Archive for May, 2008

How shall I engage thee?



The Mission

Awhile ago fellow VARBuzz and AgentGenius contributors Jim Duncan and Daniel (The Zebra) Rothamel wrote articles regarding Paying NAR Dues and NAR Engaging it’s Members.  They are great posts, with tons of interactions from members who support and unfortunately some of those who don’t support the Association.  The entire mission of the Association is to be a relevant factor of support and advocacy for the REALTOR member.  A great deal of work goes into carrying out the directives to fulfill these missions, from both REALTORS and staff.  Having now been both a practicing Realtor and most recently a staff member, I am seeing that a vast number of the tools, initiatives and resources created to enhance the agent’s success have been underutilized.   I feel that the Associations are answering your call, but you can’t hear us.

What Is The Barrier

As a staff member of FAAR, I’ve received countless calls and e-mails asking for a wide variety of assistance, and I always have resources from our local association, VAR or NAR to give to the member.  The members frequently ask why they didn’t know about these tools in the first place – good question.

Recently our Association had a meeting planned for Brokers, so that they could come provide open-forum feedback in preparation for our Strat Planning session.  Four days before the meeting and after a ton of notices, e-mails and marketing we had two members registered.  The workgroup decided to call the Brokers and in response we had almost 50 people attend the meeting.

What Works?

While pondering this post, I asked my friends on Twitter how they would like to be communicated with.  Almost all of them said e-mail.  However, one commented  that e-mails have become so ubiquitous that they are almost irrelevant.  There are so many people trying to e-mail you and get your attention that people are scanning them over without registering their importance.

This would explain why only about 20% of our e-mails, sent to members, are actually read.  But it begs the question; why with so many agents asking for their Associations to provide services, are members not paying more attention to the primary resource for their business? 

Call To Action

Most all Associations use e-mail, post cards, brochures, fliers, etc…  Calling on the phone, for most Associations, isn’t an option because of the size of the organizations and lack of staff.  So, what do you feel is the best way for your Association to keep you up to date and show you the plethora of tools that we’ve developed to help you with your business?



DOJ and NAR – so what?

Have you seen this article in the Washington Post?

Justice Department officials and others who have tracked the case said the agreement will result in more choices and better service for consumers, as well as lower costs because of competition over commissions. Many online firms offer savings because they provide limited services.

To start -

1) What business does the government have in regulating free enterprise?

2) Nothing is preventing others from starting their own MLS.

3) I’d like to know how much this investigation/suit/settlement cost the taxpayers.

4) Those who think the Realtor business isn’t competitive doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Download the proposed settlement here (and actually read it!)

The Real Estate Bloggers write what I was thinking:

The amazing thing about monopoly and governmental lawsuits against companies over the issues of technology is that by the time the slow gears of justice run their course, the battle has long been over.

This is the case of the NAR. The opening of the MLS systems to online and virtual real estate companies has long been over. The bigger battle will be the viability of maintaining an expensive MLS in the age of Trulias and Zillows.

Zillow and Trulia and Cyberhomes and Roost, etc. didn’t exist in 2004.

And the XBroker wrote the headline I wish I’d written – DOJ vs NAR Lawsuit Turned Into an Exercise in Irrelevancy

Where will we go from here? Realtors will keep competing, buyers will keep searching online, sellers will still think that print advertising works (it does, but not to sell houses), and technology will continue to change at a pace much faster than behemoths like the NAR or the incompetents within our federal government can handle.

Innovation was just fine before the government stepped in, thank you.

Next up – the DOJ should go after Google for having the most dominant search engine.


More coverage:

Agent Genius

Joe at Sellsius provides a legal perspective

An MLS perspective by Michael Wurzer



The original article appeared on Jim Duncan’s blog, and has been republished here at VARBuzz by request.

We’re going down! (Briefly)

70sUnless you live in some kind of twisted mirror universe, where two or three minutes is a normal amount of time for a Web page to load, you may have noticed that VARbuzz has been a bit slow lately. (We realized it was bad when we started getting messages from the 1970s.)

Enough was enough. We’re switching hosting companies.

This means that both and might act a bit wonky this week as the new-host information makes its way over the tubes of the Internets. You might see an old version, or no version, or… well, something unpredictable. This is the Internet, after all.

But we’ll be back at full strength by the end of the week. Till then, keep on truckin’.

Gas Prices and Opportunities

Paul Krugman validates* what I’ve been saying to clients/readers/prospects for some time.

Any serious reduction in American driving will require more than this — it will mean changing how and where many of us live.

