Listing Assets: 60 Minutes, Redfin and the DOJ

May 28, 2007

The “60 minutes” story; the DOJ and FTC; Redfin and Co-Mingling”.  Wow.  What does it all mean?  It seems to me that the issues are being conflated and the waters are being muddied to the point where nobody can understand what is going on. 

From my point of view; traditional real estate agents are unfairly getting the short end of the publicity stick. Overtly or not, Redfin and models like them, are suggesting that traditional real estate agents are not providing a compelling value proposition to consumers. They are also suggesting, overtly or not, that the “traditional real estate industry” is trying to unfairly shut them down by discriminating against them. It also seems that everyone (from the DOJ, FTC through to the media and  60 minutes) is dying to jump all over “organized real estate” and blame it for any failures of alternative models. 

I have a couple of problems with this.  Firstly, it simply is not true that there is some form of organized systematic discrimination against discount and alternative models.  These models have been around, with varying degrees of success, for decades. Secondly, most professionals in this industry are proud of the value proposition they provide consumers and have no problem competing in the field against any of these alternative models.  As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

So what are the real issues? Basically it comes down to this.  The DOJ is saying that it is effectively impossible to practice real estate without being a member of the local MLS.  They are also saying that NAR is using policy to allow “traditional” real estate brokers to effectively discriminate against “alternative” business models by not allowing them complete access to the MLS data to use in any manner they please.  To be sure, NAR has brought a lot of the problems on themselves.  “Anti-referral”, selective opt out provisions and limited service rules seemingly make NAR and MLS’s appear to discriminate against alternative models or at least allow and encourage traditional brokers to do so.

In some ways I believe that NAR has been discriminatory against certain business models. I believe this has come about because the MLS data is being used for a purpose it was never intended.  Let me explain by first describing what I think the MLS was intended to do.

Originally, or so most stories go, MLS’s were formed to facilitate cooperation and guarantee compensation between members which are typically real estate brokers and agents.  The MLS consisted of a database of listings of homes for sale.  Buyer’s Brokers could use this data to find the best home for their clients and sellers Brokers would make sure their sellers homes were exposed to more interested buyers than they had themselves. This arrangement benefited both consumers and real estate professionals.  The key to how this works is that the data was used by competing parties AFTER the Brokers had acquired their customers. It is worth noting that competing brokers could not advertise a listing that was not theirs, say in the paper, to attract new buyers and sellers. After all, the listing Broker generally has an exclusive right to sell granted, explicitly and contractually, by the listing agreement signed with the home seller.

Let me know also point out another fact that most in the real estate industry already know. 

  • Real property has two components: The first is p

    ublic information such as address and facts that don’t change these are largely quantitative. The second component is the mar

    keting descriptions and photos, which are qualitative and copyrightable. 

  • The listing agent/broker “creates” the listings by taking photos and using their marketing expertise and local knowledge to write compelling marketing copy.

  • These “listings”become an asset that the listing broker owns.

  • Agents and Brokers advertise listings to sell the home, but they advertise listings primarily to attract new buyers and sellers and to promote their brand.  They do this because they know consumers are interested in homes for sale far more often than they are interested in finding an agent or broker.

  • Listing and marketing houses is expensive work and is only paid for on a contingency basis.

Along comes the Internet.  Brokers, realizing that consumers want the convenience and efficiency of the internet, agree to share their listings assets with each other online for the convenience of the consumer. They did not agree to allow other MLS members to use their expensive assets to attract new customers.  This is essentially what many of these “alternative” business models are doing.

I believe that Brokers should have the right to use their listing assets as they see fit, including choosing their advertising partners.  Note: this doesn’t meant that all members of the MLS should not have access to the property data – they should.  It simply means that the Broker should have the right to completely control how their copyrightable asset, the listing, is used.

Why is this important you ask?

In a cooperative, everyone has to pull their weight.  In my opinion; what some alternative models are doing can be characterized by a famous quote from Dave Liniger. They are, simply put, bringing a fork to a potluck”.  This issue is simply being masked by a number of related, but orthogonal, issues.  MLS rules of IDX opt out, discrimination by MLS’s and brokers against alternative business models, MLS co-mingling rules; all these things are important, and may even deserve DOJ/FTC scrutiny, but they are beside the point!

