Archive for October, 2008

Election poll

With tongue firmly in cheek, we present our admittedly unscientific, both-side-bashing, don’t-send-us-nasty-messages-because-it’s-not-nasty-enough, 2008 Presidential poll.

It’s on the sidebar on the homepage. Vote early, vote often. And please, don’t take it seriously. (The poll, that is. Not the election. That you should take seriously.)

Announcing the Virginia Real Estate Blog Brawl (now with fabulous prizes)

blogbrawl2

The deal:

How good is your blog? Time to find out — it’s our second Real Estate Blog Brawl competition. This one’s just for Virginia REALTORS, and this one’s got some sweet prizes. Rest assured, there will be a bigger, badder version of our uber-popular national Real Estate Blog Brawl in March, so consider this Blog Brawl the prelims.

So, let’s talk prizes:

First place:

Second place:

Third and fourth place:

Thanks to the good folks at Inman for ponying up the registrations as bounty in support of the Blog Brawl. And by the way, they’ll be offering up a pretty hefty discount to Real Estate Connect NYC 2009 just for VAR members. Stay tuned for details.

Back to the brawl… Use the form at the end of this post to register your blog — or to nominate someone else’s (or, if you care to hop from IP address to IP address, several someone elses’). We’ll take the top nominees and create the Blog Brawl bracket in typical single-elimination tournament style.

Next month, we’ll hold up to six rounds of voting to determine who moves on to the next round, who goes home weeping, and ultimately the big winner. Being as this is the Blog Brawl, there are no rules. Competitors can use whatever means at their disposal to drive up their vote. Those REALTORS who engaged their current and former clients in the voting not only did well in the tourney, they also had a fun (and frequent) reason to contact their clients. You can also get your mama to vote for you.

So get to it. Nominate all of your favorite real estate blogs as many times as you want from as many IP addresses as you can by Friday, November 7 at 11:59 p.m. EST; just enter the URL into the form below.

Caveats: This Blog Brawl is open to Virginia Realtor bloggers only. (The national Real Estate Blog Brawl comes in March.) Multi-author blogs are permitted to join the brawl, provided that a majority of its authors are REALTORS. VARbuzz may exclude blogs from the brawl at its sole discretion. As the Blog Brawl sponsor, VARbuzz will not participate.

VAR members: NAR & RPAC of Virginia endorsements announced

Virginia REALTORS®, let’s get out the vote! This morning, RPAC of Virginia (together with the National Association of REALTORS® RPAC) released its list of its endorsed Congressional candidates (you should have received an e-mail with this information). If you’re a Virginia REALTOR® and you vote, this page is for you.

From a usability standpoint, I sure like Virginia’s “Who’s my legislator?” function a lot better than the US House of Representatives’ version. Today, as we set about crafting a communication to members about RPAC’s endorsements for Tuesday’s elections, I found myself frustrated with the options members could use to identify their congressional district and legislator. Then I stumbled into govtrack.us. Use this site for just a few minutes and I think you’ll agree it’s a very useful source of information for the informed voter.

Take for example, this link: GovTrack: Virginia’s Representatives – Congressional District Maps. It brings you to an interactive and intuitive map that identifies your congress(wo)man and district number. It also provides some cool data about your legislator, including how many votes they’ve missed, an index of their conservative/liberal voting tendencies, and RSS feeds so you can track a legislator.

Thumbs up for govtrack.us.

It’s coming

blogbrawl2

Does a Changing Market Bring Out the Worst in Agents?

Randy Prothero, an agent in Mililani, Hawaii, recently wrote a post on Active Rain titled, “A Changing Market is no Excuse for Bad Behavior“.  To quote Randy, “When the market was hot, it seemed like people were crawling out of the woodwork to become real estate agents and loan officers.  They had little to no training and no experience, yet they had a license.  The market was hot, everyone was making money and it seemed like clients were willing to forgive and forget.”  I’d like to add to Randy’s statement, “And agents were also willing to forgive and forget“.

Think about it, back in 2004, when a listing could easily get 10 offers in 24 hours, did we really get THAT upset about a fellow agent now showing up for a scheduled showing appointment?  Were deals constructed so feverishly between buyers and sellers that verbal offers were sometimes thrown in so as not to “waste” anyone’s precious time?

Now that the market has slowed, there are a lot of agents left lingering who don’t know how to sell real estate, don’t know how to relate to their fellow agents and basically, don’t know what to do with themselves.  They are frustrated that they can’t find a client at every turn and that once they do get a client, putting a sale together isn’t as easy as filling out a contract in the driveway while the client looks at the house.

In the meantime, brokers are feeling the pinch and compensating by consolidating offices, cutting support staffing and trimming agent benefits.  So much for the happy, cheery, bustling office environment of five years ago.

But, times are not tough, they are just tougher.  Having to work harder is no excuse for treating fellow agents poorly and forgetting basic manners of working as a real estate agent.  Brokers need to step up to the plate here too and take some responsibility for their agents.  They got away without training them properly a few years ago; now they need to reel them back in and train them correctly.  Help them learn to overcome objections, read body language, prospect, all the basics of salesmanship which were missed due to the market conditions.  Along those lines, also reinforce the fact that we all need to work together, respect one another and “do unto others”.

