VendAsta Moves In

January 18, 2008

Many of you reading this will already know that group of Ex P2ers have started our own company.  You can read about it at www.VendAsta.com .  That said, I realize that you really can’t tell from our website what it is we are up to.  There is some speculation in the blogosphere and some initial reports here and here.

So while we aren’t really saying much yet there are a few clues I can give you.  We sent four people to Inman New York and were busy for four complete days.  Busy as in no spare time.  However, “no spare time” doesn’t equate into “no fun”.   For example I had a lot of fun at the Google party dominating the foosball table with foos partner Russ Capper.  Or, for that matter, getting a great tour of the new New York Times building, which is fabulous (thanks, Andy, Lloyd, Cheryl and Brendan) and then attending their party.  Oh, and the two late nights we spent at Don’t Tell Mama with  the Inman crew, Lending Tree and the Aussies from realestate.com.au simply can’t be classified as “no fun”.  In fact, all in all, the entire trip can be classified by the words fun and success!

So if you guessed that VendAsta was going to have a real estate play, I would say that you were on to something.   One more thing.  VendAsta is the name of our consulting company, not the name of our real estate initiative. I would say more but I promised Jay that he would be one of the first to know. :)

So today, was the first day for the VendAsta crew in a our new space.  We are located in a fabulous high tech business center called Innovation Place  ,which incidentally, just won an award as one of the best places to work.

Tommorow (I hope)  I will post pictures and a bit more about what we are up to. 


Inman’s most influential real estate leaders

September 29, 2007

I am proud and honored to announce that I have been included in the Inman News “100 most influential real estate leaders” list.  That said, I would like everyone to know that this honor is not one that I can claim as solely my own. It belongs to the men and women at Point2. It belongs to our passionate and loyal customers many of whom have become friends and acquaintances.  It belongs to our vendors and partners. 

I know that by naming names I run the risk of leaving people out, which I surely have. I also know that to many reading this the names mean little but I include them hear anyway to illustrate the point of how many have helped in our quest to build the best marketing platform for real estate professionals that we can. For those of you whose names I do not use here, know this, you are a not forgotten and you surely are a big source of our success – you know who you are. So here goes.    

Without John Fothergill we never would have entered real estate or had the simplistic and killer UI insights.  Without Jeff Tomlin we wouldn’t have had the industry insight to build our product.  Linda Jame has been the face of Point2 and a guiding angel for many brokers.  Greg Miller and his team have handled the marketing and creative of our product in a way that keeps our competitors up at night.  Roger Noujeim has single handedly been like a five man PR team and a great gentleman to boot. Jon Levesque and his team get up at 3am far to often keep our product up simply because we innovate too quickly. James Townley and Jessie Redl rock as business analyst turning concepts and ideas into requirements.  Eron Wright, Jason Collins, Todd Sturgeon, Brian Richardson, Ulas Nair, Chris Dagenais, Melanie Cey, Cam McHugh, Dustin Bartlett are but a few of the names of the great developers  that live and breath the Point2 NLS code.  Who can forget our customer support team headed up by Allan Wolinsky and Jen Anderson, they are truly second to none and a continual source of rising stars in our company.  Our great reception and admin staff also perform above and beyond. 

We have truly been blessed with great customers over the years. Customers that care, evangelize, and give recommendations with complaints.   Customers like Jay Thompson, Stephen Rosen, Norm Fisher  and Ron Tarvin to name but a very few. These are customers where the relationship didn’t always start out the best.  Their feedback (and feedback of many more like them) has helped us build our product to what it is today.   

We are also fortunate to have great partners and vendors, many of who I now call friends.  Bernice Ross, Saul Klein, Mike Barnett, John Reilly, Donna Lee Lau, Steve Murray, Clark Alexander, Mark Siden, Mike Parker, Dave Collins, Ben Clark, Michael Wise, Steven Grooves, Pete Flint and many many more (literally hundreds). 

In my case at least, the honor of being in the list most certainly doesn’t belong to me alone.


What is the Point2 NLS?

August 20, 2007

Here is a little NLS presenation about “Complete Control and Choice”. 

 Hope you enjoy it!


“Neighborhood Discussions”

July 11, 2007

An article in Inman has just reported that Zillow has now announced that they have added neighbourhood pages and according to a Zillow spokes person “The pages are seeded with rich local demographic and real estate information, but are built for communities and neighbors to make their own.”  According to the Zillow announcement, “Zillow’s online community can add photos, events and news, and can participate in discussions and ask or answer questions”

Ostensibly it appears to be about creating an “online community” where users can actively participate and contribute.  What it is really about is “User Generated content” , which,  in my not so humble opinion,  is quickly becoming the next big thing.    Zillow, Trulia and Redfin are all trying to build a “community” where consumers can discuss real estate.  Will this work?   Hmmmn, I think it might be more challenging than it may appear.  Why? Because the average consumer only discusses real estate once every seven or eight years when they are thinking about moving.  At that particular time they are very interested in participating (or at least learning) from this type of “community”.   

