If you love real estate technology – whether you are in the industry, or whether you are a buyer or seller – click here to read my latest blog post on MoneyPress. I discuss some of the newer apps, websites, tools and technology that make our lives a little bit easier. In our fast-paced world, it is nice to keep up with the latest tools and gadgets.
Archive for the ‘real estate technology’ Category
If you don’t listen to the news and do not know about SOPA and PIPA, especially if you are in the real estate industry or are a buyer or seller, you need to understand what it is and how it might effect you.
SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA , Protect IP Act, threaten the entire internet, and will have a big impact on how we use it. The bills, backed by the entertainment and music industry, as well as other big companies, will allow for the control of content on the internet, in order to prevent piracy. If you have a website and you post copyrighted content on your site, your site could be SHUT DOWN! It could be something as simple as posting a family photo on Facebook, where there is something in the background that is copyrighted, or posting a video on YouTube, where a copyrighted song is playing in the background – Facebook and YouTube could be shut down.
For Realtors, who rely on content sharing daily through multiple listing services, as well as photos and videos, this could be bad news. It would effect the consumer’s ability to search for homes, see videos and photos, and visit real estate websites. I have no doubt that the majority of real estate blog sites would be shut down under this new legislation, as well as millions of other blog sites. I know that to go through the hundreds of blogs and photos on my own blog site would be an exhausting task, and that there is a chance I might miss something that is copyrighted. Could I afford to have my website and blogsites shut down? NO!! I would likely have to find a new career.
Many websites and blogsites went black today in protest.
SOPA and PIPA are scheduled to be voted on by Congress on January 24. I urge you to call, email and write your local Congresspeople to tell them you are against these bills. The entire internet is at risk.
Being a home buyer these days sure is easier. For starters, there is so much information at your fingertips that once was available only to real estate agents. I think this is great, as it allows those who wish the ability to do some research on their own and feel more comfortable going into the buying process. It still does not replace the Realtor, as s/he is there to help you not only get into homes, but also with legalities and paperwork, negotiations and disclosures, as well as having someone on your side to exclusively look out for your interests.
Here are some of my favorite real estate websites:
1. Zillow.com. Zillow is a comprehensive site because it provides so much information beyond just the listing. Zillow will show you all the photos and information contained in the MLS, as well as comparable sold properties, neighborhood information, walk scores and a “Zestimate.” ** see below for caution on the Zestimate.**
2. Realtor.com. This is another site that is well-endowed. You can search for properties and also link to great current real estate information, trends and mortgage calculators.
3. Trulia.com. While also a great home searching site, I love Trulia because of the personal touches. If you are searching for an agent, you can get a lot of great information about area agents here. Also, you can ask questions – any real estate related questions you might have – and Realtors will answer them. It is a great way to gain different perspectives when you do not have an agent and do not understand something. You can read agent blogs and get an idea of how they work, before you even contact them. It is a great way for agents to connect with the public as well.
Some great real estate applications for smart phones:
1. Zillow. I like Zillow’s mobile app the most, as it is easy to use.
2. Realtor.com. (Most devices)
3. Trulia. (Most devices)
4. Wikihood (for iPhone and iPad). This free app for the iPhone/iPad (possibly other devices too) provides a wealth of information about any neighborhood you choose. It truly is amazing – you instantly get information on the area, including nearby beaches, shopping, dining, schools, transportation, entertainment, industry…the list is endless. This is especially helpful for those moving to new areas.
5. Essential Real Estate Dictionary (iPhone and iPad). $9.99. This app is great if you either have no knowledge of the real estate process or if you buy property for investment purposes, or for anyone who wants a more in-depth understanding of real estate terms. Of course, if you have a terrific agent you can save the $9.99 and have your agent explain everything, but some people like to do their own research.
6. ZipRealty. (iPhone, iPad and Android). Free. This app is helpful in that it has a great feature called “House Scan” that will show you what is for sale in the area you are located, and guide you to those homes. You are also able to schedule a showing appointment from your mobile device. There are many other helpful features within the app that will provide you with home and neighborhood information.
7. Mortgage Calculator Pro. (iPhone) $.99. While there are many mortgage calculator apps out there, and many free tools on sites (ZipRealty, Trulia, Realtor.com, Zillow and most agent websites offer them for free), this app goes a step further and allows you to add HOA fees and property taxes to your payment analysis. You can also compare different loans and save them to your desktop.
