I’ve really enjoyed following Merv Forney of the Northern Virginia Real Estate Guide and I was glad to see that he responded to my request for an interview because I happen to think he’s figured out some of the key ingredients to building up a great real estate blog. He provides regular market updates with charts and graphs, he writes with a personality, he throws in a fun posts to liven things up, and he’s constantly improving the layout and content of his site. All things considered, I think he has one of the best agent/broker blogs and agents looking to get into the blogging would be well served following his model.
Merv is affiliated with RE/MAX Renaissance of Leesburg, Virginia and the Managing Director of the Choice3 Realty Group. In addition to actively serving clients, he is responsible for all aspects of the business including planning, operations, technology, marketing and general management.
What inspired you to start blogging?
When contemplating this new career, I knew Pam and I needed to be different. This is a “me too” business to the extreme. As a result of much market study, I concluded that everything about us needed to look and feel new, unique and personal. Every templated (or not) agent website looks the same, feels, the same and, in my mind, not very professional. Everyone has exactly the same canned content. I also concluded that the consumer wanted something different. We had a custom website built (www.choice3realty.com) on a content management system (CMS) that happened to be MovableType (my designers choice for a CMS). Part of my spec was to be able to add or change content easily. I had no idea what MovableType was. A month after going live (2/1/2005) with my website, I attended a breakfast seminar hosted by a Chamber of Commerce associate focused on using technology for the benefit of your clients. His management coach that co-hosted this talked about BLOGGING and its power to reach out and gain an audience. Drum roll……OH! MovableType! I had blogging tools I didn’t even know about. On March 25, 2005 my Blog was published and I posted my first article. Inspiration? I don’t know. Wanting tools to be different? You bet. Once exposed to the capability I knew it was something we needed to do. Am I glad we did! I didn’t know where we were going with our blog. It just naturally evolved. Blogs take on the personality of its owners.
(PS: I have the best designer in the world: Donald Peterson at http://www.newark1.com/blog.htm, http://www.newark1.com/ and http://abqstyle.com/index.htm. Donald started blogging AFTER I did. How interesting.)
Are there any special topics or issues that you enjoy covering?
There are many things I enjoy writing about. If you look at what I do most, it is market commentary based on research and data. People want real information. They want it form a real person, not some big organization pumping up there own agenda. We have no agenda and I think it makes us different. The next thing I enjoy doing is exposing the incompetent behavior of those that shouldn’t be in our business. Not by name but by experience. Our profession gets a bad rap from a few very bad or marginal agents. Finally, I really enjoy sharing my strange sense of humor. You can find a little of it in our archives.
Well, maybe not finally. I’m a technologist at heart. I love discovering new things and trying to figure out how to use it for the benefit of our clients. I write a little about it but mostly experiment with it. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy what you do…keeping abreast of a changing landscape. (no suck up intended, just fact).
What have you done to personalize your blog?
I think most everything about our blog is personal, from the collage of pictures (I took them, well…most of them), to our writing style, what we cover and the way we approach our business. I write what I feel and what I believe. Also, I really like exposing (hmmm… featuring is a better choice of words) our clients on the web. I have a thumbnail slide show of our happy clients on our archive pages. They really get a kick out of it.
Do you have any favorite posts?
Personally, I love my posts in the Signs and Entertainment categories. They are just plain fun. Lets me expose a little more of my zany side. This can be a very dry business and we need to break out once in awhile. I like using pictures to make a statement. See Blog Spamming under Blogging.
What are some of your favorite blogs (real estate or otherwise)?
You know it’s hard to just point out 1 or 2. There are many good ones. Rain City is one. Jim Duncan’s in Central Virginia is another. I think the blog that gets my best design vote would be Fraser’s Toronto at Home! Great content too.
What tools/websites do you find most helpful in putting together your blog?
I use MovableType. It might be overkill but a non techie can use it or a technical person can really exploit its capability.
I do my own content programming so I am always searching for free tools and scripts. There are an abundance all over the web. I also watch what you do and say and shamelessly try to copy it if I think it will work for me.
How does blogging fit into the overall marketing of your business?
Even though we promote our clients and their properties, our blog personalizes us, sets us apart from the crowd, our humanness comes through. Potential clients get to know us through what we present and write about without ever meeting us. My last three listing appointments were because of our blog. I (“We”, sorry Pam) went prepared with data, told them what we would do for them and exactly what it would cost. Our blog actually drives more traffic to our main website. I am astonished that we got such a high Google ranking in such a short period of time.
What plans do you have to improve your blog over this next year?
What I really want to do is to provide more interactive tools. There is an abundance of market data available in our MLS data base. It’s just to hard to get it out. I want to let prospects and clients put in their own criteria and get table, charts and graphs that fit their properties demographics. I don’t see anyone data mining the MLS extensively. The data I prepare, like our Market Snapshots I dig out manually.
What is the one tool or feature that you wish your site had?
I like the way map searches are evolving. I’ll keep watching and when they mature I’ll jump in. I’ve experimented a little but not impressed yet. Our MLS needs to make more data available to agents that have the ability to use it creatively.
What do you think real estate blogging will look like 3 years from now?
Geeeeeez. That’s almost like asking what will my house be worth 6 months from now. I have know earthly idea. What I do know is that it’s beginning to catch on. The most forward thinking, creative people have discovered its power.
Here’s one last thought. This is a “me too” business. When others discover that some of us are using it to create business success, everyone will want to do it. There will be companies marketing real estate blogging templates just like real estate websites. The difference is: blogging is hard work, time consuming and needs to come from the heart. Most agents will not have the stamina for it and revert to what is easy. I would love to teach blogging (and have been asked to do so) but right now, we see it as a strategic advantage in our market. Anyone seriously interested in starting a blog can call me and I will tell them everything I know and help however I can. It’s actually very easy to get started and can be FREE! But, I will warn them that it takes a significant commitment for it to be effective in their business. I found several real estate blogs that got started with a few posts and then went dormant…maybe it proves my point.
(Read more interviews with some of real estate’s top bloggers under the Real Estate Q&A category)