January 2009 Archives

And the Blog Goes On

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Samantha Storey:

KNOWING what your neighbor paid for his apartment is a juicy morsel of gossip, and in New York, gossiping about real estate is an obsession. It is so captivating that an entire niche of blogs was created to cover it.

In the past four years, sites like Curbed.com, Brownstoner.com, UrbanDigs.com, TrueGotham.com and The Matrix have been scrutinizing the housing boom with pithy observation and, in some cases, snide commentary.

For readers, it was fun to pillory the design flaws of new offerings and to read about how one broker had trashed another in an overheard conversation in an elevator.

But with the recession in full swing and the housing market waning, what will these blogs write about now? It's not entertaining to skewer a market where property values are falling and scores of people are losing their homes to foreclosure.

The guiding lights behind these blogs say that they are evolving, becoming more serious and focusing on the nuts-and-bolts details of the market. True Gotham, for instance, is writing about how long transactions are taking. Others are becoming more general sites for neighborhood news. Curbed's tip line once passed on information from a reader who said that there was a truck in the neighborhood giving out free meat.

Matthew Honan:

The location-aware future--good, bad, and sleazy--is here. Thanks to the iPhone 3G and, to a lesser extent, Google's Android phone, millions of people are now walking around with a gizmo in their pocket that not only knows where they are but also plugs into the Internet to share that info, merge it with online databases, and find out what--and who--is in the immediate vicinity. That old saw about how someday you'll walk past a Starbucks and your phone will receive a digital coupon for half off on a Frappuccino? Yeah, that can happen now.

Simply put, location changes everything. This one input--our coordinates--has the potential to change all the outputs. Where we shop, who we talk to, what we read, what we search for, where we go--they all change once we merge location and the Web.

I wanted to know more about this new frontier, so I became a geo-guinea pig. My plan: Load every cool and interesting location-aware program I could find onto my iPhone and use them as often as possible. For a few weeks, whenever I arrived at a new place, I would announce it through multiple social geoapps. When going for a run, bike ride, or drive, I would record my trajectory and publish it online. I would let digital applications help me decide where to work, play, and eat. And I would seek out new people based on nothing but their proximity to me at any given moment. I would be totally open, exposing my location to the world just to see where it took me. I even added an Eye-Fi Wi-Fi card to my PowerShot digital camera so that all my photos could be geotagged and uploaded to the Web. I would become the most location-aware person on the Internets!

Google Puts The Squeeze On Free Apps

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Michael Arrington:

Google says the vast majority of the 1 million businesses that use Google Apps opt for the free advertising supported version. To make the free option less attractive they've been quietly lowering the number of user accounts that can be associated with a free account. Now as businesses grow, they'll be forced to move to the paid version much more quickly than before.

Google Apps is a suite of online applications like gmail, Google calendar, Google Docs, etc. that are packaged and tailored for business use. It's growing fast - in a recent post where Google announced the opening of a reseller program, the company said that more than 1 million businesses and 10 million users use Google Apps today, and 3,000 new businesses sign up daily. The largest business user, Genentech, has 20,000 employees on Google Apps.

When Google Apps first launched in August 2006 it was free and described as "a service available at no cost to organizations of all shapes and sizes."

Something to consider for the many folks not paying for their use of Google Maps. Here's an alternative - at a fixed price.

Realogy Parent Apollo Raises $14.8B Fund

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Megan Davies:

Apollo Management LP [APOLO.UL] founder Leon Black said on Friday the private equity firm had finished raising its latest fund in December, with the final sum raised $14.8 billion -- just shy of a $15 billion target.

The fund, Fund VII, took about 16 months to raise and about 20-25 percent of it is already invested, mostly in credit, he said on the sidelines of a private equity conference held by Wharton University.

Raising funds has become increasingly hard for private equity firms, so managing to raise a fund at or close to target in the current market is an achievement.

Black said at the conference that he saw great opportunities to invest in credit and distressed companies.

"For the next two years, there will be huge opportunities in distressed for those that have capital," Black said.

But his outlook for the economy was "pretty bleak," with banks, financial markets and credit markets basically shut.