What is really at stake here is the spirit of what the MLS is intended for and how it is being misused by some for unfair advantage; this is to say that listing brokers are being taken advantage of. The MLS was intended to help cooperating brokers.  The key to cooperating is that everyone has to pull their own weight.  If you don’t do your share you are not cooperating – you are freeloading.  What’s happening is that this is being masked and hidden in name of consumer choice.

In order to illustrate this point let me use an extreme but true story;

At a recent Brokers conference a specific Broker was telling me that they were no longer going to list.  This broker was in a slowing Florida market and was finding that listing homes was too expensive.  It was costing too much to market to prospective listing clients, and that was just the start.  Once they had listings, they needed to market it on behalf of the seller.  In a hot sellers market you don’t have to spend advertising dollars, but in a slowing market you need to spend dollars.  Sellers expect it. So this broker had given up listing, not a trivial decision given that until recently they had carried as many as 500 listings.  They were finding that, at least in this market where buyers are hard to come by, that it makes sense to expend their effort on attracting buyers. 

So how does this brokerage attract buyers? There are not many, if any, successful brokerages that can attract buyers without advertising listings for sale. There are other things they could advertise, to be sure.  They could advertise their “negotiating skills” or their “persistence and willingness to dig through every available listing”, or their “superior market knowledge”.  At the end of the day I submit to you that most buyers  are created out of interest in a listing. 

So I ask again,  how does this Florida broker expect to attract buyers without listings?  Simply put he doesn’t.  He is using listings (assets) that are created by other real estate professionals to attract and retain buyers.

Does it necessarily make sense that this brokerage should be able leverage the assets (listings), that other brokers have attained by expending marketing effort, time and dollars, to lure buyers so they can remain profitable?  I would say that this is a decision that should be left entirely up to the owner of the asset.  The listing broker (asset owner) ought to decide whether or not it is in their best interest to allow other brokers to use their assets to attract and retain buyers.  In a perfect world, both brokers would list homes and pool their marketing assets (listings) for use to attract and retain buyers.  This doesn’t always happen. Too many brokers are willing to bring their fork to the potluck of MLS data and other broker’s marketing assets.

Please note carefully; I am not suggesting that all buyers’ brokers are freeloaders. Every market is different (real estate is local) and in many markets buyers agents more than pull their weight. I am simply suggesting that listings are assets and the asset owners have a right to leverage their assets and control how, where and when they are used. This is why we devised the P2 NLS, a system that gives asset owners (brokers and agents) complete control and choice as to where they advertise their listings and whom their marketing partners will be.  Agents and brokers that created these assets ought to be able to determine who their marketing partners are on a case by case basis.

The DOJ thinks that brokers and agents are restricting the consumer’s access to listing data to the detriment of the seller and consumer. This is simply not true. Brokers and agents want to advertise and market their listings as broadly as possible, as long as that’s what the seller wants. What they don’t necessarily want is for others to market their listings on their behalf and sell leads, generated with their own asset, back to them. Progressive MLS’s like Bob Hale’s Houston Association of Realtors know this and have begun to syndicate data to places like Google.  Not every MLS has the resources to carry out the development required for syndication. This is where we intend the P2 NLS to become a marketing partner, especially for any MLS that lacks the resources to allow selective syndication, analytics and predictive marketing.


Do you sell houses or homes?

April 21, 2007

In real estate we often talk about property as a “house”.  In my opinion real estate professionals that sell the “house” are not doing their sellers any favors.  Why?  Because simply put; buyers don’t buy houses – they buy homes. 

 

For most people the place they live with their families is more than simple shelter and a place to live.  It seems to me that there is a big difference between a house and home.  Home is the place you share with your loved ones.  It’s where you raise your kids.  A home contains memories of laughter, tears, skinned knees, barbeques, goodbyes, births, deaths, neighbors, friends and families.  It is more than wood and concrete, the trees and lawn, the yard and shed; these things are simply the house.  A home is more than these; it is the people and things your family lives around, the postman, the neighbors, the milk man, the bus stop the school, the Church, the sidewalks, parks and alleys. It’s the memories of standing at the bus stop watching your son or daughter leave to school on their own for the first time. It is birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and holidays.  A home is pencil marks on a door jamb reflecting the growth of a child. A home is where memories live, where life’s passages are marked, where the troubles of the world are left behind; a safe place we can go to share the warmth and love of family that keeps us going every day of our lives.  A home is truly defined by all the collective experiences and memories of the families that live, and have lived, in it. 

