A National Realtors® database is coming soon – RPR™

RPR - logo-low res
There has been a lot of buzz about the formation of a national database that NAR (National Association of Realtors®) announced last November called the Realtors® Property Resource. NAR acquired the technology to create RPR including a database of licensed data and secured data aggregation services from LPS Real Estate Group in November of last year. Everyone has been asking if it’s going to make the MLS obsolete or if it intends to be a Zillow-killer. Well, yesterday a blog was launched to help explain and educate agents and the public about what it will feature, and how it will be used. RPRBlog has some great demo videos and FAQs that detail what’s under the hood and how NAR envisions it will be used.

The amount of data RPR™ intends to incorporate is massive and the tools they are developing to assist Realtors® in utilizing this information are amazing. If it lives up to the hype, it could be the single most important tool that has been developed for real estate agents since the development of MLS boards around the country. This will be a massive online real estate library and archive that will provide real estate professionals with data on every property in the United States.

RPR will include in-depth information on every parcel of real property including public record information, details of prior transactions, MLS information (when provided), zoning info, tax data, and a variety other relevant information that has never been correlated in one place before.

Zestimate on Steroids
Many homeowners and agents have used Zillow’s Zestimator to refine the AVM (automated value model) that Zillow uses to come up with and estimated market value. While this was a clever and advanced tool when it was introduced, it is far from perfect. Zillow still recommends getting a real estate professional to help fine-tune the results. RPR’s valuation method, called RVM (Realtors® valuation model) takes it much further. It draws on the Realtors® own market knowledge to take into consideration local market factors.

One data source that is being integrated into the database to help with home evaluations is the Realtor® and Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report. This report has been compiled for a number of years by a variety of industry experts for a number of the main national real estate markets to see how different improvements affect value based on location and value of the  home. This shows, for example, how a deck in Miami overlooking the ocean will add more value than a deck in an inner-city location with no view. This helps dial in more accurate valuations.

Localized Marked Updates
Agents will log on to a localized homepage that is customizable with scrolling news bar to keep up to date on both national and local news. They will also see maps of all the changes in listings in their area, including price changes and foreclosure properties. All NAR agents will have access to the website, regardless of whether the local MLS participates or not. I’ve not heard from the NWMLS and there is no information on their website that says if they will be among the MLS organizations participating nationally. Obviously most Realtors® would love to have these tools and be a part of this. But NWMLS is broker owned so they may have a different perspective.

The estimated launch of the site is 2nd quarter of 2010, so I am sure we will be hearing much more about this.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Zillow Adds Rentals

Today Zillow announced the addition of rental listings and search to their arsenal of tools for consumers. Now anyone can list a home for rent, and Zillow users can now search both rental homes and homes for sale in their area. Consumers can do a map search by monthly payment for both for-sale and for-rent homes simultaneously based on a monthly payment they can afford.

According to a recent Harris poll, one in four people who plan to move in the next three years say they will search for both homes for rent and homes for sale. This may be a function of the current economy. Sellers may choose to rent their homes now, rather than sell at a lower price than they could have received a few years ago. Conversely, these same home owners may choose to rent their next home when they move if they can not sell their home now.

Zillow is launching a new “rent vs. buy” comparison search that allows consumers to use a “monthly payment” filter to calculate what they can afford to purchase using the current day’s local mortgage rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage. Zillow already has a massive amount of real-time data on mortgage rates built into their “Mortgage Market” feature that they can draw from.

Zillow rental example

Zillow plans to offer landlords and agents a Featured Listing rate of $9.95 for 180 days, whether it is a listing for sale or for rent. Featured Listings can include unlimited photos and links to outside websites. With Zillow’s ZIP code, neighborhood, monthly payment, and map search functionality, I imagine Zillow will give even free Craigslist some serious competition.

Zillow and the SeattlePI Partner-up for Property Searches

Zillow and SeattlePI business partnership

As is being widely announced in the news this morning, Zillow.com and the SeattlePI.com websites have partnered to offer co-branded website property searches. Ironically as of 8am you can find this story on Reuters, Inman News, and of course Twitter and Facebook. But Ironically it is still missing from the Homepage of SeattlePI.com.

The website will also offer Zillow’s other features such as home values, “just sold” data, local market data, etc.  As well as their custom real estate community content via Zillow Advice and mortgage rates from their Mortgage Marketplace function.

This raises some interesting issues for other companies, organizations, brokerages, and agents who  have property search functionality built into their blogs and websites in order to drive traffic to their sites, and ultimately derive business from it. Rain City Guide is a great example of a website that has recently added property search functionality through M Realty in hopes of garnering more viewers, and potentially a revenue stream as well. Many agents, including myself, have spent years developing websites that we use to attract potential buyers and sellers. Is Zillow now officially our competition?

