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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 Future of the City & Technology Trends

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Samuel Palmisano (Chairman of IBM):

A few years ago, the world crossed a threshold. For the first time, more than half the human race is living in cities. By 2050 the figure will rise to 70 percent. We are adding the equivalent of seven New Yorks to the planet every year.

This means the most important locus for 21st-century innovation--technological, economic, and societal--will be our cities. They present the most promising opportunity to make our planet smarter.

Cities bring together the systems by which our world works: education, transportation, public safety, and health care, among others.

We have the capacity to inject new intelligence into those systems. Enormous computational power can be delivered in forms so small and inexpensive that it is being put into phones, cars, and appliances, as well as things we wouldn't recognize as computers, such as roadways (to monitor traffic) or rivers (to monitor pollution and better allocate water use). The data captured by these digital devices--soon to number in the trillions--will be turned to intelligence, because we now have the processing power and advanced analytics to make sense of it all.

Our challenge is to apply this technology to improving the places we live. Consider the applications:

Things we know:
  • Networks, particularly wireless, will be faster and pervasive
  • Mobile technology is exploding, and will be the right tool at the right time for most real estate professionals, see the latest version of our branded iPhone app. It is faster, easier to use and more convenient than most traditional website search and analysis tools.
  • People are flooded with data. Turning that data into useful information - the "value add" and building relationships is the key to broker business growth.
  • Some of the broker concierge services schemes from dot com boom #1 may now actually happen. Our Main Street software includes an extensive set of CRM/customer for life, transaction and concierge tools. One real time system from leads to closings.
  • The key question for all organizations: "what is your value equation?"
Let's discuss the opportunities that lie ahead. Contact Virtual Properties +1 608 271 9601 or zellmer at virtualproperties.com

Rethinking Marketing

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Roland T. Rust, Christine Moorman, and Gaurav Bhalla:

Imagine a brand manager sitting in his office developing a marketing strategy for his company's new sports drink. He identifies which broad market segments to target, sets prices and promotions, and plans mass media communications. The brand's performance will be measured by aggregate sales and profitability, and his pay and future prospects will hinge on those numbers.

What's wrong with this picture? This firm--like too many--is still managed as if it were stuck in the 1960s, an era of mass markets, mass media, and impersonal transactions. Yet never before have companies had such powerful technologies for interacting directly with customers, collecting and mining information about them, and tailoring their offerings accordingly. And never before have customers expected to interact so deeply with companies, and each other, to shape the products and services they use. To be sure, most companies use customer relationship management and other technologies to get a handle on customers, but no amount of technology can really improve the situation as long as companies are set up to market products rather than cultivate customers. To compete in this aggressively interactive environment, companies must shift their focus from driving transactions to maximizing customer lifetime value. That means making products and brands subservient to long-term customer relationships. And that means changing strategy and structure across the organization--and reinventing the marketing department altogether.

Brokers have a great opportunity to build AND own their marketing platform today, via a single entry system, blogs, a branded iPhone app and active cultivation of their clients via a pervasive CRM system, like Main Street.

First: happy new year and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2010!

Second: 2010 change and opportunity.

I have been traveling extensively the past few weeks. It is always interesting and useful to observe people, their activities and gadgets.

Hands down, iPhone and iPod Touch devices dominated aircraft, airport and holiday scenes. I did see a few blackberries (one family had a company blackberry and several iPhones) and one Droid.

The recent smartphone explosion along with the introduction of useful "tablet" or "slate" devices will continue to change the way in which people use, create and interact with real estate information.

Most importantly, it will change their expectations......

What does this mean for brokers and agents?

## A) Mobile

The "killer app" - from a VP customer - for real estate buyers, sellers and professionals.

www.virtualproperties.com/iphone/

Our second major release in 9 months, your branded iPhone app provides essential website functions in a faster, easier to use application. Always on, this "app" can be accessed at home, work, on the go, while working out, dining, traveling - anywhere.