 

People don’t buy houses, they buy homes.  They buy more than a place to live. They buy happiness, security and a place to create those memories and experiences that make life worth living.  For most people buying a home is an emotional experience.  It is more than an investment or a simple purchase.  Good real estate professionals acknowledge and embrace this fact.  

 

So how, as a real estate professional, can you turn a house into a home?  How about getting the seller involved to tell their story?  I realize that to many (especially old school) Realtors that this is viewed as sacrilege. I would argue that it is simply smart marketing.  Buyers need to be sold emotionally and many sellers have a great story.  I also think that many sellers have would be thrilled at the opportunity to contribute to the one of the biggest transactions they are likely to make, some of them may just want the chance to say goodbye to a place that has been their home. 

 

To back up this thought here is a snippet from Zig Ziglar’s “Secrets of Closing the
Sale”.  This snippet was given to me over a year ago by
Wendell Willick, our CEO and big Zig Ziglar fan.

 

The New York Times printed a story of how a
New Jersey housewife’s feeling for her home, combined with her sense of what makes good advertising copy, in one day sold a home that five brokers had been carrying for three months.  Mr. and Mrs. Lowe decided to sell their two-bedroom home to buy a larger one since space was becoming a problem.  The brokers ran typical, standard ads like “Cozy six-room home, ranch style with fireplace, garage, tile baths, all hot water heat, convenient to
Rutgers campus, stadium, golf courses, and primary school.”  Those are facts, but people do not buy facts or even benefits unless they can see those benefits translated to their own personal use. 

 

After three months Mrs. Lowe ran an ad herself.  She was anxious to get something done and believed she could sell her home.  Here’s the way the ad ran:

 

We’ll Miss Our Home

“We’ve been happy in it but two bedrooms are not enough for us, so we must move.  If you like to be  cozy by a fire while you admire autumn woods through wide windows, protected from the street, if you like shady yard in summer, a clear view of winter sunsets, and quiet enough to hear frogs in spring, but city utilities and conveniences, you might like to buy our home.  We hope so.  We don’t want it to be empty and alone at Christmas.

 

Out of the six responses the next day, one person bought the home.

 

Now look back at those word pictures.  Block off the first sentence and you can see a happy family crowded together in a nice home which is just too small for the current owners.  You immediately see that there is nothing wrong with the home.  The problem is too many occupants.  IMPORTANT:  Slow down and tank the rest of that ad on a phrase-by-phrase basis.  There are seven additional pictures, a total of eight pictures in the eighty-six words in the body of the ad.  Now tell yourself the truth.  Did you see the other picture in the heading – or was it so obvious you missed it?  That’s the reason I keep telling you to study this book a number of times.  

This ad or “sales talk” painted a beautiful picture of the features and benefits the Lowes had enjoyed as owners, but it did even more.  It promised the new owners they would inherit the same beauty, benefits, and enjoyment.  It painted a beautiful picture of happiness, contentment, and security which the new owners would inherit.

 

Your probably notice that Mrs. Lowe advertised her “home” not her “house”.  The difference between a house and a home is love.  The new owners could undoubtedly sense the love the Lowes had for their “home”.  They didn’t want to buy a house to occupy.  They wanted to invest in a home to live in.  Yes, words do make a difference, don’t they

 

I don’t know if any of you have read any of Zig Ziegler’s books but I personally would highly recommend them. 

 

In order to facilitate seller participation we introduced the “seller comment area”  This is an area where the seller can add his own comments.  They are able to do this if you email them the seller login and password  which is easily done from “manage listing”.  Note that you can edit and moderate any of the seller comments. So asking the seller to participate in the marketing of their home doesn’t allow you to stop doing your job.   As a professional marketer you will need to provide marketing guidance and quite probably even your English skills.

