Last year around this time, I published a series of interviews with the real estate bloggers that most influenced me of which I was really proud because I learned a lot and it felt like it helped bring the real estate blogging community together in a new way… This year, I’d like to continue that tradition by publishing the same set of interview questions with a new set of influences. With that said…
Sit down, take a deep breath, and prepare for a wonderfully long and informative interview with the top-notch crew over at the Bloodhound Blog.
Q: What inspired you to start blogging?
- Greg Swann: I’ve been writing all my life, but my goal in trying to start a workable real estate weblog was the same as other Realtors: I thought it would scare up business. We tried and failed with two other weblogs. We didn’t know what we were doing — in the sense of “linkation!” — but, by being overtly promotional in content, they were boring to me, anyway — contributing greatly to their failure. BloodhoundBlog works, at least for me, because it is fundamentally indifferent to the idea of milking the readership for leads. I’ve come to believe that a real estate weblog with a large, regular readership is a lousy way to generate leads, in any case, but I don’t care anyway. I want to write what I want to write, come what does.
Rain City Guide has always been a guide for us, of course, but when I decided that we needed to become a group blog to get where we want to go, we pushed for coverage national in breadth. If our luck holds, we’re defining a new idea in real estate weblogging: Commentary by, for and about real estate professionals on a national level.
I can’t speak for the other contributors, so, in bald-faced defiance of the form you have established for these interviews, I have invited them to speak for themselves. Five took up the challenge: Kris Berg, Brian Brady, Dan Green, Doug Quance and Russell Shaw. Many of them have their own weblogs, and the answers they might give you there could differ from their answers here. But I want to hear — and I thought your readers would be interested to hear — their thoughts on this real estate weblogging cabal we are building here.
- Russell Shaw: I have been interested in blogging ever since I read the book, Blog, by Hugh Hewitt. It really got me to thinking about how mainstream media no longer controls what is “worthy” and what is not.
What got me started was Greg was gracious enough to invite me.
- Dan Green: I began blogging to educate my clients about home loans in a way that they’d never hear from major news outlets. Two years later, I remain true to my audience and I think about The Mortgage Reports like a TV channel. I joined BloodhoundBlog because it exposes my loyal readers to broader issues in real estate and financing as a whole that wouldn’t fit TMR’s “broadcast” menu. BloodhoundBlog is a different channel. My readers may not agree with everything that BloodhoundBlog’s bloggers write — I know I don’t! — but the site’s aim is to present a perspective that readers may not otherwise hear. In this way, BloodhoundBlog is very similar to The Mortgage Reports — the information is not meant to persuade for sales, it’s meant to educate for understanding. The affiliation was a no-brainer to me.
- Doug Quance: I was getting ready to redo my website, and I felt that a blog format would allow me to get personal with my visitors. When Greg invited me to contribute to BloodhoundBlog, how could I refuse? That’s like the President asking you to serve your country — you can’t turn that down.
- Kris Berg: My original motivation to begin blogging was slightly less than noble. It was my attempt to keep up with the Jones’. In my business, I have always tried to keep things fresh and innovative. In a business where competition is fierce, it is essential to constantly reevaluate and reinvent. I have seen too many agents with the potential for greatness deliver mediocre results because of their inability to distinguish themselves as leaders. When Greg tagged me from my own baby blog, I saw it as an opportunity to gain additional exposure and a wider audience.
- Brian Brady: I wanted to write with the best of the best. I started reading Bloodhound about three months ago. I was impressed with the collaborative authorship. When I noticed that we wanted new authors, I decided to “test my mettle in Yankee Stadium.”
Q: Are there any special topics or issues that you enjoy covering?
- Russell Shaw: Yes. Making my fellow agents more successful. Helping them to navigate the real obstacles and also to recognize those that exist just because someone “created them.”
- Brian Brady: My efforts are mostly aimed at Realtors about mortgage lending. I find that by educating them about how to do better business with lenders, I can make a contribution.
I like to write about hard money loans because it is an under-served niche in my industry.
- Doug Quance: I enjoy myth-busting the best. Most of the public gets bamboozled by what goes on in the real estate business.
- Dan Green: Many Americans don’t care about European politics or Chinese monetary policy because they don’t make a connection between international news and their personal life. By contrast, I am fascinated by it. Economics is truly a global game and any event — no matter how small — can have drastic consequences on the lives of everyone in America. My favorite topics to cover are those that show the connection and help people to understand how something buried on page 18 in the front section of a newspaper can cause their retirement portfolio to gain (or lose) tremendous amounts of value.
