The Power of Zillow – The Power of Inventory

Hey!  Take a look at this:

That’s the first page of results of a search on Zillow for homes for sale in Chino Hills, CA.  Do you see the Help-U-Sell logo over on the right?  Yep.  It appears six times!  Six of the first nine listings are Patrick Wood’s!  Patrick is, of course, our franchisee in Chino Hills and he’s done about as good a job establishing the brand in his community as anyone this side of Don Taylor.  What do you think a consumer, looking for real estate in this town, who does what consumers today do (go to Zillow.com) thinks when they see this?  The compounding effect is remarkable!  The logo to the side of the listing is one of the benefits of becoming a ‘Premiere Agent’ with Zillow.  Of course, the main reason Brokers and Agents upgrade to Premiere is to have their contact information appear next to the listings of non-Premiere agents, but that’s really of minor importance to Patrick.  He gets HUGE bang for the buck from the display of the logo because he has a ton of listings! This is always true in our business:  the broker with lots of listings gets lots of leads.

This is why most of Help-U-Sell marketing is directed to potential Sellers.  If we do a good job of building inventory with our superior offer to Sellers, we’ll have all the Buyer leads we could ever want.

I don’t hear it much anymore, but there was a time when I’d occasionally hear a broker complain that they weren’t getting any leads from their website.  My reply was always the same:  ‘How many listings do you have in inventory?’  I’d usually hear something like ‘three’ or ‘five’ or ‘I’m down to two.’  They didn’t have a website problem, they had an inventory problem.  Solve the inventory problem and the leads will flow.

I mentioned that Patrick Wood has done a superb job of establishing the Brand in Chino Hills.  I want to share something else from him.  It’s a little bit of community involvement, of giving back, that really works:

That’s Patrick’s son in one of the uniforms his dad bought for the team. Once again:  same logo, prominently displayed.

Now, some Help-U-Sell purists might question the prominence Patrick gives to his own name.  I mean, one of the beauties of Help-U-Sell is that it is a system that works.  Unlike ordinary real estate businesses, it is not dependent on personality for success.  When we go out to establish the brand, we establish Help-U-Sell, not any individual.  Yet here, Patrick is branding himself just as he is Help-U-Sell.  He’s done this for eight years and today he IS Help-U-Sell in Chino Hills.  Ken Kopcho in Santa Maria, CA has done something similar with his ‘Ken Sells’ identity and website.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  If there is a negative, it is that branding yourself probably diminishes the value of your business on the open market.  If you were trying to sell a business that was built as much around YOU as around your Brand, the assumption is that it would collapse when you walked away.  An established Brand – especially one like ours, that’s built on replicatable systems – should be in a much better position to survive an ownership change.

ON A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT NOTE . . .

Tomorrow, Google’s new privacy policy goes into effect.  This is a logical change that probably won’t upset too many people (although some have been screaming about it for weeks).  What they’re going to do is pool all of your profile information from all Google owned products to create one master profile with all of your information in one place.  By pooling your profiles into one, they’ll have more comprehensive information about you and will be better able to serve up advertising that is apt to appeal to you.  In addition to the information you’ve provided to, say, Google+, YouTube, Blogger, etc., they will also pool your browsing history.  Again, it helps them know what advertising to serve you.

Don Gross of CNN had a pretty good piece about the change and you can read it here.  At the end of the article, he presents a handful of easy things you can to to improve your privacy in this new Google world.  I found it helpful enough to reproduce it here:

Here are a few tips on how to keep your data a little more private on some of Google’s most popular features.

Don’t sign in

This is the easiest and most effective tip.

Many of Google’s services — most notably search, YouTube and Maps — don’t require you to sign in to use them. If you’re not logged in, via Gmail or Google+, for example, Google doesn’t know who you are and can’t add data to your profile.

But to take a little more direct action …

Removing your Google search history

Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has compiled a step-by-step guide to deleting and disabling your Web History, which includes the searches you’ve done and sites you’ve visited.