 

Since the release of “seller comments” we have some great seller comments and many of our members have been surprised at how good (and effective)  some sellers comments have been, many have been surprise at how please sellers have been with this feature. Here are some current examples of what these can look like.  Why not help yourself and give your sellers a chance to express themselves!

Intangible things  

Hard work and love  

Saying Goodbye  

27 Extra Reasons   

Fate  

Short but sweet


NATIONAL MLS PART DEUX

December 25, 2006

In April 06 I wrote a blog about the idea of a “National MLS” Much has happened since that time. Zillow, for instance, has been held up a potential threat as a “new national MLS”. It seems funny to me that people, real estate professionals in particular, would consider Zillow a threat as a National MLS. It seems to me that Zillow is a consumer facing advertising vehicle where listing information is displayed to consumers and real estate professionals alike. There are lots of neat tools there to help anyone make sense of the data they see. Nice, but is that what an MLS, or National MLS, is?

I submit to real estate professionals that if they consider the value of their MLS to simply be consumer facing advertising, then they are correct, Zillow will be the next National MLS. At this point I would also suggest that these same Realtors get their resumes in order. Side Note: I always refer interchangeably Realtor and Real Estate Professionals – When I say Realtor I really mean anyone licensed to sell real estate (I hope I don’t get a nasty note from Laurie Janek J ). Seriously, the members of the Realtor community that feel their value add is tied to their control of the public display of listings are living on life support. That genie escaped the bottle long ago, and consumer oriented web 2.0 companies like Zillow are going to continue to make the display of listings easy and freely available. This is what consumers want – see my post here.

Further, it is my contention that the more information a consumer has, the more likely he or she will be to use a Realtor. Let me explain by way of analogy: You might go online to diagnose a disease or illness; you will find a lot of information there and may even come to truly believe you know exactly what is wrong with you. Will you prescribe medicine or operate on yourself? I think not. If you think that is too extreme consider this: would you represent yourself in court? You can get ALL the information you need online. Some people do but most, particularly educated Internet users, do not. There will always be some subset of people, however, who try – in real estate we call those FSBOs. So why, as a group, do many Realtors believe their value is simply in hiding homes from consumers and “forcing” them to deal with a member of their profession to “see what is available”?

As you might have discerned by now, I DO NOT BELIEVE the value of realtor is attributable to their access to information. Most Realtors provide real value, whether buying or selling a home. Many of these successful Realtors understand that Zillow and others like them will not destroy their value. Real estate professionals bring tremendous value to the table including: Marketing prowess, negotiation skills, market knowledge, local knowledge, education, legal and contractual obligations and just plain common understanding of the local business environment and pitfalls to avoid. However, these reasons alone might not be enough to ensure that the profession, as we know it, will prosper and flourish. As Saul Klein commented here it certainly is “time for brokers and agents to take back their future”.

So how does an entire industry go about “taking back their future”? In order to take back the future you have to understand the past. The past, in this case being the entire Regional MLS system. The main goal of these regional or legacy MLS’s has been to facilitate the cooperative sharing of information and the cooperative marketing of listings between real estate brokers. Up until this point in history these MLS’s have served the industry well. The MLS’s were never designed or meant as public facing advertising vehicle, but it could be argued that is in fact the largest portion of value that it provides to it’s membership.

I would argue that, in conjunction with advertising, the biggest value of an MLS comes from the idea of organized cooperation amongst real estate professionals. This is an important concept that might not be clear at first. Think about it. Real estate is a complex business involving the sale of complex capital goods. Having local professionals collaborate together in the best interests of consumers, buyers and sellers alike, is very important. The MLS is the system that has allowed these professionals to cooperate. The MLS allows for the sum to be greater then the parts. It is it fact that these cooperating parties are all truly “real estate professionals” that creates the value.

So, I am saying that the power in the MLS is advertising and organized cooperation amongst professionals. The allure of this has attracted the attention of many parties that would attempt to capitalize on this power without contributing to its creation and continuation. These parties include:

  • Part time or pretend real estate professionals
  • Certain types of discount “Brokers” that are little more then a way for FSBO’s to get into the MLS
  • Non-Realtor Internet firms looking to use the data to generate traffic they can monetize; in many cases by capturing leads and sell them to realtors.