- Greg Swann: I like technology and the comical kind of hypocrisy. Although I work in residential real estate, I have a deep interest in certain kinds of innovation in commercial real estate development, and I may devote more attention to this in the future.
- Kris Berg: Ironically, unlike Greg, I never particularly enjoyed writing — until now. It took me several months to find my voice, which finally happened the day I stopped blogging for business and began blogging for kicks. Somehow, my role has evolved into that of the resident humor columnist, the Real Estate Mom if you will. The most successful agents have a hard time separating their work and their life, and this is where I find the lion’s share of my inspiration. I have the most fun relating those silly, everyday events in my personal life back to the business of real estate, because it is all about people.
Q: What have you done to personalize your blog?
- Greg Swann: There are two answers to that question. In terms of appearance, I took a theme designed by DL2Media and rewrote the Cascading Style Sheets to fit our look and feel. I can hold my own hand in PHP, so I was able to make the modifications I wanted without breaking anything. For example, our Frequent Contributors list runs out of a PHP program using the WordPress Users database. If I add a user, or change some detail, the change is reflected instantly on the web page.
But taking the question the other way, when we added those Frequent Contributors, I went to some pains to remove my own (very) peculiar personality from the weblog. I built the weblog originally as a subdomain of BloodhoundRealty.com, and there’s nothing I can do about that, by now. We’re too well known, too well linked. But I’ve done what I could to avoid giving our own brokerage an unfair advantage on the weblog. Six of our ten contributors are Realtors, and, if there is any lead-prospecting benefit to real estate weblogging, I want for us all to share in it.
I own BloodhoundBlog.net and BloodhoundBlog.org, but I didn’t have the wits to buy BloodhoundBlog.com when we started this weblog, last June. That domain is owned by a software company in Texas, and, had I known that at the time, I probably would have called the weblog something else. I may end up owning that domain in due course, and, if so, I will set it up to redirect to our current sub-domain. I’m already using BloodhoundBlog.net, redirected, for our nascent podcasting overtures.
The point of all this is, we’re big and getting bigger. My goal is to promote the people who have joined us as much as I might promote myself.
Q: Do you have any favorite posts?
- Kris Berg: I am my own worst critic, and I am never totally pleased once I have hit the “publish” button. If I have to pick a favorite from my short time with the Bloodhound, it would be a post I did on Louis Vuitton and the French Revolution. The title words actually came out of my 14-year-old daughter’s mouth, and I was somehow about to relate it back to Zillow and real estate marketing. I absolutely love it when, as Jeff Brown once said, I can stick the landing.
- Russell Shaw: The Millionaire Real Estate Agent.
- Brian Brady: I like Greg’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie stories because Willie and I share some similarities in background (I think) and ideology.
Any Russell Shaw post is bound to attract the whackos; I like reading their aimless rants.
- Greg Swann: My all-time favorite is Apprehending Realtor 2.0: Seven essential skills of the 21st century real estate agent… I can take both sides of that argument, but the long-run trend is in the direction I take in that post: If you are not moving up the technology tree — and fast — you are moving out of the personal-services real estate brokerage business.
Q: What are some of your favorite blogs (real estate or otherwise)?
- Greg Swann: Totally unfair question: I have over 160 weblogs in my feed reader. From the RE.net, you can bet we like the weblog if we’ve recruited its author as a BloodhoundBlog contributor. There are people we can’t approach (such as RCG’s very talented talent pool), and some we love — such as vendors — who would compromise either us or their employers by working with us. By now, a significant part of my attention, in reading real estate weblogs, is devoted to recruitment.
Away from the RE.net, I read a lot of weblogging blogs, marketing blogs, SEO blogs, Macintosh-fanatic blogs and techno-geek blogs in general. Lately, TechMeme gets a lot of my time, simply because it links to such interesting content.
- Brian Brady: Active Rain Real Estate Network. I’ve developed online friendships and a reader following there. I love Freakonomics Blog because of the off-beat hypotheses they formulate to otherwise explained problems.
- Doug Quance: BloodhoundBlog, of course… and I have many others, but I wouldn’t want to offend those who, because of brevity, wouldn’t make the list.
- Dan Green: My non-real estate blog list includes a strange mix of PopSugar, Olson’s Observations, Sabernomics, and Copyblogger.
