Instant Real Estate Gratification

[photopress:sasha_skyping.JPG,thumb,alignright]Our operators are standing by ready to take your call!

Here at Rain City Guide, we do our best to answer your questions before you ask them (at least that is a major part of good blogging!).

However, I know that we’re barely touching the surface of answering all your Seattle real estate questions and I doubt you want to wait around until we write a blog post about what’s on your mind right now. So, today, I’m releasing an “instant gratification” feature!

Notice how a few of the contributors (on the right panel) have a button under their name that tells you if they are online… Every time you reload a page on Rain City Guide, my server goes out and checks the status of these contributors. If they are online, then making contact with these contributors is simple, using free software called Skype.

So far, I have four RCG contributors who have agreed to take part in this experiment:

  • A Real Estate Agent (Anna Luther)
  • A Real Estate Lawyer (Russ Cofano)
  • A Mortgage Broker (Russ Shulman)
  • A Real Estate Tech Guy (myself)

I’m not sure what I have to offer via this medium, but if you want to talk with an agent, a mortgage broker, and/or a real estate lawyer, they are available to talk with you any time they are online. (By the way, we’re not going to stop here as more RCG contributors should be coming online soon…)

Contacting any of us is very simple and if you already have Skype, you can skip the first step:

  1. Download and Install the Free Skype tool
  2. Return to Rain City Guide and click on the button under anyone whose status says “I’m Online” and/or “I’m not telling”.

This will bring up a pop-up menu that starts the process of calling us over the internet.

Why Skype?

  • It’s free! Anna has been using it for almost a year to talk with her friends and family in Russia (Here is an article she wrote about Skype last September.)
  • The quality of the calls are awesome! They are much better than a cell phone and akin to a land-line.
  • No fancy equipment is needed. Assuming you have speakers and a mic on your computer, it just works. Honestly. I’ve set it up for friends and family on five or ten different computers, and assuming they have a mic (every computer has speakers nowadays), it has worked immediately after installation. Note that even if you don’t have a mic, you can still use Skype to send instant messages, so still consider using Skype to contact us…
  • Did I mention it is free? Skype will cost you nothing and there is no spyware or anything nasty in the software, so go ahead, download the software and start making calls to friends and family around the world.

One last note… The status of some of the people is displayed as “I’m not telling” which is just no fun. The reason is that the status of Skype users can only be displayed on a website if they are connected to Skype through a PC. Anna and I are using a Mac. Nonetheless, I’ve included these buttons because you can still use them to contact us. Assuming I’m online, I’ll definitely answer your calls. Assuming I’m not online, I pay Skype a few dollars a year for voicemail service, so you can always just leave me a message.

(this is a photo of our daughter using Skype to talk with her grandparents in Russia!)


I added both Ardell and Galen (and two more contributors said they were hoping to join up soon)!

I also had some great questions from people about how Skype works. The system is essentially the same as a telephone conversation except it is over the internet. If you call up one of the contributors, you will be talking with them and only them. You are not entering a group conversation, a group chat, or anything like that… It will really just be you talking with them. Simple, but powerful!

Gone Wiki

A little less than a month ago, I released the Rain City Guide Wiki and I’ve been very impressed with the results so far… I’ve had quite a few local real estate professionals add themselves to the (free) directory that I’ve set up and even a few, like Grier Smith and Chuck Reiling, add their own pages.

Interestingly, I figured it would take some time before Google caught up with the wiki site, but I’m pleased to say that it really didn’t take much time at all! A search on Chuck’s name shows that the wiki page he created for himself is the number one result, even above his writings on Rain City Guide, which kind of surprised me.

[photopress:wiki_screenshot.jpg,thumb,alignright]Because creating a page on the wiki is as simple as putting text in brackets: […], it seems like a no brainer for real estate professional who want to kick start their internet exposure. All you have to do is add your name (in brackets) to the Seattle Real Estate Directory. After you save the page, you will be prompted to create your own page where you can write about yourself and add photos to your heart’s content.

However, I think the real benefit of the wiki will come as people fill in more details about the home buying process. Grier did a great job starting up the discussion with a page on the Home Buying Process. If others are interested in adding to his description, editing the wiki page is as simple as clicking on the link that says “edit this page”! And if you are making a meaningful contribution, I highly recommend you add yourself as a source!

