Archive for September, 2008

See what you missed at VAR’s Convention & Expo 2008 (or relive it!)

If you haven’t paid a visit to VARconvention.com recently, head on over there to see the blog posts, pictures, and other content from the convention. In the coming days we’ll be adding video from our man- and woman-on-the-street reporters, more pictures and even a video of VAR’s CEO Scott Brunner in a…

Nah, you wouldn’t believe it even if I told you. You’ll just have to stay tuned.

VAR Convention Speaker Rushkoff Speaks The Hard Truth

The speaker chosen for closing session at the 2008 VAR Convention was Douglas Rushkoff. And what a great choice it was. Why? Because he told it like it is and the blunt truth is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Rushkoff spoke about the current economic turmoil, the changes going on in and outside the real estate industry and the effect it’s having on our profession. Here are some of the highlights:

  • the current method of doing business began 400 years ago
  • the current business cycle is coming to an end
  • lending business model is set up expecting businesses/people to fail (hence interest to cover losses)
  • money is only a medium (check out a related post on Agent Genius)
  • outsourcing stops us from actually doing something and makes us managers
  • a return to core competencies is coming (and necessary)
  • focus on “self-interest” is shifting to the “experience of life”
  • the more educated a consumer is, the more value they will find in an expert
  • being a community expert is more important to consumers than you being a “top producer”
  • Rushkoff told a story of how he thought one person’s blog showed they were the community expert and how he later found out they were a REALTOR® – (community expert first, REALTOR second)
  • personally reaching out to your community builds bonds large companies can not
  • be on the side of people and not business/your own self-interests
  • the contraction occuring due to market conditions will separate the real RE professionals from the fake ones

The two things that really stuck out for me personally because they most directly relate to a REALTOR’s® business success were:

  1. Be the community expert.
  2. The real RE professionals will separate themselves from the fake ones. 

Consumers are now looking for community experts, not just “top producers”. They want someone who knows the ins and outs of a local area, knows what the builders are up to, where the ammenities are, future development plans, upcoming infrastructure changes, etc.

More importantly, they’re looking for someone who is connected to the community on a personal, not just a real estate level. Consumers want someone who knows the people, the businesses, key contacts, etc. They want someone who knows that the produce section at the local mom-and-pop market is better than at Harris Teeter or Safeway.

In regards to how the real RE professionals will separate themselves from the fake ones, I say “AMEN!”. Too many shady and inexperienced agents and brokers who were only looking out for their own self-interests (one of Rushkoff’s points) gave the industry a bad name. A huge number of agents and brokers jumped into the profession thinking they could make a ton of money by doing very little. They didn’t bother to equip themselves with the knowledge and tools to be great REALTORS®. Too many agents and brokers didn’t take their jobs seriously nor did they realize that they were dealing with people’s livelihood’s, their family’s well-being and thousands of consumer’s dollars.

Those agents and brokers are quickly dissappearing while the agents and brokers who take their jobs seriously, know what they’re doing and do it well are the ones rising to the top. And more importantly…these are the agents and brokers that will survive.

There’s a reason why real estate agents are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to trustworthiness in the eyes of the public. And there’s only one way to get that trust and credibility back - earn it. This shift in the market and the weeding out of those who thought real estate was an easy-money gig with few responsibilities is a first step. Personally, I’m thrilled to see it happening.

These are things that some of you may not want to hear. But I believe that they are the truth and must be heard. The economy, real estate market and consumers have all spoken and we have to adapt and respond.

IMHO, Rushkoff’s session was as much of a wake-up call as it was inspiring and we all needed to hear it.

The second round of CREST data has been a long time in coming, and for that I apologize. Frankly, the response to this second survey was not as good as I had expected, but we made the difficult decision to analyze the data we had anyway. And I’m glad we did. We have some really interesting findings to share.

As background, the second CREST survey (see results of the first one here) focuses on bottom line results of real estate blogging. You’ll see that most of the data centers on leads and clients earned from blogging based on certain cross-tabulations. We also took a peek into real estate bloggers’ use of social media to earn leads and clients. Let’s take a closer look at the findings. If you completed the survey you got the full two-page executive summary. If you didn’t, well, shame on you! Here’s the next best thing, a truncated one-page version. Use your copy of the executive summary to follow along with the following analysis.