- Kris Berg: At the risk of sounding gratuitous, Rain City Guide was the first blog I encountered that really made sense to me. Since then, I have discovered many, many others that seem to strike the same, often elusive balance of having local and national appeal, of being instructional and entertaining, and of speaking to industry professionals and consumers. My first stops each morning include Sellsius, The Real Estate Tomato, 360 Digest, 3 Oceans, Bawldguy Talking, The Phoenix Real Estate Guy, Real Central VA, RealEstateUndressed, Blue Roof, and (of course) The San Diego Home Blog, to name but a few. My feed reader includes about forty blogs at the moment, which is far fewer than for a lot of bloggers I know of, but barely manageable for me. I have been slumming over the holidays and currently have 433 feeds to catch up on.
Q: What tools/websites do you find most helpful in putting together your blog?
- Brian Brady: Reading other blog stories inspires some of my topics. Articles in “Broker” or “Mortgage Originator” magazines help to a lesser extent. Real life issues that face me everyday are fun to write about.
- Kris Berg: I subscribe to Inman News, which I find essential. And, of course, a good feed reader is a must.
- Russell Shaw: Google. 🙂
- Doug Quance: Google… but I could always use more tools…
- Greg Swann: I think like a programmer. I write in TextWrangler, the free version of BBEdit, a Mac-based programmer’s editor. I’ve been writing in versions of BBEdit since the betas of version 1.0, coming on twenty years. Tremendous search power, including GREP, so I can reformat just about anything in scratch time. This group interview is being put together from multiple email files. The end-product will be assembled, a file at a time, in TextWrangler.
As a front-end to WordPress, I use Ecto, which allows for multiple accounts on multiple weblogs, with categories and Technorati tags implemented. A number of the BloodhoundBlog webloggers use Ecto.
Q: How does blogging fit into the overall marketing of your business?
- Doug Quance: It hasn’t, yet… but I believe that the blog will be the preferred way that the public will determine how compatible a particular Realtor may be for them by reading their posts. You can learn a lot about someone by reading what they write.
- Dan Green: BloodhoundBlog has a different audience from The Mortgage Reports so it has a different place in my broader marketing plan. BloodhoundBlog helps me gain “name recognition” in the real estate space. BloodhoundBlog fills a unique role in that even folks who disagree (or even dislike) the writers still come to visit just to leave comments. There is no other real estate blog that makes as big a footprint at this point in time.
- Kris Berg: I have never seen blogging as a lead generator in the strictest sense. Any good marketing plan includes a wide variety of activities. In my case, it is unusual when a new client can tell me precisely where they got my name; it is the marketing effort in its entirety that was responsible. Blogging is but one component. What I have found to be most valuable personally is the knowledge I gain from being in touch with issues on a broader, national level and through exposure to varying perspectives among agents on these issues. Of course, improved search engine rankings don’t hurt.
- Russell Shaw: I don’t believe that blogging has much of anything to do with me “getting business.” I don’t think the general public is reading BloodhoundBlog every day. Other agents and people in the industry are “the public” I write to and for.
BloodhoundBlog has a much larger audience than I would ever have on my own. All of the technical aspects are handled by an expert, and, if I don’t post for three or four days, people coming to the site still always have something interesting to read.
- Brian Brady: Blogging has become the “X” factor in my marketing plan. What started as a hobby has become the leading contributor to our loan production, either from direct response to a post or an indirect referral from the real estate blogging community at large. I commit no money but do commit 2-3 hours a day. I’m still figuring how to fit it into my 2007 marketing plan.
- Greg Swann: Practically speaking, it doesn’t, but I don’t think that way. What we’re really up to is an idea I call The Third Career. Most of us came to real estate from something else, and, as we are wise, we know this is not our last stop in the world of work. My immediate goal for BloodhoundBlog is to make it the best-read, most-rewarding real estate weblog in the RE.net. Further out, I want for our contributors to be so well known that they can pursue other opportunities: Public speaking, freelance writing, books, seminars, television shows, etc. I don’t know that we will attain this, necessarily, but the goal itself is definitely attainable: Witness Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit.
Q: What plans do you have to improve your blog over this next year?
- Greg Swann: We’ll be adding both audio and video podcasting, and we’ll be doing a lot more original reporting. We’ll add new writers as we find them or they find us. BloodhoundBlog has 334 Technorati links right now, which is nothing to sneeze at, but one of the things I want to do in the coming year is to swim our way upstream, to become the authoritative real estate resource for technology, political and general interest weblogs. Like RCG, we’re a given in blogrolls for new real estate weblogs. I want for us to be routinely blogrolled higher up the Technorati food chain.
Q: What is the one tool or feature that you wish your site had?
- Brian Brady: I don’t know… a live chat button? I think a live chat button would help a reader ask a question to an author. I think some readers are hesitant to post comments or questions because of the “Jim Rome” type environment that exists. That said, the “Jim Rome” environment is effective, though, and shouldn’t be replaced.