In an attempt to protect themselves from the above, some MLS’s have implemented policies that have attracted the attention of the DOJ/FTC. DOJ aside, there are many problems with the structure of the current regional MLS’s.In my opinion much needs to change to help the Industry “take back the future”. Actually, it is more then just my opinion. It is no secret that NAR President Tom Stevens appointed a presidential advisory group, or “PAG,” to study the future of MLS.

So how can the industry “take back the future” ? In my opinion it is to capitalize on the power of what makes the MLS, namely: the power in the MLS is advertising and organized cooperation amongst professionals. So let’s look at each component.

ADVERTISING Consumers rely on Real Estate professionals to be professional marketers. As such, the industry cannot afford to be out marketed by 11 year olds on eBay selling baseball cards.

A National MLS needs the following:

  • Rich Homogeneous Data Structure. In order to build something strong you need to have a good foundation. Current MLS’s were never meant to perform a public facing advertising function and were therefore never designed for this task. The data structure needs to be completely redefined to provide a robust marketing and advertising medium.
  • Exposure/Syndication.The listings (marketing assets) need to flow transparently wherever the owner of these assets (real estate professional) chooses. This could be their own site, other professional’s sites, Google base, Yahoo, Craigslist or even Zillow. Real estate professionals need to realize that by actually setting the data free and placing it in these places, under their own terms, they are actually maintaining control. Sometimes to really have something you have to set it free – believe me on this one – I know.
  • No Regional Boundaries. Regional MLS’s have regional boundaries that simply don’t make sense to consumers. There are some areas (the Tri State in
    Michigan for instance) where a consumer on a broker or agent site might have to look in three separate IDX pages for three separate MLS systems to see the available listings.
  • Searching not bound by geography. Regional MLS’s by definition can only show listings in their region. Many consumers are looking for second homes and lifestyles, market conditions and home features may be more important then geographic location.
  • Analytics. Traditional advertising is very inefficient, typically results cannot be measured. An effective National MLS would need to not only provide advertising but would need to provided and track results and calculate concise ROI’s.
  • Predictive Marketing. A National MLS, or any MLS, ought to build a profile of potential consumers based on their online behavior and predicatively and automatically provide that consumer with what they are looking for. For instance if a consumer were looking in a certain neighborhood they ought to be sent that neighborhoods demographics. If they had spent a lot of time looking at all the photos of a certain home, they ought to get information about open homes, price changes or sale status if any of these events transpired. If they were primarily looking at kitchen photos (or any other rooms) they should get sent homes that are similar and have interesting kitchen photos – automatically.
  • Consumer participation – web 2.0. A National MLS will need to be open to empowering consumers to participate, in what for most, is the biggest financial transaction of their lives. Seller logins, seller comments on listings, etc.

ORGANIZED COOPERATION

This is really the crux of why Zillow will never be a National MLS. Zillow and others like them may be able to achieve the advertising vision above, but will never be able facilitate the organized cooperation amongst true real estate professionals that has been the magic behind the success of the current MLS system. That said, changes are afoot that could destroy the profession if the industry does not “take back the future”. Here is what is needed to ensure the continued “magic” of the MLS.

A National MLS needs the following:

  • Co-operation. There is simply more power in organized real estate. Simply put the power of real estate professionals working together is simply great news for consumers. This is a case where the sum is more then the parts. Together we are stronger.
  • Asset Protection. Real estate agents and brokers are professional marketers that turn the data associated with a home in to a “listing” that is really and truly a marketing asset. The real estate professional uses this asset to market the home and attract new buyers and sellers. Every prudent business persons protects their assets – why should realtors be any different?
  • Data Control. The real estate professional that created the listing (took the photos and provided the marketing descriptions), needs to completely control where and how it is displayed. The real estate professional needs to be able to provide the seller with the assurance that he or she will not lose control of the sellers data. A National MLS needs to provide this.
  • Choice in Marketing Partners. A National MLS should provide a real estate professional complete control over who they share their marketing assets with. A member of a National Listing Service should not be forced to allow non-professionals to market their assets, nor should they be forced to market other listings in the National Listings Service. After all, does anyone tell a retailer what products he must carry market and sell? These marketing choices can effect a Realtor’s reputation and should therefore be individual business decisions.