Let’s talk blogging results, shall we? You’re not blogging just for fun (it is fun, though, isn’t it?). It’s a good thing that the majority of real estate bloggers are getting leads from their efforts. On average, real estate bloggers got 15 leads from their blogging efforts during the period we studied (January-June 2008), which equates to two or three leads per month. Not bad, especially given the current housing market. But here’s the bad news: Overall, 30 percent of all real estate bloggers reported getting ZERO leads from their blog during the study period.

The average number of leads converted to clients during the period was four. A little less than one client per month on average. Again, with the market the way it is right now, not too shabby. Furthermore, the average conversion rate for leads generated from a real estate blog is 27 percent. Compare this to the average conversion rate for leads from IDX registration (fluctuates between one and three percent), and it’s easy to see that real estate blogging is far more effective at moving prospects through the buying decision than other forms of marketing. But in a pattern similar to the trend identified above, 43 percent of our respondents said they gained ZERO clients during the period (keep in mind that nearly two-thirds of these had no leads to convert anyhow).

To understand why some bloggers could successfully gain clients from their blogs, while others couldn’t, we cross tabulated different characteristics of bloggers and their success in converting blog readers into leads and finally into clients.

  1. Blogging tenure. As you can see in the first chart in the executive summary, on all measures the most tenured bloggers enjoy the highest level of success gaining leads and converting them into clients. In addition, those who began their real estate blogging careers in 2006 or earlier report that almost 2/3 of their business comes directly or indirectly from their blogging efforts. Much of real estate blogging success seems to come down to how long you’ve been playing the game. The longer you’ve been at it, the more you’ve practiced, the more tricks you’ve learned, the more naturally good content comes to you, and so forth. Newbies don’t have this experience.
  2. Displaying listings. Many real estate bloggers display listings on their blogs, maybe in the sidebar, footer, header or even in posts. We discovered that those who display listings on their blogs got about the same number of leads, but failed to convert as many of them as those who didn’t display listings. On the surface, this seems counter intuitive. On closer examination, given the prevailing “don’t sell me” culture of the blogosphere, this makes much more sense. Social media marketing involves the fine art of soft selling.
  3. Writing about specific properties. Some bloggers shun the idea of composing blog entries about specific properties for sale. This bias is reasonable. Our analysis reveals that those who blog about specific properties for sale will garner more leads, but convert fewer of those leads into clients. As with the point above, because social media marketing is a type of relationship marketing, brazen selling messages may increase the number of leads, but will reduce the conversion rate to the point that bloggers get a greater number of clients by not writing about specific properties for sale. This may come as a shock for many (“a real estate blog that doesn’t display property for sale???”) but our data clearly demonstrates that displaying listings on a blog and composing posts about specific properties for sale is counterproductive to converting readers into clients.
  4. Social networking strategy. We learned that bloggers who syndicated their content to popular social networking sites gathered more than twice as many leads as those who did not, but converted far fewer of those leads into clients. We think maybe people who come across blog content through social networking sites are not as far along in the buying process as those who actively seek out content on the author’s blog. The most popular social networking outlets amongst real estate bloggers were Facebook and Twitter. Plaxo was a distant third.
  5. RSS subscribers. We found that those with the highest numbers of RSS subscribers captured more leads and converted more of them. As with some other analyses in this survey, those who had fewer leads from blogging to chase (i.e. those with the fewest RSS subscribers) had a better lead conversion rate than those with many leads from blogging (i.e. those with the most RSS subscribers).
  6. Site analytics. The greatest differentiator between the haves and have nots in real estate blogging is determined by those who make use of site analytics, and those who don’t. We found that real estate bloggers who use a site analytics package generated 23 times as many leads, and 16 times as many clients as those who didn’t. However, those who didn’t use a site analytics package had a higher lead conversion rate, perhaps because they had fewer leads to chase. The most popular site analytics programs were (in descending order) Google Analytics, Other, packages that are built into the blogging platform, Sitemeter, and Woopra. Simply using a site analytics package doesn’t mean that leads and clients will just fall in your lap, though. We conclude that using a site analytics package is an indication of a blogger’s commitment to their craft, and that those who are committed to it work hard at it and generate the best results.
  7. Hosting arrangements. The second greatest differentiator between the haves and have nots in real estate blogging is determined by one’s hosting arrangement. Our analysis reveals that those who self host their blogs get nearly three times the number of leads and more than double the number of clients. Again, we surmise that self hosting is an indication of one’s commitment to blogging, as it requires a greater investment of time and money to self host. Those who are more invested in blogging tend to work harder at it, thereby improving their skills and delivering better results.