In a past life I spent a lot of money on advertising in print, radio, TV and online. I know first  hand that most of your advertising dollars are only effective for people that are “In the market” for your product. Think about the last time you purchased something , for instance, like your last computer.  When you are in the market you suddenly notice all the advertising,  once you buy a system it is best if you stop looking immediately lest you suffer a severe bout of anxiety as better systems sell for cheaper.

What does that mean for a “real estate” centric community?  Simply put it means that your number one draw (real estate info) will only be effective on the subset of consumers that are interested in real estate and this is a much smaller subset of consumers. While Truila voices and Redfin’s forums might be satisfied with this audience, I think that Zillow has a much bigger designs than having a community that is only about, and for, people in the market.  I think they want to build a community that people use all the time in their daily lives, and are using people’s homes as starting point.

Again, in my opinion this is easier said than done.  They will be competing for attention with all types of communities – from the local community, news and city guide type websites to facebook, myspace and even wikipedia.   Trying to be “the place” is a really tall order.  Uploading neighbourhood photo’s, news and events will simply not be enough, in my opinion, to create a vibrant community that consumers visit and contribute to often. They will have to do more, and I am sure they understand that.

One group that we know for sure that has expert knowledge, is always “in the market” and can and will contribute to the neighbourhood information that consumers need (when they are in the market) is real estate professionals.  We have created a tremendous resource in our neighbourhood directory.  We intend to leverage this structure in many ways and in multiple platformsThis will be done not only to provide great information for consumers but to always provide exposure for; showcase the knowledge of and bring back user generated content for use by the P2NLS real estate professional. 

What does this mean?  It means we are not as concerned with creating “the community” as we are about providing the underlying infrastructure and connecting it to real estate professionals. How are we going to accomplish this?  Just wait and see, in the words of Bryan Adams, “the best is yet to come”. 


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


Point2 NLS’s Conspiracy to Keep First Class Full – A response to Blanche Evans

March 11, 2007

Conspiracy is in the air!  

What am I talking about you ask? I am talking about a presentation given by Blanche Evans of the Realty Times to the NAR Realtor Association Executives Institute held in
San Diego this February 19th, 2007.
 Here is a link to the intro and here is a link to the power point presentation.  (All on realtor.org) 

 

The entire presentation is about a conspiracy by Banks, Federal Government, third party service providers, consumer groups and the financial press to “Demonize” Realtors, NAR and Associations, interesting times Indeed.  Normally I read things like this with interest, often finding truth and validity in the arguments.  Imagine my surprise to learn that the P2NLS, even more specifically this blog,  are part of this widespread organized conspiracy.  Hmmn, normally I would shrug something like this off as water drops off a ducks back, but this presentation was made by Blanche Evans.  

Blanche, if you read this (and you must be reading my blog if you used it in your presentation)  I want you to know that I am a little hurt and confused.  Why?  I have always read your “stuff” and found it to be well researched and written and I am disappointed that you didn’t take the time to understand the P2 National Listing Service.   I am disappointed that the NLS was portrayed as a party enjoined in the conspiracy against organized real estate.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  

 

In fact, only licensed real estate professionals can participate in the NLS and THERE IS NO PUBLIC FACING MARKETING COMPONENT of the NLS.  Brokers have COMPLETE CONTROL and CHOICE as to where, if at all, their listings are displayed and who their marketing partners are.  Further, these listings are displayed with their brand and their contact information and link directly back to their website.  With respect to the NLS and consumers; consumers can only take advantage of the power of organized real estate by enlisting and working with a licensed real estate professional. 

In short, If you look at the P2NLS in its entirety one can only come to the conclusion that it is the penultimate proponent of organized real estate.   

If you listen to Blanche’s presentation, and I encourage you to do so, you will see it implies that we are trying to capitalize on the weakness of the regional MLS system.  Not true.  We are simply filling the gaps in marketing, advertising and analytics that these organizations were never intended to provide. I prefer to give Blanche the benefit of the doubt. I am sure she has simply misunderstood our purpose and commitment to organized real estate.  To this end I am extending an olive branch and this promise to Blanche and the AE Institute;  In every way we will  continue to take the  high road in our attempt to promote and promulgate the altruistic agenda of organized real estate.  The end result will be better for Realtors, better for Associations and better for consumers, because remember, “first class is always full”.


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