My belief is this – properties that are closer to urban cores – roughly defined as having a coffee shop/grocery store/park/gathering place – will appreciate at a greater rate than those that require more driving to get to said urban centers.

Using back-of-the-napkin math – if when gas costs five bucks a gallon -

If driving to the store/work/etc costs an additional ten to fifteen dollars for those properties not close to urban centers, and the properties the are close to urban centers are able to save that gas money – isn’t it reasonable to conclude that that theoretical savings of three to five hundred dollars a month would then be applicable to one’s mortgage payment?

I am seeing a contraction of the geographic area I service, and clients are now asking more and more about bikeabilty, walkability and public transport. Higher gas prices are likely to impact our business in fundamental ways – among them -

- Business models – buyers pay up front or do more legwork on their own. Hybrid Redfin models or derivations thereof may become more popular and prominent.

- Denser suburbs and fewer exurbs

- Increased taxes – property tax and sales tax – to increase infrastructure, thus affecting affordability

- Fewer Realtors and real estate agents as more discover that the Realtor pot of gold is harder to find.

- MLS’s may have to change their restrictions on neighborhood and area photos and videos – consumers (and Realtors!) want to see more than what is currently offered. If MLS’ want to remain the primary point of contact, they will have to adapt and provide more. Including or excluding properties without physically visiting properties will be more and more important.

- More boutique brokerages will emerge and thrive as the cost of doing business becomes too great for many of the bigger brokerages.

When we are looking back at this recession in five years with the benefit of hindsight, what opportunities will we be thankful we took advantage of? What opportunities will we wish we had seen and seized?

A question for the Virginia Realtors – are you seeing this trend happen now? Are you seeing your market area contract due to gas prices’ precipitous increase?

Could Realtors use this opportunity to advocate for alternative methods of transportation in new developments? Just a thought.

* Don’t shut down as soon as you see Paul Krugman’s name. Sure, the NYTimes has a unique slant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the information presented in this article is not relevant, applicable and true.

The original article by Jim Duncan on 20 May 2008 on Agent Genius

Related reading:

Could Higher oil prices be a good thing?

High Gas prices are good

Downtown Real Estate Bypasses Housing Crisis: Gas Prices Are Making City Centers More Attractive

The Oil-to-Mortgage-Rates Chain Reaction

Any green REALTORS out there?

We’re working on a story for the next issue of Commonwealth about buyers looking for “greener” homes. Not just houses where the bulbs have been replaced by those compact fluorescents, but buildings that have significant green features.Kermit the Frog

Can you help? We need to interview some folks (we’re talking 10-15 minutes) to get answers to questions like these:

  • Whether or not buyers ask about green features in a building, do you do your research and point them out?
  • What kinds of green features are you seeing, and how has that changed in the  last few years?
  • Are there any specific green things that buyers mention appeal to them — low-flush toilets, tankless water heaters, EnergyStar appliances, something else?
  • Have you ever advised a seller to market the green angle of his or her property? (E.g., “We should mention the R-5 insulation in the attic.”)

If you can help, we’ll make you famous — well, famous among Commonwealth readers, anyway.

Just drop a note to andrew[Shft-2] or give a call to 804-262-3755 if you can chat.

Fast tech tip of the day

At some point we may start a regular tech-tip thing. For the moment — and to gauge reaction — here’s this:

When you’re referring to a decade, it’s common practice to write it like this: the ’60s, the ’80s, etc. Problem: If you use Microsoft Word (and other word processors), it automatically converts the straight quote into a “smart quote” — aka “curly quote,” “typographer’s quote.”

So instead of having an apostrophe, you end up with the quote mark facing the wrong way.

I.e., you have this:


when you should have this:



Luckily, there’s an easy way to get an apostrophe instead of a quote. Instead of just hitting the quote key, hold down Ctrl and hit the quote twice. Once you’ve done it once or twice, it’ll be easy to write about all those groovy times.

The Public Is Watching Us Beat Ourselves Up

On Tuesday, new VARBuzz author Heather Elias wrote a post entitled “Too Bad“, in which she recounted the story of hosting an open house and having buyers do everything they could to avoid conversation at all costs. It’s happened to all of us, I’m sure – and judging by the comments there are a lot of different thoughts on what’s the right approach.

As real-life as it is, there was something else in her post that struck me. She wrote:

I’d hate to think that those buyers are going to end up traveling from open house to open house until they hit upon one that works for them, only to possibly be preyed upon by an agent willing to take advantage of their lack of consumer education about agency and representation.