COMMUNITY

The last and possibly most important thing a National MLS needs is community. This nebulous term is really at the crux of a National MLS. Participation in the community ought to be free for any licensed real estate professional. The community should be self regulating and policing based on, and tied into, the “social capital” of each member. The community should embrace transparency and openness.

In closing, I do think time is running short for the real estate profession to “take back the future”. That said, I think it can and should be done!

Best

Brendan


Something Syndication to Think About

December 8, 2006

So at Point2 we syndicate data for real estate professionals.  If you’re a Point2 Agent you already know that you can enter your listing and have it show up on your website.  You also know that your listing will, via Handshake™ share on all your Handshake™ partners’ websites.  You know too, now, that your listing can syndicate to our syndication network of 14 partners including:
Googlebase, New York Times, Trulia, Point2homes, Propsmart, Edgeio, LiveDeal, Yahoo Classifieds, Real Estate Advisor, US Condo Exchange and more. Now you can also buy Spotlight ads on Point2homes and New York Times and automatically create a Google Adwords for your listing.
 

You also know that you completely control where your listings go and how they are displayed. You know that your brand and contact info are always displayed with your listings.  

You know exactly how much traffic: detailed views, clicks and prospects that your listing is generating and from what source.  You are able to make accurate ROI calculations.  You know that your seller can log in and see the results, and you know they will love you for it. 

Today, Zillow announce that agents can enter for sale listings into Zillow.  So what I want to know is this:  If you were an agent or broker adding listings to our system would you opt them in or out of Zillow?


The Most Important Number in Listing Marketing

December 7, 2006

Consumers expect real estate professionals to market their properties as best they can.  To this end many real estate professionals go to great lengths and great expense to market listing in a variety of media.  Often we are asked questions such as:  What can I do to make my listings stand out?  What can I do to generate more traffic?  What can I do to generate more leads?  These are question I am sure that all real estate professionals are interested in hear answers for.  I can assure you that there are more answers then there are questions.  That said if a listing agent were to ask me this question I would, without hesitation, offer one simple answer – “Take more pictures”.  

 

At P2 we have the benefit of observing the aggregate flow of millions of web visitors against hundreds of thousands of listings.  Recently we observed millions of visitors over a 30 day period to www.point2homes.com .  I have attached a screen shot of a listing page.  Pay careful attention to the thumbnails of each listing.  You will notice that we display the number of  photos each listing has. It turns out that this small number is a very important one.  In fact, I would say, it is the most important number in your listings marketing.  You don’t have to take my word for it, either.  The attached graph clearly shows this to be the case.P2homes

Let me explain the graph below.  The vertical axis is the number of photos a listing has.  The number inside the grey bar is the number of views by the visitors that the listing received.  The number on the end is the number of visitors that turned into leads.  This is to say we captured their email address some way – they requested info or downloaded a brochure or some such activity – and passed it on to the listing agent. 

Clearly, you can see that those that added 20+ photos generated nearly 10 times the number of leads and 3 times the number of views.  Adding photos is simply the best (and I would say easiest) thing you can do to help market an sellers property.   So get clicking!photostoleads.jpg


Tempatle vs Custom or Software vs Website?

September 20, 2006

I read a lot about “Custom Sites” and how much better they are then a “template” site.  Usually the reasons for them being better relate to:·         SEO (Search Engine Optimization)  benefits·         Look and feel – all template sites look the same Rather then discuss the merits of these points, which are questionable at best, I think it apropos to explore what the definition of a “template” site is?  Are our sites template sites simply by the virtue of the fact that we give our agents a starting point? This argument I think would be silly. In fact, our system looks more like a development environment such as, say, front page then it does a simple fill in the blanks type template site. 

