I finally took the time to unhack my site.  Hacking is kind of getting a cool name with a lot of people who code calling themselves hackers, but it’s not cool when your website gets “hacked”.  Some group in another country was making a political statement and hacking as many websites as they could as a form of protest.  In my case, the corrupted files were in my blog’s theme (I had been using Thesis).  So switched out the theme and the blog is back up!  Now I may have to start blogging again – it’s been a long time.    Hopefully I can spend a little time working on this site.

I attended the California Association of REALTORS® business meetings last week in Indian Wells.   While it is hard to summarize three and a half days of meetings in a brief post, here are a few of the highlights:

  • The California Residential Purchase Agreement (RPA) is getting a face lift.  The revised RPA and related forms will be released some time in April.  CAR’s website will soon have the final version of the revised form that includes 44 changes from the current RPA.  The most recent draft can be found here.  I expect there will be a lot of education events available to get members up to speed with all of these changes.
  • Coming Soon Marketing – A motion was brought to the MLS committee to prohibit the pre-marketing of homes – the MLS committee could not come to an agreement and instead created a task force  to study this issue further with input of Professional Standards and the REO task force.
  • CalREDD – Working demonstrations were held highlighting the new CalREDD Statewide MLS platform.  Several small associations have gone online line with the system.  It appears that virtually all of the associations that are scheduled to switch over to the CalREDD system are small associations.  While CalREDD was mentioned quite a bit, it did not seem to stir a lot of excitement.
  • Short Sales -  CAR has several groups looking at ways of introducing legislation that might help standardize the short sale process for lenders.  Agents should be aware there are a number of scams focused around short sales.  One potential scam is called settlement sale.  A settlement sale happens when an investor buys a home from a short sale seller and then “flips” it to a new buyer placing it in contract with the new buyer even before taking title to the property. Another  big problem stems from second lien holders who have a long list of ways to squeeze more money from the transaction. Many of these requests put the agents, seller and buyers at risk for committing fraud.  General rule of thumb is avoid doing anything outside of escrow and make sure all closing costs are documented on the HUD-1.
  • Zipforms –   Winforms recently changed their name to Zipforms.  One new feature is ePUBS- an electronic way to deliver disclosures like the  Combined Hazards Book directly to the buyer.  ePUBS makes it easy to print only the signature pages of the disclosures and is a way to help reduce the use of paper in the real estate transaction.
  • REALTOR® Action Fund Opt Over – One change that will likely be finalized during the CAR meetings in June is a mandatory $49 assessment starting with 2011 dues.  Currently members have the option  if they will contribute to the REALTOR® Action Fund anywhere from $49 to $197 on up to several thousand dollars for major donors.  Starting in 2011 the fee will become mandatory and all members will have the option of their “assessment”  applied to the REALTOR® Action Fund or “opt over” to an alternative account.
  • RPR – This is a national database of properties that is being put together by NAR.  The Realtor’s Property Resources site is still under development but they do have a blog and were at the meetings to demonstrate the website.

Many more topics were covered at the meetings.  Typically meetings start at 7:00 or 8:00 am each morning  and run through 6:00 pm or later each night.  I’m looking forward to the June meetings in Sacramento and Legislative Day where REALTORS® meet with their local State Senators and Assembly members to discuss issues that effect home ownership, protect property rights and the ability of REALTORS® to do business.

I’ve been adding a lot of community pages recently to my website like this page focused on Granite Bay Real Estate.

There seems to be a lot of discussion out in the real estate blogosphere about  adding lifestyle searches and demographic information.  Some real estate websites are adding zillow zestimates, walk-score information, google map searches with yelp reviews of business around the neighborhood.

I’ve recently added Microsoft’s bird’s eye view and Google’s street view to the detail pages of all the MLS listings.  I’ve also added Trendgraphix information on the city and neighborhood pages to provide a quick snapshot of available inventory, pending sales and sold properties.  I’m also trying to populate the site with videos that represent different areas.  Eventually I would like to make (or have them made) for different areas.

I always try to think like a home buyer/seller when making any change to my site.  I’ve been looking at a lot of sites around the country and it seems universally we are all stuck with relatively small photos, still limited use of video, too many blog posts that showcase an agent’s “newest listing”.

Look around in other verticals and the trend is for larger, high quality photos, very media centric/interactive sites.  Right now most real estate agents around the country are limited to IDX feeds with relatively small resolution photos.  It seems to me, pushing local MLS to increase the photo size might be  one way for local real estate sites to stand out.