Our software makes sure the app is up to date with the latest property information and technology. It includes property comparison tools and unlimited use mapping services. Stop paying for maps on a per click basis.

Your organization must be in this space.

There will be competing devices, though it is not yet clear who will successfully challenge the iPhone infrastructure.

## B) "Tablet or Slate" computing and real estate

There has been no shortage of hype recently about these new devices. From my perspective, the real change will be to traditional laptop formats. Physical keyboards will certainly be available for some time, but, virtual keyboards (via touchscreens with "multi-touch" gestures) will take over the volume portable device space.

Many real estate firms have published traditional magazines, as a marketing and advertising vehicle.

This conceptual video, by Bonner Mag+ neatly summarizes digital magazine possibilities with emerging devices:

http://www.bonnier.com/en/content/digital-magazines-bonnier-mag-prototype

The video reinforces the benefits of high quality, well organized information. Our Main Street single entry cloud software generates timely media and text content for many publications in different formats, including html and pdf. Our clients do not need to add yet another vendor and platform to support these emerging applications.

www.virtualproperties.com/rt/ms.html

## C) Your Website

The iPhone app explosion is changing buyer and seller information convenience and access expectations. Does your website address these changing customer desires?

Accelerate your website with our Main Street cloud software's new customer portal tools. From lead generation to transactions and customer for life, Main Street manages your world in real time.

One vendor.

Virtual Properties is your trusted technology team - since 1995. Do you have the right people, platform and technology partner for 2010 and beyond?



Morgan Stanley's Latest: The Mobile Internet Report:

Our global technology and telecom analysts set out to do a deep dive into the rapidly changing mobile Internet market. We wanted to create a data-rich, theme-based framework for thinking about how the market may develop. We intend to expand and edit the framework as the market evolves. A lot has changed since we published "The Internet Report" in 1995 on the web.

We decided to create The Mobile Internet Report largely in PowerPoint and publish it on the web, expecting that bits and pieces of it will be cut / pasted / redistributed and debated / dismissed / lauded. Our goal is to get our thoughts and data into the conversation about what may be the biggest technology trend ever, one that may help make us all more informed in ways that are unique to the web circa 2009, and beyond.

Our key takeaways are:

Material wealth creation / destruction should surpass earlier computing cycles. The mobile Internet cycle, the 5th cycle in 50 years, is just starting. Winners in each cycle often create more market capitalization than in the last. New winners emerge, some incumbents survive - or thrive - while many past winners falter.

The mobile Internet is ramping faster than desktop Internet did, and we believe more users may connect to the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs within 5 years.

Five IP-based products / services are growing / converging and providing the underpinnings for dramatic growth in mobile Internet usage - 3G adoption + social networking + video + VoIP + impressive mobile devices.

Apple + Facebook platforms serving to raise the bar for how users connect / communicate - their respective ramps in user and developer engagement may be unprecedented.

and, via Fortune:

"Apple has a two or three-year lead" according to Katy Huberty, thanks to an installed base of 57 million handsets, 100,000 apps and 200 million iTunes subscribers with credit card numbers on file. (She will keep her eye, however, on Samsung, Nokia (NOK) and Google's (GOOG) Android.)

But much of the presentation was spent showing, in slides culled from research over the past two and a half years, that the iPhone is not like previous mobile devices, and its owners not like ordinary cell phone users.

For example, although iPhone and iPod touch owners represent only 17% of the global smartphone installed base, they account for 65% of the world's mobile Web browsing and 50% of its mobile app usage (see chart below).

Key Virtual Properties assets to help you take advantage of the mobile explosion:

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.

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.

Showing Followup Emails - Personalized Automation

Main Street supports the creation and distribution of scheduled showing followup emails. These scheduled email templates include the following features:

  • Automatic Broker and Agent Branding

  • Showing Agent Followup Request

  • Recruiting Links
These messages are sent by Main Streets MRM system on a scheduled basis (24 hours after a showing, for example).

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