Tag Archives: Real Estate Agents

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Google Authorship: Get your picture in search results and drive more traffic

This article was originally published on Inman News:

You’ve probably seen more and more pictures of writers showing up next to search results.  Google has implemented an Authorship Markup tool that allows writers to identify themselves to the search engine by linking their online works to their Google+ profiles.  This allows for a blog, article, or website to stand out from the crowded search results with a picture of the writer inserted next to its description.

SamDGoogle

There are a few ways to implement your Google Authorship (Google’s official instructions here):

Method #1:  Use a verified email address with your Google+ account

If you’re publishing content on the same domain as your email address, you can use this method.  For example, if your email is johndoe@mywebsite.com and you’re blogging on mywebsite.com, then the domains match and you can use the verified email tool.  If not, skip to method #2.

Log in to your Google+ account, and then to verify your email, visithttps://plus.google.com/authorship.  Add your matching-domain email address (johndoe@mywebsite.com).  Google will send you a confirmation email, and then add it to your Google+ account’s Work section.

Now, you can just add an Author byline to any content you publish on mywebsite.com.  Simply write “By John Doe”, or “Author: John Doe” in the content, and Google will recognize your name and begin displaying your Google+ photo next to the content in search results.  Every piece of content you publish on that domain going forward will automatically display your photo as long as you add your “By John Doe” author line.

Method #2: Link inside your content to your Google+ profile

Often you’ll be publishing content on someone else’s website or domain.  This post, for example, is hosted on InmanNEXT’s website, which I don’t own, and I don’t have an @inman.com email address, so I can’t use the verified email address method.  I’d still like to be recognized by Google as the author, however.

With this method, you’ll simply insert a link to your Google+ profile with a small bit of extra code.  Most authors will link their name with the author code.  For this article, we’ve inserted the following code:

<a href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/101669415833397825384/?rel=author“>Sam DeBord</a>

This makes the name, Sam DeBord, appear as a link. 

“https://plus.google.com/u/0/101669415833397825384/” is just the URL of my Google+ profile.  What turns it into an authorship tag is adding “?rel=author” to the end of it.  Now, Google knows that the Google+ profile being linked to is actually this page’s author’s profile.

The second step in this method is to add a reciprocal link in your Google+ profile to the same domain.  Go to your profile, select “About”, and then in the lower-right box title “Links”, select “Edit”.  Add a new link in the “Contributors to” section.  In this case, I would add “http://next.inman.com” and Save, since that is the website where I’m contributing content.

Now, the Google+ profile says I contribute to the Inman Next website, and the rel=author code within the Inman Next article confirms that an individual article was written by me.  Those specific articles by me will begin to show my picture next to them in search results.

 

What kind of picture should you use for your Google Authorship photo?

Your Google+ profile photo will show up in search results as your Google Author photo.  Obviously, a photo that will draw attention and attract users to click on the content would be best.

Your picture must be a photo of your face.

Logos, products, scenery, or group shots are strongly discouraged by Google.  Not only that, but Google can tell if you don’t upload a picture of your face.  It’s a bit creepy, but Google will scan your photo when you upload it, and will present a warning message to you if it can’t find a face in the photo.  If you disregard that message and post a logo or other photo anyway, it will not displayed as an author photo.  Change the photo back to a person’s face, and it will quickly reappear as your author photo in search results again.

Since the photo needs to be a face, find a very professional photo that shows up well in a small format.  If you just crop yourself out of your last company picnic photo, your traffic results will be as unenticing as your picture.  Make sure the contrast is high, so your face stands out against the background.  Anything more than head and shoulders is likely to be very unrecognizable in the small size of the search result photos.

Cyrus Shepard at SEOMoz had a great post if you’d like to over-analyze your photo for  all of the different ways you can tweak it to get better click-through rates.  In general, to pick the best photo to get more clicks, you need to think about your audience.  For real estate pros, this probably means that a photo which looks authoritative yet also approachable would be a good choice.

Will the Google Author picture increase my traffic?

In most cases, having Google Authorship photos will increase the click-through rate of search results.  Pictures stand out and add credibility to the content.  In rare cases, though, there is a possibility that a poorly-chosen picture could actually lessen the credibility of the content it is associated with, and decrease traffic.  Choose your photo wisely.

Google likes to know who its authors are.  There are millions of people publishing content every day, and it seems like there are just as many spammers as real writers.  As you build credibility with your Google+ profile and your author tag, Google will begin to recognize you as a reputable, long-standing content producer.

Google has an associated “Author Rank” that will contribute to higher rankings in the search engine’s results as authors become more recognized.  The credibility that you establish, as more and more content is published under your author tag, allows you to get faster and better search engine placement..   This is a tool that should be adopted by anyone who has a long-term strategy of driving traffic by publishing online content.

Diversify your real estate lead sources, or buckle up

This article was originally published on Inman News:

We talk a lot in our industry about the fastest path to real estate leads

Traditional methods of farming one’s sphere of influence and prospecting to increase that sphere are still highly successful when done correctly.  We just don’t talk about them as often as we should, because they require two very un-sexy ingredients:  planning and hard work.  One could say that building a website or a social media identity requires much of the same–there is no shortcut to organically becoming a well-respected entity online.

Far too often, our conversations about lead sources are focused on the easiest and least labor-intensive ways to generate real estate leads.  This, of course, almost always leads to internet lead sources.