Here are some of the areas of the wiki that I’ve put some time into updating recently:

  • Innovative Real Estate Search Sites. I get a steady stream of emails from people who want me to add their new real estate technology site to my list of innovative sites. My latest response is to say “feel free to add yourself to the wiki page because I’m in the process of moving the list over there anyway!” On the wiki, each innovative real estate site gets their own page and I’ve added lots of cross-links making it easy to see connections between companies. There is still lots more that could be added, so I welcome your contributions!
  • Seattle Real Estate Blogs. This is another wiki page I feel pretty good about because I’ve seen a bunch of local real estate bloggers add their sites recently. I keep learning about new sites thanks to this page!
  • National Real Estate Blogs. Similar to the Innovative Real Estate sites, whenever a blogger emails me asking to be added to my blogroll, I send them to this wiki page where they can add their own site. After I complete adding all the real estate blogs that were already in my blogroll to the wiki, then I’ll completely move my blogroll over to this wiki page so that I don’t have to do any work at all! 🙂

I’ve definitely gone wiki, and if you care to join, it can be a lot of fun!

What a week!

[photopress:view_of_santa_monica.jpg,thumb,alignright]My family and I spent the past week scoping out appropriate neighborhoods in Ventura County! No matter where we choose to live in Southern California, it will definitely be a major change from our way of life in Seattle…

As I spent most of the week away from the internet (I did have a BlackBerry, but that doesn’t really count!), I’ve fallen way behind so I’m going to play a quick catch up here by mentioning a few of the things that have caught my eye this evening as I returned to the web:

  • Dan Green, ofThe Mortgage Reports Blog, let me know that Rain City Guide received at least one nomination for the Most Innovative Real Estate Blog. Very cool! Thank you Dan!
  • There has been some buzz around a new real estate blog featuring a large group of real estate professionals. I look forward to following the site…
  • I received emails from people at both Zillow and Move on how to better use their systems to find appropriate neighborhoods, so I’m going to have to revisit my post on the home buying process.
  • Ardell published a great article that has been very well received by other bloggers!
  • For the first time since the inception of RCG, I’ve not read EVERY single comment that has been posted on RCG! AHH!!! I’ve got some more reading to do! And on a very related note, my inbox is over-flowing with emails that are worth a quality response, so don’t be surprised if it is taking me a while to respond!

Adding Some Sun to Rain City Guide

I’m extremely excited to announce that I’ve accepted a position with Move (HOMS) as the Director of Consumer Innovations.

Until recently, Move was known as HomeStore and they (we!) are the people who run,, RentNet, Welcome Wagon, and a few other sites… The idea behind the Move brand is that we’ll be creating a one-stop-shop for connecting consumers with comprehensive real estate information and expertise.

No surprise that this will be a huge change for me and my family. Not only are we moving to Southern California, but I will now have some actually time to spend pushing the boundaries of online real estate technology (I’m no longer a transportation engineer!?!). What a difference a year of blogging can make!

I imagine that there might be a question or two I could answer about this change, but I’ll save the answers to what? why? how? and when? for future posts.

What to Look For In Your Real Estate Blog Stats

I’m sad to report that we weren’t made an unbelievable offer for RCG, and we have no plans to change our name to either “Google’s Rain City Guide” or “Rain Zity Guide”. 😉

And now that it is April 2nd, I thought I’d get back to work by giving some advice on what to look for in the stats of your business blog.

It can be useful to know answers to questions like: Who is visiting my site? Where they are coming from? Am I giving them what they want? And (assuming you’re running a business blog), is anyone buying the product/service that I’m selling? To get at these answers, I turn to one of three different stat programs (all of them free!):

  • awstats came installed by my internet service provider (ISP) and offers the best look at long term trends for me because I’ve had has been running the entire time I’ve had RCG. It always shows slightly higher stats than the other programs because it picks up everyone who visits the site and not just those who load the whole page and/or have javascript installed. For better or worse, my host only updates the awstats once a day, and they get aggregated by month so that I can’t really make head’s or tails out of what is going on “right now” using this stat program.
  • MapStats has some interesting features that make it very useful for blogging. It not only maps all of the users out based on their IP address, but it also let’s me know where the latest visitors are coming from (i.e. what links they clicked on and/or what search term they used to get to RCG). It is updated every few minutes making it very useful in seeing what’s happing in the hear-and-now.
  • Google Analytics is an amazingly comprehensive stat program that is probably better suited for sites 100 or 1000 times bigger than RCG (or at least sites that have a staff with time to pour over all the information it gives!). It includes tons of interactive charts and you allow you to reference and cross-reference by date and referrer (and ad program if you do that kind of thing). Like awstats, it has the disadvantage that it only updates once a day, and like MapStats it misses out on people who don’t have javascript installed and running. But the charts are amazing. To give you an idea of some of the things you can see with Google Analytics, I’ve included a chart of the “loyalty” of RCG readers:


(You can read the chart as saying “In March, 10,254 visitors came only once while 743 visitors have been to Rain City Guide more than 200 times.)

