 2008 – “very pleasantly surprised” and “ouch, my brain hurts”. You may be saying to yourself, “Why?” and “that’s an odd description?!” Let me explain…

The reason why I say “very pleasantly surprised” is because I saw what actually goes on “behind the curtain” and it’s more positive and engaging than I ever imagined. You see, I was once an un-engaged and apathetic member of VAR. In fact, I may have been on the fine line of being an “assasin”. To me, VAR and its’ dues were a necessary evil when it came to conducting business as a real estate agent in Virginia.

But that changed a few months ago once I became actively involved. As a “newbie” to being on a VAR committee, I am learning how much, not how little, VAR actually does for the benefit of all its’ members. It’s also becoming apparent to what lengths VAR goes to in order to “get it right” and help its members succeed as Realtors.

The last SPC meeting was a testament to that fact. The meeting was dedicated to ensuring that the Mission Statement, Vision Statement and Guiding Principles were in line with what the Association originally set out to do as well as the changing needs of its’ members and the ever-changing real estate industry. These three items are very important because they are used to determine what services VAR provides its’ member and how VAR conducts itself on a daily basis. At the core of all these discussions were the needs of VAR members. There was no room for personal agenda – only what is best for all REALTORS in Virginia. This is what lead me to use the phrase “very pleasantly surprised”.

As far as “ouch, my brain hurts”, that has to do with the very thought-provoking, long and hard discussions surrounding the Mission and Vision Statements. We approached it from a number of different angles and used various methods to come to a conclusion. I seriously began to get a headache from all the concentration and thinking I was doing. At one point, even the facilitator said that he was getting a head-ache. No worries though… The headache was not from the process being a pain in the ____. It was because we were all working so hard to make sure we got it right and that our members were best served.

In case you’re wondering, one of the main topics of discussion was just that – VAR members “wondering” what goes on behind what they perceive to be a “curtain.” This hit close to home for me because I used to often wonder the same thing. Well, VAR is fully aware of this and is working very hard to change that perception. VAR is striving to become more transparent and engaging with its’ members. One example of this is VAR buzz, this blog. A focus on transparency is one of the reasons why you are reading this post and why this blog was created.

I do have to say though that it’s not a one way street. If VAR had engaged me, but I chose not to get involved, then nothing would change for me. In fact, at that point, I could only blame myself and not VAR. That was the other topic of discussion that came out of the first one – When VAR engages its’ members, what can VAR do to help get them involved?

The answer for some is nothing. There are some members that will not care what goes on nor want to get involved no matter what VAR does. Then there are others that may only want to passively watch what goes on whether it be via this blog, the newsletter, the magazine, etc. For the latter group, this may be more involvment in VAR than before, which is still an improvement and credit should be given to both VAR and those members.

For the remaining group, this higher level of transparency and getting rid of the “curtain” perception will spark them to actively get involved. Whether it be through volunteer work, teaching a class, joining a committee or some other way, these newly-involved members (such as myself) will have active involvement in VAR and contribute to all of our fate as REALTORS in Virginia.

To sum it up, here’s my personal take on the first official Strategic Planning Committee meeting of 2008 and the main points I got out of it:

  • There is no “Secret Society” or “secret handshake”
  • There is no “Dr. Evil” heading the committee meetings
  • VAR is aware that not all members are engaged and is working very hard to change that
  • VAR is striving to be more transparent so that all members know what’s going on and what their dues are paying for
  • The core focus of VAR and why it exists is its’ members and their success as REALTORS
  • And last, but not least…if you want to really see what’s going on and contribute, don’t just talk about it – get involved!

Keep an eye out for the follow-up post to the second Strategic Planning Committee meeting in early March.

Social Media & the Local Association

At the Lexington-Buena Vista-Rockbridge Association of REALTORS®, we’re a small Association, only about 192 members including primary, secondary, and MLS only. We’re a rural association. We don’t fit the demographics of the larger more urban associations. Most are baby boomer generation, some older, a few younger; perhaps 10 percent own laptops, most own computers; between two and five percent have smart phones, most do have cell phones; most have e-mail but some don’t; most get by with technology – just don’t make any changes or add anything new.

None of the listed items are meant as a criticism: it’s just who we are.