 

There is nothing wrong with trying to decrease the amount of labor required to generate a new lead.  Businesses strive for efficiency, and ROI is directly affected by the amount of capital and labor that must be invested into a system to generate a certain number of leads.  The problem that seems to arise more and more often, is that the goal of short-term savings seems to blind businesses to the necessity of having a long-term strategy.  This is especially prevalent in discussions of online real estate leads today.

Your real estate “team” is not involved in professional sports or gambling

Professional sports organizations are highly incentivized to win quickly.  This causes a strategy within many teams that focuses only on having the best possible team on the field right now, no matter the long-term cost.  Some teams will sacrifice the training of younger players and backups, and put all of their emphasis in one bucket:  funding players who are ready to win right now, even if they are older players who only have one or two seasons left in their careers.

This gamble works for some teams.  They win a championship and get the glory.  But even for the teams that win in this fashion, there is a harsh reality waiting around the corner.  They’ll soon be the aging/retiring team with no young stars in-the-making, and no backups with experience to take over.  They’re likely to be one of the famous first-to-worst teams that fall flat on their faces when their short-term gamble runs out.

That’s just the winners.  Other teams’ high stakes bets don’t pan out at all.  The veteran experienced quarterback who was acquired in an expensive transaction blows out his knee.  The team had already cut their best backup QB to make room in the budget. This team’s plan was to ride one single horse to victory, and now there is no one waiting in the wings to lead them.  It will likely take many years, or far more money, to rebuild.

The reason sports teams can make this gamble over and over is that they’re financed by billionaires who can afford to make a lot of huge mistakes.  Coming in last place for them means trying again next year.  You, on the other hand, are not a billionaire.  Coming in last place means pulling your children out of private school or selling your spouse’s new vehicle.  Most real estate agents’ financial well-being is on the hook for another good season, year in and year out.  That’s probably why many of us keep making the mistake of confusing a short-term tactic with a long term strategy.

 

Buying Leads From Online Sources – A Tactic, Not a Strategy

To be clear, I don’t believe that buying some leads from online sources is a mistake.  Frankly, for some businesses, it is highly profitable.  There are a plethora of lead sources, all with varying degrees of quality depending on the agent and the location.  Buying leads can fill a temporary seasonal gap, create a boost for a new business, or be a long-term tactic as a side business to supplement the leads coming from your website, social media, your sphere, and your prospecting.

The problem appears when a business decides that all of its business will be purchased from an online source.  This business has decided that it has no need for a sustainable lead generation model with a predictable cost and ROI, because its current income source is paying the bills.

A business, or agent, that produces no leads on its own, is a business that is crossing a long, narrow bridge in the fog.  The bridge seems strong at the moment, and it is supporting the business’s needs, but the other end of the bridge can’t be seen.  The business person has no idea when it ends, if it ends, or what kind of condition the bridge will be in after travelling further.  If the bridge gets a little narrower, a little more unstable, or starts showing some cracks, there aren’t any contingency plans in place.  Without any other way to continue, the business becomes a powerless passenger who simply hopes that everything will continue in its current state in perpetuity.

That is literally the state of a real estate agent whose entire business is being purchased from a 3rd party online.  A lead source can cease to exist in a single day.  It may be purchased by another company.  Competitors could outbid the agent and take over the leads for that agent’s location.  Lead quality may decline.  Prices can be raised at the drop of a hat, with no explanation necessary.  The number of leads received at a certain price could be changed to the number of “impressions” an ad receives, without any correlation to the previous value received.

If your entire business is reliant upon the service of another organization, and you have no controls in place for cost or longevity, your career will live and die at the whim of your servicers.  Even if you’re selling homes like hotcakes with your current lead source, it just means you’re driving a much nicer car along that narrow bridge in the fog.

 

Build a wider bridge, weather the bumps in the road

On the other hand, those businesses that diversify their lead sources have far more options when one source doesn’t seem to be working out as they had planned.  Not everyone is great at social media.  Knocking on doors will not appeal to some.  Postcards, flyers, community events, blogging, networking, and prospecting are all opportunities that may not be every individual agent’s forte, but certainly a handful of them could be employed by any agent.  Much like investing for retirement, the wider net a business casts in its revenue generation model, the less likely their income will disappear all at once.

When businesses build their own lead generation from the ground up, they create a much wider bridge, with a much longer field of vision.  As agents create an identity online, in their business community, and in their social sphere, they generate a broader path to revenue with long-lasting effects.  The business identity doesn’t cease to exist the day that the business stops paying for a single service.  The persona and knowledge of that business grow and filter throughout that community, often on their own, continuing to create opportunities for lead generation even when the business owner’s foot is not on the gas.  This wider, stronger path to revenue provides multiple alternative lanes for relief if any single path fails.  This is a strategy of not only revenue generation, but also of insurance–of which real estate agents have far too little.

 

Build a strategy in the tough times that will be strong in all markets

We’ve all seen enough of the carnage that our associates lived through during the real estate downturn.  High times encourage many to adopt unsustainable business models that reap quick profits but ultimately have no long-term strategy.  As we finally make our way back into a healthier, appreciating real estate environment, it would be wise to focus on building a strategy today the diversifies business income and creates a durable business model to survive the peaks and the valleys of the real estate cycle.