1.  Make showing appointments with a reasonable amount of notice.  If a buyer is serious about looking at houses, they will understand that appointments need to be made and confirmed and houses need to be prepared.

2.  If you will be late or will not make it to an appointment, call the other agent and inform them so they can let the seller know.  It’s just rude to not do so.

3.  If the sellers are at home when showing a property, introduce yourself and your clients and ASK to take them through the house.  When finished, thank the seller and inform them you are leaving and that you will be in touch with their agent.  Remember, you have been INVITED into THEIR home.

4.  Leave a card whenever you show a property.  Take time to go around and secure all doors, turn off lights, etc.  Even if vacant, you are still a guest in someone’s home.

5.  Call or email showing agents with feedback.  That way the feedback is left when the properties are still fresh in your mind and also, when it is convenient for the showing agent.  Yes, it is frustrating when you have shown 10 houses and the buyer didn’t like any of them.  But, feedback can be a great time to brainstorm with another agent – maybe they have a listing that WILL work for your buyer.

6.  Listing agents, remember, this is not YOUR house.  Do not argue with a showing agent about feedback.  Return showing phone calls promptly and THANK the other agent for showing your listing (they probably had a lot to choose from).

7.  Work TOGETHER to overcome objections!  That is OUR job!  So, the buyer didn’t like the house because their entertainment system wouldn’t fit in the family room?  How about if the seller leaves their flat screen which is hanging on the wall and fits perfectly in that room?  If we put our heads together sometimes, we can make things work.

8.  Put EVERYTHING in writing.  It protect us and protects our clients.

9.  Buyer-agents, please don’t show property to buyer’s who are not verifiably qualified.  It’s unprofessional.  Would you go to the grocery store not knowing how you are going to pay for the groceries?  No.  Then why would you go look at a house without knowing how you will pay for it?

10.  Keep emotions in check.  If you don’t have ridges in your tongue from biting it so hard, you haven’t come into your own as a real estate agent.  As real estate licensees, we represent our clients first.  Do you think your seller really cares whether or not you like the other agent or if they didn’t treat you nice 2 years ago?  No.  All the seller cares about is selling their house.

Bad, unprofessional behavior damages the way the public views us and our profession.  If we concentrate on working together with respect and courtesy, good things will come.

Writes of Passage for a Blogging Neophyte – Part 1

http://activerain.com/image_store/agents/5/6/2/5/9/56259/user56259_2_l.jpgIt’s been 4 months, 21 days, 21 hours, and 42 minutes since I posted my first blog. And I feel confident saying, with pride, that as a Blogger, I have arrived. Not only here at VARBuzz, which is a huge honor, but to real estate 2.0. I thought I’d address some of the issues I face being a newbie blogger. This will be a series of posts, so be sure to stay tuned.

Overcoming Fears

The hardest part of blogging, for me, was getting over my fears, and there are many of them! Initially there was the fear that no one would read it. Being a part of several social media sites helped drive my first readers to my blog. A few left thoughtful comments and many wished me well. But, there was still the fear that the general public wouldn’t find me. It took a month and a half for me to realize my blog was being read, and not just by friends and family. I got a LinkedIn invitation from a Realtor in Florida who asked me if she could send my post on Short Sales and Foreclosures to one of her clients. I was in shock! You mean, someone in Florida stumbled across my bog post and thought it was good enough to send to her client! Wow! What a feeling! I soon set up Google Analytics to track when, who, and from where my blog is being read. This is an amazing tool that I recommend all new bloggers utilize.

There was also the fear of the “Big Boy (and Girls).” These are the experienced bloggers. They took their training wheels off a long time ago. It’s hard not to be intimidated by them. I happen to be acquainted with many of the Virginia blogging elite, which made it harder for me. First, I was worried they wouldn’t be honest with me. I really do want and, more importantly, NEED their honest feedback. Second, I was worried they would be honest with me. No one likes to be criticized. No one likes to be told they are not good at something. It is up to me to get over this fear. No one is good at everything. Part of the blogging process is learning who you are and how you are going to present yourself to the world. The constructive criticism is an important aspect of finding your blogger voice.

Another part of the intimidation is the amount of tools these guys have learned to use. There are podcasts, embedded videos, and so much more. It’s hard to keep up. Learning my comfort level with technology and learning about the tools at my disposal was a big part of starting my blog. I’m not comfortable with video yet. And, that’s okay. It gives me a goal and something to work toward. Rome wasn’t built in a day; my blog portfolio doesn’t have to be either. It helped me to begin to look at the blogging veterans as a resource for a new blogger to tap into. They’ve made mistakes that you can learn from. They know what works and what doesn’t. There’s no sense recreating the wheel. I highly recommend getting a blogging mentor. They will help hold you accountable and push you through your fears.