Strategically this makes a lot of sense for both companies as the SeattlePI is struggling to re-create it’s business model after shutting down it’s printed newspaper version in March. And Zillow has recently been monetizing their searches through selling advertising to agent’s by zip codes.

I wonder what RCG’s readers and contributers think of this turn of events. It’s definately a “game changer”. The question is, what’s the new game going be like, and who’s going to get to play?

FHA Condo Approval Process – MAJOR Guideline Changes

condo construction buildingThere are major changes on the way for developers of condo projects and existing condo owners who want to get approved for FHA financing. These changes are set to take place October 1st, 2009. But the ramifications are going to start being felt right away. The details are outlined in the Mortgagee Letter 2009-19 that was issued on June 12th by HUD. In this latest Mortgagee Letter FHA is announcing dramatic changes to their Condo Approval Process and the ELIMINATION of the Spot Approval Process. While these changes reduce the documentation and requirements for Full Condo Approval, it will place a lot more work and responsibility on Lenders.

The Lender will have 2 options:

  1. HUD Review and Approval Process (HRAP).
  2. Direct Endorsement Lender Review and Approval Process (DELRAP), outlined in this Mortgagee Letter. This option is only available to lenders who have unconditional Direct Endorsement authority and staff with knowledge and expertise in reviewing and approving condominium projects.

The processing options stated above will be applicable to condominium developments that are:

  1. Proposed/Under Construction;
  2. Existing Construction; or
  3. Conversions.

Certain types of projects will be ineligible. They are:

  1. Condominium Hotel or “Condotels

Seattle Area Open House Information Sources

Can you tell me where I can find a list of all the Open Houses that are happening in my area this Sunday?

boy-looking-at-toy-houseI’ve been asked this question lots of times and I have always had to answer, “I’m sorry. There is no single, good source. Everyplace is going to list the ones they are promoting.” Sadly, this is still the case. The Seattle Times classifieds was the defacto hub of information for Open Houses during the pre-internet-print-is-king era. Now that the web has taken over as the main source of any information, a “Complete Open House Times and Locations Guide” should be as easy as pulling up a Google Map. But it’s not.

Enter the major Brokerage Firms
Our NWMLS (Northwest Multiple Listing Service) does publish open house information if the agent requests it. However the larger brokerage firms restrict their agents from participating in publishing this information. Why? Because they all want you to come to THEIR websites and just see THEIR listings. God forbid that smaller companies might ride on the coattails of this and reap the benefits of centralized exposure to the public of their listings.

Meanwhile, the consumer looses. They don’t care which brokerage has the open house. All they care about is finding out about ALL of them in their desired price range and location. Until the brokerages figure out that not sharing is a loose-loose proposition, they are going to hold on tightly to one of the few pieces of information that they think they can control, even to the detriment of the industry as a whole.

Enter the free upstart website
Craigslist is generally a good source for open house information and has been devastating to the Seattle Times Classified section as more and more Sellers and agents realize that this is a popular source of information for Buyers to find out about real estate listings and open houses. The problem is that it is hopelessly unorganized and difficult to filter well. Properties scroll off quickly and the average consumer misses a number of worthwhile ads.

For now, here is a list of a few of the various companies Open House sites where you can find Seattle area open house information and then assemble it yourself.

Coldwell Banker Bain Open Houses

Winderemere Open Houses

John L Scott Open Houses

Re/MAX Open Houses

Craigslist Open Houses
(I recommend you search for “open” rather than “open house’ – otherwise you may miss alternate titles eg. “Open Sunday”. Use price and bedrooms to filter further.)

Seattle Times Open Houses
Keep in mind that ads placed in the company-sponsored sections of the The Seattle Times classifieds (often referred to as “block ads”) DO NOT automatically show up when you search on the NWSource website. If available, these ads are often an extra charge to the agents and may or may not be included in the ads they have placed.


NWMLS Open House mapping feature could be a GREAT tool for agents AND consumers. But because the major brokerages and some of the smaller brokerages refuse to participate, and because it currently doesn’t differentiate between “Brokers Open” and “Public Open” events, consumers are on their own to dig and find the open houses they may want to see. (sources tell me that in the next major update, the NWMLS will be able to break out public vs. brokers open houses) Hopefully the NWMLS will start offering a report of this that can be emailed or subscribed to. That might be the tipping-point that would get other brokerages to participate.

Then there is the old-fashion way
The one sure method for Buyers: Get in your car and drive around the areas you are interested in. Agents almost always put out a sign to lure you in, even if the collective NWMLS Brokers won’t help them online.