I’ve just gonelive with a gift to my local Association – a private social media network just for members of Lexington-Buena Vista-Rockbridge Association of REALTORS® but hush please don’t tell anyone this could be a “viral, social media event”. For now let’s just call what it is in plain terms – it’s a communication tool for our association members, leadership and committees to keep in touch & work together.

This is the message I sent out to our membership:

I am honored to be part of your 2008 Leadership Team!
During the last few months I have researched many different
venues for improving our association communication.
I have talked with association leaders about tools
they have found effective. By far the best rated has been Ning.

I’ve designed a private site for LBVRAR as a place for
all members, committees & leadership to share information,
photos, files, links etc. This is a work in continual progress!
It is your site! Play with it – you can’t break it! Have fun!

Right now I’m toggling between writing this post, checking email responses, and visiting the site to welcome new members personally. Yes, I’m nervous! I’ve been accurately “accused of being into that technology stuff”. And yes, I am trying to drag about 150 or so folks along with me ;~).

Guess what – 30 minutes after invite and I have about 20 members that have accepted my invite to the site! They’re excited, I’m thrilled. Now to keep the momentum and participation up!

I think we’re on the way to my goal of expanding the sense of community within our Association by improving communication and with that gain more trust in one another.…..to be continued….

Together WE Can…..

Are you staying in the business?

Appears in January/February Commonwealth Magazine (by Matthew Ferrara)

Working a boom real estate market is not so hard; with a heartbeat and a license, many inexperienced agents beat the odds. But sticking around through tough markets requires serious players. The competition will be well-trained, well-financed and most likely, well-versed in the technology that keeps them competitive.

That’s why technology matters more than ever. When markets tighten, competitive advantages are critical. Enhanced technology skills provide competitive advantages across every segment of your business. Every one of these areas can benefit from technology that saves time, cuts costs and expands opportunity to maximize the market. And with agent and broker incomes dropping with the market, technology mastery becomes more critical than ever.

If you’re planning on sticking around, it’s time for your technology to start making a difference. Here are four areas you can focus on right away:

1. Customer acquisition. One of the greatest expenses for real estate professionals is the cost to find new sellers and buyers. Let’s face it: you’re never going to cold call prospects. Your postcard marketing is a passive-aggressive waste of time. And your print ads aren’t going to entice buyers. It’s time to unleash the web. All those for sale by owners online are your best prospects. Start looking them up on their websites and emailing them. They have already made the mental leap to sell and have an 88 percent likelihood of ultimately working with a real estate agent. Talk to them the way they are telling you they want to hear from you: by email. And since these people will also be buyers, the same technique applies if you’re hunting for customers. Use the web (and forget about them coming to your website – which they can’t find.)

Continue reading Are you staying in the business?

Speed Dating & the REALTOR Code of Ethics

From Wikipedia: Speed dating

“is a formalized matchmaking process or dating system whose purpose is to encourage people to meet a large number of new people.

In practice folks are rotated to meet each other over a series of short ‘dates’, usually lasting from three to eight minutes depending on the organization running the event. At the end of each interval, the organizer rings a bell or clinks a glass to signal the participants to move on to the next date.”

On the day one of our first retreat, the 2007 class of Virginia REALTOR Leadership Academy speed dated. Our directions, as I recall, were to ask a real estate related question that would be a good conversation starter. I totally failed on my very first speed date.

My question was, “What would you do if NAR, VAR or your local association decided today to do away with the Code of Ethics?” Should spark lots of great conversation – right?

First Response: “I’d quit.” PERIOD – end of discussion.

WOW – great answer! That’s the REALTOR I want to work with – that’s the REALTOR I strive to be.

What’s your answer?

