10 Great Interview Questions for Agents

The Dumb Little Man (who is anything but…) just listed 10 questions he asked real estate agents along with the answers he got and the answers he wanted to hear.

How are you going to advertise my home?
Why are you saying my home is worth $400K when I think its worth $325K?
Is your realty company placing pictures on your website and other listing services?
Will you be at the closing or will you send a lackey?
Show me your municipal reporting on the area?
What are your stats?
How accessible are you?
What is your commission?
How can I prepare to show my home?
Can I have the names and phone numbers of the last 3 people that listed with you?

Note that this blog post got picked up by lifehacker and there are some interesting conversations going on over there as well…

Update: Just noticed I was a little behind on this story as it was already covered by both Jonathan and Erik. 🙂

Your photos are staid because you do not obey the peekaboo law

By and large, real estate photos are staid and boring. They don’t solve a problem and they don’t follow the “peekaboo law,” which states:

Evolution has seen to it that the very act of searching for the hidden object is enjoyable

i.e. they try to put it all out there. The first photo is usually the front of the house (that’s probably fine) and then we proceed to get a full view shot of each room. That’s not seductive! Usually the photographer (agent?) uses the same lens in each room and does nothing to focus the eye or the mind on what makes the property attractive or problem solving. Specifically: why show the kitchen, including the 6 burner stove from a distance? Why not take a very wide angle lens and show the rest of the kitchen from the perspective of the stove? Or show the view from from sitting at the counter?

One of my favorite real estate photos, which does none of the above, was found by BoingBoing a couple of years ago:accidental real estate pornography (safe for work).

(I’ve looked at a lot of real estate photos over the past couple of months preparing for the launch of ShackPrices.com. We’re coming down the final stretch – get your name on the list now if you want to hear about it when we launch!)

How to Get on the Ball with Your Blog

I got this email the other day, and with the authors permission, I thought other agents looking to start a blog might find my responses helpful.

I am an agent with Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles and I attended your bloginar in July. I have really been researching (reading The Corporate Blog Book by Debbie Weil, searching out other blogs, and reading your archived posts on the subject) since then and I am extremely interested in getting the ball rolling on my blog.

I have a few questions I hope you can help me with.

1. BRANDING: I already have a website (RobinForman.com). As I understand it, I establish a blog under a separate URL and then I can link it to my website (I see Jim Duncan does this). Is there an issue with having to give people 2 separate URL’s? Should I put both on my business card? Or is it better to just give everyone the RobinForman.com URL and have them access the blog through the website.

This one is personal… I realized early on in creating Rain City Guide that I didn’t want this blog to be all about Anna. (I started this blog to promote my wife’s real estate business). So I choose a name that represented the area that she was doing business. It is so much easier to draw people to raincityguide.com than www.annaluther.com.

2. HOST: I see you had a hacking problem with WordPress. Are you still recommending them?

I’m definitely still recommending WordPress… As I stated elsewhere, WordPress wasn’t really hacked, but rather I made the mistake of leaving one file open to be overwriten by the server. If you are planning to start your own blog but don’t have the technical knowledge to manage the files and upgrades, I’d highly recommend going with WordPress.com (or, better yet, if you’re a Top Producer client, go with their hosted version of WordPress). With the WordPress.com option, they will even let you host the blog under your own domain for a nominal fee.

3. TARGET AUDIENCE: I notice on your blog you and your contributors publish stories/info that might appeal to buyers and sellers as well as trade issues that appeal to Realtors. I assume you recommend publishing for both target audiences at the same time.

I’d flip the logic on you… Instead of focusing on an audience, think of building a community. At that point, the question because where is the community you want to enter.

The problem with focusing exclusively on buyers and sellers is that it is a transitional community. Even if they enter your community for a short-while by leaving comments, they are likely to move on to other topics before long. If you want a sustainable community, making friends with other real estate professionals is key!

4. LINKAGE: Although outgoing links are important it seems that the incoming links are the most productive. Am I correct that I should concentrate on linking to other blogs that are likely to link back to me?