8. Suburb Scout (Android) $1.99. This app allows a buyer to search for those factors that may not be so appealing, like airports, landfills, prisons and other potentially undesirable neighborhood turn-off.
9. Google Maps. (Available on most devices). Free. Google Maps is a great way to help navigate neighborhoods, get routes and driving distances to work, schools, etc. Street View is a fantastic way to explore any area at street level.
One caveat must be pointed out: when using many of these sites and apps to search for property information, you have to keep in mind that some of the information you read may be incorrect. For example, Zillow is one of my favorite sites for many reasons. It showcases properties and provides so much more, like area data, comps and “Zestimates.” But more often than not the Zestimates do not ring true – this is a big cause of problems with some buyers, who believe that what Zillow estimates the value to be is the gospel.
My advice when using sites to find value is to do so and gather as much information as you can, and to then have your real estate agent do a full comparative market analysis. Zillow cannot account for upgrades, condition, or take into consideration distressed properties. An appraiser definitely will not be using Zillow to appraise your new home. So it is still very important to have your agent run the comps and fully discuss them with you, before making an offer.
With all the great tools out there for today’s buyers, getting informed and finding the right property is fun and easy.
I read some great blogs this morning, and they inspired me to talk about one of my favorite things: keeping it real. With the advent of social media many people think that there is a “next great thing” that will make their business easier. Right now that thing is social media.
Social media is great – it’s fun, it’s available 24/7, it allows us to connect with industry experts and colleagues, and maybe even find new clients or customers. But it is a mere tool we have in our arsenals, not a “quick fix” that will allow us to take a day off or relax our tried an true methods of doing business. The fact is that RELATIONSHIPS cannot be trumped. We simply need to understand that our relationships with our clients, customers, colleagues and friends are the most important tool we have in our business, and in our lives. Social media cannot replace that, but it should still be a part of what you do each day.
I have blogged many times about the importance of phone calls, meetings, visits to clients. In fact, this is the aspect of my work I truly enjoy the most. Sitting down with a client or colleague for lunch or coffee is actually fun. I get to learn more about him or her, and if talk turns to business hopefully I can educate, share knowledge and answer questions. There is no substitute for one-on-one connections, in my opinion.
Many business people complain that with the advent of social media there is simply too much to do, too much to keep up with, and unfortunately I hear all the time that relationships are left out in the cold. One Realtor friend of mine recently told me that she just doesn’t have the time to connect with past clients. This should be her number one priority!
Here are a few ways to make it easier to keep in touch with people every day:
1. Schedule a time of day to connect. By this I don’t mean sit in front of your computer or phone and email someone. Spend an hour a day: call a past client, meet one for a cup of coffee, stop by their home. It doesn’t take much! If you can’t schedule a meeting every day then make a phone call and plan one. Try to plan at least one meeting a week, but still spend an hour each day calling or doing the next activity…
2. Handwritten notes. Sending an email doesn’t show much effort, but if you write a note to a client/customer it shows you care. Many people don’t understand the value of this, but trust me, people appreciate this. Try to write several notes a day. You can do so on birthdays, anniversaries, house anniversaries, holidays and just about any time. But don’t let this be a substitute to a visit or call – you need to do both.
3. Party. What better way to thank your clients than to throw a party for them? It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. You can do a dessert party, or a cocktail hour. You can have it at the beach or a park. The message is more important than the price tag. This obviously is not something you do all the time, but you can plan it and send out notices about it in advance to get people excited.
4. Educate continuously. This is something that you have to strive to do, every day. You are your local expert, so you need to show that to not only your clients, but the locals! If you don’t have a blog, start one. You don’t have to be a writer. You can do a video blog, interview people in your area or do a photo blog. Post calendars on your local blog to keep people informed of local events. If a client asks you a question, turn the answer into a blog. You can also create a monthly or quarterly newsletter for your past and current clients, even highlighting a different person in each one (get their permission first, of course) – this is a great way to keep people informed about the local market and get them excited to read your content. There are many sites you can go to to do so, but it is very easy to create yourself. Once you have a template made you simply have to fill it in with new stories, which of course are easy to find online and by creating your own content.
