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:


Real Trends – Gathering of Eagles Day one Part Two

May 6, 2006

Steve Murray closed out the first morning with research and observations from talking to many brokers. He had some very insightful comments and some obvious comments. In the obvious column is the observation that the Internet has taken away the ability for Realtors to be the gatekeepers of the data. 

Brokers and Agents now say, that almost without exception, clients come to  them with a list of homes to see.  Buyer’s agency used to be a joke but are now needed to guarantee compensation because of the Internet.Brokers are also reporting experiencing “Technology Exhaustion”  as they are overwhelmed with Internet/tech companies calling on them.  They are having a tough time sorting truth from fiction.

NAR is reporting homes sales only declining 1% in the last quarter.  Brokers are not saying the same thing.  Many are experiencing drops of 10% to 20%.  Alex, CEO of Cendant said same thing,  It is funny to me that it seems that most Brokers and consultants are questioning the validity of NAR’s results rather then  trying to find out where the sales have gone.  In a slowing market, traditionally the discount brokers suffer as there is a flight to “quality”.  Maybe something different is happening this time around.  We will have to keep an eye on that.

Industry is reporting increased channel confusion due to the web.

Again, in the obvious column but important to not is the relentless compression of margins in real estate and all the industries around real estate (mortgage, insurance, title, appraisal etc.)

In the afternoon I thought I would attend the “Changing Nature of the MLS” session.  It had David Charron, MRSI, Inc., Chris Eigel, Koenig & Strey GMAC Realty, Bryan Foreman, First American MLS Solutions, Inc., and Scott Tobias, Watson Realty, ERA. I was hoping to discover something about the “changing” aspect of the talk’s title.  Instead I heard some fear and defiance.  Charron tacitly acknowledged that MLSs are scared of the new models.  He feels that they are going after the MLS’s greatest point of weakness – the consumer and ultimately referrals (which he acknowledged as the “white elephant in the room”.  He is scared that consumers value competence over personality.  Wow shocker! NOT!  I don’t care how difficult a Realtor is if he can get me an extra 10 grand I will put up with it.  He did recognized that the content is valuable and that Brokers own it.  Still, nobody on the panel will acknowledge that consumers are going to DRIVE the transaction and that they will DEMAND that their listings are advertised everywhere,  I wanted to stand up and ask them, if their son or daughter were selling a house would you still talk about them (the seller) in the same way?  Everything you would do for them you should do for all your other customers.

Charron also pointed out that 20% of agents had NO sides in a transaction last year, and cracked that everyone wants to have the public to have access to the MLS – well we already have that. So goes the thinking …

Charron also says that Realtors have to reaffirm their co-operation model (IMO a grab for more power for the MLS) on threat that if they don’t band together the moto will become “list for free and sell for three”.

He left us with four possible futures for the MLS:

  • Change to meet brokers needs and continue on as is
  • Large firms pull out – leading to chaos –         
  • MLS Regulated to a utility by DOJ (this will be in his opinion the end of the industry)-         
  • Or Just wait …. (and who knows what).

Chris the broker feels that MLS had always been a given but not anymore.Chris basically postulated that the MLS should be:-         

  • A centralized data source-         
  • Professional organization ensuring co-operative guidelines, ethics, rules are followed-         
  • Maybe some transaction management-         
  • Should be regional in size. Not to big not too small

And what the MLS should not be

  • A Brand (as FSBO’s should not be b./c it empowers them)-         
  • Not competition for the broker ( no public site ) or any public services
  • Not in between Agent and Broker in any way
  •  No services-         
  • No Public adverting at allHe believes (and I think he is right) that all organizations want to be bigger and tend to try and grow.Foreman

from 1st American MLS was the most misguided (sorry Brian).  He feels that brokers are giving away their business.  The one thing he is correct on is this:   that brokers have been abdicating their responsibility.  MLSs have been run by partime agents, agents that couldn’t cut and brand new agents. Yet these agents make the hugely important choices that profoundly affect brokers.  This could very well be true.

Foreman then went on to say that his company has built for these MLS’s many misguided, expensive and costly “features” that MLS’s ask for, this even though “He knows that they are horrible ideas”.  Wow. Foreman feels that the data should be totally restricted to brokers and hidden from the public and doled out like treasures. He has probably the most restrictive ideas I have heard so far.

Scott Tobias from Watson told a story about starting his own MLS to try and ensure a higher quality standard of service was adhered to.  Agents in his MLS inBakersfield were fined, as they should be , for infractions.  He had to fold his MLS as other brokers were joining both and it started to hurt his agents.  This just points out the weakness of current mls structures.  All members are forced to co-operate and associate with other members even if they don’t agree with their level of service or even ethics and are therefore tarred with the same brush.

Day one complete – more to come for day two

Real Trends Gathering of Eagles – Live from the Front

May 5, 2006

News from the front!

I am attending the Real Trends "Gathering of Eagles" and am going to attempt to provide updates and tidbits, here goes:

A little birdie told me that the Inman news article titled "Prudential opens real estate Web metrics to sellers" was rushed to beat the soon coming hush hush announcement by or (or whatever else they want to call themselves) of their own seller login area. Apparently Russ Caper has an inside source at Homestore and felt the need to steal their thunder.  Too bad we did three years ago.  I guess we need to shout it out louder.

Cara Heiden of Wells Fargo Home Mortage gave the opening talk and it was interesting.  What was more interesting was that she refused to answer the second question she was asked: " Does Wells Fargo have plans in place to enter the Real Estate industry should banks be allowed to enter it".  In fact, the moderator stepped in and said that it was agreed the question could not be asked.  IMO the silence speaks volumes.

Justin McCarthy of Google spoke next. No surprises, although he did clarify what is and what it is not.  It is, according to Justin:

  • Free Distribution tool
  • A platform to upload to Google
  • A better search tool for consumers

What it is not is:

  • A Broker
  • A fee based lead generator
  • An end to end solution

He also said the Google has no plans to do analytics over the brokers data and sell it to others.

Then we had Alex Perriello, CEO of Cendant.  Alex is a lot more enlightened then I expected. He understands the need for rich information and the role and MLS ought to play.  He said " We (brokers) are being  out-marketed by eight year old kids on eBay selling baseball cards" He recognizes that it is a "crime" that "most listings have one photo that looks like it was taken from a speeding vehicle."  and he thinks it is "sad" that only 14 percent of listings are enhanced.

He also recognizes that consumer demand empowerment and quick response.  He believes that brokers own the data and should do the marketing themselves. In answer to my question he said that MLSs don't have the flexibility to do the marketing and that should be left to the broker.  I agree.

more to come …

You have to Like Hockey to Appreciate This One

May 2, 2006

Isn't it funny how sometimes the best commercials have the lowest budget?  This commerical, at least to hockey and beer lovers, fits into the model of Seth Godin's "remarkable"!  Give it a click!

Any Thing For Love

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%

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