Interestingly, the loyalty chart reminds me of something said by Niki Parekh of HouseValues at the MIT Forum that has resonated with me. The topic was how real estate agent using HouseValues system have to be patient because it can take months, if not years, between the time when a home owner contacts HouseValues looking for a home valuation report and the time when when they are ready to sell their home.

The relevance to the loyalty chart is that I have this not-too-small hope that more and more of the home buyers and sellers who read Rain City Guide regularly will begin to take advantage of Anna’s referral service when they are actually ready to buy and/or sell a home. While a dozen or so people contacted Anna in March, there is still plenty of room for this service to grow, and I was glad to hear Niki highlight the importance of keeping a long-term view of things.

More Stat Fun
On a related note, I’d feel like I was hiding something if I didn’t give an update on our statistics at the beginning of the month (jan, feb). Here are the same two stat charts updated to include data for March:



One last thing
And finally, Happy Belated Birthday to Merv’s blog in Virginia . If you want a little background on why Merv has been so successful at real estate blogging, check out the interview I did with him back in December.

Can we create THE Real Estate Guide for Seattle?

I’ve been playing around with wikis for quite a while, and I finally got around to installing one (that I’m happy with) on the Rain City Guide server. But before I tell you what you can do with the wiki, I should probably give some background…

What is a wiki?

In the simplest sense, a wiki is an editable webpage. Have you ever read something and thought “I know more than the person writing this!” Well, a wiki gives you this option as it is designed to allow readers to edit webpages.

[photopress:hanging_tree.jpg,thumb,alignright]The most popular wiki is, without a doubt, the Wikipedia. The Wikipedia is essentially an encyclopedia made for the web. It allows anyone to update any page. This might sound like a mess waiting to happen, but in practice, the concept has worked well because there are more good people than bad on the site and the results is an amazingly comprehensive listing of public knowledge. While running a wiki takes a certain amount of faith in the “goodness” of contributors, all public wikis tend to have really good “roll-back” features that allow an users to “undo” unhelpful comments and block IP addresses from spammers (including the wiki I installed!).

So what am I up to?
In my quest to create the best resource for real estate information in Seattle, I’ve created a wiki that will complement this blog. Whereas the blog best serves timely updates, the wiki will hopefully become a wonderful way to present information that can benefit from continuously improvements over time.

So what am a really up to?
I want to create THE real estate guide for Seattle. It will take time, but I think that if we keep plugging away, we can harness the knowledge of the Rain City Guide community to create a truly unique resource. As I really do plan for this to become “the” real estate guide for Seattle, I’ve named the site:

What are some uses for the wiki?
In my mind, the low hanging fruit is a real estate directory for Seattle. If you are a real estate professional in Seattle, feel free to add yourself to the real estate directory that I’ve created. Adding yourself to the directory is easy and just meant to get you comfortable with editing a wiki, while also qualifying yourself as a web-savvy real estate professional. 😉

In terms of the directory, I’ve added the following categories: Appraisers, Construction, Escrow, Handymen, Mortgage Brokers, Real Estate Photographers, Real Estate Agents, Real Estate Lawyers, Real Estate Technology, and Title Companies. But the beauty of a wiki is that if I missed your line of work (assuming it is within real estate), simply edit the page and add your profession. (By the way, I haven’t added separate webpages for any of the people in the directory yet, but if you’d like to add a page to expand on yourself and the services you provide, feel free to create a page by putting your name in brackets, as in [John Doe].

Another idea I have is almost definitely ahead-of-its-time, but could be interesting, is that anyone selling a home is free to create a webpage that describes their home on It will cost you nothing but time, and if you are creative enough, it might get you some interesting publicity.

Of course, I have even more ideas for how a wiki could be useful for better understanding real estate in Seattle, so don’t be too surprised if I reference wiki articles in future blog posts! With that said, I’m a huge fan of the “release early and often” philosophy (and this feature is definitely released early), so don’t expect too much from the wiki and you likely won’t be disappointed!