I’m sure Heather wasn’t inferring that agents who practice Dual Agency are preying upon clients. Candy Lynn made the argument FOR Dual Agency right here on VARBuzz recently, and I can see where she’s coming from given her niche specialty of selling farms. I know Candy, and maybe many of you do as well – I know she’s got her clients best interests at heart, and she makes a good argument in defense of Dual Agency.

Dual Agency has been argued for and against for years, by consumers AND REALTORS®; that’s certainly no secret. Most of those who are against it will say that it hurts the consumer – by having an agent who’s representing both sides, the the consumer is hurt by not having the value of full representation. I thought Heather did a good job of laying out some of the many hats an agent will wear in the transaction – the Market Expert, the Defender of their privacy, the Cheerleader, the Negotiator … the list can go on an on. Dual Agency prevents the consumer from benefiting from the value of full representation. Proponents of Dual Agency might say that by agreeing to Dual Agency, the consumer is waiving their rights to that level of representation, and that’s true. In my opinion though, we have a higher purpose to maintain full representation at all costs. Article 1 of the Code of Ethics reads “…REALTORS® pledge themselves to protect and promote the interest of their client.” (emphasis mine). If that’s the case, then who is the client? Who does the agent serve? Matthew 6:24 tells us “”No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other.”

I’m not trying to bang on whether or not Dual Agency hurts the consumer or not – that’s been covered ad nauseum. No, there’s another group that gets hurt just as much by the practice, and that’s us. You and I. REALTORS®, real estate agents … our entire industry gets damaged by Dual Agency, in my opinion, because it prevents us from providing a fiduciary value to the consumer. If an agent can’t represent the client and provide a solid, tangible value, then all we’re doing is perpetuating the perception that all you need from an agent is someone to unlock front doors. As all of us know, we’ve got a lot of uphill ground to climb as we try to improve an eroding perception of our industry in the eye of the public, and “opening doors” isn’t going to go a long way toward improving that opinion. Ending the practice of Dual Agency and showing clients we’re going to listen, communicate, negotiate and celebrate with their goals in mind – not our own – will do more to repair the damage.

That’s my $.02. The real estate industry has taken a body shot through the practice of Dual Agency, in my opinion, and it’s no one’s fault but our own. If we’d be willing to eliminate the practice, or at least make the decision that on the agent and broker level the practice would not be practiced, it’d be a major step toward showing the public we’re serious about THEM, and not our own bottom line.

Go ahead and flush the toilet, but don’t take it for a test drive!

What would Ms. Manners say about REALTOR® courtesies? You don’t have to guess even another minute longer. Here’s a guest post from Ms. Real Manners, courtesy of the Columbus Board of REALTORS®.

Dear Ms. Real Manners,

Recently, I received a phone call from a seller complaining that, after a showing, the lights were left on, the doors unlocked and someone had used the bathroom — and left without tidying up after themselves. (Phew!) What are you people thinking?

The old saying, ‘treat it like you would your own home’ does not apply when showing property. Turn off the lights and lock the door! And, when it comes to the bathroom — go ahead and flush the toilet, but don’t take it for a test drive!

We have a tough enough time as it is protecting our reputations as professionals. Treating a seller’s home with such a lack of courtesy and disrespect does nothing to improve the reputation of REALTORS® in their eyes. And disgruntled people talk to others. So even if they are not your client today, they can affect your business tomorrow.

Could you publish (or re-publish) the courtesies we should all be adhering to when showing a listing?


Frustrated (and disgusted)

* * *

Dear Frustrated,

But of course.

Showing courtesies:

  1. Have a confirmed appointment before showing any property.
  2. Arrive on time for showings. Don’t be early. Occupied homes may have owners preparing to leave. Vacant houses may have other appointments scheduled.
  3. If you are going to be more than five minutes late for a showing, please call the listing salesperson and/or office to notify the seller of your tardiness.
  4. Avoid parking in the driveway. Many sellers find this a little presumptuous and objectionable.
  5. Use the sidewalks! Grass and landscaping are precious to the seller. In bad weather, take off shoes and boots inside the property.
  6. When showing an occupied home, always ring the doorbell and knock before entering. Knock before entering any closed room.
  7. Enter listed property first to make sure that unexpected situations, such as pets or disarming alarm systems are handled appropriately.
  8. If sellers are on the property, do not discuss any details of the sale, including price with the seller. Refer all inquiries to the listing agent.
  9. Do not use the telephone in someone’s home or business without prior permission.
  10. Never use a bathroom at a listing unless it is marked “public.”
  11. Don’t smoke in listed property.
  12. Be responsible for visitors.
  13. Legibly sign and fully complete the guest register.
  14. Keep sarcasm and negative comments about the property and neighborhood to yourself.
  15. Never allow buyers to enter property unaccompanied.
  16. If sellers are on the property, inform them that you are leaving after a showing.
  17. Make sure that the house is left the way you found it. Ensure that heating and cooling controls are set correctly.
  18. Turn off the lights, shut windows, and lock doors.
  19. Return the key to the lockbox and secure it properly.
  20. Call the listing broker to report the results of any showing, correct any inaccurate listing information, and anything that appears wrong with the property.