Virtual Discrimination by Real Estate Brokers

A real estate broker who operates in 23 states has filed a complaint with Federal authorities against the local MLS for “restraint of trade” practices, according to Inman News. Ryan Gehris, who is a broker of record for flat-fee real estate company Housepad.com in 10 of those states, alleges that the North Carolina MLS’s requirement to physically attend specific MLS orientation classes discriminates against non-traditional web-based brokerages. I think he has a point.

handcuffed to laptop

Do I have to be here?

While I can see an argument for the advantages of attending specific events, I think that the mandatory requirement of attendance takes it too far. I think of it like networking – It makes sense to do it, but if you don’t it’s your business that is likely to suffer and that’s your choice.

In this age of WebEx, Skype or UStream.TV online meetings, it just isn’t necessary to physically go somewhere for most types of training, especially computer training. And the cost and time concerns associated with attending far away events can make it prohibitive, especially for agents that have other obligations and commitments.

The spokesperson for the MLS said the training is “not intended to be a burden to participants and is required because of the substantial changes in technology.” But if people can get a college degree with online training, it’s hard to imagine why basic MLS user training requires someone’s physical presence to be effective.

The real reason may be that the MLS would like to make it hard for non-brick-and-mortar business models because they do not like the competition. I say let their business model succeed or fail on it’s own merits, not because of discriminatory road blocks put in their way.

Follow President-Elect Obama's Journey

Follow the amazing journey of how this man came to where he is today using Google Maps. This should be every school child’s assignment to day when they go to history class. Then for bonus points they should look up their home in Google Maps Street View, since they added Seattle as of yesterday!

Google Maps – Barak Obama’s Journey

Barack Obamas Journey

Barack Obama's Journey

The Crackberrys are coming to Real Estate by a Storm!

Supra Blackberry phonesI’ve been a fan of the Blackberry for years. I LOVE their “push” email technology, and it’s one-hand scroll-wheel functionality. But I had to drop-kick my crackberry for a Palm Treo when Supra came out with the eKey technology in order to access homes for sale with lockboxes. I actually kept both for a while but after I got an iPhone three phones was just too much, even for a geek like me.

Supra only supports a handful of smartphones and most of them are Palm Treos, either Palm OS or Windows Mobile. The reason for this is not because they are lazy or unresponsive to customer requests, even if they are. The real reason is that most devices do not support IRDA technology. That’s the infrared port that communicates with the Supra iBox to unlock or program it. So Blackberrys, iPhones, and a bunch of other popular and cool smartphones were effectively blocked from being used as an eKey. Until now….

Blackberry eKEY-infrared convertorSupra has decided to sell an “infrared-to-bluetooth converter” and offer their Supra eKey services from several Blackberry devices by the end of the year. It’s like a car key fob that you carry on your keychain. According to their press release, Supra will support the Pearl, the Curve, and the 8800 series devices. There will be a couple of different plans offered. The new eData Mobile application will give the listing agent instant notification of showings, even while they are in progress. I’m not sure how this will play out. I’m not excited about getting calls from agents for feedback while I’m still in the house and showing my client. We may end up needing some NWMLS guidelines to keep Realtors from being too aggressive with other agents. (not that there are any pushy agents out there).

So the real question is … (drum roll please) Will Supra support the new Blackberry Storm? This is the closest thing I’ve seen to a true iPhone competitor coming to the market. All the other vendors have been scrambling to come up with a product that can compete with Apple’s evolutionary and wildly popular device. So far, none of them have really even come close, IMO. They may have some of the look and feel down, but the vastly superior software options still puts the iPhone WAY ahead of anyone else. But the one thing almost all iPhone owners agree on is that typing sucks on the iPhone. I can thumb a text message 10 times faster on a Blackberry.

Well, Blackberry may have found a way to solve this dilemma. The new Storm offers an on-screen touch-and-feel keyboard that you have to actually PUSH in a way that gives you a true “keyboard feel”. People tell me you quickly and intuitively learn how this works and your back to speed-thumb-typing in no time.The Engadget Mobile website has a page-by-page copy of the Verizon Sales brochure of the Storm if you want to look it over. I spoke with someone at GE Supra and they would not commit to saying the Supra eKey product would be compatible with the Storm. It uses Verizon’s GSM and Ev-DO networks and not Wi-Fi, which could be a deal killer for some people too.

Blackberry Storm keyboard

At least agents will have a viable alternative to the old and limited Treo. Finally, Change you can believe in! Sounds like the Blackberry’s running for office!

Mr Monk Buys a House

Mr Monk

Mr. Monk returns to TV with a premiere episode this Friday, July 18th. This one will be near a dear to our hearts. He’s going to buy a house! That’s right. Here is your most OCD client in a life-imitates-art drama.

