Ruin Sity Gaide

I love this comment posted by David Losh over on Seattle Bubble.  I decided to give it it’s own post before it faded away into oblivion. 🙂

“If you do come to the internet for information about a home purchase or sale you are in the wrong place. This site (Seattle Bubble)  has excellent financial crisis dialog, but is very short on Real Estate information. It does provide much more information than a Ruin Sity Gaide, but still this is just entertainment.  The internet Real Estate sales business model is a very long way off if it will ever be viable. radfun hired the sales person to push the Real Estate sales agenda on line. Sellers with problems flock to the online Real Estate sites along with the week end warrior home shoppers. It’s a mish mash of confusion that radfun happily collects fees for. In time it will be obvious this was just a continuation of a problem rather than a solution. Be very careful of what you think you will learn about Real Estate online. These are sales people looking to collect your money for doing nothing, that’s the business model.”

What Drives an Active Online Community?

You do with your comments!

When I give talks about the value of blogs, I always brag about how active the rain city guide community is, but I hadn’t thought to try quantify it until I saw John Cook’s post this morning.

Over the past 3+ years, we’ve had 30,802 comments from 1,744 posts!

This is an average of over 17 comments for every post!  That’s pretty darn impressive!

It’s kind of fun to look back at the posts that have generated the most conversations, so I thought I’d list all the posts that have generated over 100 comments:

* 200+ comments

So much great stuff thanks to the entire RCG community!

I interrupt the regularly scheduled programming…

to bring you this video interview by Joel from Inman Connect. While I talk too much and too fast, some of you might find it interesting to hear a bit about the history of RCG as well as some more details on the idea of “linkation“…

Now you can go back to your regularly scheduled programming

Like a Virgin

Ever since I started my own blog, I feel like a virgin. It’s like I’m blogging for the first time. I feel so shiny and new. Although, there’s one thing I haven’t quite figured out. Perhaps the multi-bloggers out there can chime in. You see, I’m not quite sure where my blog begins and Rain City Guide ends. Right now, I try to keep the geekier stuff on my blog and the more general interest stuff here. Of course since Rain City Guide has such a large audience, there’s always the temptation to post everything here (even if it doesn’t belong here).

For example, I’m getting ready to start work on the next version of Zearch (codenamed: NIMITZ). I’m thinking about putting my design ideas & implementation notes on my blog. Does it belong there? Well, I think I’ll cross-post things that pass the floor wax and a desert topping test. If it’s geeky and real estate-y or blog-y (BTW – are those real words? It’s so much easier to add a -y than spell out real estate related or blog related) I probably should post on both, but keep the meat on my blog (kinda like what I did with my blogging with Word 2007 post).

I’m sure many folks who participate on ActiveRain face similar dilemmas. The Queen of RE blogging has given me her advice, but I figured more advice is better than less advice. Besides, I don’t have as much dirty laundry to air as she does. I guess I’ll just do what Madonna would’ve done. I’ll just get into a groove and post where it feels so good inside. Ooh baby… Yeah!

And then Ardell happened…

In a comment the other day, I mentioned that I would write a post about the origins of Rain City Guide, and while my initial reaction was to talk about all the different influences that led me to think that blogging about real estate was a great marketing idea, I realized that (1) those influences were already discussed when Andy interviewed me last December and (2) that background is only interesting on a personal level.

So instead, I’ll take a different tack and start with the risks of starting the blog as I saw them… What did Anna and I have working against us when we started blogging about real estate?

  • Time: I had a full-time job as an engineer and could only devote a few hours a week to real estate writing
  • Knowledge: Both of us were new to real estate and had very little technical knowledge and/or experience to add value to existing real estate discussions
  • Money: We had no extra money to devote to the site. Life as a transportation engineer had pretty much tapped out our family budget.

However, I’m rarely one to look at the glass half-empty and instead I looked for ways to benefit from our weaknesses.

