So many great things to do in Seattle!

[Editor’s note: I’m super excited to announce Sarah Payson as RCG’s newest contributor. She runs The Payson Group with her husband John Payson, who together are the first “M Agents” in Seattle. I recently had the chance to spend a day with them and was blown away by how two people could be both super-motivated and super-wonderful!   One of the things that they will undoubtably bring to RCG is an active involvement in the local community… and an excellent example of that is their active Facebook Page: 365 Things To Do In Seattle that’s grown to over 7,700 fans in about a month.  Seeing the success they’re having with this page, I asked Sarah if she’d start her RCG contributions with a post about that project.   -Dustin]

365 things to doAre you new to Seattle WA?  Have you been here a while but are tired of the same old routine?

We want to get you connected with your neighborhoods around Seattle and the Eastside, that’s why we started “365 Things to do in Seattle WA

Redfin Circles Back to an Old Biz Model…

Redfin‘s been through so many business models over the years, I can completely understand why some folks would think that Redfin is entering a new area by working with real estate agents, but I can’t help remind folks that this is a business model that they’ve tried in the past… and it failed miserably the first time.

In only the 2nd time Redfin was mentioned on RCG, Anna was upset (to put it mildly), that Redfin had gone from being a company that did only referral business to agents (accepting a 20% cut), to including a flat-fee option for FSBO’s to get their listings in the MLS.  (Jun ’05)

A few months later, RCG agreed to give Redfin a 2nd chance after they had dropped all references to the flat-fee option for sellers from their website. (Oct ’05)

However, the Redfin evolution when Glenn Kelman took the helm of Redfin in Sept ’05.   From this article Galen published in Jan ’06, Glenn Kelman is being quoted talking about Redfin’s referral busines to agents saying:

“How do we make money now? People sign up for a real estate agent… The real estate agent and Redfin share the fruits of that.”


I SOOO wish I had a screenshot of Anna’s profile she had on the Redfin site back in early ’05 because the content on the page would be shockingly similar to the current agent profiles.     I can’t remember exactly what the profiles looked like, but I’m almost positive they listed the agent’s recent transactions and had consumer reviews (I vaguely even remember a star system for the agents).

I honestly wish no ill will on the Redfin folks and wish them the best in their latest endeavor.   It’s just that the blogger in me can’t believe so many folks are letting them get away with saying they are doing something new.   About the only thing I see new with this program is that they are charging a 30% referral fee instead of the 20% they used to charge to agents back when Anna took part in ’05.

1% for Authenticity

2009 is definitely the year to try to make the World a better place.  If 2,000 to 2010 will be the decade of greed, then let’s make 2010 to 2020 the decade of “authenticity”. The age of “What you see is what you get”.  Showing what you ARE vs. what you think you should show them to get them to choose you.

Many years ago, 1% of the budget for building new construction in many big cities had to include 1% for “art”.  I remember the authentic ones of my time.

Aspring to Authenticy

Aspring to Authenticity

Authentic Art is about what IS, or what one at least HOPES TO BE.  Philadelphia’s been hoping to be The City of Brotherly Love for a very long time, long before this artwork made the scene in Love Park at JFK Center in 1978.  It’s a lasting reminder of what the City is supposed to be all about.

City of Clothespins?

City of Clothespins?

When they put this 45′ clothespin up outside my office window across from City Hall in 1976, many of us were not happy with the choice.  It was 1976.  It was the bi-centennial of a great city.  What did clothespins have to do with that?  Yet the artist’s view of Philadelphia was one of city folk hanging clothes by clothespins out of their apartment windows…I guess.  That’s what they get for hiring an artist who never lived in Philadelphia.  Wasn’t very authentic, even less so today,I’m sure.

So what is “authentic”, what would 1% for Authenticity look like?

Longaberger Building in Ohio

Longaberger Building in Ohio

Back in 1993 or so, I gave these Longaberger Baskets as closing gifts.  I hired a woman to bake home made sweet breads to put in the baskets, that people could eat while unpacking at their new home. 