When his new neighbor plays his music too loud, Monk decides it’s time to move. He makes the big leap and buys a house that turns into a money pit, reminiscent of the 1986 movie that we agents like to give to first-time buyers who think they are ready for a fixer-upper. Things continue to challenge Adrian when he hires the handyman from hell who is determined to rip up the entire house. Brad Garrett form Everybody Loves Raymond guest stars.

Mr Monk Buys a House - trailer
Episode Trailer

Most of us agents have had clients like this to some degree and I’m sure there will be a number of been-there-experienced-that moments. I just wanted to make sure those who didn’t know have a chance to TiVo or whatever to see it.

Hands-free law starts July 1st – That means Realtors too!

Look Ma, No Hands!

Washington State will go ‘hands free’ for cell phone use in the car on July 1st, so agents (and everyone else) shouldn’t be driving around with one hand up to their ear anymore. Well…that’s the intent anyway. The Washington State Patrol says you could face up to a $125 fine, although it is suppose to be a secondary offense. Real Estate agents are notorious for this, myself included. Fortunately, for several years I have had an integrated hands-free system in my car (Acura RL) which has given me a head start on being compliant.

I thought I would mention some options for agents, or for that matter anyone who spends a lot of time on the phone in their car, who are just taking the plunge into the deep blue-tooth ocean of products to help them figure out which device might be better suited for them. But don’t just go out and buy one of these devices. Do your research and check with your provider about what they offer and recommend. These days many products and services are specific to wireless vendors, like Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T.

hands-free driverFirst of all, you’ll need a bluetooth capable cell phone. Many, if not most, of the newer cell phones have this capability. But if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to upgrade. These days people change out their cell phones pretty frequently anyway. But if you have been waiting, now is probably a good time. Just be sure you understand how your cell phone plan will be affected and hopefully your carrier won’t force you into signing a new extended service contract.

If you have a newer model car that has integrated bluetooth capabilities you’ll want to check which phones work with it (not all do) and use the products they recommend, if possible. This information should be in your manual. When my car was introduced integrated blue-tooth was still new and it did not specifically support my phone and service (a Palm Treo w/Verizon), but fortunately I was able to trick it (read “hack”). It would be a real drag to decide to buy a $50,000 car because of it’s bluetooth capability only to find out it won’t work with your phone or service.

If you don’t have integrated bluetooth in your car, then you should consider getting either a headset or component speaker system. Most headsets these days just fit in or around your ear and are pretty small. They often use a microphone technology that relies on the vibration of your jawbone, much like your inner ear, which keeps it very small and helps with noise cancellation – cool huh?

Here are some hands-free bluetooth earbud and speakerphone options from $65 to $125:

Bluetooth Jawbone HeadsetThe New Jawbone – Jawbone is the hot bling-bling of the bluetooth world right now. Their marketing is aimed at the fashion-conscious among us. This is perfect for the agent who is most worried how it will fit in with their wardrobe. The have good noise canceling technology too.

Bluetooth Jabra SP5050 SpeakerphoneJabra’s SP5050 – This unit is made to be clipped to your visor and has a speaker system built in. Jabra is well known and were the first to come out with hands-free bluetooth headsets and use digital signal processing (DSP) technology.

BlueAnt’s Supertooth 3 – Another visor clip-on speakerphone, the Supertooth 3 announces the name or ID of the caller when the phone rings – just say ‘OK’ to Bluetooth Blueant Speakerphoneaccept the call. This device is suppose to be very easy to install and it uses ‘Text-to Speech’ software. The voice prompts provide guidance and assistance install and to help pair the device and upload your cell phone’s address book. When a call is received, the Supertooth 3 announces the incoming caller’s name or number. Just say ‘OK’ to accept the call. You also have a choice of 6 languages.

Bluetooth Venturi MiniVenturi Mini – The Venturi Mini directs incoming calls to the cars speakers and includes a FM A2DP audio player and no headset or wires are needed. With phonebook download the incoming caller appears on the Venturi Mini and your car radio simultaneously. This unit plugs into your lighter plug in and offers USB support too, which means you can charge other devices.

You’re going to need to configure your bluetooth cell phone with your hands-free integrated car system or your bluetooth hands-free device. (wireless headset or speakerphone). Once you pair the device and phone you’ll need to do some set up and preferences. Carefully read the manuals regarding hands-free dialing with your Address book and configuring everything to match your network (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T). Most likely you’ll need to “train” the system to recognize your voice and / or connect phrases with numbers. You may need to tell it when you say “Call Jim” to dial the appropriate number.

Take the time to do this and it will be worth your while. This is what the “hands-free” is all about. Now you can impress youir clients with your tech-savvy skills and stay out of jail at the same time!

Any RCG Readers want to jump in and share their favorite hands-free bluetooth goodies?