What Real Estate Consumers REALLY Want

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Every week there is new set of charts and graphs that come out. They analyze every minutia of data and all the information imaginable. New killer-apps are being released at such a rapid pace it’s tough to keep up with them all. And why?

Well, according to the techno-listing sites, the third-party aggregation websites, like Redfin, Zillow and Trulia, apparently what people really want is…. yep, more data. That’s right- more and more data. Every conceivable number and metric they can think up.

It’s like a race now. Who can churn out the most data, and cram it onto their website, the fastest. Who cares if it’s relevant or if anybody will actually use it- it’s DATA! It’s cool color charts and graphs that can show you everything you never thought possible. Come and see how many times people in this neighborhood walk their dogs on Tuesday mornings or find out the ratio of homes that sold for 1/25th of their initial listing price, during the first 118 hours being on the market, after being sold 2-3 years earlier, that have a redwood deck, and were listed with a Realtor named Sally- all in a cool pie chart.

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So, this is where all the investment capital is going with all these techno-listing sites- more data? Millions of dollars are being pumped into these companies by investors who are counting on profits from all this data, yet none of these companies have made any profit. Think about how ridiculous this is. Redfin gets $20Million and it’s whole model is based around the idea that if they give more data and info, people will just buy homes online. The whole Redfin company, with all of their PR, news coverage, and dozens of full time employees and agents, only sold about 1000 homes last year.  For a comparison, I sold 114 homes last year. And these investors keep pumping money into this sinking ship.

Zillow just got another $30Million and Trulia has now received almost $18Million. And the business models of these companies is to get advertising (more stuff to put on the websites). I guess they figure at a certain point people will just become so buried with all the data on their websites that they’ll just have to fall over and surrender to them. When these companies run out of money (like they all keep doing), they simply come up with some new graphs and heat maps and show the suckers investors how this new data will finally get them some of that “profit” they keep hearing so much about, but alas… it does not come.

I receive a lot of advice on what I should add to my website. I have had no less than twenty companies approach me to sell me some cool new data field or information feed.  And I like data, and using it to give people good information, but enough is enough.

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 People don’t want more data- they want a great experience.

I don’t want to climb over piles of charts and graphs to find what I’m looking for. If I’m thirsty I don’t really care if the glass has twirling lights and does my taxes- I just want the water that’s in the glass. The next cool drinking glass that has dancing girls and live-streaming music might be hot for a little while (like these tech-sites), but in the long run I believe that people will always use simple, easy to use water glasses. Because when they are thirsty they want the water, not the glass.

My point is- don’t cram your website with as much stuff as you can find. Instead, use good data and information, and present it in a way that offers a good, fun experience for your consumers. Give them a presentation that is visually appealing, as well as powerful and technologically advanced. Don’t forget that people make decisions based on emotion, and we always will.

Give me a great experience and I will give you my business.

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Companies That Need to Be Founded

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I’m in the middle of launching my own new company, but if I had the time and the know-how here are some companies I would love to start. And maybe someone out there will someday…

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A social network that is much better. A place that has more features than Linked-In (which has none), and is much easier to use than Facebook (Can they make it any more difficult to simply send a message?), but that is more grown-up than MySpace. I’m talking about a social network where I could go to and keep up with people, chat, share photos, etc. And it needs to be simple and easy to use and understand. Make it simple!!! And without all the stoopidness of MySpace, you know the blaring hip-hop and porn on people’s pages. Why not a calendar that I can share with my network that we can all share events and birthdays, an easy way to rate and recommend local bars and restaurants, and a clean, simple design that is intuitive and fun to use.

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A Twitter that was much better. This wouldn’t be difficult to build, either and if I had time I would probably just do it myself. Take the basic idea of twitter, but make it so I don’t have to read all the responses to messages I can’t see and make it so I can choose channels or areas to be in. So maybe I can be in a business section where I’m not reading about people feeding their dog or whatever, but actual business ideas and messages. And why not let people drag-and-drop photos, videos, music and other stuff? Also 140 characters could easily be expanded to 500 so I could finish a thought… that would be nice.

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A search engine that utilizes human judgement- at least for the top commercial website ranks. Keywords and meta-tags ruin the results on existing search engines. SEO kills good design, making website creators (and their clients) to choose between a good website design that they need to pay for all the traffic to, or a wordy manifest with keywords repeated ad nausea and no design appeal in order to rank high in organic search results. For the top commercial website results, at least, human judgement should be used to ensure relevance, but also, that the best websites rank the highest.

Just because something new comes along, doesn’t mean it’s been done right. Instead of just doing more of the same or only looking for the next, new big idea, we need to take existing ideas and make them better. Remember, when a company becomes big, it becomes slow and less willing to take chances and make improvements. There are a lot of opportunities out there for people who are willing to take the chance and put in the work. People don’t want to be sold anymore, they want to be inspired.

Point2 Agent Shaken Up- Good For Consumers and Agents

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I don’t know as much about Point2 Agent  as a company as many agents do, but I am a member and have used the system. It seems to me to be an entry-level type service with a template website given and then you pay for add-ons and additional services. One thing I do know is that the company, as far the real estate piece of what they do, is centered around template websites. I think it’s important for our industry to evolve and maybe it’s time to begin to step-up to a higher level of website than templates offer.