It’s pretty quick and easy:

— Sign in to your Google account

— Go to www.google.com/history

— Click “Remove all Web History”

— Click “OK”

As the EFF notes, deleting your history will not prevent Google from using the information internally. But it will limit the amount of time that it’s fully accessible. After 18 months, the data will become anonymous again and won’t be used as part of your profile.

Six tips to protect your search privacy (from the EFF)

Clearing your YouTube history

Similarly, users may want to remove their history on YouTube. That’s also pretty quick and easy.

— Sign in on Google’s main page

— Click on “YouTube” in the toolbar at the top of the page

— On the right of the page, click your user name and select “Video Manager”

— Click “History” on the left of the page and then “Clear Viewing History”

— Refresh the page and then click “Pause Viewing History”

— You can clear your searches on YouTube by going back and choosing “Clear Search History” and doing the same steps.

Clearing your browsing history on Google Chrome

— Click on the “wrench” icon at the far right of your toolbar

— Select “Tools”

— Select “Clear browsing data”

— In the dialogue box that appears, click the “clear browsing data” box (there are other options you may want to use as well)

— Select “Beginning of Time” to clear your entire browsing history

— Click “clear browsing history”

Gmail Chat

When you start a chat with someone, you can make the conversation “off the record.” Off-the-record chats will not be stored in your chat history or the history of the person with whom you’re talking. All chats with that person will remain off the record until you change the status. To go off the record:

— Click the “Actions” link at the top right of the chat window

— Scroll down to “Go off the record.” Both you and your chat partner will see that the chat has been taken off the record.

What are Google’s other products?

Obviously, anything with “Google” in its name counts. But the Web giant owns other products that might not be so obvious to some folks.

— Gmail. Yes, the “G” is for Google.

— YouTube. Google bought the Web’s leading video site in 2006

— Picasa. The online photo sharing site became Google’s in 2004

— Blogger. The blog publishing tool has been Google’s since 2003.

— FeedBurner. A management tool for bloggers and managing RSS feeds. Google bought it in 2007.

— Orkut. Google’s original social-networking site isn’t big in the U.S. But it’s one of the most popular sites in India and Brazil.

— Android. Yes, you probably know this. But just for the record, Google owns the most popular smartphone operating system.

 

 

Syndication Update

We had a good discussion about the whole syndication flap on yesterday’s Power Hour Rountable call.  Everyone agreed that the whole concept of the syndicators using our own data to attract leads they sell back to us was repugnant.  However, they saw it pretty much as something we did to ourselves (we being Realtors in general).  We failed to give consumers what Zillow, Trulia and others gave them, and today, that’s where consumers go to look for houses.

The group was quick to accept reality:  this is the way it is today.  Sellers expect to be seen on the syndication sites.  If you can’t give that to them, they will likely go elsewhere.  They don’t care what your syndication baggage is or how indignant you are about using your data to attract leads for other brokers.  They just expect to be there.  Plus there was general consensus that the aggregator sites work.  At one point in the call Ken Kopcho got on his mobile phone and counted:  31 leads from Zillow!

Speaking for the group, I’d say we agreed to go full bore into mining this rich source of leads,and nobody wants to stop syndicating.  However, there was agreement with what Kirk Eisele said in his comment:  consumers will go wherever their needs are best met, and this is not a closed case.  When someone comes along with a home search tool that out-Zillows Zillow, that’s where consumers will go.  There’s no reason why that can’t be us.  We own our own technology, aren’t dependent on outside vendors who have to please masses of clients, and can do whatever we want with our web presence.

Go back in time, oh, 7 years I guess.  Helpusell.com  had outrageous web traffic.  And it excreted leads, one after the other.  There was a good reason why we, at times, had better traffic than much larger organizations:  we embraced IDX and used it when most of the industry was afraid to give that information to consumers.  Consumers wanted to go to one website and look at all houses available for sale in the local market.  Using IDX to do that gave us a big leg-up on the competition.