Wouldn’t it be great if all businesses and professionals were that obvious?  Imagine having a meeting at Longaberger and trying to find the building.  Would you need a GPS when “within range” to find that place?

What would Authenticity look like?


Enter at your own risk

Enter at your own risk

The receptionist at the bottom would assign an evaluator.  Alt-A loan? – 4th floor.  NINJA Loan? Top Floor.  The visual and the feeling of being on the top floor, with the perception of little support underneath would say it all…no?

Look around the big cities with the 1% art rule.  You can spot them, because over the years the impact has been dramatic with only 1% going toward art.  What will 1% of time, effort and resources going toward authenticity look like, a decade from now?

The pain of over pricing and poor photos… and how not to get bit by them, 9+ questions to ask your listing agent.

I’ve noticed a trend in my business lately.  Several consumers are contacting our team for help in re-listing their home after having a poor experience with a prior agent.  While it is true that selling activity in Puget Sound is lower this year than last, there is still some positive selling activity occurring with some areas of Puget Sound continuing to grow in housing values.

So, with there still being some sales activity why is it that these folks are contacting us?

What I’ve seen as key factors in the lagging sales of these homes is poor pricing and presentation of the properties.  In one case the price had been overinflated by hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus it had poor presentation in photos and staging, so the home languished sitting on market for over a year.

In the majority of these situations things could have been handled differently with the past agent.  And, while I believe that me and my team provide a higher level of service than many others, we know we aren’t the only game in town that can figure out the right mix of marketing, presentation, and pricing for a property.  However, in these instances, I do believe the former listing agents could have done a better job – for certain – but, as a seller, it is also up to you to do a good job of interviewing a prospective agent.  A few good questions by the seller might have led to a different decision about how the house was marketed and led to a better discussion about what impacts the value of a home.  This, in turn, could have led to a more informed decision about where to place pricing.

So, to try and help those of you out there who are considering putting your home on the market, here is a list of 9+ questions you can use to qualify and interview your prospective listing agent.

1.   What methods of advertising do you use, and why?  Can you tell me which will likely be the most effective?  How comfortable are you using Internet advertising methods?

2.   Do you think my home will need prep work or staging to get it ready for market?  What types of things do you suggest for sellers and why?

3.   What is the typical timeline for selling a home that you have represented and how does that compare to the local marketplace?  What percentage of selling price do you typically get compared to list price?

4.  Do you offer any particular programs or services for each home that you sell such as a home warranty, professional photos, etc?  Does your fee determine whether additional services are included or not?

5.  If you don’t provide these additional services yourself – do you at least have companies you can refer me to that if I choose to use them directly to prepare my home more effectively, I can do so?

6.  Are there any special considerations I should have while selling my home such as security, prep for showings, etc?

7.  How often will you communicate with me about the sale of my home?  What kinds of reports can I expect?

8.  Will I get a chance to review and approve any of your advertising or marketing materials such as the flyer, MLS ad, or otherwise?  If not, why?  If I am not satisfied with a piece, will you work with me till I am?

9.  How will you determine the price that should be advertised for my home?  Will you include me in those pricing decisions and explain to me any reasoning for a price above or below my own estimate?

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive but it will definitely open up a lot of good (or what should be good) conversation between you and the agent you are interviewing.  If the agent is unable to respond to any of these questions then you should seriously reconsider whether or not you will use him/her regardless of if it is a “family friend” or otherwise.  In today’s marketplace it is important that you make the right choice the first time, if you can.  The buying public is much more sophisticated today than even 10 years ago because of the Internet and because of the onslaught of home focused television shows and channels like HGTV.

HouseValues lays off 60 employees locally

Hmmmm, the Seattle Times article in today’s business section talks about HouseValues reducing staff because they’re moving out of selling leads to mortgage brokers and they had also overestimated where they’d be financially at this time on top of the fact that sites like have taken over part of their target site user. HV will now go back to the original focus of selling directly to real estate agents and I have a feeling they’ll have some difficult days ahead of them.

Not only was there a layoff but yet again there are upper management shifts. In the short time this firm has been in business they’ve had a lot of staff changes in the upper tier management and C-levels of the company.

