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The hottest housing market: Information

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Michelle Singletary:

In the real estate world, there was one word that used to be the cardinal rule: location, location, location.

Just about anybody -- the informed and uninformed -- could buy a house in a good location and easily make money by flipping, selling or refinancing the home, sometimes after just a short ownership.

That was then, before the Great Recession.

This is now, and the new cardinal rule of real estate is information, information, information.

"For decades, the real estate industry has operated under the principle that the less information buyers and sellers have, the better it is for agents, lenders, title companies, and all the other folks who eat from the trough," writes Ilyce Glink in "Buy, Close, Move In: How to Navigate the New World of Real Estate -- Safely and Profitably -- and End Up with the Home of Your Dreams." "But the real estate tide seems to be turning, as the housing and credit crises of 2008 have heightened awareness in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street about the catastrophic consequences of a closed information loop."

I have no doubt that many professionals in the real estate industry will take great exception to Glink's observation. But the evidence is on her side. We ended up in one of the worst housing market collapses because far too many borrowers were uninformed, ill-prepared and overly optimistic about potential gain because of bad information they received and gladly embraced.

The Profit and Peril of Mashups

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What is a "mashup"? According to this wikipedia entry, "In web development, a mashup is a web page or application that combines data or functionality from two or more external sources to create a new service."

Real estate brokers and agents may wish to take advantage of "free" internet api's (application programming interface). Websites such as flickr, facebook, youtube, yelp and many others offer programatic interfaces to their data and media.

What are the benefits of such API's?

  • Aggregate local information around properties for sale or rent.
  • Enhance your website "experience".
  • Avoid the cost of collecting and managing local information.
What are the costs and risks of using such API's?
  • Bad data. Automated information aggregators often lack local expertise. Information may be outdated; a long closed restaurant may still have a review on your website.
  • Inappropriate content. I created a Facebook demonstration for a client some time ago. The resulting page included an advertisement for Filipino Girls.
  • What motivates the data aggregator? Is their strategy aligned with yours?
  • Does the data make your site more generic?
  • Competitive stealth advertising on your site. Savvy competitors will figure this out and place their content on your site via the API's.
What are the alternatives to "mashups"?

Your agents have a wealth of local market knowledge. Hire or appoint a "blog-o-spondent" or "blogger-in-chief". This person creates and aggregates your own content (text, audio, video, maps) on your blog, around your website(s) and via appropriate social networks. Over time, agents and staff post directly and incorporate your listings, services and our unlimited use maps (for a fixed price). Create your own platform that emphasizes your brand. This approach improves recruiting, retention and internet marketing in ways that you control and at a much lower cost than traditional advertising.

Main Street reliably supports the tools you need, from blogs, dynamic short links, lead management, surveys and multimedia to market reports and live charting tools.

As always, there is no "free lunch".

This week's news that iPhone and iPod Touch sales now exceed 37 million units provides a fresh reminder that times of economic transitions present new business opportunities. AdMob's March, 2009 mobile traffic data is also worth a look:

AdMob has released its monthly Mobile Metrics Report for March, and to no one's surprise, the iPhone and iPod touch are still hot devices [iPhone demographics] for surfing the web on the go. Both are also hot devices for using mobile apps, too, as AdMob says that over half of the requests for ads from iPhones now come from third-party apps.

Worldwide, the iPhone continues to gain a significant share of mobile requests on AdMob's network. While Symbian-based devices, mostly from Nokia, continue to lead, the iPhone is catching up, mostly to Symbian's detriment. In the US, the iPhone still holds half of all requests for mobile ads compared to devices based on other OSes.

Our clients quickly deployed branded iPhone applications over the past few months. They avoided adding complexity to their business and staff, dealing with yet another vendor and system and moving data around. It just works.

One put it this way earlier today: "Dang, that's a beautiful app!"

Find out how quickly you can take advantage of today's fastest growing technology platform. Contact me, Jim Zellmer zellmer@virtualproperties.com or voice +1 608 271 9601.

Your Personal Brand

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Terry Heaton:

  1. Blossom where you're planted, because it leaves a good taste in the mouths of your co-workers and impacts your reputation. For young people especially, this includes your network, because one's network at that age often includes people you work with.
  2. Build a database of customers and people of influence. Let technology do the heavy-lifting here, but these are the people who spread your reputation beyond your own reach. Get to know them. Remember them. Help them. Stay in contact with them. This strengthens your brand.
  3. Spread the brands of others in your network, for it's the best way to motivate people to spread yours. Go to them as a customer, and let the shop owner know what you think. Help that person be the best they can be at their gift or chosen field.
  4. Make personal business cards with your brand and spread them everywhere. Advertise yourself with people in person and online. Talk about what you do. Share your experiences and maybe even provide tips as part of your social networking. Everything you do, especially if it's negative, reflects on your brand.
  5. Be a good person, not an ass. People are watching, and the last thing you ever want to do is prove yourself a jerk through your behavior while your intentions tell you you're really a good guy.
  6. Get comfortable with yourself, even if it takes professional help. People intuitively recognize self-destructive or self-centered behavior, and it's a huge turn-off. If you use, for example, your Facebook page to constantly gripe about this or that, your brand will be that of a complainer and someone who enjoys life atop the old pity pot. You can't control what people think of you, but you can choose not to give them ammunition with which to interpret your brand as negative.

GPS HomeFinder: iPhone 3G and Blackberry Storm?

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Our ReData® GPS HomeFinder for the iPhone 3G allows real estate agents, managers, buyers and sellers to quickly view properties for sale or rent near their current location via a smart map (video demo).

