Google Launches Free 411 Service

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Leave it to Google to take another existing product, make it better, than give it away for free. This month Google launched a new service called Goog-411, that is basically a 411 information service that is free, and does limit you to only searches where you know the actual business you are looking for.

According to TechCrunch, there are 2.6 billion 411 calls made every year, costing consumers about $7Billion in fees. This has got to cause concern for those big phone companies, but that’s what Google’s all about. They took over search from Netscape and Yahoo, they are creating free business apps to take away Microsoft’s monopoly, they are taking away the ad spend from newspapers and everyone else, and now they’re taking away the 411 fees from phone companies.

Call the system and choose between a name or a category. You can search for a specific name of a business or you can search for a category, such as “restaurant” or “real estate”. The system will give you it’s top eight results and connect you to the business and send you a text message of the info- all for free.

What really sets this apart from the traditional 411 service (other than being free) is the ability to search by category. If you’re out of town and wondering where to go for a bite to eat, or to get a drink, the system can give you some ideas.

Here are some results I received from a few searches I did to test out the system… with each search I selected “Salt Lake City, Utah” as the city and state;

Searching for “restaurants” the top results were two hotel restaurants at the Marriott and Hilton (bad choices), then Market Street Grill (great), Squatters Pub (good), Metropolitan (good), Bambara (good), The Melting Pot (good), and Stone Ground Restaurant (never been). 

Searching for “gas station” it gives me six different 7-11 stations,  Maverik on 200 West, and a Sinclair on South Temple. Interesting that 7-11 comes in so strong. Probably because of so many locations.

Searching for “movies” it says, Brewvies (great choice), Clark Planetarium (wtf?), Broadway Century Cinemas (good), Tower Theatre (good), Gateway Megaplex (great), Salt Lake City Film Center (hmm), Century 16 on 3300 south (great), Redwood Drive-In Theatre (great).

Searching for “real estate” the system first offered me government divisions, then went into property management and some small ma’ and pa’ shop offices. They obviously need work with that category.

Searching for “bars” it recommends- Squatters (okay as a bar) (good), Red Rock Brewery, Benihana (wtf?), Green Street (good), O’ Shucks (good), Jr’s Tavern (never been), Dead Goat Saloon (good), and Club Sound (never been). This category could use a make-over.

Searching for “club” it recommends- Port O’ Call (great), Manhattan Club (good), Red Door (great), Green Street (good), Monks House of Jazz (good), Area 51 (good), WiseGuys Comedy Club (good), but #8 was Special Olympics Utah?

It’s free so give it a try, just dial (800)GOOG-411, or (800)466-4411.

If your business is not listed and you’d like to list it, just fill out the quick registration.

 

 

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BlueRoof Among Utah’s Top Blogs

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Chris Sandberg ranks Utah’s Top Blogs (by Technorati ranking) for traffic and BlueRoof.com Blog is ranked #13 for traffic- right behind, and just ahead of, some excellent bloggers.

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So what makes one blog get more attention than others? They say that “content is king“, and content is obviously a big factor in the popularity of a blog, but there are other factors that play into it. Here are the things that help your blog become more successful and help you stand out;

Presentation of the content is, in my opinion, one of the most important parts of a good blog. Many blogs are just a mess of text and ads thrown onto a page and I don’t usually read them for fear of a headache. I like clean looking blogs with good organization and the use of color and negative space to separate sections. And I like the overall feel to be friendly and visually appealing. A couple of good examples of this would be The Harper Team blog and Seth Godin’s blog. Their presentations are fun and appealing. I also think images help a lot.

Participation makes a significant difference in growing your blog. Reading other blogs and commenting in a way that furthers the discussion and builds your reputation so those other bloggers will want to link to you. I participated in, and won one of the first blog carnivals for real estate, appropriately called the Carnival of Real Estate and I’ve also hosted the carnival.

Recognition from other sources, especially credible sources, can help bring you traffic and give you credibility. Having Random MeanderingsFuture of Real Estate Inman News Blog, RealtyThoughts3OceansRealEstate, BloodHound Blog, and many other great bloggers write about me has really helped and I appreciate it very much.

Linking to other websites, blogs and articles, and having them link to you helps you get indexed in the search engines and gain traction within the millions of blogs out there. I’ve already linked to a dozen other places in this post.

Controversy – or at least some honesty without political correctness keeps things interesting and real. One of the reasons many blogs suffer is they are bland because they try to please too many people.

Updating often with new material is critical. Sometimes it’s tough to find the time or motivation, but if you want your blog to matter, you’ve got to put in the effort.