My fears have not been conquered, but they will be. I’m pressing forward and finding new things to blog about. I’m getting more daring and more opinionated. I’m developing as a blogger. But the most amazing thing that has happened is that I’ve become a better Realtor. Blogging has forced me to step outside my comfort zone and confront my insecurities. I’m much more knowledgeable about my market and I own that knowledge. My blogging journey is far from over; but post by post, this is getting easier.

…and your mother dresses you funny

When it comes time to buy some piece of computer gadgetry (which, for me, could be any day ending in a Y), I love Newegg.com. It’s not just the price and selection; it’s the user reviews. When I went shopping for a new motherboard and processor, the choices were well-nigh overwhelming. Looking at Newegg’s list of bestsellers and reading all the reviews, though, narrowed it down quickly.

Ditto for Amazon — I especially love the “What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?” feature. I try to add my two cents when I can, but I have to admit that it’s much more fun to post a negative review. “Does a fine job trimming my weeds” isn’t nearly as satisfying to write as “Caved in half my backyard and felled two small trees — DO NOT BUY.”

Of course, that’s fine and dandy for me (and others who appreciate my sense of humor), but not for the maker of the product. Snarky comments are probably not appreciated.

In the Days of Yore™, this topic wouldn’t apply to real estate. Sure, you’d get some unkind comments and low bids from potential buyers, but you weren’t going to see “I wouldn’t let my dog sleep in those ugly bedrooms” or “Arson would be a good start for this awful house.”

But the times, they have a-changed.

Whether it’s on home-listing or -comment sites (e.g., Zillow.com) or on a Realtor’s blog, this age of comments means that the voice of The People will be heard. And often The People are way, way off key.

All this is to say that, if you’re not thrilled with the idea of the teeming millions weighing in on your home or listing, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal just had a piece on the very subject, “Housing Blogs Throw Stones.” A couple of quotes:

The skewering of fancy properties can be wicked fun — unless you’re the owner. One day this month, neuroradiologist Luis Fernandez was taken aback to see his four-story, 4,100-square-foot Brooklyn home, listed for sale at $2.5 million, on Brownstoner.com. The blog razzed Dr. Fernandez’s home, calling it “McMansion chic” and predicting price reductions.

and

The surge in verbal abuse doesn’t seem to be damaging the housing-blog business. Curbed.com, which has sites for New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, has seen its unique-visitor numbers climb to a million a month from 400,000 a month last year. Traffic has doubled on Brownstoner.com in the past year and spiked 11% in the first two weeks of October, compared to the month prior. At SocketSite.com comments are up about 25% over the past three months alone.

Oh, and I note that, unlike many other papers, the WSJ doesn’t allow readers to comment on its stories.

Good press from our Q3 housing report

We’ve gotten used to the press’s doom and gloom mentality when it comes to the housing market. We, of course, are glass-half-full kinds of people; we want people to see the upside in home-sales figures. But good news doesn’t often sell as many papers or get as many viewers as bad.

So we braced ourselves for how the third-quarter numbers were going to be perceived and reported on. And we were pleasantly surprised.

We got a cover story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Richmond-area home sales rise,” in which Carol Hazard wrote

After nearly a year of sluggish sales and price depreciation, the housing market in Virginia is beginning to show signs of strength, said Lisa Fowler from the George Mason University School of Public Policy, who spoke yesterday during a news media conference call.

She even quoted a Realtor from the area:

“The market in the Richmond area is stabilizing, said John Powell, an agent with Long & Foster in Colonial Heights. ‘We still have a lot of homes to choose from. We still need to see price reductions to increase sales.’”

And Bill Freehling at the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star wrote (in “Increase in home sales raises recovery hopes”)

“A trend of higher sales and lower prices in the Northern Virginia housing market has Realtors hopeful that the market will return to a more normal state by spring,”

We even got some national coverage:

“The assumption that the wave of foreclosures is going to keep driving prices down is wrong,” wrote John Berry on Bloomburg.com. “The big jump in sales suggests that prices may have hit bottom already in some areas. There are even tales of multiple offers on foreclosed properties, with buyers paying more than the asking price.”

There was some negative press, to be sure — “Housing sales take a dive” was the headline in the Williamsburg Daily Press — but by and large this was a good quarter and we got good coverage out of it.

You can read the whole report right here, and you can listen to or download the MP3 of the conference call with the media by clicking the link at the top of this page.

What’s hot in Commonwealth Online (October edition)

As always, we like to track what people are clicking on in each issue of Commonwealth Online. It helps us get to know our readers better and give them — you — the content you want.

In October, our new ClientDirect “make your own free newsletter” program was hot. It topped the charts for clicks — a place usually reserved for a VARbuzz post.

But VARbuzz wasn’t to be ignored. The number two link of the month was to our post on Governor Kaine’s budget cuts, and how they might affect the housing market.

Also popular was NAR’s online ethics course, and the Virginia Homeowners Alliance home page. (Hopefully lots of you are signing your clients up for it!)

And let’s not leave out two more crowd favorites: Our VARbuzz post on HOME’s claim of finding housing discrimination, and a rookie webcast on pricing.

If you missed them in the e-mail, check ’em out now!