Real Estate 101 – Improving on "the basics"

[photopress:h.jpg,thumb,alignright]For the last few weeks I’ve set aside Friday mornings to get together with a small group of agents to talk about their Real Estate Business. Not everyone will succeed by the same means, and there are as many different ways to approach this business, as there are people in it. This is the time of year to take a step back and re-evaluate what you have been doing, and take the necessary steps to fix what is broken. This applies not only to each and every individual real estate agent, but companies as well. The times have changed…time to change with them without “throwing away the baby with the bathwater”. I’m going to go back and attempt to improve on the basics. For those who never learned “the basics”, you may find this helpful. For those who know the basics, let’s try to move a step forward together.

Basics: Year one = 12 “things”. I am going to change some traditional principles here, with regard to “things” to expand them from 3 to 4, and to eliminate the word “listing” from our vocabulary. I would like to elevate “having a listing” to “having a seller client” if and when possible, to remind us that we represent people who sell property. We are going to evenly weight representing a seller client and representing a buyer client, breaking from tradition here. An idea whose “time has come”, don’t ya think?

Most offices in the past had a big chalk or white board with three columns titled “Listing”, Listing Sold” and “Buyer Controlled Sale” or similar language. Given the changes in our industry since 1989, every company should change that system, to the one I recommend here. Every office should create a “Virtual Board” on an agent only, password-access website. The “board” should have four columns marked, Property for Sale, Property Needed, Property Sold and Property Found.

Column 1) A seller hires you to represent him in the sale of his property. You put “123 Peachykeen St.” on the board in the “Property For Sale” column. That is a “thing”.

Column 2) You meet a buyer at 123 Peachykeen St, but they don’t like it. You decide to help them find a property to buy, and they agree to hire you. You put “Mr. and Mrs. notPeachykeenSt” on the board in the “Property Needed” column. That is a “thing”.

Column 3) Joe Agent from another company faxes you an offer on 123 Peachykeen St and your seller client accepts that offer”. You put “123 Peachkeen St” on the board in the “Property Sold” column. That is a “thing”.

Column 4) Mr. and Mrs. “not PeachkeenSt” submit an offer on a property and that offer is accepted by the seller. You put “Mr. and Mrs. notPeachykeenSt – 123 SomewhereElse St” on the board under “Property Found”. That is “a thing”.

It is very important for agents to track “things” and not just sales. Columns 3 and 4 are sales. Columns 1 and 2 are the actions that create the sales. In a balanced or buyer’s market, every item in column 1 should produce 1 sale in column 3 and 2 sales in column 4. Given most of the Country is coming out of a hot seller’s market, it is a good time to review the basics, and go back to when property was on market long enough to produce 3 sales from every property for sale.

A new agent should have 12 “things” by year end. A second year agent should double their sales from the first year, and reduce the number of “things” in Column 1 and Column 2, that did not result in a sale. When an agent reaches 36 “sides”, by doubling their sales each year, they reach a crossroads, but that’s another article.

For now, the goal of every agent is to get to 24 to 36 sides per year. A side is representing the buyer OR the seller in a real estate transaction. The goal is to have 12 properties to sell each year, and sell them. From those 12 properties, you should be able to assist 24 buyers in finding a home to purchase. 36 “sides” equals 12 Properties Sold and 24 Properties Found. The number of sides between 12 and 36 is somewhat affected by the price range you are selling. If your average sale price is $200,000, then you will need more sides than someone whose average sale price is $600,000.

Now everyone get out your “boards” from last year. Examine Columns 1 and 2 very closely and be very honest in answering where you may have failed in assisting your buyer and seller clients in achieving their objective last year. Not what “they” did, but what “you” did not do for them.

Look at Colums 3 and 4 and examine what you did right in those scenarios. Contrary to popular belief this is NOT a “numbers game”. Every property you do not sell equals a failure for you seller client. Every person whom you did not find a property for, is a failure for your buyer client.