In any case check out these sites designed using our system, do they all look the same? http://www.vreas.com/   http://www.repav.com/   http://www.eliterm.com/  http://www.marysebastian.com/    http://www.prescottlandagent.com/    http://www.michaelurie.com/    http://www.cincinnatirealestatesite.com/   http://www.houseinnashville.com   http://www.homesandlandidaho.com/ 

They look quite different but I must admit that sometimes a custom site can be truly unique.  If this were all there were to the debate it could still be a good discussion.  The fact is that the outward facing sites above are like the cover a book.  It is what is inside and behind the scenes that counts. Rather then telling you myself let me use the words of a designer that uses our product to build websites for realtors.  Here are here words as posted on a Real Talk forum with respect to a site (http://www.david-winter.com/ ) she developed with our software: 

Ø       Suzanne!  Wow!  That is some amazing work!  Terrific job, both sites
> look awesome!  Kudos to you, you’re a terrific designer.  I’d love to
> know more about how you do it – how does it work?  Does Point2 allow
> you to upload or give you some kind of parameter that you ‘plug’ into
> your design?
>
I answered Cheryl off-list yesterday and just realized that I didn’t
answer some of her questions about how Point2 customization works.

Basically, some of the templates available only to Professional
subscribers allow modification of certain “custom content” areas of
each page and of certain areas of the templates themselves. The HTML
for content areas can be directly modified. For some areas of the
pages, images can be uploaded from my desktop. For other areas, I can
point to images on my server in my html image tags, then P2a’s server
“grabs” my images and ports them to P2a’s server. There is no FTP
function in the conventional sense.

Point2 also does some amazing rocket-science stuff by creating button
and other images “on the fly” to match color schemes; I’ve never asked
how they do it but my educated guess is that they use Flash Generator
on their servers.

With a lot of study, exploration, and millions of emails back and forth
between me and Jennifer Anderson, P2a’s wonderful support person, I
figured out a lot of ways to work both in and around the system to
create customized pages.

This process gave me enormous appreciation for Point2′s engineering. As
anyone who has looked at my Web site knows, I feel strongly against
most template systems after having done design work for Realtsolutions,
Intelitouch and Homeseekers.com. I’m glad that Jennifer encouraged and
supported my efforts to learn the P2 system; it is quite an engineering
marvel.

I am really excited that there’s a way for agents, brokers and builders
to have highly customized sites with Point2′s powerful back office
system at a tiny fraction of the cost of fully custom site development.
I personally know of
Silicon Valley brokerages that have spent
literally $ millions developing their own brokerage sites because of
the high cost of database backend development., So I  think Point2 is
quite a bargain. If you currently use a Point2 free site and have been
frustrated by it, you have no way to appreciate what can be done with a
Professional site, so I encourage you to try their two-week free trial.
(And I don’t have anything to gain by your using Point2 or upgrading
your account.)

Suzanne

Suzanne Hathcock Stephens
Point2 Design Partner
http://www.SuzStephens.com/p2a/ 


http://www.limbo41414.com/

May 31, 2006

Okay so it has been a while since my last blog.  I have been busy, life is like that sometime.  At point we have released our sms/text messaging notification system. We are calling it “Real Alerts”.  Cute.  Our members can now have certain events trigger text messages with prospects phone numbers straight to their cell phones.  Consumers expect a response within 4 hours and now our members can make it happen. This stuff is in beta and all our members can access it to some degree.  Even our standard members that are paying nothing.  We are paying for the text messages.  This leads me to my next point – Limbo.

Talk about cute names.  Limbo, how low can you go?  This  is a neat new service that takes advantage of some of the intricacies of text messaging. For all incoming SMS messages, an additional per-call charge can be levied Did you know that when all those teenagers text for their favorite idol it costs them. For example, voters for American Idol were charged 10 cents per SMS vote; AT&T received 8 million SMS votes during the second season. Fees  can go as high as 50 cents per vote or even higher.  This per-call charge generates revenues, can help to hold down high call volumes, and can qualify callers so they have a genuine interest in the product or event.

However, it can also do something else, as in the case of Limbo.  Limbo is a service that holds “auctions” where people can “bid” on items.  The lowest unique bid wins. I.E. the lowest bid that nobody else also bid, hence “Limbo, how low can you go”.  Bidders can bid any where from 1 cent to whatever they desire. The catch is that the bids have to be sent in via SMS.  This generates revenue for Limbo.   Recently someone lucky texter won a Hummer for $36.65! This means they texted in the number 3665 and that was the lowest unique bid.  I wonder how many people texted in 20, 500, 2000 or even 3000, likely many. I bet Limbo made quite a bit more then the cost of the Hummer on this one.

Interesting stuff, I would like to hear people’s thoughts on this one.