I’ve had the *fortunate* experience of having survived the crashes of three separate industries in my 20 years of work, and it has allowed me to look at long-term business in a much different way.  However, I understand that this will fall on some deaf ears.  I was also once a young brash salesman who had a single outstanding lead source that made me feel invincible.  The money was intoxicating, the ride was wild, and it ended in a spectacular crash.  I’d hope that my own experience could help others avoid making the same mistake.  But, for those that can’t escape the draw of the quick fix and the fast car, good luck.  Hit the gas, head down that narrow bridge, and enjoy the ride–just buckle up for the finish.

SEO and March Madness: Simple steps to get your website in the ‘Big Dance’

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Every year, a few obscure college basketball teams burst onto the national media stage during March.  These previously-unheralded teams can sometimes out shadow even the biggest basketball programs in the nation.  Their journey from unknown to “Cinderella” media darling, however, isn’t based on luck. College basketball’s postseason tournament has some lessons for any small business that is trying to stamp out a big footprint online.  If you want to compete with the big boys for search engine placement and traffic, you must have a plan:

Know who you are.  Play Like it.  Create an Identity.

A few years back, there was a small, scrappy, disciplined team from Princeton that shocked the world by beating the heavily-favored, over-sized, and supremely athletic UCLA Bruins.  They didn’t do it by playing to their larger opponent’s strengths, but instead by ceaselessly employing their unique advantages.  The team’s identity was fundamentals:  organized play, attention to detail, and never making mental mistakes.  That team’s unique image will be been frozen in basketball fans’ minds for years to come (many of you are picturing the last Princeton back-cut for the winning basket right now).

For real estate brokers’ websites, the same is true.  Before doing any SEO marketing, you need to begin with a solid, fundamentally-sound identity.  Define yourself.  If you’re the Tuscaloosa townhome guy, make it clear.  If your niche is Saratoga short sales, make sure every person who lands on your website knows right away who you are.  Take something as focused as single housing development, and own it. Once you’ve identified yourself, build a solid base of high quality content centered around that identity.  Create videos, blog posts, neighborhood pages, and quality content that focus on your identity and assure your readers that you are the most knowledgable person on this subject and worth their recognition.  Drive it home every chance you get:  this is why I am the expert on this unique subject.

Play outside of your normal sphere to get publicity.

Many smaller schools will play games far from home to start off their season.  They know that within the Eastern Wichita Valley conference, they may never play on national TV.  If they schedule non-conference games across the country, however, the risk of stepping out of their comfort zone can reap them much larger rewards in front of a greater media audience.  For the small fish, national recognition can be scarce but is essential to standing out among the traditional giants and earning a spot in the Big Dance.

For real estate professionals, being seen by a wider group of people can only serve to expand your potential impact on others.  Join discussions in real estate forums by professionals and related businesses.  Share your website’s information with them, and share your knowledge on similar topics with their websites’ readers.  See if you can write a guest post for a local business in your neighborhood, even if their business seems unrelated.  Interact with other professionals on social media.

Broadening your horizons will allow your website, and your business, to be exposed to a larger world.  The more people that recognize your business and your value, the more search engines will recognize you as a unique and trusted source for your particular area of business.

Get some “quality wins” for credibility.

Cinderella basketball teams aren’t created by winning 20 games against lesser opponents.  They need to topple a Goliath or two.   For the small school to truly stand out, the team must have a win that shows they can “punch above their weight”, and lend credibility to their claims that they can play with the best.

Likewise, 10 blog posts/month about the current inventory on the market is a nice steady stream of information, but it won’t make a website stand out as a leader. Find a media outlet that has an interesting story related to your field, and write a follow-up piece for them to consider publishing.  Create a community event that publicizes your business but also generates community buzz.  Call the a TV news reporter with a great story you’ve written and see if they’ll run a story on it.

In short, aim high to mix some big things in with your steady stream of information.   You won’t always win, but the times that you do will reap astronomical rewards for your website’s SEO.  The search engines like to know that you have the credibility to step up to a higher level.

Leverage your team and your conference’s assets

Basketball players don’t make the Big Dance on their own.   They need a team that works together.  They need an organized coaching staff.  They rely on trainers, parents, alumni, and even their conference’s administration to organize, manage, and fund their schedules.  Without these larger organizations giving rise to the team’s publicity, a good team might never even be considered for the postseason.

Real estate pros need help from outside to reach the top as well.  If no one is talking about your website, there is no way for the search engines to find it.  As an industry, we have so many organizations that are there to support us, but we sometimes forget to ask for that support.  Share an infographic on Facebook with your local Realtor organization.  Tweet with your MLS to create more visibility.  Write a blog post for your brokerage’s national brand and collaborate with your associates to generate traffic.Working in concert with the organizations that already support you can do wonders for elevating your profile.  Large organizations carry a lot of clout online.

The recipe for winning is fairly straightforward, but it’s still hard work.

 SEO is not terribly complicated.  Although some might disagree, becoming a winning basketball team isn’t all that complicated either.  They both just require a lot of hard work.  The #1 thing that makes one team or business stand out from its competitors is its willingness to set a goal, stick to a plan, and work tirelessly within a set of guidelines to achieve a specific outcome.

Any small business can carve out a niche and create their unique identity online.  By staking a claim to your expert status, and diligently adhering to your standards and goals, you can beat the big boys for search engine supremacy and successfully defend your unique turf online.

Real Estate CRMs and Lead Management: Where Is The Integration Automation?

This article was originally published on Geek Estate Blog:

I’ve been reviewing dozens of CRMs over the past year for projects within my own team as well as others’ businesses. The majority of these discussions include a fairly simple question: Will this CRM automatically import/update itself with the leads I get from various sources?