 

*Since this top ranking list was published the position for BlueRoof.com Blog has moved up to 29,876 while two others have gone down, making BlueRoof.com Blog now ranked #11 for Utah’s Top Blogs.  

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Thanks for reading…

Using Video to Sell Homes

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Video may have killed the radio star, but it’s having a tough time doing anything to the virtual tour. Videos show movement, sound and can express dimension much better than still, or even panoramic photography. So why don’t more Realtors use video to sell property?

Videos can be very tastefully done when produced well, but here are the challenges I see to videos becoming mainstream;

They’re more expensive. The video equipment (camera, tripod, lighting equipment) is expensive and it can be much more expensive to have a professional movie created. Many agents and homeowners don’t want to spend any more money than they already are.

They can be very time consuming. It takes a while to plan the video, set up, shoot the video, edit it and post it online.

Embedding the video in their current website framework is difficult at best and impossible for most. Most agents use template sites that don’t allow video, and custom sites need to be re-coded specifically to allow for video.

Lack of creativity. Photos tell the story simply by existing, but video means you need to be a bit more interesting. Do you use music or sound? Do you speak while you show the property? Do you have a voice-over? Do you walk-through or do you spin around in each room, and how fast do you move? There’s more thought that goes into video, and that can be intimidating.

But the main reason that I haven’t used video to sell homes is that it is very difficult to produce a high-quality video and it’s important to me and my clients that we represent their properties in the very best way. The videos I have seen are almost always shaky and the lighting is not good. Sometimes it is difficult to pay attention to the home because I’m so focused on the video’s quality or what the person is saying, or the music they selected.

And with video you are stuck for that amount of time watching, where with photos and panoramic shots if the home doesn’t look good- I can see that and move on in seconds without needing to sit through a five-minute presentation waiting to see if the master bedroom is big enough.

Videos may be the newest gadget in selling homes, but it until a low-cost/high quality service becomes available (like with virtual tours) it may be tough for them to gain traction in the home selling process.

“For Sale By Owner” Doesn’t Always Pay

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I don’t shop at Walmart. I don’t mean to sound uppity about it or anything, but I just don’t enjoy the experience. The lines are long, the cashiers are slow and over-whelmed and there seem to be more children than adults. Everything in the joint is cheap. The facilities are sparse, ugly and usually in disrepair- the only thing that matters to them is price.

I remember buying my son a bike from Walmart one year. I was a single-parent living in the San Francisco area and the cost of living was high for me. I hadn’t yet been promoted to managing broker so I was only making about $50,000/year, which is not much in the Bay area. For Christmas, I found that for the price of a new bike at the bike shop I could get him a bike, some toys and some clothes at Walmart. He loved getting his new bike and liked his toys and clothes, too. He proudly rode his bike around the condo complex we lived in until about a week later when he went over a speed bump and the front wheel came off, causing him to go head-over-handles and into the street face-first. He came home crying with blood covering his clothes and road-rash all over his body.

This was another lesson for me in the difference between price and value. Walmart would not refund my money, but would only give me an in-store credit. Lame. As soon as I could I went to the bike shop and bought him another bike. But this bike was built well and the salesperson showed us how to use it’s features and all about safety and it came with a great warranty and service plan. After riding the new bike for a few days my son told me how much better it rode than the other bike. It didn’t make the same noise when he put on the brakes and it handles bumps so much smoother. And the wheels didn’t fall off and it rode well for years until he outgrew it.

So how much did I actually save buying his bike at Walmart for the lower cost? Nothing- I lost money, and that’s the point. I’d rather shop at places where I enjoy the experience and buy quality items and services. I would rather pay more at Nordstrom and have excellent service and the comfort and knowledge that I am buying quality.

A good friend of mine decided to “save” money by installing his own swimming pool last year so he called a guy that helps people do this and my friend coordinated having the hole dug and the pool shaped and the concrete poured and the liners installed and did most of the work himself, along with me and other friends. Took about 45 days to complete and he finished the entire job for under $25,000. Not bad compared to the $45,000 estimate he received from pool companies. He had us all over for a pool party after it was all completed and was so proud of the fact that he put in some extra effort and saved $20,000. Until the pool sank. The corner of the pool began sinking within the first few months and by the end of the year the entire pool was cracking and coming apart and the sinking corner was about a foot lower than the rest and the water was running out of it. He had bids to raise it back up, re-enforce it and repair the damage, and now he’s spending an extra $25,000 re-doing the ruined pool. It should be done in about 45 days and who knows if it will ever be as good of quality as if he had simply had the experts do it from the beginning.