The “sanctity of the confessional” sometimes inspires honesty.
- Doug Quance: A killer mash-up page.
- Russell Shaw: A list of killer post ideas. 🙂
- Dan Green: Actually, I am happy that BloodhoundBlog has only a few features. There is a fine line between useful add-ons and gimmicks and I am happy that Greg Swann lives by one of the basic rules of technology: Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. Junked-up Web sites remind me a lot of the Flashing Text Syndrome on Web sites circa 1997.
- Greg Swann: I’d love to know how many RSS subscribers we have. Our on-site traffic is very impressive, but I’d like to know how many people are seeing us through their feed readers.
- Kris Berg: Spell-checking — and a laugh track!
Q: What do you think real estate blogging will look like 3 years from now?
- Dan Green: There will be distinct dichotomy in the blogging world and it won’t be limited to real estate blogging. One group will be defined by community-based blogging, complete with deep and engaging conversations about anything and everything; the other will be defined by presence and access to good information for readers. Both groups will feature high quality writing and that will benefit readers immensely. It’s the latter group, though, that is the most intriguing to me.
Blog-For-You services such as Bring the Blog are removing the roadblocks to blogging and allowing non-technical (and time-crunched) salespeople to include blogging in their marketing plans. Even though their blogs are updated for them daily, these salespeople are adding to their blogs when they have something important to say — this may be once a day, once a week, or once a month. These blogging entries would otherwise have remained hidden from the world if not for Bring the Blog.
- Russell Shaw: More and more real estate blogs will exist. There will still only be a select few that are actually being read by a wide audience. As more and more companies that sell blogs to agents come into existence more agents will “blog.” Most of the blogs available are not interesting to anybody, including the people who post on them. The exceptions are those writers who have something worthwhile to say and those who post relevant information (that others want).
- Kris Berg: I said it a year ago, and I say it today. Blogging for the real estate agent will become as necessary as a website and, as in the case of agent websites, there will be some terrific, unique blogs with great appeal to the consumer and there will be many more canned, static blogs with little value. Blogging takes an extraordinary amount of time, energy, creativity and thought. The agents that choose the easy route, that hire others to do their writing and simply throw their checkbook at a template blogging platform with no customization, will find the exercise as effective in generating business and credibility as door-dropping notepads. I believe that those who make the effort, however, will find that they are more knowledgeable, better respected and more effective as agents. And they might just have a little fun along the way.
- Doug Quance: It will be far more prevalent… perhaps 10-15% of the mainstream agents will have a blog — though far fewer will take the time to keep it current. Even then, so many agents write such boring drivel… and others use each post as if it were an advertisement.
- Brian Brady: I think blogging will follow the MySpace popularity curve. That is, a HUGE increase in 12-18 months (as in exponentially increased readership to the 15th or 20th power) followed by a tapering off. I think we’ll have 10 times as many eyeballs on BloodhoundBlog in 3 year as we do now. That number should be consistent for years to come.
- Greg Swann: It looks to me like there is going to be a strong trend toward local content this year, and, obviously, we intend to buck that trend entirely. Day-by-day, month-by-month, we’ll push more in the direction of an on-line magazine — original content presented in arresting prose. In three years, there may be zero, one or two real estate weblogs like BloodhoundBlog. The rest will be something different, I hesitate to guess what.
I do think the webloggers’ ideal of transparency is at huge risk in the RE.net, not alone because too many of the people who will come on the scene in coming years will want to avoid the time commitment that good weblogging requires. To the extent that the RE.net gets flooded with for-pay or overly-promotional content, it will tend to self-destruct. Consumers may not always be able to tell a hawk from a handsaw — or a Bloodhound from a Bichon Frise — but they will never fail to spot — and switch away from — yet another commercial.
Thank you to all the Bloodhounds for this wonderfully informative interview! Once again, Greg, you’ve outdone yourself! Thanks again!
And if you can’t wait until tomorrow to read another interview, check out these posts from last year:
- Jonathan Miller of Matrix
- Jim Duncan of the Real Central VA blog
- Noah Rosenblatt of UrbanDigs
- Andy Kaufman of MyEastBayAgent
- Property Grunt of the Property Grunt blog
- Tim O’Keefe of the Real Estate Marketing Blog
- David Smith of the Affordable Housing Institute
- Merv Forney of the Northern Virginia Real Estate Guide
- Todd Carpenter of Lenderama
- Alex Stenbeck of Behind the Mortgage
- Fraser Beach of Toronto at Home
- John Mudd of Inside Real Estate (deceased)
- Fran of The Real Estate Blog