Traditional CRMs are great for managing your “customers”, which is what they were designed for. It’s striking how many haven’t gotten past that point, though. Most real estate agents and teams that I know are generating leads through their own websites, company websites, and marketing portals. These leads aren’t customers yet, and they don’t warrant a salesperson taking the time to input each one individually into a CRM.

It seems that every CRM would have a system to automatically import its users’ leads from outside sources, but surprisingly few do. Exporting a list of contacts from the source and manually importing them to your CRM doesn’t count.

At a minimum, having a custom email address that salespeople can cc when they receive new leads should be available. This can direct new leads to the CRM and add them to the contacts database without user input, but I still find that the majority of CRMs don’t have this functionality.

It’s not just the small companies, either. Some of the largest and most expensive CRMs require a boatload of integration work, upgraded modules and add-ons, and customization to make this relatively simple process work.

Ideally, a CRM should be working proactively with every new lead generation source in the industry that seems to be gaining market share. Find the lead source company, figure out how you can make the process of getting their leads out of their system and into yours easier, and advertise your ability to do so.

If a CRM is looking to the future of serving the real estate agent population, this is a huge area to focus on. Organizing and simplifying the process of lead-contact-followup is something that busy sales people are willing to pay for.

There are a few companies who are doing this now, but some sort of API or set of standards that allows lead generation companies and CRM companies to design their import/export functions to work with any other vendor would be a huge boon to making the process simpler going forward. The technical knowledge necessary here is far above my pay grade, but an intermediary conduit that brings any lead source into communication with any CRM accepting that kind of data might just blow the lead management industry wide open.

Real Estate Search: Why Agents Don’t Need To “Win”, Just Earn

This article was originally published on Geek Estate Blog:

Drew wrote a great piece earlier on the state of real estate search.  I was at Inman Connect in New York last week as well, and it appears that not only did we share a few drinks, we also shared some of the same speaker “takeaways” in terms of the dynamics of portals and agents in the online arena.

What we didn’t share was the same reaction to the speakers’ positions.  By and large, the message was “Portals have already won search.  Stop trying to compete in that space. Focus on other things.”

I think that a lot of our disagreement may be more in semantics than actual strategy, but for a word-nerd like myself, it matters.  Telling a real estate agent to “cede” the real estate search arena, in whichever platform, is a dangerously overemphasized position, in my opinion.

Even still, we can start from Drew’s points, most of which I agree with in concept:

1. A “decent” web search is the cost of doing business in 2014.

Without a doubt, this is true.  Having a website with search was unique last century.  The cost of most decent-quality websites is minimal compared to most agent/brokers’ other advertising budgets, but most don’t apply the effort or the resources to make it usable and friendly.

Your site is not going to be anywhere near as good as a portal’s in terms of UI and design.  You don’t have an L.A. agency working for you.  But, if it’s clean, easy, and full of unique local content, your users still might prefer it to the big boys.

2. There is room for Agents/Brokers in Web search.

Glad we agree here.  Agents don’t need to “beat” a portal.  They just need to garner a handful of leads every week.  This isn’t particularly expensive, it just requires some marketing strategy and ongoing upkeep.  Being the 4th or 5th website that a buyer visits allows you to differentiate from a national organization and sell to a consumer who is likely closer to purchasing than they were when they visited their first real estate search site (likely a portal).

3. We live in a mobile world.

Increasingly so…

4. Building great mobile products is a lot harder than web.

…and costly.  There are fewer options available at the moment, fewer providers, and fewer folks who really know how to do mobile well.  This translates into a much larger expense for a decent quality product.  Moreover, if it’s a one-off product that doesn’t have built-in updates available (i.e. the provider will create a new version for iOS7 without breaking your bank), it’s going to be sinking from the day it goes live.

5. Building great consumer products is not a broker’s (or agent’s) core competency.

True.  This goes back to the need for some focus and integration of web search into the basic company strategy.  Without intently creating a quality search experience, the efforts will be in vain.  At the same time, it doesn’t have to be Zillow, or Trulia, or Realtor.com.  It just needs to be a user-friendly search that provides unique content from your local market.

6. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com (& Redfin) are dominating the market.

It’s true, the portals get over 100 million leads/year.  Only 5 million homes/year are actually sold.  Not all leads are equal.  The consumer is searching lots of sites, and your leads will be more focused.  When a buyer searches on John James Realty and then signs up with John James Realty, he or she is probably more likely to recognize John’s name when he calls back, as opposed to when he was one of four agents on a portal listing page who happened to get the lead.  Are your five local website leads leads worth ten of theirs?  I don’t know.  But, I’d wager that your local site’s leads offer much higher conversion rates.

7. Mobile Distribution is Insanely Hard.

This may be the biggest point of the discussion.  If the scarcity and cost of quality mobile developers wasn’t bad enough, the task of garnering consumer adoption of apps is exponentially more difficult than generating website visitors.  It requires an entirely separate marketing strategy for the mobile product, and it has to continue long-term to keep the product viable.