[photopress:sashas_shoes.JPG,thumb,alignright]To address the time, knowledge and money issues, the obvious solution was to attract knowledgeable professionals to write for Anna’s site. Not having many resources, my best bet for attracting others was to build something where “they” could directly benefit. Hence, the name change from Homes By Anna to Rain City Guide and a lot of altering of the design to highlight other contributors (like the photos by the side of each post, the photos along the sidepanel, and the listing of recent comments).

This led to the empowering realization that the site was no longer a marketing brochure for Anna’s real estate business, but rather, it was a destination worth visiting in it’s own right… For better or worse, I saw our main competitors being the online real estate section of the Seattle Times, although in retrospect they seem like an easy target. For a blog, we have a lot more freedom than they will ever have to be more controversial, interesting, and up-to-date.

My first steps were to read and study the types of things that the popular bloggers were writing about and how they approached topics. Much of my initial posts were copied from others except I’d add to the conversation by talking about how popular technology and/or marketing issue related to real estate. That strategy worked to my advantage because I definitely felt more confident writing about real estate technology than real estate transactions.

I then sent Anna out to attract additional writers at every opportunity. If she was on one side of a home buying transaction, I made her promise to tell the other agent about the site and see if they would be interested in writing on RCG. If a mortgage broker delivered a presentation to her office, I made her promise that she was ask him/her if they would write articles for RCG. This continued all through the Summer of ’05.

[photopress:dustins_shoes.jpg,thumb,alignright]The end result was that we dealt with our main disadvantages by getting experts to write for the site. Not only was the writing of these professionals free, but they also had time and added knowledge that went beyond what Anna and I could produce. Ironically, if we were experts, I bet this would have been much more difficult as the contributors would have been more likely to view us as a threat and/or competitor.

However, this set-up was not the panacea. We simply were not attracting enough eyeballs to get enough leads to keep other contributors interested in writing on a regular basis. It really wasn’t until Google began sending us a significant amount of free search traffic in the Fall of ’05 that we were able to attract other real estate professionals.

This brings us to early winter of last year when things seemed to be pretty good. We were getting decent traffic and I noticed that people started to link to RCG as a real estate resource. And then Ardell happened. It won’t surprise any long-time RCG reader to hear that when Ardell started frequenting the comment section of posts, her spunk and insider knowledge brought the energy level of every conversation up a few notches. Right around Ardell’s first posts, the traffic on RCG started to spike and has yet to let up.

Since then, getting people to write for RCG has been much easier (although not as easy as you might think!). I tend to troll all the local real estate blogs and contact the professionals that “get it”. Normally, the promise of more people reading their writing is enough to convince them to join us at RCG, but not for everyone. You might also find it interesting that I’ve never signed an agreement with any of the contributors. About as complicated as things get is that I make a vague promise that if they are willing to publish on a regular basis, then I will:

  • List them as a “Featured Contributor” on the sidepanel
  • Add a mini-bio (including their contact information) on the Contributor’s page

I feel pretty darn lucky that we’ve been able to keep things so simple and still have it function. If I had to give any advice to someone interested in starting a similar blog, it would be:

  • Keep it simple. Don’t start writing up complicated revenue-sharing plans before you have any revenue!
  • Don’t charge for things that should be free (i.e. blogging technology)
  • Focus on being interesting!

In the beginning, I had no idea what type of content would make for an interesting real estate blog. It has only been through a ton of trial-and-error that we’ve even approached the level of engaging conversations that occur today. With that said, I feel lucky in knowing that we are still in the primitive ages of real estate blogging and I’m still learning new things every day! 😉

Break’n My Heart

I try to stay away from too much self-promotion over on RCG, but the last 24 hours have been too much and my head is starting to spin…

Greg Swan of the BloodhoundBlog:

This is actually our third swing at a real estate weblog. It was the example of Rain City Guide that showed me how I wanted to approach this.

Never doubt it: I’m in your debt.

Chris Bubny at Real Blogging:

Today’s great real estate blog post focuses on Rain City Guide which might very well be my favorite real estate blog. Dustin Luther, now the Director of Consumer Innovation for and a heck of a guy to boot, started Rain City Guide over one year ago in an effort to market his wife Anna’s real estate business. Rain City Guide is focused primarily on the Seattle market but can also be a great resource for the occasional off topic post. There are 10 Rain City Bloggers who talk passionately about the market from their respective and specialized point of view. Rain City Guide combines a wonderful blend of intimacy, intelligence, passion and fun technology. A few key reasons why it’s one of the most wide read and interactive real estate blogs in the sphere.