It’s is now time to do your 2007 Business Plan. Some of you will need to hone up on your skills, to get more of Column 1 down to Column 3, by converting more of your Properties for Sale to Properties Sold. Some of you will need to hone up on getting more of Column 2 down to Column 4, by honing up on your skills of finding the right properties for the right people. Others may need to make better choices with regard to columns 1 and 2, or reduce the costs of attaining them.

Focus on the clients and not just the numbers. Why couldn’t you sell 123 PeachykeenSt? What did YOU do wrong, not what did the seller do wrong. Why couldn’t you find a property for Mr. and Mrs. notPeachkeenSt? What did YOU do wrong, not what did they do TO you. If you think your clients failed…you will not be able to implement an effective business plan for 2007. Once you accept the responsibility for all of your business and non-business in the prior year, you will improve on your business and business plans in every year out into the future.

If you DID achieve the goal of 36 sides, but don’t feel you made enough money, then your problem is in either in the cost area and not the client area, OR you need to elevate your price range.

Questions? Feel free to ask away.

Ten Ways to a Killer Blog by the Scobles

The Scobles (Robert and Maryam) led a fun presentation which began as 10 ways to killer blog, but ended as a way to 15 fun (and potentially valuable) tips.

It was a fun talk and Maryam’s giddy attitude was infectious with the crowd playing along with fun questions.

  1. Blog because you want to.
    • “A story without love is not worth telling.

Building Communities Online

Out of all the sessions at the Blog Business Summit, the session on building online communities held a special place of interest for me. In many ways, I simply happened upon the community that I’ve built at RCG, so it was refreshing to hear the speakers articulating thoughts I’ve had on how to build a community. In many ways, building a community feels somewhat intuitive (i.e. respect your users), but it turns out that the details often lead to tricky minefields. In many ways, this lesson highlighted just how far behind the real estate sphere is in creating effective online communities.

The three panelists, Elisa Camahort, Tara Hunt, Betsy Aoki, have all spent time on the front lines dealing with the good and bad of building up an online community.

Tara Hunt’s background includes running the grassroots marketing of Riya, which launched with a tremendous amount of buzz. On a high level, here are some high level tips for building a community:

  • Let customers “win

Enjoying the Blog Business Summit in Seattle

I’m currently attending the Blog Business Summit at the Bell Harbor Conference Center at Pier 66 in Seattle. It’s a beautiful facility (and wifi works well!).

The first session led by Jason Calacanis was a great and very personal history about blogging. If I had to summarize his talk in a few words, it would be about the importance of authenticity. With a great list of speakers, (including Robert Scoble whose blogging about Jason’s announcement of a new podcast on PodTech) it should be a great couple of days!

As I learn stuff at the conference, I’ll try to put together updates of things that I’m learning!

(By the way, I randomly sat down next to Drew Meyers of Zillow,and I’ve already ran across Paul Chaney of Blogging Systems)

UPDATE: Just noticed that Drew has a personal blog where he has a great summary of Jason’s talk.

Five reasons to ditch Outlook for Google Apps

If I had a 5-30 person office, I would jump on Google Apps in an instant, particularly if I didn’t already have an imap server and all the other hardware and software jazz Microsoft likes to sell you so Outlook will actually work.

Here’s why:

  1. You will never run out of space on your email account: Every email account comes with 2+ gigs of storage.
  2. You can easily add and remove email addresses from a web-based panel (no more calling the tech guy for basic tasks).
  3. Your employees can access their email from anywhere and on any operating system (the Mac guy can keep his Mac!).
  4. You get my new favorite Calendar system – it’s really easy to add events, invite others, and manage multiple calendars including group calendars (we use group Calendars for the very infrequent events that we must all attend at ShackPrices). Also, you can access your calendars from other people’s computers.
  5. Your employees get all the nice little touches that are quickly being added to Gmail – the ability to preview word documents, excel spreadsheets, and pdfs without opening up a new program, in-browser chatting with other gmail users, and the ability to send voice mails (to anyone!) from Google Talk.

You can already download all your email from gmail to any email program and Google will be offering an API, so you can hire a programmer (or download plug-ins) to access all the rest of your information should you ever decide to quit.

Via John Battelle’s Search Blog (a great blog if you haven’t checked it out)