Play Offense

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Marketer Peter DeLorenzo offers useful advice to automotive marketers:

I sense an overreaction on the part of Detroit marketers right now, especially at General Motors, and it's not a good look. Any more whining and it will start drowning out the message, which is exactly what Detroit automakers can't afford. Rather than discussing the "winding down" of their marketing options, or rationalizing how they will still get their message across while abandoning marketing opportunities left and right, Detroit automakers should be upping their marketing presence and going on the offensive. American consumers aren't going to find out about Detroit's most competitive offerings - the ones that merit serious consideration - by osmosis, are they?

As if right on cue, a perfectly-timed demonstration of how it should be done is the insert Audi placed in several national newspapers yesterday (Audi also sponsored special network news broadcasts of the inaugural with limited commercial interruption), which was, for all intents and purposes, a "State of the Union" message for the company, reminding everyone of who they are, what they stand for, and how they go about the business of building great cars, all revolving around the word "Progress." Here's an excerpt:

"To us, it's taking what seems undoable and then doing it. It's discovering what no one else has bothered to discover. It's turning skeptics into believers. And it's taking the thinking that won on the racetrack and putting it on the road.

And it's why now is the time for the company with four rings. Progress moves things forward. Progress changes the category. Progress leaves the others behind.

Progress is Beautiful."

What opportunities exist for real estate brokers to play offense?Do these things and your broker value equation rises significantly with customers, agents and staff.

Real Estate Appraisers Face Big Changes

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Christopher Palmeri:

The appraisal industry has justifiably come under fire for its role in the great housing bust. Property appraisals, required by lenders before a loan is made, are supposed to provide an independent assessment of the home's value. But during the boom, appraisers routinely signed off on a doubling or tripling of home values, sometimes racked up in just a matter of months. Investment properties were appraised at prices that made no investment sense. And homeowners were charged a pretty penny for what often amounted to rubber-stamp service.

Now the industry is about to undergo a shakeup. On Jan. 9, Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) announced revisions to their Home Valuation Code of Conduct. Starting on May 1, lenders that want to sell their loans to the two industry behemoths must follow the new guidelines. Mortgage brokers and Realtors are no longer able to choose appraisers. They will be selected by lenders, which are not allowed to influence appraisers by withholding payments or promising future work. If lenders have in-house appraisers, the bank's loan-origination department is not allowed to influence their valuation decisions or supervise their work.

The changes follow an agreement reached last year between Fannie, Freddie, the New York State Attorney General's Office, which was investigating the appraisal industry, and the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which oversees Fannie and Freddie. The new rules only apply to loans bought by or guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie. Lenders who operate independently of those channels do not have to follow them. But since Fannie and Freddie buy or guarantee a huge share of all U.S. mortgages, the changes should have wide application.

Seth Godin urges real estate agents to do just that, actually - the electronic kind, in a recent blog post:

Assume you've got six people in your office. Each person is responsible to do two things each day:
  • Interview a local business, a local student or a local political activist. You can do it by phone, it can be very short and it might take you ten minutes.
  • Get 20 households to 'subscribe' by giving you their email address and asking for a free subscription. You can use direct contact or flyers or speeches to get your list.
Godin's real point is that now is an excellent time to step into the local information void.

A combination of an easy to use, informative blog, a fast and deep website with maps and a periodic enewsletter is a powerful way to improve your "Broker Value Equation" [PDF].

Note that THIS approach benefits your brand (think lead generation and recruiting/retention), rather than investing time and money in generic MLS or third party services.

Main Street includes blogs, eCards, eNewsletters, weblead management, online surveys, CRM and much more.

Virtual Properties has more than five year's experience publishing influential local blogs. Let's talk. 877 901 9601 and ask for Jim.

Detroit Bailout Blowback on Chrysler's Blog

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A Chrysler blog post displaying an advertisement that ran in major newspapers has generated a blowback in the comments:

Hey Crysler! You're not welcome. You took my hard earned tax dollars without congressional approval. This is not the time for a "thank you." This would be a good time for a refund...and an apology. http://rightklik.net
Posted Dec 27, 2008, 3:19 PM by RightKlik.net
Mr. Nardelli,

It takes a man with a whole lotta chutzpah to thank a person for investing in a company when they had zero voice in the matter.