My slightly different answers to each real estate role:

  •  Agents:  Start with the best IDX you can find.  It doesn’t need to cost $1,000/mo.  It doesn’t need to outpace a national portal.  It just needs to be so easy to use that you’re convincing a handful of consumers, every week, to contact you.  As Drew rightly said, a mobile app should probably be nowhere near the top of your priorities…unless you’re already doing very well at search.  If you already have a large enough following/user list to market an app to early adopter/reviewers, and you have the resources to purchase a product that will continue to be improved over time, it might be worth a shot.  In the meantime, don’t ignore mobile web.  Get your website responsive if you don’t have an app (or even if you do).
  • Brokers:  Go build an app with a smart developer.  It might not make you a lot of money for a while.  But, over time, the democratization of mobile app technology will happen much like it has for other technologies.  It will get cheaper.  Try it out, don’t break the bank, but understand how it works so you’re prepared for the future.  It may not be “found” by tons of consumers, but your agents can get their clients to use it and keep them in the fold.  For a broker, it’s not a huge expense.
  • Franchises:  You’ve got the funds, but you need a better reason to build a great, high-end app.  If you’re going to do it, find a way to make it unique.  Search is great, but if you can tie another information source or local service model into the app, you’ll have something consumers will talk about.  Create a service that ties real estate search to an idea that generates word-of-mouth traffic in your offices’ local markets and faster services from your agents to their clients.

In the end, my drive for agents is in continuing to hold their ground where a sliver of traffic might seem insignificant to others but is enough to make their next year a record year.  Drew’s points are salient for the industry as a whole.  For the individual, there are exceptions to those rules, but only where real dedication and focus on the search process is part of the strategy will there be worthwhile financial returns.

100 Smartphone Real Estate Videos in 100 Days: A Challenge

This article was originally published on Geek Estate Blog:

Online buyers want more video content, and video technology has become much simpler to use.  I’m challenging myself, and anyone who’d like to join me, to create 100 neighborhood videos in 100 days.  To make that happen, I’m going to shoot video only on my smartphone.

Where did this idea come from?  R.E. agent discussions focus a lot on what the big data aggregators are doing to beat them online.  However, no amount of server capacity or programming staff can drive through a neighborhood, take video, and speak intelligently about that neighborhood and the local market like an agent can.  Local video leverages the agent’s unique advantage over a portal.

That, and Matthew Ferrara‘s video speech finally broke through my thick skull the third time I heard him speak.

Putting off video is easy because of the technological barrier to doing decent quality video.  Professionals don’t want shaky, grainy video representing their company.  However, doing something is better than doing nothing.  The ability to create good quality video, even if not top-tier, is easily accessible today.

Getting started with video is the hardest part.  Large cameras, tripods, dollies, etc. make for a clumsy setup that is a big time killer.  Complicated video editing software lengthens the process, and makes the user want to give up after a few tries.

To get 100 videos done, it needs to happen on a phone.  I still sell real estate.  I can’t be out every day doing complicated shoots, and back every night in front of the editing screen.

Some Shortcuts:
handheld mobile videoI cheated the “only on my smartphone” part to get the process started.  I created some graphics on my PC with Adobe Photoshop.  I wanted to give the video a recognizable branding that looked professional, but also put it in perspective, emphasizing that it is smartphone video (i.e. mobile video handheld tours).

Then I used those logos to create two quick video clips on my PC–an intro and outro to bookend the videos.  The neighborhood video would be the central content in between these two 5 second clips.  They were created on Cyberlink Power Director.  You don’t need these clips, or this software, but since I had access, it was a nice base to start with.  You could easily just upload a logo image to be used as your video’s intro.

Video/Smartphone/App Specs:

I’m using the Videolicious App on my iPhone 5.  The video quality, image stabilization, and reaction time of the iPhone 5 are good enough that a small-format video might sometimes be a bit shaky, but it’s good enough for posting online.

Videolicious is the simplest way to put together a number of videos, create a voice-over, add music, and upload to the cloud and social media without leaving your phone.  It transitions smoothly between clips and processes new videos quickly.  The Business pricing plan is $5/mo and allows the user to have appropriate branding.  There may be more advanced software available, but I’m looking for something to get the job done well and get me back to my real work.

Tip:  To integrate an outside video with its own audio source  (like my intro and outro clips) into a Videolicious video, I had a long conversation with someone in their tech support who really went out of his way to explain this little trick.

Create a neighborhood video in Videolicious with voice-over/background music and save it.  Import your intro and your outro videos on to your iPhone through iTunes.   Now create a brand new Videolicious video, and import the intro, fully-produced neighborhood video, and outro into one video.  Skip the voice-over and the music.  Save.

Result:  New Neighborhood Videos Without Leaving My Car

At this point, I can drive to a neighborhood, shoot video, edit, voice-over, and publish it before my clients show up for an appointment.  Since I can’t shoot video every day, being mobile is important, as I could shoot a half-dozen of these on a good day.

The plan is to post each video on our websites’ neighborhood pages, and host them on ourYouTube channel.

I’m trying to keep the videos around 1 minute.  They’re more of an intro video to a neighborhood page on a website.

98 to go.

Five Things Realtor.com Could Learn From Zillow

This article was originally published on Geek Estate Blog:

Zillow and Realtor.com are at the top of the list for the most popular real estate destinations online.   While Realtor.com has been the leader for years, Zillow’s skyrocketing success has recently had it matching or beating Realtor.com’s traffic numbers, and its current trajectory certainly points to a growing lead in the future.

Instead of lamenting the current outlook or ignoring the ever-growing elephant in the room, it would be wise for the folks at Move, Inc (the current operators of Realtor.com) to take a step back and recognize what Zillow is doing right–the things that create web traffic and repeat, loyal web users.

Five Things Realtor.com Could Learn From Zillow

Mix in a Bit of Entertainment With Your Real Estate

Real estate consumers want to be intrigued, educated, and entertained at the same time.  Have you read the blog on Realtor.com lately?  If you’re a consumer, the answer is almost certainly “No”.  The majority of the content on Realtor.com’s front page is about Realtor designations, continuing education, and statistical reporting. (Edit:  there is quite a bit of entertaining content, but you have to find the blog first.)

Zillow’s blog, on the other hand, is chock-full of celebrity homes, tweets of the week, video interviews, and home tours.  It’s eye candy, and it’s visually intermixed extensively with the other elements of the site.  It’s the kind of thing that visitors come back to every morning to see something interesting or exciting.  They share it with their friends.  Realtor.com has recently made an attempt to move in this direction, and my advice would be to get some entertaining writers on board, pronto.  Building a loyal fan base is more than just displaying home listings.

Be Sociable

I’m not just talking about having Facebook and Twitter sharing buttons here.  Every site can and must have a way for users to share the content they find interesting, but we also need humans who actually interact in the social web.

Look at Zillow’s CEO, Spencer Rascoff.  He’s responding to not only questions on the Zillow advice forums, but also tweets from average consumers on Twitter.  Call me naive, but knowing the guy, I believe Spencer is really the person sitting at a desk and responding whenever someone on Twitter writes something interesting about Zillow.  Of course, there are dozens of other Zillow employees doing the same throughout the social media platforms.

Can you imagine the kind of trust and loyalty your business achieves when employees are having one-on-one communication with “non-paying customers”?  I’m not saying that Move Inc’s CEO needs to be on Twitter 24/7, but building a personal face, with local or regional interaction, would be greatly helpful for Realtor.com to create a stronger connection with its users.  We want to talk to people, not brands.

Mobile is the New Bookmark

The key to being successful with web traffic is to get repeat traffic.  Businesses need to find a way to remind consumers that they are still available when it comes time for a consumer to take a second look online.  Repeat traffic creates loyal users.

Zillow knows that by getting its app on a user’s mobile device, they have a permanent “bookmark” on that user’s most personal possession.  They carry it everywhere.  Every time they look at their mobile device’s desktop, there is a nice big icon begging them to come back to Zillow.  When you look at Zillow’s traditional website, there’s no way to miss the ever-present ads for the free app.  That app is a hook into a user’s online world, and it is worth its proverbial weight in gold.

Realtor.com actually has a very nice app.  Most users who download it will probably enjoy using it.  The problem is finding it.  Sure, there’s a tiny text link in the corner of the screen, but this just crystallizes the importance that the site places on creating mobile users.  Compare this to the four inch image of an iPhone on Zillow, and guess which site is creating more app downloads and mobile users.

Leverage Your Strongest Allies

Zillow has a huge ally in Yahoo right now.  The two companies combined have access to untold finances and online visibility.  The partnership might be the strongest we’ve ever seen online in the real estate world, and their combined influence is exponentially stronger than it was as two separate organizations.

Realtor.com, on the other hand, theoretically has/had a trump card.  The site is supposed to be the face of Realtors nationwide, and has unmatched credibility when responsibly used.  The 800 lb gorilla, so to speak, is the “official” real estate landing page.  The problem is the disconnect that has been created between Realtors and the quasi-Realtor organization, Move Inc.

Let me preface this by saying that I am an unabashed advocate of the Realtor organization, have worked with the government affairs group, and published outreach efforts for the local and state organizations.  The ever-growing ideological divide between Realtors and Realtor.com seems like a major disappointment that never had to happen.  Realtor.com needs to be brought back into the fold, and the two groups’ goals need to be aligned to create real success.  This leads us to the final point.

Focus on the Consumers – Agent Advertising Dollars Will Follow

Focus on what consumers want, and leverage your ultimate asset:  Realtors working in the field.  Get every listing from every MLS in the country, and don’t muddy the waters with silly premium listings that distort the listing inventory for consumers.

Keep listing agents happy by listing all of their homes, without exception.

Keep consumers happy by having the all-encompassing, up-to-date, accurate database that home buyers are searching for.

It’s fairly simple.  Realtor.com would have a huge leg up on its competition if it focused on making both agents and consumers happy instead of resorting to a “pay up or else” sales model.   Traffic will grow organically with a full database of homes, as agents and consumers alike gain trust in the site as the “official” database of homes.  Advertising revenue could easily grow as traffic increases, but the model should again be like Zillow’s.  Buyers’ agents can pay for advertising space, and rates will be set by demand.  There would be no conflict of interest in artificially displaying one listing over another.  Just present a consumer with the best list of homes for sale, and an opportunity to work with a buyer’s agent in the area.

Sometimes, an old dog has to learn new tricks.  The 800 lb. gorilla would be wise to emulate some of the moves its competitor, because it just happens to be the elephant in the room.

If This Then That: Top 10 ifttt Recipes for Real Estate Agents

This article was originally published on Geek Estate Blog:

If This, Then That is a new company with a plethora of tools designed to automate, simplify, and organize your online world.  They have broken down the code and APIs of online services including Facebook, Twitter, Google, and many others, and created services that automate many functions that users would ordinarily have to do themselves.

For a more in-depth overview of the technology, see Chris Smith’s article on Inman, “If This Then That will melt your face off“, inspired by Gahlord Dewald, which introduced me to the product.

While there are thousands of “recipes” for services on If This Then That which could be useful to the average consumer, I wanted to compile the top ten recipes that would specifically be beneficial to a real estate agent.  Getting an automatic email about Amazon’s newest Top Free MP3s is nice, but it doesn’t exactly help me close more real estate transactions.  So, without further ado:

The Top 10 Recipes for Real Estate Agents on If This Then That:

#1 Text to escape

This is my personal favorite.  Did you bump into a story-teller that you just can’t stop from talking?  Have an appointment coming up, but just can’t find a polite point to cut in and tell someone you have to leave?  Send a text to ifttt and it will automatically call your phone with your “urgent appointment” that you must get to right away.

#2 Syncing Google+ public posts to Twitter

We all know that there are challenges keeping the same posts flowing to all of our social media outlets.  By syncing your Google+ feed to Twitter, you skip one more step in your very busy day.  While you’re at it, sync your Google+ posts to your Facebook Wall as well.

#3 Note to Self

Just had a great thought, and don’t have anywhere to write it down?  Call ifttt, leave the message, and you’ll get a transcript in your email.

#4 Archive my Foursquare check-ins to Google Calendar

Have trouble remembering your past appointments and schedules?  Many real estate agents need to record mileage, appointments, and travel for tax purposes.  With your check-ins recorded to your calendar, you can go back and see where you were as often as you used your Foursquare account.  Also, save Facebook timeline statuses to your calendar.

#5 Tweet with #fb hashtag to Facebook status and remove hashtag before posting

Don’t you hate reading Facebook posts with hashtags that clearly were syndicated from Twitter?  You can create the impression of being engaged on each platform more directly by having the hashtags removed from your posts automatically.

#6 Tweet my blog post from WordPress to Twitter

Many people have another service like Twitterfeed to do this, but when you start setting up all of your services with ifttt, it just makes sense to use it here.  Have blog posts and links automatically Tweeted after being published.

#7 Receive an SMS text message before a Google Calendar event starts

This is a nice reminder function for people who just have a few events per day.  For those with a very full schedule, it could potentially be overkill, but then again it might be a lifesaver for some.

#8 Thanking people in Twitter when they mention you or RT

You’ve heard that engagement is key in creating social relationships on Twitter.  Thanking those who mention you can be a quick way to encourage others to follow you as well.  Along the same lines, send a Thanks for following! message to new followers.

#9 Tomorrow’s forecast calls for rain, send me an email.

For those of us in Seattle, this isn’t a particularly useful recipe.  For sunnier climates, those of you with brand new shoes and a shiny convertible might change your attire significantly if you were warned beforehand.  Or maybe you’d just skip getting your car washed the night before.  Alternately, add the warning to your Google Calendar, or text me if it’s going to snow.

#10 Help me find my lost phone!

This is pure genius.  When your phone is lost, just send an email to yourself with the hashtag #lostphone in the subject or body.  The phone will start ringing, helping you find it.

Alternates:

When Facebook profile picture changes, update Twitter profile picture

This recipe didn’t make the top 10 cut, because there is some disagreement in the real estate biz about having the same photo on all social media outlets.  Some say consistency and branding is key in your photos.  Others would argue that a professional headshot on Facebook is far too stuffy for the medium, but could be appropriate on Twitter.  To each his own.

Wake-up Call

We all have alarm clocks on our phones.  In theory, there’s no need for an actual phone call to wake us up in the morning.  However, for those of you who get used to your alarm clock sound and tend to hit the snooze, a big appointment just might warrant the ring of your phone to make you sit up and notice.

Receive a text message when mentioned on Twitter

For those of you so concerned with your online reputation that you can’t bear a generic response or a five minute delay…this is for you.

There are hundreds of more recipes available.  Give If This Then That a try, and let me know what you think.

Custom URL Shortener: Maximize Your Mobile/Social Online Branding

This article was originally published on Geek Estate Blog:

Creating your company’s own customized URL shortener is faster and easier than you might believe.  Why would a company need/want a custom URL shortener?  I’ll get to that, but if the geeks will please excuse me for a second, the basic premise of URL shorteners for those who might not be aware:

URL shorteners are used to shrink a web link to a smaller size.  When users on Twitter, Facebook, and a number of other mobile/social media sites type or paste web links, they need to them to be as short as possible to save room for a title, explanation, comment, etc.  Example:

http://seattlehome.com/waterfront-homes/Bellevue is a nice link, but it’s 48 characters long.  You are only allowed to type 140 characters per tweet on Twitter, so you’ve used up more than one-third of your space if you paste this URL into your tweet.  That same URL can be shortened to http://seaho.me/w and your link points to the exact same web page, but you now have 31 more characters to work with on your tweet.  This is possible by registering a short domain name (seaho.me vs. seattlehome.com) and using a URL shortener.

Why Custom Branded URLs vs. Public URL Shorteners

There are plenty of public URL shorteners available, with the most popular being bit.ly.  These services allow you to shorten a link, but it will be branded under the service-provider’s domain.  This can save you a few characters, and is fine for most individual users.  However, most good marketers are looking to squeeze every last ounce of branding out of a marketing effort, and a shortened, custom URL gives the impression of a polished, tech-savvy, well-organized company.

Think of it this way:  You are a source of valuable information for your followers.    Your social media account could be seen as one large convention hall full of your personal knowledge of a subject matter, and doorways that you provide to information from others that you trust and respect.  Because your followers trust you, they follow the links that you provide to other sources.  If you owned the convention hall, how would you label the doors leading to the knowledge you’re providing–with some other company’s name, or would you put your company’s sponsorship right on top of every label as you direct your customers to the information they’re seeking?

Branding your URLs means owning your knowledge space, and reminding your followers/users/customers/clients about the value that you are providing to them.

Pseudo Custom Branded URL Shorteners

Some companies have adopted a partial solution with hosted custom branding.  Bitly enterprise is an upgraded ”pro service” that allows companies, like the Seattle Times, to register a shortened domain and use it as their URL shortener, while bitly hosts the software and the links database.  http://seattletimes.com becomes http://seati.ms and the repetition of the Seattle Times name throughout the company’s posts does deliver some of the impact of a custom URL shortener:

@seattletimes (Seattle Times) Local home sales on an upswing: http://seati.ms/o8JD2H

There are just two downfalls to this service.  First, it’s $995/mo.  No, I didn’t miss a decimal in that price.  Second, for those willing to cough up that nearly-thousand dollars per month, it gets worse.  The “home page” of your shortened domain will redirect back to bitly’s home page.  How much time and money would you spend branding a domain which has a base page sending traffic elsewhere?

Fully-customized URL shorteners

I’ve researched a number of do-it-yourself URL shorteners, and all signs point to YOURLS as the best and easiest product available (being free is a nice bonus).  YOURLS allows you to install a set of files on your company’s server/host, create a simple database, edit one text file, and start linking.  Anyone who has installed a custom wordpress site can do this in a blink.  If you haven’t, it wouldn’t take long for your IT guru to get it done for you.  I won’t get into the technical details of the install since every provider is different, but there are ample instructions on YOURLS’s site.

Once installed, log into the admin page, paste your link, and shorten.  You can even post directly to Facebook and Twitter through the YOURLS interface.  Links are saved in the database for as long as you keep the web hosting in place.  Is shortening your links in an external application a bit more work?  Every new marketing venture is more work, or more money.  In the end, the minimal extra effort spent to brand URLs is, in my opinion, worth the boost to the brand’s image.

TIPS:

First things first:  find yourself a great shortened domain name.  International domains come in particularly handy for creating shortened words ending in .me, .ms, .ly, etc.  Here are sometips.  Take the time to get a good one, because once you start linking, you’re stuck with it.

Now, for the important part.  You’re not finished until you’ve created a mobile-friendly landing page for your new shortened domain.  A high percentage of users viewing your social media feed are going to be on mobile devices.  When they decide that they want to see what this http://seaho.me site is that keeps delivering relevant real estate news to them, they need to find a web site that is designed to be viewed on whatever device they might be using.  It doesn’t matter how much time you spend on branding, if a user visits your site on a mobile device and it’s not optimized for mobile, they’ll be off to another company’s site in a minute.

Register a short domain, install YOURLS, create a mobile-friendly landing page, and link like the big boys without spending the big bucks.

Understanding The New 3.8% Healthcare Tax on Real Estate

This article was originally published on the Seattle Homes Blog:

Understanding politically-charged tax and health care issues can quickly lead to plenty of disinformation. There are far more emails and web sites disseminating incorrect information about the new health care tax on real estate than there are real guides to the issue. Anyone involved in a real estate transaction with questions about this tax should consult their own tax attorney or tax consultant, or refer to this guide produced by the National Association of Realtors.

3.8% Real Estate Health Care Tax

As a brief introduction, here are the facts:

Beginning January 1, 2013, a new tax will be levied on some real estate transactions. This tax was created to fund the U.S. health care legislation created two years ago, commonly referred to in the media as “Obamacare”, but officially termed Patient Protection Affordable Care Act.

Let’s start with the most basic issues. The new tax is levied only upon single tax filers with over $200,000 in Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) or married filers with over $250,000 in AGI.

The tax is not levied upon the value of the original basis price of the home, nor is it levied against the current tax-free gains that most home sellers of personal residences qualify for: $250,000 of tax-free gain for single tax filers, and $500,000 for a married couple filing jointly on personal residences.

At this point, all income earners under $200k/$250k are exempt, and all transactions without a gain of more than $250k/$500k are exempt. This makes up the majority of real estate transactions today.

Here is where it gets a bit tricky (seeguide for examples). For the additional gain, over and above the $250k/$500k tax-free:

The new tax applies to the LESSER of (a) Investment income amount, or (b) Excess of AGI over $200k/$250k. In other words, in some cases, this new 3.8% tax will still not apply to the gain, but could apply depending on the income makeup of the taxpayer.

All-in-all, this tax affects only a small portion of real estate sales. Many in the industry would argue, though, that any new impediments to the sale of purchases in any way should be avoided in the current economic/real estate climate. We don’t want to discourage home sales at any price level, as the offset loss of the current tax revenues from those sales would far outweigh an add-on such as this.

If nothing else, this new tax is a great example of the bureacracy of our tax code and the lack of transparency in the tax-writing process. You would be hard-pressed to find a home seller who understands the tax fully, even after reading a review of it. It’s difficult enough for a real estate broker who deals with these kinds of transactions every day. When home buyers and sellers don’t understand the process, they often react out of fear of the unknown. When we lay out clear real estate tax policy for consumers, we find home buyers and sellers make informed, rational decisions in the real estate market.