So how much did my friend actually save installing the pool on his own?

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90% of all FSBO properties, where the seller does not already know the buyer, end up listing their house with a professional. 6% sell and 4% take the home off the market and don’t sell. Why is it that only 6% of FSBO homes sell? And more importantly, do they actually save any money? There are surely some homes that happen to be in excellent, high-demand areas, are in great condition, show very well, and sell for top dollar without a real estate agent, simply by having a yard sign or newspaper ad. But what about the rest of these money-savers?

If a home could sell for $465,000 given the right touch-ups, marketing, and salesmanship, but is sold as a For Sale By Owner for $420,000 does the seller really “save” anything by not using a Realtor? Of course many times FSBO homes are priced way more than they are worth because the sellers have no idea what it’s worth or have an inflated sense of worth when it comes to their home. But regardless of where the the home sellers think they should price their home, NAR says that the average FSBO sells their home for 12% less than listed homes.

Here’s the thing about pricing- there’s a difference between value and saleability. Value is quantifiable on paper (neighborhood, square feet, number of bedrooms, etc.), saleability is more of a feel- condition, floor plan, room size, view from the windows, carpet color, etc. Some things add value, some add saleability- and you need to be able to find the highest price a home will actually sell for, and then deal with the appraisers and inspections to get the deal done. And many times making a few minor changes to a home can add tons of profit for the seller because it increases the home’s saleability. This is one reason it’s not just important to hire a real estate agent, but to hire one of the best Realtors in your area.

The irony is that many times FSBO sellers are so caught up in “saving” the commission that they lose thousands of dollars. They’re stepping over a quarter to pick up a dime and then think they’ve come out ahead. And they had to do all the work themselves to get to that loss. And they’ve hurt the values of all the surrounding homes by selling for less than the home was worth. If they sold a home for $420,000 when it could have sold for $460,000- all the surrounding homes now have been hurt by that comparable sale. Instead of helping all the neighbors, the seller hurt them all. 

Are the 94% of people who sell their homes with Realtors just dumb? Do they want to waste money? Or could it be that they, like I, have discovered that hiring a good professional Realtor is a smart investment that will save them thousands of dollars, help the neighbors, and give them a much more enjoyable experience along the way?

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I’ve heard there are more lawsuits with damages awarded from the 6% of homes that sell without representation than from the 94% of homes that do. If you sell your home and get sued for thousands of dollars and have to spend time in court defending yourself- is that worth it? There have been sellers who have had to buy back properties months after they sold them and moved on. There are people who have lost everything because they tried to “save” money and didn’t know what they doing. And using a good professional can make you more money anyway.

That’s why people would rather pay 30% of the winning judgement to a good attorney to represent them when they’ve been injured in an accident than try to go it on their own and keep all of the money they may win. Because 70% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

And when it comes to selling your own home- if you “save” a 6% commission by selling for 8-10% less than you could have (or not sell at all)- how much have you actually saved?

Now, money isn’t everything– there is certainly an element of satisfaction one can obtain by doing a good job yourself, and that’s something I understand well. I am simply talking to the business side of the transaction, where supply and demand play into the fold.

Most buyers are working with agents, and why not- it doesn’t cost them anything and they get a lot of help. And buyers working with agents don’t usually see homes that are FSBO because agents use the very efficient MLS to search for the 90% of homes that are listed and most of the consumers are looking online, where the websites get their feeds directly from that same MLS. So if every buyer will see your home if it’s listed, but only a fraction will see it not being listed, it makes the buyer pool smaller, and therefore more difficult to sell for top dollar, or at all.

You don’t have to have a professional help you in real estate, law, or landscaping for that matter, but there is a difference when you employ the right help. There are some FSBO sellers who have had bad experiences with agents. I’ve had bad experiences with agents, but I’ve had bad experiences dating and that didn’t stop me from meeting my wife. I’m not saying get an agent- I’m saying get one of the best agents.

I suggest you call a good professional who doesn’t cut corners. Have good help that will do it the right way and get you the most money possible and help eliminate the stresses and anxiety that can come from trying to navigate the process on your own.

You’ll be glad you did.

 

The Five Things That Sell Homes Today

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Anyone who has sold more than a couple homes has probably heard all the pitches from different agents, stories from neighbors, and maybe even read some books about selling a home. And all of those things probably have worked somewhere, sometime.