There are better options than templates.

For most agents, a template website is their only on-line presence- either a template or an “agent page” on their broker’s website. So consumer’s see all these template sites and it affirms to them that agents don’t know much about technology. Often the consumer ends up going to the better websites (clean user-interface, enjoyable search experience, etc) that they can find, and in most areas Zillow, Realtor.com and Trulia are the best they can find.

Problem with Trulia, Realtor.com and Zillow is they are not real estate companies- they are technology companies. They take agent information (listings) for the purpose of selling ads and leads to agents. Their purpose is not to help consumers find homes, it’s to sell ads or leads. Obviously that’s not the best business model for the consumers (or agents)?

Now Point2 Agent is getting all shaken up and people are talking about it. I don’t wish bad on them at all, in fact for many agents they have been the only a good solution, but I think this shake-up may a good thing in at least one way- maybe it will open some discussion about different and even better online solutions for agents.

Instead of creating well-designed websites that offer real value to the consumer, agents usually either get a cheap  template just to have a website or they pay a technology company (Trulia/Realtor.com/Zillow) for leads. I understand why- it’s a lot easier and much less expensive than it is to build a custom site. Custom websites can cost a lot. I spent well over six figures on BlueRoof.com, and it’s tough to pay that kind of money, especially if you have no experience converting online leads and have no idea what sort of return (if any) on your investment you’ll get. But help is on the way.

Point2 and other template sites serve their purpose, to be sure, but I think many agents who have a Point2 websites would like to have something better.

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In February there will something much better.

See it here:

https://blueroof.wordpress.com/2008/01/18/blueroof360-industry-best-realtor-websites-lead-and-client-management/

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.

Homes of the Future

  

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Home designs, architectural styles, and how we use different rooms has all changed. Since 1973 the average size home has grown from 1660 to 2459 sqaure feet, backyards have become an extension of the living space, and the kitchen/family room, or great room, has become the main room in the home. Ceilings have become vaulted, closets have become walkable, master bedrooms have morphed into suites, and garages have become monsterous.

Home owners have come to want and expect different things from their homes and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) tries to stay on top of these changing trends by conducting surveys and doing studies.

So where are the trends going now? Reported in Digital Home Online, Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president for research for the National Association of Home Builders, said the home of the future will be two stories, with a one-story entry foyer, and either no living room, or one that will end up serving more as a library or parlor. Consumers buying upscale homes will want two master bedroom suites and an outside kitchen stocked with all the latest amenities — all standard. Ahluwalia also projects the size of an average home will decrease to 2,330 square feet by 2015.

        

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Respondents to an (NAHB) survey said they will want more of these amenities:

76% said more counter space

74% said more cabinet space

72% want double sinks

70% said larger table areas to eat in their kitchens

66% want outdoor kitchens

64% expect bathrooms to have double vanities

For buyers of upscale homes, the expectations increase to include high-quality appliances (96%) and they want more cabinet and counter space. 94% say they want walk-in pantries, 62% say they want two master suites in their home and 66% want an outdoor kitchen. And 80% of these future home owners want upgraded electronic features including multi-zone controlled HVAC, multi-room audio systems, whole-house automation systems, monitored burglar alarms, and programmable thermostats.

  

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Steam showers, portable aromatherapy spas and natural sinks made with granite, stone and darker woods are also hot for the near future. Kohler’s new bath, complete with rushing rapids, and many companies’ automatic sinks are also expected to be popular.

Christopher Sanderson, of The Future Laboratory and Richard Brindley, of the Royal Institute of British Architects, look deeper into the future with a project  looking into the movements of future living and say one of the main factors affecting future homes will be the continually changing climate. Colder winters and hotter summers will demand better insulation and blinds, canopies and air conditioners.

Mr Brindley says that as major cities grow, space will be at a premium and homes will have to be adaptable, with the same rooms used for many purposes. He says that technology already exists to build houses with movable walls, which could run on tracks to enable the same space to be arranged in different ways for different functions.

    

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One great example of this would be Jade Jagger (Mick’s daughter) is a co-owner of 16 West 19th  in New York, which uses pods for kitchens and baths. The website describes these as, “jewel-like lacquered boxes that seem to float in each residence. Enclosed within this single cube are your meticulously laid-out kitchen and bathroom. When opened, the pod reveals a glamorous interplay of sparkling tiles, vivid colors and textures.”

Glass technology is also changing, and future homes may utilize “smart glass”, or chromogenics, which is clear but turns opaque when you run an electrical current through it, making it useful for closing off areas.

Small homes will need more adaptable furniture, such as convertible sofa-beds and furniture which can be neatly stacked away when not in use, and entertainment at home may change to accommodate our changing lifestyles.

Mr Brindley says: “A flat screen on your wall could double up as your front door intercom, your computer and be used to watch films. He continued, “You will also be able to do things like switch machinery in the home on and off from on holiday and that sort of thing.”