Also, if a wiki seems a little bit intimidating to you, feel free to play around in the sandbox. You can’t mess anything up in there, so edit away and I think you’ll quickly see how easy it is to create and edit webpages with a wiki.

Lots More than Just the Sexiest Real Estate Agents

It’s been a while since I had a real “ramble” post, but considering the occasion, hopefully people will forgive me for trying to cover a lot of ground in one post.

Happy Birthday to Rain City Guide!!!
It’s been one year since I wrote my first post (Hello World, of course) on Rain City Guide. I probably would have taken down the first post since it was just a test except we got a comment right off the bat and I’ve never been very good at deleting comments…

I have no (clear) idea where RCG will go over the next year, but considering the real estate industry is clearly in a pivotal position and I’m extremely excited to have front row seats.

New Broker For Anna
LTD Real EstateWe’re excited to announce that, as of today, Anna has officially switched her broker to LTD Real Estate. This major change for Anna began when I struck up a conversation with a broker at LTD, Jon Ribary, after noticing that we were both developing tools to map Seattle listings this past summer (who wasn’t???). Just like my gHomes tool, his search tool hasn’t kept up with some of the amazing tools that have been released recently (including ours!). However, our similar interests led to many conversations and ultimately a much stronger bond between Rain City Guide and LTD. Anna and I look forward to working closer with Jon and his staff in the days, weeks, months and years to come. If you’re wondering, don’t expect much to change here at Rain City Guide based on Anna’s move to LTD (besides the logo on our sidepanel!). Anna’s move is really related to the fact that she was searching out a broker who understands that the real power of marketing on the internet is when you use the tools to communicate with potential clients as oppose to talking at them. About the only thing you can expect to change is that Jon and I have some ideas for side-projects that will allow RCG to continue innovating so that we can achieve our mission of being the best resource for real estate information in Seattle.

Ride Home from the MIT Forum
The MIT forum is tonight and it is sold out in a major way. I definitely plan to attend, but I have a minor issue in that we’re a one-car family and Anna has something else that she must attend. Getting between my work in Downtown Seattle and Downtown Bellevue tomorrow afternoon without a car will be easy. The part of the trip that I’m not sure I can handle is the trip to my home in Crown Hill this evening. Is there someone attending who wouldn’t mind giving me a lift home after the forum is over? Found a ride home! Feel free to email me directly.

Sexiest Real Estate Agents
I was checking my log files earlier today when I noticed that someone came to Rain City Guide based on the Google Search: [sexiest+real+estate+agents]. I was deeply saddened to find out that we are ranked a dismal #2 on this all-important search. So, if you are a blogger interested in helping us celebrate our birthday in a zany way, consider linking to this post with the phrase “sexiest real estate agents”. I’ll bet it won’t even take a full week for us to be rated #1! Okay, it is obviously getting late, so I’m going to go to bed and try to sleep off the celebratory Champaign that Anna and I cracked open tonight!

Checking Things Off the ToDo List…

I made some changes to the site tonight:

  • Added a Home Search Panel to the sidepanel. You may have to hit “refresh” to get this to show up right!
  • Added a Print Post Option. I hate the idea of people printing out a blog… Blogs are meant for reading on screen where you can follow links and leave comments! However, I hate the idea of people wasting extra pages printing out blog posts even more. For those of you who were going to print stuff out anyway, it’s now a little cleaner and will hopefully use fewer pages!
  • Added a Stat Page [no longer available] which proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Ardell is the most prolific real estate blogger of 2006 (and we’re only in March!). For someone who only began blogging in January, she’s already authored 49 posts and 205 comments (192 under ARDELL and 13 under Ardell DellaLoggia). WOW!

Speaking of Ardell, I’ve heard from multiple agents that they are too intimidated by Ardell to begin commenting on the site. While Ardell is definitely a force to be reckoned with, I find that fact amusing because I imagine she wouldn’t mind a little more support from the agent community. Not that she needs it, mind you… Just that there is only so many hours in the day for her to keep up with two intelligent lawyers!!!

Still on my ToDo List is to:

  • Clean up the RSS feed buttons. As was recommended in an earlier comment, I’ll probably add a subscribe page and limit the sidepanel to one subscribe button.
  • Add avatars to comments. I am having some minor trouble getting things to look right with this one, but I’ll keep working at it.

Is there anything that is missing from Rain City Guide that you would like to see?