My elected representatives decided 'no'. The executive branch decided 'yes' through means that might be legal but frankly smell like rotten fish.

You may certainly get my money this way, but you will never see a dime of my money voluntarily spent on any of your products.

Brian Dunbar
Neenah, Wisconsin
Posted Dec 27, 2008, 3:20 PM by bdunbar
Mr Nardelli, Fire your PR and advertising teams and execs immediately. We the People did not want to see any more ads and money wasted on ads, be it from Chrysler, et al, or from your own pocket. You should have put up a website thanking the people and just submitted it to various online news aggregators for free. Once again, I am pained to see you are demonstrating a lack of common sense and fiscal responsibility. We supported the bailout of the car companies, even in the face of the horrendously mismanaged and secretive bailout of banks, and you stlil throw money away in the name of your company. Time to wake up. Sincerely, Matt and the rest of the Internet.
Posted Dec 27, 2008, 3:20 PM by dezmd

Deftly illustrating the two way nature of web communications. Running ads in expensive newspapers using bailout funds seems..... not smart.

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.

How Property Bubbles Help Us

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The Economist:

The second thing that a bubble can do is to make a more profound impression on the public mind than a more conservative period of economic development can manage. The 1920s land boom implanted the idea of Florida as a glamorous holiday destination that has lasted to this day. Fisher, who displayed an unending genius for promotion, can take much of the credit.
Corbis Warren Harding and his caddie

He used a visit by Warren Harding, the then president-elect, to win early coverage for Miami Beach and he arranged high-profile tennis, golf and polo tournaments to garner more publicity. He imaginatively combined the two: this picture shows Harding employing one of Fisher's pet elephants as a caddie at the Flamingo hotel golf course. Fisher also put up a huge sign in Manhattan during the winter of 1921 boasting "It's always June in Miami Beach." The pricking of the bubble never erased the fun-drenched image of Florida that was created during the boom.

The impression left by the railway mania was of a different kind. Although the bubble clearly failed to deliver good returns to its investors, it did add greatly to the depth and awareness of financial markets. According to Mr Odlyzko, the number of families holding shares doubled during the period. He reckons that the introduction of general limited liability in Britain in 1856 was hastened by the experience of limited liability for authorised railway schemes during the boom.

The Way the Brain Buys

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The Economist:

Retailers are making breakthroughs in understanding their customers' minds. Here is what they know about you

IT MAY have occurred to you, during the course of a dismal trawl round a supermarket indistinguishable from every other supermarket you have ever been into, to wonder why they are all the same. The answer is more sinister than depressing. It is not because the companies that operate them lack imagination. It is because they are all versed in the science of persuading people to buy things--a science that, thanks to technological advances, is beginning to unlock the innermost secrets of the consumer's mind.

In the Sainsbury's in Hatch Warren, Basingstoke, south-west of London, it takes a while for the mind to get into a shopping mode. This is why the area immediately inside the entrance of a supermarket is known as the "decompression zone". People need to slow down and take stock of the surroundings, even if they are regulars. In sales terms this area is a bit of a loss, so it tends to be used more for promotion. Even the multi-packs of beer piled up here are designed more to hint at bargains within than to be lugged round the aisles. Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, famously employs "greeters" at the entrance to its stores. Whether or not they boost sales, a friendly welcome is said to cut shoplifting. It is harder to steal from nice people.

The Death of the Yellow Pages

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Newt Barrett:

In January 2008, I wrote two stories about the Yellow Pages which some readers probably thought to be alarmist. Now, the Wall Street Journal appears to agree with my drastic prediction.

In the first of those January articles, I suggested that advertisers should be rethinking their Yellow Pages strategy based on the results of an informal research study I had conducted: Is It Time to Abandon Your Yellow Pages Advertising? In the second, I reported the results of a test Idid comparing the Yellow Pages search in print and online with a Google search. The Yellow Pages lost in both cases: Real World Experiment Explains Impending Demise of Yellow Pages.

The November 17, 2008 Wall Street Journal article kicks off with a headline just as brutal as anything I might have written: Extinction Threatens Yellow-Pages Publishers.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2008 is the previous archive.

February 2009 is the next archive.

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