Related Links:
2008 Code of Ethics
The Code is Good Business
The Code in Straight Talk

The Best of the Best

Check out our top 10 real estate blogs

All blogging, like real estate, is local. Not necessarily in a geographical sense, but local in a sense of closely related ideas and common concerns. And while the best blog for one REALTOR® is not necessarily best for the next, there are a few blog sites where everyone can find and contribute REALTOR®-relevant, useful information on any topic you choose. Whether your interest is finding new customers, sharing or finding information on an issue you face, or just figuring out what blogging is all about, these sites are a great way to get started:

  1. ActiveRain.com – Join over 60,000 real estate professionals in discussing current happenings and important issues in the real estate industry. Create your own profile and your blog comes with it. The only thing you need to bring are your ideas.
  2. AgentGenius.com – No one blogger is at the center of this online meeting of minds. Posts are a community product developed by agents from across the country, including one of Virginia’s own blogstars. Find out who it is by visiting and clicking “G-Spot” and while you’re there, browse around for the newest approaches to real estate, technology product reviews and application of the next generation of the internet, Web 2.o, to the real estate profession.
  3. Inman.com – Real estate information and technology meet to produce one of the web’s most accessed real estate blog sites at Inman.com. Viewed 7 million times per month, Inman provides users the opportunity to network while accessing relevant information from 250 newspapers and 50,000 websites daily. Don’t worry, you don’t have to read it all, but you might want to.
  4. RealEstateTomato.com – This site’s main goal is to make REALTORS® more successful; and it does just that. Real estate tomato provides everything a new real estate blogger or e-marketer wants to know, in addition to a few things that you hadn’t thought of.
  5. Bloodhoundblog.com – Get an insider’s view of the mortgage industry, talk screen-to-screen with investors and read and comment on topics that attract real estate professionals from all over the U.S., all on the provocative Bloodhound Blog.
  6. RSSPieces.com – Want to learn to blog? Podcast? Market? Or optimize a search engine? Here’s a site that will teach you for free.
  7. MyTechOpinion.com – This blog is a little more focused than some others, but no less useful. Visit this site to get the inside scoop on how technology is enhancing real estate and provide feedback or get information on how these innovations affect you.
  8. RealtyBlogging.com – This site doesn’t receive as much traffic as other general real estate blog sites, which makes it easier to navigate in most cases. The big names in real estate blogging can be found here, but without the visual congestion of some other sites.
  9. NARblog1.realtors.org/mvtype/narinthenews/ Stay in touch with what’s happening at NAR on this blog. Many other sites will talk about NAR’s position on issues, but this is the site for those that want to go straight to the source.
  10. RealBlogging.com – Read more than 40 categories of real estate blogs on any topic from advertising and marketing to specialty services and fraud prevention at this site. This real estate community has resources for everyone, from experts looking to talk to other experts all the way down to novices and prospective professionals in need of a real estate glossary.

Take it from a Virginian who knows social media

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? Continue reading Take it from a Virginian who knows social media

Keeping MLS Sharp

As real estate agents, the MLS is our constant go-to source for information. Number of bedrooms? Go to the MLS. Square footage? Check MLS. Types of floors? It’s right there on MLS. The MLS is one of the most utilized tools in our real estate toolbox., and also one of the most abused. Just last week, I was at a listing appointment where the owner asked me whether withdrawing her home from MLS and then reentering it would reset the Days On Market Counter (thankfully, it does not). We’ve all seen the “2000 square foot charmer” that looks more like a 1300 square foot dump with a leaky roof. It happens all the time – incomplete listing information, manipulation of Days On Market, even homes entered into the wrong areas to garner more traffic.

For years, agents have had “private” use of the MLS, and were the gatekeepers for buyers wishing to get more information regarding a particular home. If a buyer wanted information on a home, they called their agent who searched the MLS for more information. Agents held the key, literally and figuratively, and the information provided went to the consumer THROUGH the agent. This position has changed, with the rise of real estate websites offering the promise of free – or slightly free – information on neighborhoods and even particular homes. The MLS is no longer the go-to resource for real estate information, it’s now just one of many consumer marketplaces for home buyers and sellers.

Why then, if the information we enter into MLS is made available to consumers throughout the Web, aren’t we making sure we’re using accurate data? Complete and accurate data in the MLS means that our listings are going to be “hits” with more buyers and agents than if we just enter the bare minimum. Having a listing without room dimensions might just push the perfect buyer on to another property, just as failing to include descriptive text might eliminate those agents and their buyers using search terms to find your listing. Sure, some of the fields can be tedious and redundant, but the more information we can provide on our seller clients’ listings, the more likely that buyer will see it. Michael Wurzer, president of FBS Data Systems, has written extensively on his blog about it and it’ll be interesting to see if he addresses it further at February’s Legislative & Education Conference. Don’t forget you can register online and save money, by the way! MLS accuracy has been covered for years, in every market, and it’s something we all still struggle with.

