Rain City Radio: A West Seattle Story

I really enjoyed today’s conversation with Tracy Records of the West Seattle Blog.  Tracy shared a ton of great stories with us and I learned a ton…

Click here to listen to the entire interview!

And below are some links to some of the things we discussed:

We covered a lot of great topics in the interview including her perspective on the elements of the media that has fundamentally changed.  As someone with 25 years experience in the traditional media space AND a successful local blogger, her perspective was fascinating!

Click here to listen to the entire interview!

*Note: If you’re wondering why this post looks different then when it was originally published, I didn’t like the outline that I originally provided, so I changed it around a bunch.

Join us for a Rain City conversation on Tuesday afternoon!

I’ve been having such a blast with the 4realz Roundtable conversations, that I’m going to bring the conversation to Rain City Guide!

a Rain City conversationThe idea: this Tuesday at 4pm, I’m going to host a conversation with the Rain City Guide community. There are many ways to join the conversation and all of them are easy. All the information you need is located at this website: http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/17904, but here is a summary:

  1. You can call in to the # provided (724-444-7444), Call ID: 17904, to listen to the conversation.
  2. You can join the chat by going to the website that TalkShoe provides for a Rain City conversation any time during the scheduled call (4pm to 5pm on Tuesday)
  3. Getting fancier: You can sign up for a (free) account with TalkShoe and then join the chat (step #2). This will allow me (as the “host” of the show, I’ll be able to know who you are and identify your chats!
  4. Fanciest: You can sign up for an account (step #3), join the chat (step #2) and call in (step #1).

If you opt for step #4, then I can have you join in the conversation during our podcast!

The way that I’ve been managing the conversations during the 4realz Roundtable is that I invite a few “guests” who are unmuted during the entire show. And then, just to make sure things don’t get too overwhelming, I closely monitor the live “chat” during the show and if someone has a question or wants to make a point, then I “unmute” them. For people simply listening to the show, it sounds like a live radio interview show, but to the people taking waiting to “come on air” they can actively chat with all the others waiting to come on air.

So, for the first episode of a Rain City conversation, I’ve invited EVERY Rain City Guide contributor to be live on the call… The first order of business will be to go around the “virtual” roundtable and let each contributor talk for two minutes about what brought them to Rain City Guide.

Then quickly, I want to open up the mic to your comments, questions, tips, etc.

  • Are you moving to the Seattle area and want to ask about great neighborhoods?
  • Do you have a specific question for a contributor?
  • Want to share your experience with the Seattle real estate market?

My hope is that this first episode will be a lively and educational conversation, but it will only work if you join us! So, please consider taking an hour out of your Tuesday afternoon to take part in a Rain City conversation! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Rules for Rain City Guide Contributors

I’ve never been one for rules, but in preparing to take on a new RCG contributor, I thought it might be a good time to articulate some of the informal rules that we seem to have developed on the site in order to bring together such an interesting crew (often with competing interests!) 🙂

But first… Let’s be clear that there are no formal rules. And I definitely enjoy watching contributors “break” the unwritten rules because they almost always get immediate (and rarely pleasant) feedback from the community.

Here are the only two “rules” that come to mind:

  1. If you are going to attack something… attack ideas, not people. (i.e. “your idea sucks”… not “you suck”)
  2. Avoid obvious self-promotion.

The first rule is just a modified version of a rule from my mother with regards to the way I needed to treat my little sisters… (I was allowed to say to them “you did a bad thing”… but never “you are a bad person”). It’s pretty simple advice that I inevitably regret when I forget to obey.

An interesting related piece of advice from my mother is that I was never allowed to say “no” to my younger sisters, but rather I always had to say “instead”, as in “instead of playing with that, here is a toy you’ll find interesting.” Combine those two bits of advice and you get the essence of good blogging: Passionate challenging of ideas while providing interesting solutions.

The second rule is much more art than science and I can’t blame new bloggers for crossing the line on this too often. Obvious self-promotion looks bad and is an real turn-off for most consumers. I’m a huge believer in treating my readers like they are intelligent and savvy enough to know that the typical professional is blogging in order to earn business. If the consumer likes your attitude and style, they will choose you when looking for an professional without the need to constantly prompt them. One of the reasons I put all the contact information for active contributors on the sidepanel is because I think it is classier if I do the promotion for the contributors than if they try to do it for themselves… 😉

By the way, one trick I recommend for new real estate agents to help stay away from the self-promotion angle is to make sure there is always at least one link in their posts that references an idea of someone else. The link could be to a news article, but preferably it is another blog post. (A ton of credit for promoting this idea goes to Greg as I’m not sure I would have realized this advice was novel without his encouragement…)

Linking does two things: 1) It adds credibility to your post because it demonstrates that you’re knowledgeable and follow many different real estate discussions and 2) it ensures that you’re part of the larger “real estate” conversation on the web.