Don’t worry too much about inbound links… As you note, they are extremely valuable, but the highest quality links come when you least expect it. Focus on being interesting and the links will come.

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.

Beginning the Home Buying Process – Part 1

[photopress:matt.jpg,thumb,alignright]My friend “Matt” is a first time buyer beginning his home search/buying process. That is not his picture, or his real name, of course. By giving him anonimity, I can take him through the steps here on RCG, so that others can follow along with us. Think of it like a board game. The “Matt” game. This will be a series that will run up until “Matt” closes escrow, and possibly beyond into his first month or two as a homeowner, and the surprises that may come up after he moves in.

Given a “blog” is a web log, it seems appropriate for a real estate blog to offer a log of real people in the home buying process. So lets log and blog the adventures of “Matt” and his home buying process. I’d love for someone to turn it into a board game at the same time. We can give it to potential homebuyers. Maybe Galen or Robbie. It could be like the game of “Life” and people who are thinking about buying a home, can buy the game and “play” before stepping out into unknown territory.

START: “I’m thinking to buy a home this fall. Likely an (x area) townhome just outside the (x) growth zone. Any advice on what I should be reading/doing to get up to speed for home-hunting?”

Now I am going to make this as transparent as I possibly can, without giving away the identity of “Matt” or the location of the home search, for obvious reasons.

STEP 1: The first step is the most extensive one, as it combines many factors. Home Price, which is determined by monthly payment affordability, cash needed to close, and commission to be paid to the Buyer’s Agent. This is all one big first step, as the Commission Negotiation affects the “cash to close” issue. So let’s do that first.

The target purchase price, as already pre-conceived by the word “townhome”, and specified area in the email, is $295,000 to $495,000. For the purpose of this Step, let’s assume that “Matt” has in mind to purchase something for around $375,000, that he is thinking his monthly payment is going to be about $2,200 and that he has saved $20,000 toward the home purchase. This may or may not be the case, but let’s start with that assumption for now.

The ball is in my court. Since I know that “Matt” works in the Technology Industry, and I believe he is a first time buyer, I have already picked up the phone and called Jennifer Chi at First Tech Credit Union. The number one issue is, do they still have that fabulous first time buyer program that I have not used for awhile, and if so, what is the current interest rate, downpayment requirement, and cost for that program. I am waiting for a call back. Left a message. My expectation is that they require little or no money down, have total lender costs of about $600, and the rate is about 5.75 %. Let’s see how close I am, if in fact that program is even still available.

Some people think the first step is for the buyer to go to “the lender”, without consulting the agent. Not so. As the agent I first want to determine who might be the “best” lender for this particular client, as I have already done. Of course the client can do whatever they want over there on the side, and check out all kinds of lenders and loan programs. But that does not relieve me of the responsibility to seek out the best and special programs, especially when I am already aware of their existince, and the likelihood that he probably qualifies for it.

Next on my “To Do” list is to Negotiate the Commission. Since I already know “Matt”, I don’t have to stick him in my car and interview him to determine the fee. Based on a sale price of $375,000, I would not normally negotiate the fee up front, as in that price range, I need to reserve monies for repairs and other issues. But since we will likely be looking at newer townhomes and he gets that “special friend” treatment, let’s establish a flat fee of $6,000, which should give him an extra $5,250.00 to spend, and still leave me enough to fix a few things and get him a nice housewarming gift 🙂

This is an important first step because if any sellers are offering less than 3%, it becomes “Matt’s problem” and not mine. Everyone makes such a huge big deal about Negotiating Buyer Agent Fees. Look. It is that simple. Matt didn’t even have to put in his $.02. LOL. Of course Matt has other options, but that is my offer and he can take it or leave it or negotiate it back at me. We’ll see what he does.