The MLS is a tool for agents and consumers alike, and just as with any tool it needs maintenance and care. We all get busy and distracted, but don’t overlook taking the time to make sure your listings are complete and thorough. We’ll ALL benefit if we each take the time to make sure our tools are sharp and ready for action.

2007 Virginia Home Sales — All Real Estate Is Local!

The Virginia Association of Realtors released the 2007 Year-End Market Report today, which puts year end market data into context. Along with providing insight and analysis into the many local, state and national issues that affected this Virginia’s real estate market this year, the report also points out that market conditions vary considerably in different areas of the state. Below is a graph showing the percentage change in the number of homes sold in each area of Virginia.

Percentage Change in Number of Transactions [2006-2007]

Of the 23 local markets for which data was available, only two markets showed an increase in number of homes sold, and 21 showed a decline. Overall, the state of Virginia showed an 18.46% decrease in homes sold, but there were quite a few outliers:

  • Dulles Area (+ 9.61%)
  • Southwest Virginia (+ 1.44%)
  • Eastern Shore (- 46.68%)
  • Prince William (-30.46%)
  • Northern Neck (- 29.74%)

However, despite the decrease in number of real estate transfers this past year, sales prices managed to stay relatively flat. Median Prices were up 1.2 percent in 2007, and average prices were down 3.1 percent.

Overall, the report is hopeful . . .

  • “Virginia faces stronger market fundamentals than many other states, with a relatively strong economy and a housing market with a relatively small share of investors.”
  • “We expect that markets in Virginia that have strong job growth and low unemployment rates—which includes most of the metropolitan areas throughout the state—will see increases in the demand for housing in 2008 and prices will begin to rise.”

In April, we can look forward to more great analysis and insights, as the 2007 Year-End Market Report was prepared by the George Mason University School of Public Policy, whose staff will be continuing to provide these reports for each quarter of 2008.

It’s a brave (and scary) new world!

New technologies raise new legal issues

by Blake Hegeman, VAR’s Associate Counsel

The expanded use of online marketing and social media within the REALTOR® community has created new and exciting opportunities. However, its use has raised novel legal issues. Here’s how to protect your business when using these new tools.

The Code of Ethics and online advertising

The internet is a cost-efficient and effective way to market your brokerage services. It is becoming the norm for many REALTORS® to maintain sophisticated and informative websites to reach customers and other agents. While VAR encourages its members to use this medium, we also caution you to adhere strictly to the rules in the Code of Ethics pertaining to advertising.

This year, NAR amended several sections of the Code to account for the increasing use of the Internet. Below are highlights of those additions (found in Articles 9, 12, and 15):

  • The name of the REALTOR® firm and state of licensure must be disclosed in a reasonable and readily apparent manner when advertising listed property on its website or a REALTOR® or affiliated non-member licensee’s website.
  • Information on REALTOR® websites must be current, and if it is out of date, the information must be removed immediately.
  • REALTOR® websites must present a true picture in their advertising, including URLs and domain names. The following are strictly prohibited:
    • Engaging in deceptive or unauthorized framing of real estate brokerage websites;
    • Manipulating (e.g., presenting content developed by others) listing content in any way that produces a deceptive or misleading result; or
    • Deceptively using metatags, keywords or other devices/methods to direct, drive, or divert Internet traffic, or to otherwise mislead consumers.
  • REALTORS® intending to share or sell consumer information gathered via the Internet must disclose that possibility in a reasonable and readily apparent manner.
  • The duty to avoid making false or misleading statements about competitors’ businesses and practices includes the duty not to knowingly or recklessly repeat, retransmit, or republish false or misleading statements made by others using electronic means.
  • When assisting or enabling a client or customer in establishing a contractual relationship (e.g., listing and representation agreements, purchase agreements, leases, etc.) electronically, REALTORS® must make reasonable efforts to explain the nature and disclose the specific terms of the contractual relationship being established.

Using blogs to connect with the community

Blogs raise a number of legal issues that haven’t been thoroughly reviewed by the courts. Continue reading It’s a brave (and scary) new world!

Two (warp speed) Years Later

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 Continue reading Two (warp speed) Years Later