We also discovered more evidence of the so-called RE.net echo chamber. We found that although 70 percent of the blogs in our study are written for consumers, less than half of our bloggers estimate that their  subscribers are “mostly consumers.” The majority say that their subscribers are either “mostly Realtors” or “about evenly split” between Realtors and consumers.

We determined that agents are more voracious blog readers than brokers. On average, agents regularly read almost twice as many blogs as brokers. Brokers report that 60 percent of the blogs they read are real estate specific, whereas agents report that only 55 percent of the blogs they read are real estate specific.

Finally, we analyzed the use of widgets. We discovered that the most popular widgets were:

  1. MyBlogLog
  2. Linkedin
  3. Feedburner subscriber count chicklet
  4. ShareThis!
  5. Twitter & Flickr (tie)
  6. Other widget
  7. Facebook
  8. YouTube
  9. Trulia, Plugoo & AddThis! (tie)
  10. GTalk, Zillow mortgage & Meebo (tie)

We found it noteworthy that the real estate specific widgets wound up so close to the bottom of this list.

So… Real estate blogging = results? Yep, we think so. What are your thoughts on these results? Leave a comment, link to this post, or link to VARbuzz.com/CREST to chime in.

The Pace of Politics

The VAR Convention is this week, and politics are on my mind. Take a look at the agendas for the upcoming governance meetings and see if there is anything there that will affect your business (of course there is!). One of the more frustrating aspects of Association involvement is the pace of the Realtor political process. The Committees, the Work Groups, the Groups, The Teams … (sometimes, we should slow down a bit).

What is continually frustrating is the pace of the governance process. Change is happening to our industry in many ways, and we as Realtors need to get ahead of the changes. A big part of that is voicing your individual and collective opinions.

If you want change to happen, get involved. The Delegate Body, the Public Policy and Governance meeting, the Policy Board – all seem ethereal – made up of the Realtor Association vapor – until you actually come to a meeting and hear that the discussions focus on very tangible aspects of Realtors’ businesses and lives.

Stop by. Get involved. Let the leaders and committee members know that you are watching, listening and care. Ask questions about the issues – why they (I) voted this way or that way.

The pace may occasionally resemble watching paint dry, but the results are often worth while.

Does your email look like SPAM? Email headers matter.

Only 5% of Realtors have their “From” headers in the correct format. Are you part of the 5% or the 95%?

Don’t think your email headers matter? Or maybe you just never thought about it?
This is actually my inbox. Within minutes a Justin Wood and a Justin Wool emailed me. Who is who?

Do you want your clients’ first reaction to be “who is this?”

How about when a customer can’t tell if you are a President of company or customer support for a trash company!!

Again, look at my actual inbox:

With 100-200 emails per day, and many of those being spam with fake names, it is very difficult to memorize who works for what company. And if you want your email to be read first, then make it easier to speed read in a flash.

Which is easier?:
Smith, John (worst)
John Smith (bad)
John Smith XYZ Corp (better)
John Smith- XYZ Corp – 703.555.1212 (best, save them a click, have your phone # in your “From”)

Here are the “from” headers for Frank, David and Eric and 2 spammers, which ones stand out?

  • Frank Borges LL0SA FranklyRealty.com 703-827-4OO6
  • David Johnson [1.877.555.1212 - XYZ Realty]
  • Eric Owen [703.555-1212 - HomeFirst Mortgage]
  • Eric, Johnson (spam for free music)
  • Peter Patterson (spam for something else)

Much easier to read and process than:

  • LL0SA, Frank        (real)
  • Johnson, David    (real)
  • Eric Owen            (real)
  • Eric, Johnson       (spam for free music)
  • Peter Patterson    (spam for something else)

Only until you open Eric and Peter’s email will you know it is spam.