That’s all we can do until we get that call back from First Tech Credit Union, as we cannot determine the price of property to look for, until we know the monthly payment he can afford, which we cannot know until we know the interest rate and cash requirements for that particular loan, which is the best, if they have it and he can qualify for it. More to come…

More Bed Hopping with the Competition

  1. Matt Goyer, of Urbnlivn fame, just accepted a position at Redfin. I wonder if he’ll keep up urbnlivn, or quit in favor of the Redfin blog like Rob. Just reading that article about Rob reminds me how much things have changed in the past six months…
  2. Anthony Allan put together a nice post on five steps to Realtor nirvana.
  3. Tim shows the Seattle Bubble is more popular than Rain City Guide! And wants a front-page link from RCG in the same post! I like Merv’s approach to giving site stats better (i.e. keep me out of it!) 🙂
  4. Meanwhile, the classic over-achiever (who happens to be a damn good writer) follows Tim’s lead today and shows me up by taking my idea (list of 10) and doing it better
  5. Niki let me know about the massive updates that he just unrolled at HomeThinking. He’s got a pretty comprehensive database of sold listings and my understanding is that he is attempting to get people to review agents for as many transactions as possible. It might sound unintuitive for agents to support a site that allows users to comment on them, but Nike (and Mike of Altos Research) seem convinced. Niki also mentioned a bunch of interesting features including a GeoRSS feed of his data so that it can be syndicated far and wide.
  6. I also noticed that HomeThinking is syndicating Real Time Pricing Trends from Altos Research in selected markets. Here’s their chart for Seattle:
  7. Prices for SEATTLE

  8. Osman writes about an interesting “green” development in Aurora, CO that would “encompass nearly 3,000 housing units, 1.7 million SQFT of retail, and 2.8 million SQFT of office space” if fully built out!
  9. Remembering Katrina.
  10. Google now allows you to download and print out old books that they’ve scanned from some of the nations largest libraries. Very cool. Not only that, but they recently introduced a news archive search that has scanned 200 years worth of news. Wow!
  11. Not only is Noah is off enjoying a trip in Europe at this moment, but he should be officially mawwied by now. Congratulations!

Simplifying the buying process

5 years ago on a plane to Hawaii I started writing a Buyer Book to help me when working with my buyers. I couldn’t find a good one that made sense of our local market and spelled out what needs to be answered before a buyer even starts looking. I have a development partner in Hawaii and have good memories of writing this book, sipping Kona coffee from his sister’s plantation and eating Orange Bread on his incredible water view patio. Unfortunately, I had to come home and it took me three more months to finish in the rain.

Why did I write the book? Because I wanted buying a house to be fun and as simple as possible and buyers hate seeing houses they don’t really like. After all, how do you decide where to live and what to buy, if you’ve never been asked the questions that would get you a good working answer. So, after 10 years as an agent and starting out like all agents do by picking out 30 houses or so that “might” work for the buyer, narrowing it down to what I considered the best 10, showing those, making a buying decision and then the “buyer’s remorse” because they wondered what else was out there.

Given that I’m mostly an analytical person, I looked for the “kiss” in the purchasing process and came up with what has been unfailingly the most basic questions that must be examined before you even get into a car with a buyer. So here’s how I work: the buyers read the book and agree to independently (partners separately) fill out a questionaire that tracks with the book before the first 2 hour consulting session which is usually on the morning before going out to buy a home. Those 7 anwers are what I springboard from in the search. I have a picnic lunch prepared and we are now looking at only homes that really do meet their requirments. No buyer’s remorse since they’ve narrowed down the search themselves. The know that if they see a sign on a home that they didn’t look at, that it simply did not meet their requirements. These buyers are also prequalified and we know their housing price limit before our meeting.

People buy with the following criteria, whether they know it or not and buyers can use this criteria to find their home: (not necessarily in this order)

1. What importance is their choice of schools (I once had a young couple, he said it wasn’t important, she said it was, and she announced at the buyer consult that she was pregnant. I left the room :))

2. What importance is the commute: I usually hear 20-45 minutes (unless it’s a microsoft buyer), so then we talk about what hours the commuter works to determine how far out they can live, keeping in mind the school parameters.