This seems like a great topic to turn back on the community. Are these two “rules” sufficient to run a community? Are there other “rules” I encourage/enforce without realizing it? I would definitely enjoy everyone’s feedback! (but remember to attack my ideas and not me or I’ll delete your comment! LOL!)

Rhonda reminded me of a third “rule” I advice to new bloggers. I also request that contributors DO NOT post the same article on their blogs. This has two purposes: 1) It helps ensure that the articles they are writing are relevant to the RCG audience and 2) the duplicate posts are extremely bad SEO for the contributor’s website (There’s a long history behind this as more than one RCG contributor has temporarily lost all Google traffic to their personal blog after republishing all their RCG articles… The search engines, and Google in particular, hate this duplicate content and end up temporarily banning the agent’s site).

Starting with Community Outreach

Even before we were done building out the InsideBu website, I recommended that Madison start doing some research. And I started by advising him to fill up his sidepanel with links. My logic is that the process of building up a blogroll forces a new blogger to read other bloggers. The fact that it also also has the benefit of building up some good will with prominent local bloggers is just icing on the cake!

Here is the advice I gave him:

In the first week, there is no need for any blogging (although you should be writing a few posts just to get the blogging muscles exercised!). My recommendation is to spend a few hours this week researching the online competition for your area. At the end of Week 1, I would expect for your sidepanel to be filled with a bunch of links! (For background, see this blog post on Linkation!).

To give you an idea of where I’m going, I recently revived a bit of the neighborhood focus on RCG, which resulted in these Neighborhood Roundup posts. You simply will not find as many neighborhood blogs in Malibu (any?), but that doesn’t mean you should slack on the links… In terms of where to start, here is where my gut says should be the order of importance:

  • Local Bloggers
  • Celebrity Bloggers
  • Project Blogger Participants
  • Local News sites
  • Local Real Estate Professionals
  • Los Angeles bloggers

Some places to start looking for bloggers and other sidepanel links:

To see how Madison has implemented these recommendations of Project Blogger, check out the sidepanel of InsideBu!

The House was Smokin'

[photopress:issaquah_highlands.jpg,thumb,alignright]Randy (husband) and I are buying a new home in Issaquah Highlands, a neighborhood I really love. Won’t we be neighbors, Robbie?  Reminds me of Queen Anne with the local community feel.  It was supposed to be the new home for Microsoft, but the company decided to stay in Redmond although Issaquah Highlands is home to many Microsofties. It didn’t seem to matter that Microsoft didn’t take up residence there as it is booming anyway.  I’m looking forward to seeing it continue developing.  I understand the shopping district will be like the U Village and that they’re just waiting for an anchor grocery store before they begin building the village. In ground internet and intranet, acres of playgrounds, in community grade school, wine restaurant, everything you need in a community.[photopress:smoking_house.JPG,thumb,alignleft]

The Highlands has several green builders and we’re buying from one of them, Specialized Homes who specializes in the Healthy Habitat approach to building. It’s educational to understand the purpose behind the eco friendly materials and systems he’s using. One of the really interesting things I’ve learned watching the home get built is the heating system.  Most heating systems lose up to 50% of the heat in leaky ducts making the 92% efficient furnaces hardly worth the extra money when the system is really only 46% efficient.  

One day, my duct work was all gunked up with a gray substance which I’d never seen before. It was applied to about 90% of the ductwork in the entire house. Bob, the builder, told us that he had conducted a ‘smoke test’ by running smoke thru the ductwork to look for leaks. The gray gunk was applied anywhere and everywhere there was smoke coming thru. They applied it until it was totally sealed and no more smoke! It improves comfort, lowers heating bills and improves air quality.  There’s also better windows, totally sealed doors, better insulation. it all adds up, but the smoke test I thought was cool and it makes sense now to spend the extra cost of the 92% efficient furnace.

These are great websites to learn about this if you’re so interested. Not only am I happy to know that the house will be healthier to live in, but I predicting a heating bill 1/2 of what I am now paying which I’ll need with the higher payments! Check out those web sites to learn more ways to improve the energy efficiency of your home.


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

Social Networking in Real Estate

One of the most interesting sessions I attended at Mind Camp was led by Dan from Biznik on Social Networking. Social networking tools allow people to share information about themselves, other people and other things (like photos, products, etc) in a setting that attempts to foster a certain level of trust among users. For example, if I’m in the market to find a real estate agent, Biznik allows me to see the real estate agents that Dan would recommend I use. Assuming I know and trust Dan, that’s probably a pretty good recommendation.