Once I took a listing, walked out to my car and as I was placing a “For Sale” sign in the front yard a buyer pulled up and wanted to see the house. They walked through it, loved it, bought it that night. Once I was sitting an “Open House” that was vacant and a couple walked in needing somewhere to move into the next week as the home they were buying caught fire and their apartment had been leased. My home was the best they saw that day that was also vacant and ready for immediate possession, so they bought it. Once I sent out “Just Listed” postcards in the neighborhood around a home I just put on the market and a neighbor called me. I showed her the home and she bought it for her son.

So does that mean that the best way to sell a house is a yard sign, open house, or postcard? Of course not. Usually selling a home (for top dollar) takes a lot of marketing, money and diligent effort.

And times have changed. Newspapers used to bring buyers, now they’re not nearly as popular unless you place full color (expensive) block ads, which we do. Open houses used to be a much bigger deal. Now, most people prefer to take a virtual tour of a home at their convenience. The internet didn’t exist in real estate ten years ago, now it’s the most powerful form of marketing available.

In my experience there are five things that  matter most when selling a home.

Accessibility is important because if people can’t see the home they won’t buy it. This is why it’s important to have keybox. And most MLS systems now support an electronic keybox that is much safer and allows greater access by the agents. These are much better than a combo keybox that anyone can get into if they know the code.

Condition is important to selling, but mostly it’s important to selling for top dollar. If your agent can help you stage your home it will help, or even better- call an interior designer and have them come out for a consultation. They will usually walk through your home with your and give you tips on making your home look it’s best for under $200. Money well spent if brings an offer for thousands more.

Price of course makes the biggest difference, and pricing your home effectively is a very important piece to selling. Over-price and you miss out on the first critical weeks on the market because buyers are comparing your home to homes that are actually worth that price. But nobody wants to leave money on the table, and pricing a home too low can leave a seller out $Thousands.

The MLS is where all the agents, and their buyers, are finding homes. And unless it’s a roaring hot sellers market, agents don’t usually show For Sale By Owner homes, so if you aren’t listed on the MLS you’re missing out on showing it to most all of the buyers. And just being on the MLS is not the end of the story- if you are with an entry-only or limited services broker that hurts, just like an MLS listing that has no information about the home hurts. You need to utilize the entire breadth of value from the MLS- photos and virtual tour, detailed home information, a good co-broker commission and well-written comments about the home that entice people to see it.

The Internet is where all the buyers are looking. To get on the biggest, and only relevant websites you need to be on the MLS because this is where the big sites all get their feeds and information. Being on the websites that have the traffic will expose a home to more buyers than all the other stuff combined. And there must be a virtual tour to have the best exposure. Buyers and agents look at the homes with tours first, and many only look at homes with tours.

Of these five things, a home seller is responsible for three of them. The seller determines how accessible a home is going to be. And they are responsible for the condition a home is in and for keeping it looking it’s best while it is for sale. And, regardless of what some agents will tell you, the seller is responsible for the price. It’s their home and their money. A professional Realtor will help with all three of these things.

And a professional Realtor will also be able to help market the property on the MLS correctly and place the property, with a virtual tour, on the relevant websites, as well as help you with the negotiations, paperwork, and coordination of the transaction.

FHA Loan Limits Raised in Salt Lake County

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The department of Housing and Urban Development has announced that beginning today the maximum loan amount financed with an FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan is $362,790. This is a significant increase over the previous maximum loan amount of $232,750 that will surely help many home buyers.

The announcement also states that FHA limits will be raised Tooele and Summit counties to reflect the rising home prices in each area.

HUD Regional Director John Carson said, “Homeownership plays a vital role in creating strong communities by giving families a stake in their neighborhoods and helping them to build wealth. Increasing mortgage limits and providing more relaxed requirements for FHA loans removes two major obstacles for many first-time homebuyers.”

FHA loans are insured by the goverment, making them attractive to lenders, along with their lighter requirements and minimum down payments of 3%. Although FHA does not allow the seller to pay the down payment for a buyer- there are down-payment assistance programs that essentially pay the down payment, with the seller paying for the service.

Does Your Website Make the Grade?

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Most of us who own websites like to get as much feedback as we possibly can, especially if it’s from someone we don’t know. Well, here’s an online website evaluator that will test your site in less than 30 seconds.

Testing BlueRoof it says that the Google pagerank is 0, when it’s actually 3, but other than that it’s probably pretty accurate about its assessment (which is obviously an on-paper assessment, not taking into account design, UI, or programming).

(H/T Newspapergrl)