But of course, in time the competition leveled the playing field by dropping their hysterical resistance to giving the public free access to information and adding IDX to their own sites.  We suffered a major blow when one large competitor went to our vendor and basically bought them out from under us.  We went from being the darling of Internet lead creation to . . . nowhere.  That’s why, today, we own our own tech.  We built it, it’s not available to anyone else and it does what we want it to do.

We have an opportunity today to take back some of what we gave up to the aggregators.  The shift will come when we give them everything they get from Zillow and MORE.  Today?  I have to run because I just got 5 new leads from my ad on Trulia.

Help-U-Sell Success Summit 2011 Update

Nick Taylor from Zillow will be joining us next month at our Help-U-Sell Success Summit in Anaheim, CA.  Nick knows more about how to use credible real estate data to generate leads than anyone I know and I’m really excited to have him work with our group.  He’ll focus on how to tap into the power of the top consumer oriented aggregator of real estate information, Zillow, and will be introducing some exciting new tools that are just becoming available. Check out Nick presenting at a recent Agent Re-Boot event:

And being interviewed about Zillow features:

Nick has already impressed me with his mental sharpness and power of perception: yesterday he told me in his experience, Help-U-Sell folks ‘get it’ a whole lot better than your run-of-the-mill real estate person!

Don’t miss this great opportunity to grow your mind and your business! Register now by going HERE (it’s free). And then make your sleeping room reservations at the Hotel Menage: 714.758.0900

*The Help-U-Sell Success Summit takes place Nov. 14 – 16, immediately following the NAR Convention in Anaheim, CA. Our special room rate at the Menage is available from the 11th – when the NAR meeting begins – all the way through the Summit and even beyond. So take advantage of it to come in early, go to NAR (help us in the booth!), or stay over for a day at Disneyland.

Five Timely Truths

  1. When consumers want information about residential real estate today, they go to Zillow.com.  I say that because my Brokers tell me Zillow consistently produces quality leads.  Trulia comes in a (usually) distant second.  Realtor.com is not even on the map.
  2. Data mining and manipulation of real estate information has progressed so far and so fast that 95% of the people in the industry have no idea how to use it.  Ok:  maybe that’s a little hyperbole.  But I am impressed that the data guys are to the point of predicting buy and sell behavior via algorithms and so much more.  They have taken their business way out there and the rank and file Realtor – who is still trying to figure out how to resize their prom picture so they can use it on their business card – has no clue.  The good news is that the 5% (or 15%) who do have the desire and the smarts to use this new information will survive to be the next generation Realtor.
  3. Virtual companies (at the moment) suck.  I encountered yet another that has one broker in one city, holding licenses and ‘managing’ hundreds of salespeople all over the State.   While I believe that systems and technology may make it possible to supervise transaction activity at a distance,  it hasn’t yet evolved to where a Broker might watch an agent with a buyer or seller or to allow a Manager to casually overhear a phone conversation.  The Broker’s duty to supervise becomes a ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge,’ item.  But the real downside – at least today – is that these companies have become an alternative for non-productive agents who otherwise would probably get out of the business.  For a small fee they can continue to be ‘active’ and do 3 or 4 deals a year.
  4. By devoting themselves to the preservation of the Status Quo, by fighting tooth and nail every step of the way to keep information out of the hands of consumers, by not insisting on production standards for members, Realtor Groups (NAR and it’s affiliated State and Local Boards and Associations) have made themselves largely irrelevant.  It’s probably too late to wake up and realize that things will NEVER be the way they used to be, that real estate reality has changed, and changed significantly.  The next generation real estate professional is not at a meeting at the Board of Realtors.  He/She is online, networking and discovering the tools that will enable them to do more transactions and provide better service.
  5. Help-U-Sell, with proprietary technology that we created, own and control,  is the only national brand positioned to lead the industry into the new tech-efficient real estate age while preserving a razor focus on the needs of the consumer.  We’ve always been a consumer-centric company and now we can bring that focus to bear in a leaner, more efficient, tech-driven industry.  Every time I go to a real estate trade show I get tickled when people tout the latest and greatest tech innovation (Mobil phone websites, QR codes, map searches, online lead management, syndication and on and on)  . . . and it’s all stuff we’ve had for a couple of years.