By NOT looking like spam or a high school friend, it makes your company look more professional and your emails don’t get lost in your client’s (and fellow Realtor) flooded inbox.

In case you didn’t get my point, here is a third example of my inbox:

Ok, so how do I change my headers?

Using OUTLOOK? This is where you change your headers.

Look for the “Your Name”

(More Outlook info here)

How to change in Gmail:

Click Settings (top of page), then Accounts, then “edit info” and change your “Name” (for advanced users, in gmail you can also change your actual from email address AND your reply to email address)

Cheers to pretty email headers!

Other tips for email headers: Change Your Email Headers to Ensure…

Written by Frank Borges LL0SA- Broker FranklyRealty.com

The Paperless Transaction: Reality or still a pipe dream?

Disclaimer: Any products mentioned in this post are mentioned based on my real-world experience, not by the vendors who market them.

Many in the business look forward to the day of transaction where “Mt. Paper” can be reduced or eliminated when doing the day to day tasks that are involved in transactions.  It has been thought of as “something from the future”.  Well I am here to share that the future is today.  Right now I am doing my first “paperless” transaction.

A paperless transaction in my opinion saves both time and costs.  Also, the client is more involved in the transaction and has better access to needed information/documents. The ability to securely store ALL documents and event/conversation logs increases the professionalism of how disputes/issues can be handled.

In my use I have found four main products that help achieve the end of paper madness:

  • Zipform – online forms are a way to always have up-to-date forms at your fingertips.  I also find typed forms are more legible and exude a more professional image to others.
  • Docusign- this has been my favorite, paying for itself in time and fuel savings.  ANY document can be sent to anyone to be signed electronically.  The resulting signature is completely legal and the system does very well with tracking activities and including receipts with signatures to aid if fraud is ever an issue.
  • RELAY- I compare this product to a filing cabinet with controlled access for everyone that needs it. Basically every document and version of that document can be uploaded and stored on the system.  These files can be easily retrieved and emailed or faxed where needed.  My favorite part is that your clients can login and view/retrieve the documents they need (most of mine prefer this over being given a folder full of paper).
  • Tablet PC – these machines make getting hand written signatures out in the filed a breeze.  I can draft an offer on the computer while at the property then have the client sign/initial all pages WITHOUT the need to print to paper.  Once signed it can be sent off via fax or email.

I tried not go to into too much detail about the products since most of it is explained at their respective websites.

I will not go out on a limb and say that industry is or will soon become completely paperless.  Most professionals that support ours still have and will have to rely on paper (I don’t see courthouses accepting an e-signed deed anytime soon).  However,  I believe the more paperless we can become on our part of the transaction the more professional we can become in the eyes of the consumer.

Douglas Rushkoff: Rounding out Convention with a bang.

VAR’s Convention & Expo 2008 will be several days filled with learning, fun, socializing, and networking.  Below is an introduction about one of the speakers we have the opportunity to hear.  His spot is on the last day (Sunday) and if this bit of news is any indication, his speech will be a perfect way to round out the experience.

Our closing keynote speaker has just been added as a guest blogger at arguably the most popular blog on the planet: Boing Boing.

You know the old saying: “If it’s good enough for Boing Boing, it’s good enough for you.” Read on for their announcement.

Guestblogger: Douglas Rushkoff!

via Boing Boing by Mark Frauenfelder on 9/8/08

rushkoffbiosm.jpgMeet our next guestblogger, Douglas Rushkoff. He has been our friend and inspiration for nearly two decades. Douglas has written with and about happy mutants since the great memetic shift of the 1980s. His books include Cyberia, Media Virus, Coercion, Playing the Future, Nothing Sacred, Get Back in the Box, and the novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy.

He teaches for MaybeLogicAcademy, studies and lectures at Utrecht University, and occasionally plays keyboards for PsychicTV.

His most recent work, Testament, is a retelling of the Torah as a near-future technologically-enacted global financial dictatorship, and has just been released as four graphic novel collections from DC/Vertigo.

Please give a warm welcome to Douglas!

Business Cards: Paper or Electronic?