RIM's (Research in Motion) recently announced Blackberry Storm is their first touch screen smartphone. The Storm includes GPS. We are evaluating the Storm and hope to support GPS HomeFinder soon.

Read these reviews of the Blackberry Storm:

  • Joshua Topolsky:
    It's clear from the device itself and the massive promotional push that both RIM and Verizon are giving the Storm that they view this as a proper threat to the iPhone's dominance in the smartphone market. Over the last few weeks we've been bombarded with commercials, leaks, press releases, and special events all celebrating the arrival of the Storm, both here and abroad. So it seems fairly obvious that yes, the companies believe they have a real contender on their hands -- and in many ways they do. The selling points are easy: the phone is gorgeous to look at and hold, it's designed and backed by RIM (now almost a household name thanks to their prevalence in the business and entertainment markets), and it's packed with features that, at first glance, make it seem not only as good as the iPhone, but better. The only hitch in this plan is a major one: it's not as easy, enjoyable, or consistent to use as the iPhone, and the one place where everyone is sure they have an upper hand -- that wow-inducing clickable screen -- just isn't all that great. For casual users, the learning curve and complexity of this phone will feel like an instant turn off, and for power users, the lack of a decent typing option and considerable lagginess in software will give them pause. RIM tried to strike some middle ground between form and function, and unfortunately came up short on both.
  • Walt Mossberg @ Wall Street Journal:
    verall, the Storm is a very capable handheld computer that will appeal to BlackBerry users who have been pining for a touch-controlled device with a larger screen. And it offers yet another good option for anyone who is looking to buy one of the new, more powerful, pocket computers.
  • Matt Buchanan:
    The Storm is a strong effort from RIM, but it's not quite the killer phone that they or Verizon need it to be. It's good--RIM clearly put a lot of thought into the design. But I think it fall short of what they were aiming for, and ultimately what all the hype is driving people to expect. Some of this is fixable: The damn thing needs to crash less often. But SurePress is not the end-all, be-all of touchscreen technologies--it's not really an evolutionary step forward, even. The experience may be fairly refined, but more polish is still needed. Had this Storm been left to brew a bit longer, it would've been much more powerful.
Related: AdMob Mobile Metrics [200K PDF Report]:
Here are a few interesting findings from the most recent report:
  • The iPhone is now the #1 device worldwide in the AdMob Network with 4.1% share of requests in October. Since AdMob launched its ad units for iPhone sites and applications, iPhone requests have increased from 28 million in July to 236 million in October. This month, we break out iPhone requests by country and region.
  • 62.8% of iPhone requests were from the US, where the iPhone is the #2 device behind the RAZR. 5.0% of iPhone requests came from the UK, where the iPhone is the #3 device behind the Nokia N95 and Sony Ericsson K800i. Other top markets include Canada, France, Japan, Australia, and Germany.
  • As part of our commitment to providing detailed insight into different regions, this month we provide traffic, manufacturer, and device data for Latin America & the Caribbean. Traffic from the region increased 138% in the last 12 months to 109 million requests in October 2008.
  • Motorola, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson all have greater than 20% market share in Latin America and are each leaders in different markets. The Motorola RAZR is the top device in the region with 10.3% share and is a Top 20 Handset in each of the top Latin American markets.
  • Worldwide requests grew 13.8% month over month to 5.8 billion. US requests grew 7.9% to 2.2 billion and UK requests grew 16.0% to 229 million in October 2008.
Finally, our ReData® maps are updated quarterly, support extensive customization and, most importantly are available on a fixed price basis for unlimited use. Other mapping services allow competitors to advertise on your site and/or charge a per click fee, which means that you cannot control your mapping costs or quality of service.

"What Do Agents Really Need?"

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Megan Wilber 1MB PDF:

So in an industry climate that is ever-changing, what are agents today looking for from their brokerage? Are they looking for quality? Support? Leadership?
The Hasson Company is a Virtual Properties customer.

The Paperless Office: On its way, at last

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The Economist:

STEPHANIE BREEDLOVE and her husband founded Breedlove & Associates 16 years ago to help families who (legally) hire a nanny with the crushing burden of paperwork that this entails. There are pay stubs to be sent, federal and state tax returns to be filed, pay schedules to be updated and other trails of exceedingly boring paper. Much of the firm's small office in Austin, Texas, is taken up by 100 paper-filled filing cabinets. An office manager spends 25 hours a week shuffling paper between desks and drawers. At peak times, says Ms Breedlove, the office becomes "a sea of paper," with colour-coded stacks on conference tables, floors and chairs.

With luck, this will soon be a thing of the past. Last year Breedlove decided to go paperless. It is now about halfway there, says Ms Breedlove. The constant flow of information between Breedlove and its clients now goes via e-mail, with forms attached as PDF files. The next step is to roll out an online service so that clients can log on to manage their accounts. Only the Internal Revenue Service still insists on paper for some things, says Ms Breedlove, but even it claims to be going electronic soon.

Our Main Street software supports electronic forms, document and transaction information sharing.

Video Helps Open Market for the Deaf

Sandra Fleishman:

When Gail Edwards works with her real estate clients -- lining up appointments, discussing bidding strategy or just checking in -- she's often talking to her TV screen.

She's not speaking out loud. Instead, she's using American Sign Language, fingers flying, pausing to emphatically shake her head or to put her hands up in surprise or disbelief. On the TV screen, she might see a deaf client, watching her on his or her own screen and signing back. Or she might see a video relay interpreter -- a hearing person who calls up the person Edwards wants to communicate with, then translates between that person's spoken words and Edwards's signs.

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