The social networking website with the most buzz today is clearly MySpace. I can’t claim to know or use this service, but I know that my teenage sister (warning: music!) can’t imagine life without it. When she visits, she spends most of her visit checking up on her friends…

But there are lots of other social networks, and depending on how broadly you definitely the term, there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of social networking tools on the internet…

Some of the more popular social networks we identified during the session included:

These are some of the more popular services that are directly built to be “social networking” tools in that they are designed around giving users the opportunity to connect with “friends”. Some of them, like LinkedIn and Biznik, are designed to let users share job hunting and business contacts while Judy’s Book is about sharing references and recommendations about anything local.

The idea is that you’d be much more likely to purchase a product or use the services of someone if you knew that they were recommended by a friend (or more likely a friend of a friend).

[photopress:seo_networking.jpg,thumb,alignright]I’m often surprised that I don’t see more real estate professionals talk about social networking tools because real estate is really about relationships and social networks on the internet are just an extension of this idea. Social networking tools are one of the most powerful ways for real estate professionals to use the internet to connect with potential buyers and sellers. When you get a reference (or lead) from a social network, this person comes to you with a certain level of trust!

By the way, the tricky part about defining social networking tools is that most people don’t limit them to websites. Tools like instant messaging (IM) and email are simple ways to start building up a community through the internet.

In addition, tools like Flickr and del.icio.us, have perfected the art of using community input to make a service that is better than the mere sum of its parts. When sharing photos with Flickr, you enter a community where good photos are commented on and added to groups where a magic “interestingness” rating identifies photos most worth seeing. With del.icio.us you can follow the links and notes of the friends and they surf the web to find webpages worth visiting. (Both of these sites were bought by Yahoo for vast sums of money because of their ability to use the general web-surfing public to organize webpages for Yahoo!).

Which brings up the most controversial part of existing social networking tools. Just about every single one of them requires the user to input information (tags, descriptions, etc) that benefit the owner of the site, but very few of the tools (and none of the major ones) allow a user to output their information or delete their information when they don’t feel like “sharing” any more. Jim Benson probably covers this topic better than anyone else I know and his recent article, People vs. Peep Hole, dives into the idea that a corporate controlled community can never be free.

These concerns are interesting, and definitely worth following, but most real estate professionals are so far behind the curve in effectively using online networking tools that they should worry first and foremost about “getting involved”. In the future, someone will figure out how to keep our data “free” while still providing all the wonderful benefits of a social network, but until then, I’d highly recommend taking part in an online group that interests you… (By the way, joining a group of bloggers also counts! 😉 )


Right after I hit publish on this post, I got an email alerting me that the MindMap (a topic worthy of another blog post) for the social networking session was published on a file sharing site used for MindCamp stuff. Download the pdf file on the site to see a much more comprehensive list of social networking sites!

The Impact of Cooperation

Most of you have (or should have) read the recent article by STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT (Freakonomics) in the NY Times. As may be expected, there were plenty comments on the Freakonomics Blog. As I was reading the comments, one struck me. It was from a very sincere sounding broker who, in defending the broker’s role in the transaction, said:

As an agent on the buyer side or the seller side, I have a fiduciary responsibility to prosecute the interests and goals of my clients……If you want to succeed in this business, become a fierce advocate for your clients, give them all the data they can handle, use your sales, negotiating, and analysis skills to their advantage.”

I pondered this a bit as it sounded like a legitimate strategy for success. I then recalled an article on Inman the other day about a company called RealtyLegacy. The company promotes a program where it will connect buyers and sellers with agents from other companies and those agents will agree to rebate a portion of their commission to their client after closing. The story was interesting from several angles but it surprised me that one such agent did not want to disclose her name because of fear of reprisal to her and to her clients (i.e. other agents would not show her listings if they knew she was discounting).

I then thought back to the NY Times story and the analogy of the real estate brokerage world to stock brokers and travel agents and the author’s forecast of the impending doom to the industry. The real estate brokerage industry has a major advantage that the stock traders and travel agents did not have. To buy a stock for a client or to purchase an airline ticket, there is no need to cooperate with another stock broker or travel agent. Those brokers deal with the principal to put the deal together. In real estate, cooperation is at the heart of the industry (some (the DOJ?) would say that this cooperation has artificially upheld commission rates and traditional business models).

I then remembered the above quote from the broker. He believes that diligent representation of his buyer will preserve his relevance. What happens, however, when he comes to a home that he knows his buyer client will love and he looks at the SOC (selling office commission) in the MLS and sees 1%. If I understand the theory, do what is best for your client and you will have value. It is without argument that this buyer client will value this “perfect” home over and above the amount of commission that the broker will receive? However, it is commonly understood in the industry that if a seller wants their home shown, they will pay the “going rate.” They are told that if they don’t, other agents will not show it. If this was not an issue, why did the RealtyLegacy agent have to hide her identity? Why was she so scared to let people know that she was discounting? If buyer agents in fact act this way, what does this have to do with “prosecuting the interests and goals of the client.” Why should a buyer get short-changed on seeing available inventory when the seller has refused to pay the standard SOC?