We’ve all been there.  You just bought your first,second, or Xth batch of several hundred/thousand business cards.  We start using them in our daily business and then one day…

BOOM!  You earn that new designation, change key contact information or even brokerages.  What’s left now is a pile of either note cards or fire kindling.  There are ways both online and offline for everyone to know how to contact you.  Personaly I prefer ways that are simple and cost-effective but you system may vary.

Paper:  When I worked as a RE/MAX agent I had to buy cards from an approved supplier due to franchise rules.  I found this annoying at the very least.  Now that I have my own firm I print business cards using Avery Business card stock, a color laser printer, and Microsoft Publisher 2003.  If you can and do go this route, the one thing I will advise is to make sure you include ALL required logos for your particular situation (especially those for equal housing opportunity and being a REALTOR).  The biggest advantage I find is the ability to easily change information as needed.  A good example is that I recently added my skype and twitter handles to my business cards.

Electronic:  I have found two very good systems for spreading your contact information when paper cards are either unavailable or inappropriate.

MyDropCard is a service where you can e-mail an electronic business card to any e-mail address by simply texting “drop <e-mail address>” from your mobile phone.  I find this convenient for on the go contact information sharing but I have yet to tweak the card to include the information I want to convey to other people.

REtaggr is a site I just service that was made for those who want their web presence known.  You create a business card that is online and interactive.  you can include ALL of your social networking profiles and they can be viewed from WITHIN the card itself.  Here is a link to my card.  Some of the services that can be accessed from within the card are digsby, twitter, skype, and flickr.  The card can also be made into a widget for you blog here is an example.  A simple email signature similar to the one shown below can be integrated into most email clients:

The way information is exchanged seems to constantly change.  We not only have to find a system comfortable for us to use but also be aware of how others that we encounter prefer to receive what we want to convey.

To say it’s a bit crazy here at the VAR offices would be a monstrous understatement. We’re less than a week away from VAR’s Convention & Expo 2008, and the pace is just a few clicks shy of light speed. We’re putting the finishing touches on scripts, packing supplies, sending out last-minute reminders, stuffing badges, and discovering new levels of minutia that need to be orchestrated.

We live for this stuff. And yes, we know we’re weird.

Now, while it’s been mostly quiet here at VARbuzz, there is lots of activity on the Convention & Expo blog, so make sure you tune in over there (here’s the RSS feed). And if you’re not fortunate enough to join us in Baltimore along with 700+ of the best real estate pros around, well, TOO BAD! We do have a lovely consolation prize for you though:

Visit VAR’s Convention & Expo 2008 homepage during the event (starting September 24). Not only will you be able to read posts made to the Convention blog by our guest writers, you’ll also be able to read blog posts from others who are writing about our Convention. And, you can even see Twitter updates that have been tagged with #VAR08 (that’s the official conference tag, y’all). It’s a far cry from actually being at the Convention, but we think you’ll find it’s an interesting way to “attend” the convention vicariously.

“The Giant Pool of Money”

One of the best explanations of the whole subprime/credit crisis we’re watching now comes from a segment of NPR’s This American Life. It’s a beautiful bit of reporting, going into enough detail to make you say, “Ahhhhh!” without overburdening you with too much financial detail.

Even better, it’s available as a very readable transcript.

There are problems. Individual mortgages are too big a hassle for the global pool of
money. They don’t wanna get mixed up with actual people and their catastrophic
health problems or debilitating divorces, and all the reasons which might stop them
from paying their mortgages.

So what Mike and his peers on Wall Street did, was to figure out how to give the
global pool of money all the benefits of a mortgage – basically higher yield – without
the hassle or the risk.

So picture the whole chain. You have Clarence. He gets a mortgage from a broker.
The broker sells the mortgage to a small bank, the small bank sells the mortgage to
a guy like Mike at a big investment firm on Wall Street.

Then Mike takes a few thousand mortgages he’s bought this way, he puts them in
one big pile. Now he’s got thousands of mortgage checks coming to him every
month. It’s a huge monthly stream of money, which is expected to come in for the
next thirty years, the life of a mortgage.

And he then sells shares of that monthly income to investors. Those shares are
called mortgage backed securities. And the 70 trillion dollar global pool of money
loved them.

You can download it here. Highly recommended.