 

It’s Up! It’s Down! And the Problem with ‘Virtual’ Companies

Having finally gotten back from vacation, my thoughts are a little scattered . . . but I still have a few morsels to share.

The NAHB (Home Builder’s Association) is out with a list of marketplaces that have shown sustained improvement over the previous six months.  These are places where three indicators (Housing Permits, Housing Prices and Employment)  have improved steadily over the period:

    • Alexandria, LA
    • Anchorage, AK
    • Bangor, ME
    • Bismarck, ND
    • Casper, WY
    • Fairbanks, AK
    • Fayetteville, NC
    • Houma, LA
    • Midland, TX
    • New Orleans, LA
    • Pittsburgh, PA
    • Waco, TX

Meanwhile, Zillow is out with a list of the ten metro areas experiencing the greatest drop in home values over the past five years, based on their own Z-Estimate guess at value.  All of these markets have experienced at least a 50% drop in value, according to Zillow:

    • Merced, CA
    • Modesto, CA
    • Stockton, CA
    • Las Vegas, NV
    • Vallejo, CA
    • Salinas, CA
    • Daytona Beach, Fl
    • Bakersfield, CA
    • Ft. Meyers, FL
    • Phoenix, AZ

Of course, I see a 50+% drop in values and immediately imagine a 50% drop in percentage based real estate commissions.  The whole traditional approach to the business has taken a 50% pay cut and that’s before factoring in any decrease in the number of sales occurring.  Clearly, we are in the midst of a huge change.  I don’t believe we will ever do business again the way we did it in the past.  In the future, consumers will demand a leaner, more efficient, less expensive, no-nonsense approach to buying and selling real estate.  Oh!  What was that I just heard?? Did someone whisper ‘Help-U-Sell?’

In the past, when we had a downturn, there was a purgative effect on the business.  Bad agents – I hate to mince words, but anyone doing less than a deal a month is, well, a bad agent – usually left the business when the pickings got slim.  While REALTOR ranks have shrunk during this long season, they’ve not dwindled they way I expected.

Concurrent with this downturn, we have the widespread advent of the ‘Virtual’ real estate company, an innovation I believe will be part of the future of real estate.  Unfortunately, the current aberration of the ‘Virtual’ company presents a problem.  Most have simply become a place were unproductive agents can hang their licenses cheaply.  Some charge an agent only a few hundred dollars a year, while others charge a small per-transaction fee.   So the three or four deal a year agent – the one who used to get out when things got tough – can now afford to stay in and scrape a few deals together each year while earning a regular paycheck somewhere else.  Of course, that’s fewer transactions available to the real professionals in the business, but in the end, it is the consumer who suffers.  They’re saddled with agents who do so little business they can’t possibly be as current or effective as others who live and die real estate every day.

I think it is very relevant and totally appropriate for any person thinking of selling today to ask their prospective agent, ‘How many transactions have you done this year?  How many last year?  How many were successful short sales?’  Today, you want an agent who is capable of turning numbers, who knows how to navigate a short sale and to solve the big problems that torpedo so many transactions.  One of the biggest mistakes a potential seller could make would be to select an agent who is doing so little, they don’t have the depth of experience to do much at all.

By the way:  Jackson Hole, The Tetons, and Yellowstone were all wonderful, but Utah . . . now that’s a State in which to spend some recreational time.  Zion National Park and, especially, Capitol Reef were amazing.  I learned many important lessons on the trip, especially that dogs and toads don’t mix.  Homer bit one when I wasn’t looking and immediately turned to foaming at the mouth and shaking.  Turned out this was not a lethal toad, just a typical one, and he got through it.  But All toads can produce the same reaction in a dog, even from just licking the little rascals.  There are a few that are lethal, but they are rare.  Although frogs don’t seem to be a problem, my advice is:  if it croaks and hops, give it a wide berth.