Here is the link: http://www.limbo41414.com/


For Realtors it Pays to be Fast

May 1, 2006

So here are some facts for you.  65% of consumers expect a response to an online request within 4 hours and 65% don’t even get a response within 12 hours and fully 45% never receive a response.  This from a Homestore secret shopper survey of a very substantial amount of Realtors.   I just don’t get it.  I have a story a little closer to home to illustrate the point.

Sometime in 2002 when we were working toward our product launch we had hundreds of local agents and brokers come through our office.  We demoed our product and gave the pitch, we listened, we talked, we joked.  Each of these sessions usually lasted between an hour and four hours.  I remember being so sure that agents NEEDED a website.  One particular broker was always very candid and forthcoming with our team.  Wayne Zuk on of the Western Canadian Franchise owners for realty executives offered to undertake an experiment.  One morning he emailed all fifty of his Realtors in one office telling them that if they returned his email or called him by five that day he would give them $50 bucks.  At the end of the experiment I think he was only out $150 bucks. 

That has always bothered me.  I knew, and still know, that almost without exception all the agents in Wayne’s employ were diligent and there to serve the consumer.  Because I use and depend on my email day in and day out I assumed that everyone else would too.  That fact of the matter is that it wasn’t the message that caused them not to respond but the medium.  Many agents might only check their email once or twice a week and most probably not more then once or twice a day.

I don’t know why it took us so long to come up with the solution.  Instead of sending messages to the Realtor by email why not send them over a device that almost 99% have come to know and love, mainly the cell phone.

Well that is just what we are doing with our new SMS stuff.  Oh and one more reason to be fast.  Here is the results of a NAR study about why consumers choose their Realtor.

Fastest Response: 57%

Most Qualified: 56%

Best Prepared: 49% 

Seemed Responsive: 36%

Most Knowledgeable: 23%

Lowest Commission: 10%


What makes your work worthwhile?

April 27, 2006

We build a lot of functionality and some of them have benefits that are easier to see then others. A recent bit of work is currently in beta.  It allows our members, real estate agents, to set triggers for certain events that happen on their websites and receive them as SMS messages sent to their cell phones.  Where it gets neat is when you see it in action – or read about it as it were.

One of our beta customers, Jay Thompson had this to say: “This is great, a client recently said to me ‘Wow, I just sent that email three minutes ago. Do you just sit by a PC waiting on email?’ When I told him I was actually on a bike ride, he was pretty impressed.”

This is the kind of comment that makes it all worthwhile.


Syndication Update

March 16, 2006

Just thought I would give a little update on our data syndication project.  We are currently pumping listings out to www.Point2homes.com , www.Oodle.com , www.Trulia.com , realestate.yahoo.com and base.google.com .  Google is kinda broken.  It seems that we are the first to send them an XML feed (everyone else is just using flat file).  They don’t want us to change but we are getting tired of being the guinea pigs!  Anyway, I am sure they will fix it soon and then our solution will rock!  They might, and I am not saying they will :), have a new real estate spec coming soon.  I would *guess* that it will be awesome!

 
In any case all these listings go out with our members branding and contact info.  In February we generated almost 50,000 leads – all for free to our members.  Do the math, if we were selling them at $35.00 a pop like Move.com is going to that would be  $1.75 MILLION DOLLARS worth.  But as we have said before, these aren’t for sale, they belong to our members.  
Incidentally, we are going to blow away this number in March as we are now generating up to 5000 leads per day on our network.

 
Thought I would leave you with an interesting Oodle URL.  I think it is supposed to be a secret but I have friend on the Inside  :)  This will let you see all our listings by city.  Just replace Detroit in the link below with whatever

 

Oodle calls your city:
http://detroit.oodle.com/browse/-/listing_source_point2/
or
http://charlotte.oodle.com/browse/-/listing_source_point2/
or
http://yourcity.oodle.com/browse/-/listing_source_point2/
 

 Also:
I think I might need a holiday.  I had a dream the other night that my nine year old daughter was entering homes for sale in our system.  I was getting frustrated with her because she wasn’t putting in enough detail, so I built her a wizard tool that would just ask her questions that she could answer and it would make a fantastic looking listing.  Anyone agree that I need a holiday?


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