3. What importance is a development with CC&R’s vs one without. I explain that although they might not want control on the color they paint their own home, but do they want an airplane parked in the front yard like I saw one day in a Parkland neighborhood near Tacoma. This is an extreme example, I know

4. How important is yard size. These days with all the dogs, many buyers think they ‘need’ a large yard, which leads me to the next question.

5.What importance is the age of the home. Most 30 somethings hate the home they grew up in and they almost always hate the splits. However if you want a large yard, but want a new house, then you’ll probably be paying 3 times what your budget allows, so if the large yard is really really important, then be prepared for 15-20 year old home or older. You have to buy a home where the land was developed before the local jurisdictions started enforcing federally mandated land use restrictions requiring greenbelts or common areas. The result of the federal legislation is that by 1999, all municipalites had to come into complaince with new land use rules. Over a 10 year period, all municipalities had to ensure that all developments must have a very large portion (40-60%) of a development set aside as communtiy area. The latest municipality that I know of to come into compliance was Montlake Terrace, which barely made the 10 year limit. For the developers to make enough profit to make the development feasible, the remaining land had to be divided by the same number of lots, making the lots much much smaller.

I’ve done my own casual research on how the public sees this land use change, and when I ask customers which they’d rather have, large yards or community spaces, they overwhelmingly chose community spaces. So, though we don’t like it, we don’t like it less than we like the new communities with all their parks and community feel (Ergo, the popularity of Issaquah Highlands).

6. The next question is how important is the style. In other words, do you hate splits, do you like to see alot of volume and want a vaulted living room, or does that mean you have to just heat the empty space. Do you have to have a rambler, and depending on budget, are you prepared for townhouse or condo living.

And last but not least

7. Do you want to have a house in complete move in condition or can you do some of the work yourselves after closing.

These 7 questions have been all that I’ve needed to narrow down the search. My buyers fill out the questionaire first before our 2 hour meeting, then armed with those parameters, I have a pretty good idea where the buyers will end up. We pick out thier own houses online and then with a picnic lunch, out we go to preview the properties that they picked. Normally, they buy on this first day, since we have narrowed down their search together and they almost never have buyer’s remorse since they pretty much scoured the enitre market themselves with me just acting as coach.

This has worked great for the last 5 years. My buyers love it and are amazed at how you really can create a structure out of the 6500 or so listings online. AND be right about it!

Addicted to Google’s Mobile Maps

[photopress:phone.png,thumb,alignright]I was just reading a post from Jim Kimmons where he gives advice for Realtors on how to better use their handheld Treo’s and it reminded me that I really should put a plug in for Google’s mobile mapping program because I’ve simply become addicted to it and many others could probably benefit from this tool.

The first thing to realize is that the mapping program is separate from your cell phone’s browser. In other words, you’re going to have to download a program to your mobile cell phone. Here is the url you’ll have to type into your cell phone’s browser to download the program: http://www.google.com/gmm/.

Obviously, this program won’t work with all phones, but Google is kind enough to give a list of supported phones. Note that they do support Blackberry phones (which is what I use!).

Why am I addicted?

The interface is simple and and clean. The main options I use are “Move to Location” and “Find Business”. The “Move to Location” option is used to locate me in a general area, while the “Find Business” option gets me to specific places.

Being in a new area, this one-two combo has been extremely powerful. For example, today I used the program to find (and get directions to) a local post office, a washington mutual branch and a coffee shop, all while out of the office and miles away from my desktop computer. Very cool indeed.

As with many google programs, the tool gets even more powerful if you learn some of the “tricks”. My most common one is to use the “3” and “1” buttons to scroll between turn movement descriptions while navigating directions. I also like that “i” zooms in while “o” zooms out. (Note that I’m using a Blackberry and other operating systems will surely use different buttons!)

If you happen to be in my situation where you have a powerful phone (and no powerful in-car navigation system), definitely consider checking out this program. It has done away with my need for hard-copy maps!