It then hit me like a brick upside the head: A major strength of the real estate brokerage industry is at its core a major weakness.

Revolutionize Your Business in Only 3 Days with Blogging!

Maybe I’m becoming a blog snob, but I’m seeing more and more BAD marketing advice about blogs as they relate to real estate agents. A lot of people simply don’t understand the marketing potential of blogs and rather than giving useful advice, a lot of marketing “gurus” are stepping up to deliver advice designed to keep them in business. A good real estate blog is extremely cheap and costs much more in time than money. If someone is trying to sell you a blogging service that replaces time with money, they are likely trying to sell you a website with blog-like features. If your goal is to increase your presence on the web, then a website with blog-like features will get you about the same benefits of a typical website except you’ll end up with all the formatting restrictions inherent in a blog.

What got me started thinking about bad marketing (at least today) was when I read a comment on my 8 Mistakes article from an internet marketing expert who completely misses the marketing potential of blogs:

Some of the things this blogger wrote about were insightful and probably very appropriate guidelines for creating a typical blog. But on the other hand, there were a couple points that I just couldn’t look past:

* Don’t put your real estate listings on your blog
* Don’t “spam” your own blog with self promotion

Now, I’ve experienced a good deal of success in the real estate marketing business by executing a blog strategy that is not focused on being a “typical blog”. I’m not terribly concerned with creating a forum for discussion about Chicago real estate, nor am I terribly concerned with generating a loyal readership who will return to my site over and over.

If you keep reading his post, you’ll notice that the writer goes on to say that many people want to see homes when they search the internet for real estate information. He is right on that point, which would help explain the current bubble in new home search tools. However, even if people do want to look for homes on the internet, designing a blog around this is missing out on a large slice of potential home buyers who are looking to learn about neighborhoods, find appropriate real estate professionals, and research home-purchase advice.

However, the real kicker is that while there are some great ways to display a home listing on the internet, a blog entry is not one of them. Compared with the stuff you can do with a simple website creation tool like Microsoft Frontpage, let alone more advanced website creation tools, a blog post is down-right ugly. Blog posts are really geared toward text and they simply have limited graphic capabilities (while my blog software is top-notch, I have to dive into HTML code just to change the color or size of the font within the post!)

The author mentions the great success he’s had blogging about home listings. But does this typical listing on his blog come anywhere close to comparing to this beautiful listing that Joe put together? If your aim is to advertise a listing, then a webpage (or an entire website for that matter) is a much better way to accomplish this task than a blog entry!

However, I suspect that the author (who consults as an internet marketing expert) is under the assumption that because the home listing is in a “blog”, there is some type of search engine optimization benefit over a standard website. Not only that, but I’ve heard this logic said enough that I suspect this notion is prevalent in the real estate community (i.e. blogs show up better than websites in search results!). But this is a myth. Search engines do not even try to tell the difference between a blog and a typical website (after all, they both just appear to be a collection of HTML code to a search engine).

The REASON blogs tend to perform better in search engine results than typical webpages is a direct result of the community that has created them. When done right, a community of bloggers share links with each other and not just any links, but deep links associated with quality content. To create a blog without the intention of creating community (or loyal readers for that matter) is to completely misunderstand the marketing potential of blogs.

I also believe the authenticity of the author when he says that he has had success marketing homes through his blog. However, I think the success has a lot more to do with the fact that the author has created a community around providing interesting advice for buyers despite his lack of care for these readers. When I said it was a mistake to put listing information on a blog, this is because there are better ways to display listings than in a blog post and too much self-promotion inhibits creating a community.

I actually remember noticing, and then unsubscribing, to the author’s blog a long time ago because of all the self-promotional stuff. Interestingly, I would never have even found out about his post or linked to him had he not linked to me! By linking to me and taking part in the larger real estate blogging community, he has earned some backlinks to his site that will help him score better in search engines! A blog without community is simply a website that is organized chronologically and will be treated as such by the search engines.

If you want to see this bad idea taken a step further, check Ubertor’s latest product where they sell a self-updating blog of featured listings. What could possibly be the benefit of a blog (with all it’s ugly formatting restrictions) if it is self-updating? If an agent doesn’t think it is worth their time to select a few featured listings for their blog, do they really think it will be worth anyone’s time to read it? Let alone comment and link to these posts? Sometimes understanding whether or not an idea is a good marketing strategy takes little more than common sense.

Talking about common sense marketing… In putting together this post, I came across this great video featuring Seth Godin where he discusses with Google employees how much of their amazing success is related to how they have marketed their products (Thank you Grow-a-Brain!). The 48 minute video is so darn instructive for understanding how marketing should be done (and I believe that real estate agents are either in marketing or broke) that I’m going to experiment with including the video below so you can watch it directly from this site: