Interview with Michael Simonsen of Altos Research

I first met Michael in person back at the Real Estate Connect conference in SF last summer and was immediately impressed.

[photopress:mike.jpg,thumb,alignright]The Altos Research blog has been rolling full-steam ahead with really solid analytical posts about changes in neighborhood value up and down the West Coast. At the same time, I could tell that his business running Altos Research must have been taking off because his widgets that track market value by neighborhoods were showing up all over the real estate blogosphere.

Needless to say, Michael’s posts just keep getting better and I’m extremely excited he agreed to this interview…

What inspired you to start blogging?

In mid-2005, the Altos Research platform was really kicking in for the first time. My co-founder, Jason, and I loved seeing the output of the analysis – geeking out on the data. The blog seemed like the best channel to start letting people know what we had. So in October 2005 we started. The process of blogging, it turns out, is crucial for me to actually figure out what we had and how people like to consume it.

[photopress:altos_logo.jpg,full,alignright]Are there any special topics or issues that you enjoy covering?

Altos Research is all about analyzing real estate markets in real time. I think our blog is at it’s best when we identify and publish market information that no one else has.

What have you done to personalize your blog?

Despite the fact that our blog is first and foremost a marketing channel to interact with our customers, the content is intensely personal.

There’s a fascinating disconnect between traditional corporate marketing and sales processes. Corporate marketing (or real estate marketing for that matter) is planned, structured, and homogeneous (read: stiff and impersonal). But everyone knows the adage that people buy from people they like. Sales is about personality. The blog is really the first time a marketing channel leverages personality. Many of my customers know me before they ever speak with me.

Do you have any favorite posts?

A couple months ago I did a quick post on our stats tracking flipped properties in a market (quick remodel and back on the market for more money.) I cited San Jose. The post got picked up in and some other heavy-traffic investment sites. We had huge (huge for us) traffic spikes.

What are some of your favorite blogs (real estate or otherwise)?

I read Paul Kedrosky’s Infectious Greed every day. I’m an unabashed Silicon Valley-phile. I love the ethos and dynamics of the technology startup/venture capital culture and Paul is like mainlining for that addiction.

What tools/websites do you find most helpful in putting together your blog?

I’m a huge fan of HitTail. More than any other analytics tools I’ve found, HitTail provides a clean, clear presentation of how people find you and guides thinking about what people want you to write about.

How does blogging fit into the overall marketing of your business?

Blogging, believe it or not, is nearly 100% of our marketing to date. Our sales come either from our passionate clients recommending our services to their friends or from people who read the blog. We’ll augment our marketing with other techniques as we grow, but it’s hard to imagine any single approach more effective.

What plans do you have to improve your blog over this next year?

The biggest key for me is to post more. I tend to be a long-form poster: I try to find a topic, formulate a thesis for a post, construct the argument, get supporting images and links, edit, edit, edit. That process takes me several hours, when I’m thorough. I need to sleep less or something.

What is the one tool or feature that you wish your site had?

I wish the damn system of trackbacks or Technorati or something worked reliably. The effectiveness of these types of features is just plain random.

What do you think real estate blogging will look like 3 years from now?

We’re still really, really early in real estate blogging. Real estate is a relationship business. You know how to build relationships off line. But the Internet is where 70% of people start the home search. The blog is the premier mechanism for building relationships over the Internet.

The good news is that the real estate blogosphere will never be overcrowded. It is self regulating. Many Realtors will never start because the evidence of lousy performance sticks around for ever. If you are a lousy networker off line, that’s ephemeral, no one ever knows. The fear of failure will keep this space open to those who are dedicated and enthusiastic. Rock on.

Thanks again to Michael for your insight!

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12 thoughts on “Interview with Michael Simonsen of Altos Research

  1. I found Michael’s comment regarding getting a blog article honed to perfection for hours before he’s happy with it, similar to Kevin Boer’s thinking when we met in person in Kirkland recently.

    At first I wondered if they were both Virgo’s 🙂

    To me, this manner of fine tuning the final product contradicts somewhat with Michael’s other statements with regard to people knowing the blogger before they meet the blogger. If the copy is agonized over and fine tuned in advance, does it really reflect the person as much as shoot from the hip “stream of consciousness” blogging.

    Greg Swann is the only one I know who can do both at the same time, his having been a writer since forever. Shoot from the hip requires a thicker skin, for sure, but I think making blogging easier and faster for the blogger is needed, as we move into and through 2007.

    If Michael is reading…can you give some tips on how those who blog in your style (as opposed to mine) can shorten the process? Is it easier now than it was when you wrote your first few articles? If so, what changes did you make to cut down on the time from deciding to write an article to its completion?

  2. Ardell,

    I don’t see the connection between a slow blogging process and the lack of personality. I don’t want to call Michael a reserved guy (he definitely has an outgoing element to him!), but even after a few beers, I’ve always gotten the sense that he is careful with his words, and in particular, when talking about the real estate industry. 🙂

    I think his personality shows through bright-and-clear on his blog and it someone who is analytical by nature and yet knows how to distill lots of information down to the bare-bones where it is most interesting.

  3. It’s not about “lack of personality” it’s about whether that method truly reflects that person’s true “personality”, which it indeed may.

    If the person reacts to questions in person from the consumer, by mulling it over and coming up with a response later, and not immediately most times, then it’s a match.

    From an consumer perspective, if someone is looking for someone who will “get back them on that” after reviewing the question from all possible dimensions (which we ALL need to do at times), then the blog personality matches the perceived personality of the reader.

    If someone is looking for an agent with quicker response time…then shoot from the hip might suit that consumer better. I personally draw the line at “online chat” and don’t go there. Others welcome short quippy “messenger” conversations with clients. Email quickly, yes; IM, no. That’s my experience.

    Choosing an agent from their blog writings is a new artform. Writing in a manner that elicits the readership you are targeting is part of that artform. We continue to explore the process, and 2007 will be more telling on that than 2006 or before.

  4. Another great interview in the Rain! I *love* this series.

    I only wished you’d asked Michael when he’s bringing his stellar market reports to Phoenix.

    And he’s right about HitTail, it’s da bomb!

  5. Pingback: Interview with Joel Burslem of the Future of Real Estate Marketing | Rain City Guide | A Seattle Real Estate Blog...

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