5. Social media. Yes, you should engage in social media as well as the old basic methods, but you need to do so in conjunction with them, not as a replacement. Try to limit your time spent on social media so that it doesn’t consume you. Use it to post your blogs, connect with industry experts and share area knowledge. It is a great learning tool not only for those with whom you share, but for yourself as well. I definitely do NOT advocate overlooking social media, as it is very powerful if you use it correctly.
It is much easier to keep up with your clients if you make a schedule and stick to it – but you have to keep up with it. It took me 2-3 years of blogging to really see effects, but amazing things have happened and opened up to me because I am vigilant. People start to notice that you are an expert in your field. Besides, it’s great to share with others and helps keep you on your toes too, so make it fun! Remember that nothing can replace relationship building, no matter how shiny it is or how wonderful it may seem. So, the answer is no – social media cannot ease your workload. But if used in conjunction with the above tools it can definitely make your work more fulfilling and likely more profitable.
If you use social media it is imperative you know your manners. So many people write things on Facebook, Twitter and other sites that clearly indicate they did not think before posting. In fact, one of the hardest things to teach our children–the first generation of social media people– is that what you say in cyber space can effect you, even years later. Here are some simple tips to assure your social media manners are in tact.
1. Do not post anything disparaging about yourself or others. There are plenty of stories about people who have lost their jobs or not been hired because of what they post on sites like Facebook. If you got drunk last night or you don’t like your boss, it may not be such a great idea to post these things. Even if your intention is to post something in jest, think about whether it could compromise views of you as a professional. If a co-worker did something unethical and you post about it, you could wind up in trouble legally…it’s called slander. Some of the laws regarding slander and the internet are still evolving and will continue to do so, so be careful if you write about another person. If you even allude to that person (“my boss,” or “the secretary of my company”) that could possibly be slanderous too.
2. Do not use social media as puffery. Social media sites are used by some–those who don’t truly understand their purpose– as a means of self-promotion only. You will quickly lose friends and connections on sites like Facebook and Twitter if the majority of what you post is about you, promotion of your business, or what a great ___ you are. People want good content, not bragging. It is ok to talk about yourself and your business, but make sure to mix it in with a lot of good content–useful information that will make people want to read your posts.
3. Learn the benefits of the different types of social media to make the most of each. Each site is different and realistically, you can post different things on each. For example, I find many people do not understand the benefits of Twitter. I did not when I first created an account over a year ago. But what I have learned since is that Twitter is not a means of getting business so much as it is a means to connect with industry experts and learning from them. It is the content that matters here–you follow those whom you respect or have good content, read their blogs, and hopefully get some great ideas for your business, your blog, etc. This is not the place to post “Call me for the best service,” although there is a time where you can do so (for example, if you are a Realtor and you are promoting a listing).
Another example is Facebook, which is a bit different and can have long comment threads. Feel free to comment on topics but realize that you need to think first. If you make a strong political statement or bash an industry it could come back to haunt you later. I have a good friend who is a recruiter for a big company, and her job is to check all social media sites of an applicant before they are called for an interview. Be careful.
4. Remember what you post is a reflection of YOU and your business. This is perhaps one of the most important pieces of advice (and I have written entire blogs dedicated to it), yet I am constantly amazed at how many people do not use spell check or read through their posts before hitting send. Grammar mistakes, typos and poor use of words reflect that you do not take the time to proof what you write. This is not only unprofessional, but makes it look like you don’t care. Is this the image you want to portray to colleagues and potential clients? It really does not take long to proof-read.
In conclusion, there are things you need to keep in mind that will truly help you to become a social media guru, and learn a lot in the process. Social media is an incredible tool, one that is necessary in today’s business climate. If you use it correctly the benefits will be plentiful. One last mention: if you want to read a great book on just how effective social media can be, why it is so important and how your role plays out, pick up a copy of Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.
Google has been the top search engine for a long time, but may not be so for long. Qwiki has made it’s debut, and while still in it’s beta phase it promises to change the way we search for information.
Qwiki is an interactive platform, which means that it is not centered on entering search terms and then doing a lot of reading to find what you are looking for. Qwiki is visual, it speaks to you (literally), it helps us to learn, understand and connect in a whole new way. For example, if you enter in the subject matter “San Francisco,” you will be presented with a narrative, complete with photos and video, of all San Francisco has to offer. It is deep, information-rich content and it is exciting. The entire search is narrated for you. You can search for everything from “butternut squash” to “pencils” to “Santorini” (see below).
Qwiki allows you to create videos and get embed codes, which you can use on your website. It is truly the future of the internet. Soon it will be available to everyone, but if you want to sign up for Qwiki in it’s beta phase go to http://www.qwiki.com/. Qwiki, like Google, will change the way we all search, learn and do business. Here is an example of what Qwiki can do:
Lately there has been a lot of discussion on which is “better” for Realtors and those involved with real estate: Facebook or Twitter? Many blogs and articles have voted Facebook as the more significant choice of the two. I submit that it is worth examining them both, as they offer different benefits.
Facebook is the quintessential way to stay in touch with friends and people you know. For Realtors it offers more benefits. You can connect with clients and colleagues, and it is a great way to keep in touch with everyone. You do have to be careful about how you use Facebook, though, because it should not be used as a marketing tool. Well, let me rephrase that: you don’t want to use Facebook to tell people to send you referrals, or to brag about what great service you provide. If you do this you will see your friend list diminish.
So, how CAN you use Facebook? Think of it as a way to show your personal side to all your connections, just like you do with friends. Create lists so you can send important information to clients and colleagues.
Where should you post business information? Create a Facebook business page. This is where it is ok to post business articles, blogs, videos and important information about your industry and what you are up to. You can post a link to your page on your Facebook page, asking people to “like” your business page. This is a fantastic way to share great information on a daily basis.
It is obvious that Facebook has some great advantages for sharing information across your sphere of influence. I have received calls from Facebook friends needing real estate advice or assistance, so if you use it correctly it can be a great tool.
What about Twitter? It is important to understand that Twitter is a completely different beast, and many people do not understand this. I have to admit that over a year ago I signed up with Twitter. People started “following” me and I didn’t really understand the significance, so I canceled my account. Now that I am back in the Twitter game and know what it’s about, I have to say that Twitter has changed my business.
Twitter is not about selling yourself, it is about connecting. I have connected with industry leaders, experts, real estate technology gurus and agents all over the globe who are making big changes in our industry. I have learned so much and have come to really respect a lot of the people I follow. I read their blogs and they read mine, we bounce ideas off each other, and I often find great topics to explore further and blog about just from reading Twitter posts. I have made some real friends, and I have also been asked to write for another national blog through my Twitter connections.
The bottom line is that if you think of Twitter as a personal way to get more educated within your industry and create amazing connections, and not as a way to “get clients,“then you will derive great benefits from Twitter.
Who wins in this contest? Well, I am going to disappoint you but it is a tie. I think you need to use BOTH forms of social media to see a difference. Remember, social media is not really about having the most connections or trying to find clients–it is about establishing yourself as an industry and area expert, or a “Trust Agent” (great book written by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith on this very topic). It is only when you truly understand how to use social media in the right way that you will reap the benefits.
Whether you are a Realtor or work in another industry, if you have not considered blogging as part of your business plan for 2011 you may want to think again. If you are a buyer or seller of real estate make sure your agent is active in the “blogosphere,” as it is a great way to market your property or help you find a property that may not yet be listed. Read my latest MoneyPress blog on why blogging is so important: http://www.moneypress.com/to-blog-or-not-to-blog.htm.
The iPad has become an incomparable tool in my business, by enabling me to work smarter for my clients. To see how it can help you, please read my newest blog on MoneyPress.com about how the iPad can help you and your clients. http://www.moneypress.com/can-ipads-really-help-realtors.htm
With all the technology available to Realtors these days it is easy to get caught up in the tech spiral–Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, mobile apps, texting, e-signatures, videos, blogs, websites…the list is endless. But the result of all this technology, while helping provide customers with relevant and instant information about the community and real estate in general, is that it becomes easy to forget that the real estate business is all about PEOPLE. Once you lose touch with the people, well, you simply lose touch.
I believe there are four things that need to happen in order for a Realtor to provide the best service possible to the client and the community in which s/he works. It is a balance of these that will make one not only a community expert and good salesperson, but also a real person who truly cares about the client.
1. Keep it real: your client is you number one priority and your best bet for future business. You might think “duh,” but believe it or not this is easy to forget in these technologically savvy times. It used to be we picked up a phone to check in with our client and discuss the market, their home search, or even just chat. But it is so easy nowadays to send a text or email instead. Most Realtor websites have back offices that send out automatically generated messages to our clients. Knowing that we are “staying in touch” with our clients may make us feel we are covered, leaving more time to focus on technology to build our businesses. But the client is, and always will be, the pulse of our business.
I suggest that we all make it a New Year’s resolution to return to basics: CALL our clients, take them to lunch, stop by their houses and say hello. Honestly, there is no better way to generate business. Your past and current clients are the ones who will come back to you and send you referrals, but not if you don’t stay in touch. I know it is hard, especially if you have a big client database. But you can always pick up the phone and make a call just to say hello. Make it a part of every day by setting a goal for yourself. You can start out simply by making a goal to call two or three people a day. Make sure to set a time to do this, and put it in your schedule. Eventually it will become a routine.
2. Blog. I know you have heard this before, but I can assure you that there is NO better way to help people in your community. By providing content about community issues and real estate issues in general, you become an expert in your community. This makes it easy for your clients and others to keep up with community news. I love blogging. I write about all kinds of things I find will interest people. My clients love it, and I also get emails from others asking questions, seeking further information, or wanting my assistance with real estate needs.
The most important thing to remember with blogging is that you want to develop your own style. Don’t worry about blog length: there is no rule as to how long your blog needs to be, what content you need to discuss, or what style of writing you should use. You just have to be yourself–as if you were speaking with a client about the issue. For some writing comes easier (ok, I am a writer so blogging is fun and easy for me), but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Use bullet points or numbers, and bold your sub-topics. This way the reader can skim through your information easier.
Setting up a blog is a no-brainer. Personally I use WordPress. Just go to WordPress.com and you will be walked through setting up your blog. Have an interesting name, OR you can tie your blog into your website (which I highly recommend). Remember to POST TAGS on every blog. These are words or short groups of words that will drive people to your blog on the web. For example, if you are writing a blog about Carlsbad’s newest shopping center you may want to use tags such as “Carlsbad new shopping center,” “Carlsbad shopping,” etc. You also want to categorize your blog. On WordPress the categories are on the right side of your post area, right above Post Tags. Choose categories under which your blog fits. This way when a reader comes to your blog and you have many blogs, he or she can go through the categories to find exactly what they are looking for. You can see an example of this on the home page of my website. Scroll down a bit and you will see the categories on the right, next to my blog section. Finally, you need to give each blog a catchy name, one that will entice people to read it once they find it. If your title is “Carlsbad’s New Restaurant,” it may be less exciting than “Hungry For a Delicious Lunch in Carlsbad?” You get the idea.
It may sound like a lot to remember, but I simply suggest you just start writing. In time you will get the hang of all the categories and tags. I also suggest you post links to your blog on Twitter, your business Facebook page, Trulia, LinkedIn, and any other places you like. You can send an email out to your clients with a link, telling them about your blog and asking them to please check back periodically.
3. Use technology, but use it wisely. Here is the most important thing you need to know about using technology in real estate: it is necessary BUT it cannot be your main focus. Use it in conjunction with 1 and 2, above. IF you haven’t already, create LinkedIn, Twitter, Trulia and Facebook business page accounts. Use these social media sites to post links to your blogs, interesting articles you find online, books you have read, or to re-post information you find others have posted. Because it is so easy to sit on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn all day if you could, set times during your day where you check these sites and post information.
4. Connect with industry leaders. Make sure to follow industry leaders on social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn. You will get a lot of great information from these people, and you will learn a lot in the process. Connect with them, comment on their tweets, read their blogs and post interesting comments there. It is incredible what is out there for you if you just spend a bit of time each day on these sites.
The real estate field has come so far in such a short time, and there is so much more we can provide our clients. Gone are the days of huge notebooks stuffed with listings. Clients can get a lot of information on the internet, it’s true, but you have to make yourself stand out as the community expert. Keep in mind that there can be many community experts–I personally don’t understand agents (and there are quite a few) who think this business is all about competition. I believe that all of us have different skills and ways of doing things, and we all should be able to learn from each other. Whom a client clicks with is up to the client. We can all offer the best information we can and if the client wants to take it a step further, that is terrific; if they choose another agent then that is their prerogative. We all need to support each other, because we all have (or should have) the same goal: to make sure our clients have the best information, the best service, and the most positive experience they can in buying or selling real estate. That is how we will continue to keep real estate “real.”