What’s the deal? Virginia REALTOR® Leadership Academy

Its that time of year again – time to get your application in for VAR’s Leadership Academy. has this “overview”

The Virginia Association of REALTORS® presents its Leadership Academy Program. Through this program, VAR attempts to identify emerging REALTOR® leaders in the state. We encourage them with motivational activities. We sharpen their leadership skills in the hope they will exert a strong positive influence on the future of the Association and their profession.

While this is accurate, it just barely touches the surface of what Virginia REALTOR® Leadership Academy (hereafter, VLA) is about.

When I was asked to write about Virginia REALTOR® Leadership Academy I quickly said “of course – gladly”, I am passionate about VLA. I sent out an email to a few VLA alumni and current class members and I posted a tweet on Twitter for VLA members to share in 140 characters or less their VLA experience.

Quotes from present and past members of VLA

Julie Emery
To get the 30,000 foot view. To have a say in the future of your profession. To connect with the best in the business.

Jim Duncan
A place to hear good speakers, connect with points of view and people from around the state & leverage collective knowledge & goals. I don’t know if you want to post this, but for me, it wasn’t the lifelong bonding experience it was made out to be; that always felt very contrived to me. I went to VMI – that was a bonding experience. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet other REALTORS® who actually do real estate who care about improving the industry from within the political system in which we all exist. As I said in one of our retreats, it was the first time I had been in a room full of Realtors that I felt comfortable that they all were competent. It was a sad, but telling observation – but true.again, you probably don’t want to post it, but it’s true.

Scott Rogers
Great venue for candid conversations about how we do business — lots of learning to be had from the variety of perspectives that VLA classmates bring to the table!

Lynn Wagner
Wow, what an experience… like none other! The speakers, camaraderie , friendships, work, fun are just amazing. I can hardly wait until the July retreat at Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Staunton. The word is that there will be alumni attending and lots of fun activities! Are we there yet?

Cindy Stackhouse:
VLA taught me more than Leadership skills for VAR, but instead prepared me for a comfort zone of volunteering for my community and charities, as well.

While attending VLA and directing VLA, I made some of the best friends, mentors and resources for the rest of my life. The networking with national speakers, state and local experts and the students themselves enriched me professionally and personally.

Bill Burruss:
Gee!!! for experience. Being around people who care a great deal about their work, their association(s), which was my leadership class, and giving the class the opportunity to learn from other great leaders, our Past VAR & NAR Presidents, is magical. I feel it is important to be around these people. What saddens me after leaving the VAR Leadership Academy is that I feel that we need to be discussing issues or brainstorming more than having meetings. I hope that our Blog on will be able to stimulate these type of discussions.

SO what was my experience – all of the above and much more. Shortly before the second retreat I had a life threatening injury, I now refer to as “My Big OUCH” , I went to the retreat against my husbands wishes because I KNEW my VLA classmates would care for me and support me - they did! The VLA Class of 2007 has become more than classmates; they have become a network of advisers, mentors, cheerleaders, referral agents, instructors, all people I can trust. This network extents beyond my VLA Class of 2007 to all the classes.

Make sure to get your application in – remember only 20 REALTORS® are selected each year – make sure you are one of those 20 for the Class of 2009!

Your VLA Experience:
First class education – yes, Leadership skills – yes, network of top REALTORS® – yes, lifetime friends – yes, personal growth – yes, confidence to be my best – yes, fun – yes, hard work – yes, worth the time sent – YES!

Humor for the day

Oriental bouquetAfter a Realtor sold a home to a new couple, she thought it would be nice to send them a nice bouquet of flowers on their moving day.

But there was a mix-up, and the couple received the flowers with a card that read, “Rest in Peace.”

The Realtor apologized to the couple and called the florist to complain.

“I’m very sorry, ma’am,” said the florist. “But look on the bright side. Somewhere there’s a funeral today where the flowers on the casket read, ‘Congratulations on your new home’.”


(With help from Real Estate Humor.)