      

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Refrigerators may begin using Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID), which is widely used in supermarket check-outs to identify when home owners are low on items. These fridges could even suggest recipes based on items on the shelves and suggest complimentary items for your shopping trips.

The two also believe sound-wave technology will be used to assist water in cleaning. This technology already exists on the market for cleaning contact lenses and it is being explored for uses with dishwashers and washing machines.

And then, of course, there are the robots. Mr Brindley thinks that we will begin to see micro robots to perform functions such as cleaning toilets and opening your blinds for you.

Futurist Joseph Coates, author of “2025” (Oakhill Press), sees the day when homes are totally automated, with furniture that adjusts to your body’s shape at the mention of your name, robotic chefs and diagnostics that call for necessary repairs. Coates predicts homes will have rooms that know who enter and will automatically change the temperature to suit their preferences. He also sees sensors that will monitor indoor air pollution and health conditions, and systems that allow home owners to review and change their energy-use patterns for greater efficiency.

Microsoft has developed technology  for interactive wallpaper that can display artwork, websites, and photos.

     

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Whirlpool tubs are being replaced with deep, comfortable soaking tubs and those may be replaced soon with infinity tubs, or Sök’s. These tubs have an infinity overflow that lets the water drain slowly over the tub edge into a catch basin, where it is reheated and effervesced (bubble massage) and recirculated into the tub. As featured in this photo, they can also have the water enter from out of the ceiling for greater effect. There’s also remote-controlled “chroma-therapy,” which alters the color of built-in LED lights in the tub to fit — or set — your mood.

Paint colors may turn to so called “chameleon colors”, or colors that change with different lighting and from different angles.

Kitchen  floors today are cherry, oak and walnut. Soon we may see much more anegre, bamboo, teak and even cork, according to Dan Myerson, of Bacon Veneer, one of the leading wood veneer suppliers for high-end office and residential applications.

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Counter-top trends may move more toward concrete, glass and metals such as copper and zinc. Diane Bryant, sales director for Philadelphia condo development, the Ritz-Carlton, predicts that granite will not lose much popularity but other stones – limestone and sandstone for example – will gain.

The maximizing of space and the ever-changing face of our individual environments will continually intrigue us and inspire us, but most importantly, these spaces will continue to give us access to the most important place we know, home.

Top Ten Gadgets for Realtors

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 I see the reviews of new stuff coming out all the time and I’ve read Realtor Magazine’s new gadgets for real estate, but I just see a bunch of new phones and computers. So here is my list of the…

Top Ten Gadgets for Realtors

 

 10- Advertising from your car 

Realtors are famous for their ubiquitous vanity plates, window clings, and automobile advertising paint jobs, so why stop there? Having a scrolling message would bring attention and give you an adjustable ad everywhere you go.

9- GPS systems with traffic updates (Also see voice-activated and 3-D)

GPS systems are all over the place now and they’re getting cooler and easier, but getting traffic updates in real-time along with the navigation is awesome. Every agent who works with buyers knows the frustration of setting appointments in a sequence and then needing to call to push back appointments because you are running late. Voice Activated makes it easier to keep your eye on the road, and 3-D is just cool.

8- Color printers for your mobile phone

No more running to the office to print out some new flyers for your listing- just plug in your mobile phone and print them up- and how impressed will your clients be?

7- GPS on your mobile phone

Call in for directions or get GPS on your phone without the cumbersome extra equipment- you have your phone with you everywhere you go, and this way you can have GPS everywhere as well.

6-Reading your voice mail

Need to know when to pick up your kid but can’t stand hearing your ex’s voice? Get your voice mails as text messages on your mobile phone. Also good for scrolling through to get to the important messages when you’re busy.

5- Viral Marketing

Think of a television commercial that will run for years, reach a large audience, and does not cost you anything. Is that something you would consider doing?

4-Client motivation detectors 

Ever put your ear up to the window after buyers leave your open house, trying to hear what they are saying about the house?

Here’s your spy gear to finally get the 411 *

3- One-Shot Virtual Tours

Create a virtual tour without being a photo-shop expert. Just one click captures a full virtual tour, ready to go. Save time, frustration, and the cost of the photographer.

2- Searchable Conversations

Ever heard the saying, “The longest memory isn’t as good as the shortest pencil”? Well, even better than a pencil is this little device that will record all of your conversations and let you search them. Remember all the details your client told you, laugh at the other agent with your co-workers after they have left the office, and improve your language skills.

1- Cup holders that do more

When you’re in real estate you live in your car, doing everything mobile. We are the most dangerous drivers on the road. Talking on our mobile phones while eating a cheeseburger and making a U-turn as we look for an address.

This is why when we shop for a new vehicle we don’t ask how fast it goes or care about the luggage space- we want to know three things- gas mileage, turning radius (for our U-turns, and how many cup holders does it have.

And these cup holders will turn your real office into a more efficient place, and probably save lives.

*This is only a joke- I don’t promote spying. And even if I did I would not suggest breaking out a big ole’ listening device and stick it out the window at people as they leave an open house.