Joel lists us as one of his top 3 most influential real estate blogs.

To top it off, the president and COO of Coldwell Banker Los Angeles says she wishes every CB agent could attend our bloginar:

Dustin and Russ,

I wish every agent in Coldwell Banker had been present last week. Exciting, thought provoking stuff. Touching life at new points!

Where and when is your next appearance? You are a dynamic duo!

Thank you for the energetic, informative session.

Our Home is Now Listed!

And despite the fact that we may not have Ardell’s magic open house touch, we are showing it on Sunday between 12 and 3PM as described in the open house listing on Trumba.


I also created an adword campaign around our home. If you see the following ad while surfing the web, don’t click on it because it costs me money and just takes you to this blog post! 🙂

Funny side note… I decided to try out Google’s option to target ads at specific websites and noticed that Zillow was on the list for real estate related sites. However, in order to see the ad for my home on Zillow, I had to disable the one-two punch of Adblock and Filter.G on my Firefox browser. By disabling these two extensions, so many websites that I visit on a regular basis looked so much uglier! It was like traveling the web naked! It you’re not using the firefox browser with these two extensions, then you are almost definitely surfing a web that looks much more annoying than mine!

Using Alexa to Compare Traffic Across Sites

Do you ever wonder how well your website and/or blog is doing in comparison to your competitors?

While there is not a great site on the web for getting accurate traffic statistics on competitors, Amazon does provides some stats based on people who are using their Alexa Toolbar. Rather than try to give total site hits (which they can’t do), Amazon gives us relative stats (as in “X number of people out of a million” visited this site). Here are some observations from some searches I did tonight:

All good stuff, but remember to take these statistics with a grain of salt. As Matt Cutts of Google discussed a while back, the type of people visiting a site can definitely skew these results greatly and considering Rain City Guide is in Amazon’s backyard, we’re more likely than most to have traffic from people with the Alexa toolbar installed.

RCG’s Zearch is Released!

Robbie has just released what may be the most addictive home search tool I have every used!

Search Tool Codename: Zearch!

Some obvious highlights include:

  • Dynamic map of color-coed listings
  • Geocoded Rain City Posts

I know the search is addictive because earlier today I showed this to a friend who is in the market to buy a home in Seattle and we couldn’t pull ourselves away from bouncing around the map. To get an idea of what I mean, follow this link to the detail page of this listing in Ballard.

You should see a few things:

  • Photos of the listing
  • Lots of color dots
  • Raindrops

The color dots all represent different homes that are currently on the market in the nearby area. Light blue dots mean the house is far below the average listing price while dark red mean it is far above the average listing for that area. The addicting part is that you can click on any of these dots to bring up the home details (and photos) for that home. With my friend sitting beside me, we kept searching for light blue dots amid lots of red hoping to find a “deal”. Very interesting stuff.

You might also notice on the map that there are some raindrops. These represent Rain City Guide blog posts that have been geocoded. This is subtle, but very powerful, as it essentially represents a mapped-based archive page for Rain City Guide’s posts. The cool part about this is that as you’re searching for background on a home, you can see what RCG posts have said about the neighborhood! And as we continue to add more neighborhood content on Rain City Guide, I’ll continue to geocode the posts, which will automatically add more background data to the home search tool…


What else has Robbie done?

For starters, he didn’t mess with the stuff that works well. You can still use the site to:

Some other things to notice about the new detail page is that whenever you move around on the map, all the nearby active listings show up. More impressively, you can also toggle on the nearby schools, gas stations, grocery stores, and other points of interest associated with every day living. Again, the color coded pushpins show that homes in Medina are bright hues of red, many homes in Renton are purple, while most of the homes in this area of Tacoma are blue. So much cool stuff, so little time!

On a side note, today was my last day as a transportation engineer! For the next few weeks I’m unemployed! 🙂