I’ve been looking at a lot of the demographic data that seems to be placed on a lot of real estate websites and it just does not move me.   Even with creating a regional real estate website, I feel I should be able to synthesize the key demographic data for my area while maybe providing relevant links to the “label readers” who want a more in depth analysis of an area.

For now I’m planning on creating a more visual experience for my web visitors, improving navigation and create ways to tempt the user to click through to multiple pages.

For the past few months I’ve been spending a lot of my time on lead management activities. Although I wish I had spent more time earlier in 2009 focused on lead management, I’m realizing it is probably the most important activity for any real estate agent, no matter if they are focused on traditional marketing or Internet marketing.

It really does not matter how you get contacts for your business, there are many easy ways to generate leads both online and offline with a little work, the trick is consistently following up with leads.

I am far from running a perfect system and would love feedback from other people but this is the basic program I have in place.

The majority of my leads come from IDX registration.  I force registration when users want to view detailed property registrations and no, I don’t feel at all guilty about this.

After a user registers on my website, if they check that they want to receive property updates, I set up a saved search based on the criteria that they searched for. Right now this process is not fully automated and I’m using a home finder service provided by my Broker instead of the save search function built into my websites because the broker’s solution is more robust than the default on either of my real estate sites.

I have an agent who is currently acting as a lead coordinator who calls the new leads four different times right after registration to qualify the leads. I am also assigning frequent returning users to agents to try and make a stronger connection.

Assigning leads out to other agents is still a  new process for me and the majority of the leads are assigned to me until they turn into warmer leads, one goal of mine is to assign more of the leads directly to the agents.

I still have holes in my system. The returning users are not getting enough contact. Eventually I would like to have a salaried person dedicated to just making calls to both the new and returning visitors along with scheduled follow up to larger pool of registered users.

I am also sending a monthly update to the entire database. The last three months the emails have been basic, all had a single  message. Starting in January I intend to make them look more like newsletters and create an email template to match the feel of my websites as another reminder to visit my website.

Besides lead management I’ve also focused on improving the navigation on my Davis site and I’ve slowly continued building content to my Sacramento site like this page on Natomas.

I’m not going to focus on drawing more traffic to either website until I feel my lead management program is on auto pilot.  I have spent too long cherry-picking the leads from the site and it is beyond time to really make sure that all the leads that have the potential to be converted turn into clients.

Lou Lynch has a nice blog that focuses on lead management for real estate.  He doesn’t post all that often but I recommend that every agent who gets leads on the internet read through his posts.

There is a fairly big real estate training event taking place next week in Sacramento and it appears that the session on blogging will be hosted by a company representative who had previously offered their blogging platform for free now charges new members $19 a month. There are a few real estate blogging sites that charge “members” even more money that that. They claim these blogging systems are designed for real estate that makes some agents think the money is worth spending. However there are a lot of resources available for free to learn how and what to blog. Although I’m sure there will be agents at the event who will be inspired to start a blog as it is a good way to start marketing yourself online – you don’t need to spend a lot of money every month on your blog. Here are a few free (or nearly free) ways to get started.

Blogger.com or wordpress.com – easy to use free blogging platforms. You will be limited on customizations but these are good places to start. I prefer the greater flexibility that wordpress offers, but both of these sites are free and would be better choices than paying for a real estate blog.

Start a blog on Real Estate Webmasters it’s free and you can find a great online real estate community in the blogs and forum. Just make sure you post original content in the blogs.

Host your own blog using wordpress.org. This is a bit more complex but for the price of a domain name and probably $5 a month, you can create a self hosted blog. The advantage of this would be the many free plugins available to customize the blog.

A big advantage of hosting your own blog is that you build authority on your own site. Blogging on networks like Trulia, Active Rain or Home Gain, you are creating content for potential competitors.

Many real estate agents get into building a web presence by accident or without a real plan. That’s the way it was for me anyway. When I first wanted people to find me on the internet for real estate I spent a lot of time at sites like Active Rain and especially the forum on Real Estate Webmasters linking to pretty much every site that was mentioned, creating profiles many places and submitting my site and information to directories including local search on Yahoo and Google.

One thing I may have been tempted to do when I did not know any better might be to create multiple accounts to promote myself or my website. To do this is spammy and not something that search engines approve of or website users find useful. Sometimes when people aren’t really organized they end up creating multiple accounts on accident – sounds like that’s what happened recently to a Denver SEO firm. Over time it is easy to forget what directory you have already submitted to.

I do know that to build a strong web presence takes time and short cuts might work for a little while but may also lead eventually to a penalty. For instant results, there is always pay-per-click.

Guess it goes back to the idea that site owners who are doing a lot of work themselves on their own sites should think about a strategy as if they were paying someone else to do their SEO. I know I need to be more organized about how many posts I write a week and how many new pages I make for my websites. Creating good consistent content is good both for visitors to my site and is what search engines want to see as well.

My site for Real Estate in Sacramento is finally live. It is pretty sparce right now – doesn’t have much for content except for a really great property search. I do have a lot of ideas, plans and expectations for the site so I hope the site will have a lot different feel six months or a year from now than what it does right now.

As a real estate agent focused on getting business through the internet – I’ve had one eye on the real estate industry and another eye on SEO (search engine optimization) for quite a few months now. One thing both industries have in common are frequent conferences. One question that comes up is are conferences worthwhile?

I’ve wanted to go to a ReBar camp for a while – they are one-day conferences where conference “attendees” organize the topics – they call it an unconference. Of course like many real estate events – many of the people who volunteer and travel to the conferences have some sort of product or service that they are selling but in the real estate world outside of NAR and related association staff – it’s kind of expected. Outside of learning about technology and how to use the internet as a tool for the average agent’s business, one of the most valuable reasons to attend is to network with like minded agents.

Last week there was a ReBar Camp in Denver. A few of my friends were there. There is supposed to be one the day before the NAR convention in Novemeber – maybe I’ll get to that one.

One conference I know I’m not missing is the Real Estate Webmasters Summit. Yeah, I guess since REW is sponsoring the conference there will be information about their IDX and also how to best optimize their websites for search engines and more importantly web users – but after attending last year – the most valuable thing and I’ve talked about it before, was the friendships. I know I sound like a broken record – but there are relatively few real estate agents/brokerages who are building their real estate practice through primarily IDX lead generation.

Nanaimo harbour

Nanaimo harbour

If you are on the fence about the REW Summitt, it’s not super easy to get to Nanaimo, British Columbia, takes a little planning – it’s on an island – but it’s beautiful – really the location was one of the reasons the conference worked so well. The size was also a factor. Last year was a fairly intimate event which made it a very cohesive group. There was also a sense that what happens in Nanaimo stays in Nanaimo – not that we were talking about how to game the search engines or our competitors directly, just a sense of sharing of what worked for different people and their business without wondering who was lurking in the background.
Yeah, if you are active on forums and pay a bit of attention to the SEO world, much of the actual conference material MAY NOT be new, but there is value in face to face interaction and that IS the reason to make the trip. I’m looking forward to meeting again the friends I made last year and hoping to meet new ones. This is different than a lot of conferences in that most all attending do have similar goals. Even if you don’t have a REW website – meeting the people who are attending would make the trip worthwhile.

I need a small mental break from MIBOR NAR and even real estate in Sacramento. This is my personal blog after all so I’m throwing a shout out to surfdenver. He wrote a post a few weeks ago about ways a Ferrari is better than your girlfriend. I was kind of skeptical at the time but just found out a classic 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa sold for a record $12 million dollars. My guess is that the car is noisy and may not even be all that fun to drive but it is a beautiful machine. Just watch the video – even if you don’t like sports cars – you will appreciate this one.

YouTube Preview Image

Now I must really figure out how to build my real estate empire so I can buy a similar car as well as afford my vacation house on the gulf.

OK so I’m still trying to understand the implications of this but when Rob Hahn who can list a law degree among his credentials sounds concerned about the legal implications of something – I listen.


One change that was approved last week during the NAR midyear business meetings (unlike MIBOR) was an amendment to the Realtor Code of Ethics addressing issues around social media- the specific language isn’t yet available but here is some information posted from a newsletter:

Standard of Practice 15-2 was amended and a new Standard of Practice was approved to strengthen members’ obligations to refrain from making false or misleading statements about competitors, including in use of social media tools.

The new amendment includes the duty to publish a clarification about, or to remove statements made by, others on electronic media the REALTOR® controls once the REALTOR® knows the statement is false or misleading. For example, if you’re publishing a blog and someone posts a false or misleading comment about a fellow REALTOR® on it, it’s your duty to remove the post or publish a clarification when you become aware of it.

Go check out the original story on VARbuzz – the Virginia Association of Realtors blog on the Potential Catch 22: New NAR Code of Ethics Amendment and also read Rob Hahn’s response: Questions on the new NAR Code of Ethics Policy

Both posts go into greater depth than I feel comfortable commenting on right now but as Rob said on Twitter, this issue “makes the whole “indexible IDX” thing look like a mild breeze in a teapot. Holy crap!”