Awesome New Tool for Agents… Gotta Love Free Stuff

Agent Resource Center

Wanted to share a resource with you guys that I’m pretty excited about…

It’s called the U.S. Inspect “Agent Resource Center“, and it’s basically an online resource that provides free content for real estate professionals. There are print, web, and video resources that can all be used freely in on & offline materials. Some can even be white labeled as if they were being provided directly by you. It’s a pretty incredible tool…

As most of you know, content can be very hard to come by unless you are prepared to make a significant investment in your time to create it. As bloggers on Active Rain, you know this all too well… it can be very challenging to continually come up with great content. But, in this competitive space, that is what is required in order to be a successful blogger/agent.

Customers are looking for valuable information about the buying & selling process. One of the most important topics for your customers is information about the home. What better peoeple to provide this kind of information than the experts: home inspectors.

U.S. Inspect is providing this tool completely free of charge to agents and real estate professionals, and I’m continually impressed with the quality of the content. So as you are looking for content or material for flyers, handouts, blogs, websites, email newsletters, etc… keep this tool in mind.

Here are a few examples of the kind of content you can get from the ARC (Agent Resource Center):

 

Print Based Content

All of the print based resources are offered in a Word document, pdf & txt versions.

  • The Word documents can be editing easily to add your own logo and content information.
  • The pdf versions are ready to print! Just download and start printing or emailing to customers.
  • The text versions are meant to be used on websites or emails to customers. All of the formatting is stripped out so you can manipulate the meat of the content as you see fit.

Example Print Content

U.S. Inspect has created a create video tutorial on how to add your logo and contact information to these print resources:

 

Web Based Content

U.S. Inspect has always provided great web based content for agents, but has just recently provided it in a great format for easy use. All of the blog posts, articles and informational pages can be copied and used freely under a creative commons license. There are also a number of embeddable widgets and tools that can be used.

Here are a couple of examples of web resources you can use:

Helpful Hint: When you see this at the bottom of a page, on the U.S. Inspect website, you can freely copy and paste the article into your website:

   

Video Content

U.S. Inspect has created some great videos on components of the home and maintenance related topics. These are perfect for website content pages. Videos can be found here. See below for an example video:

  

 

As far as I’m concerned, this is an unprecedented tool being provided completely free of charge by U.S. Inspect!!

Here is a quote from a blog post they just published today announcing the release:


“We’ve taken our inspector’s collective knowledge about the home and applied it to printable flyers, short videos and web content. All the content has been developed with average homeowners in mind as the audience, rather than hard core do-it-yourselfers. Directly from the site, real estate professionals can add their logo or brand to flyers and easily copy videos and Web tools to their website or blog, making the information available to their own clients. It’s all free, no sign up needed!”

Feel free to browse the library for educational or marketing ideas at any time at:

www.usinspect.com/ARC

 

 

Full Disclosure: U.S. Inspect is a client of AffinityXM where I am the VP of Online Services

My Personal Experience with Getting Real Estate Listings Indexed By Google

Just wanted to share a recent experience I had creating a RE website. Granted, I don’t have a huge amount of experience building or designing websites, but I was up for the challenge and wanted to get my hands dirty with some of the new technologies available with RSS, IDX, social media, etc…

Luckily the client is a close friend so he was very patient with me…  He’s my dad!  He hired me on a limited basis to redesign his old Advanced Access website that he had for over 10 years.

WordPress was the obvious choice as a platform since it’s so search engine friendly, but is also very flexible in terms of design and features.  I also jumped right on with Diverse Solutions as they have a really slick IDX system that allows the creation of RSS feeds based on a custom property search criteria.

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The design and set up went smoothly enough…  I used my favorite hosting company:  BlueHost to switch the domain over and got to work installing WordPress.  I chose a real estate specific theme called irealestate, that at the time was one of the first real estate WordPress themes ever created to my knowledge.  It has a really cool blue tabber on the right that can feed recent posts from any category you choose.

Without boring you with the details, we got the site up and running without too much trouble… but there was one thing that was really bothering me.  How do we showcase listings on the website without using a lame, cumbersome, framed in version of the IDX search?  It’s slow, confusing, and just looks crappy framed into the site.  You can see an example of what I mean here.

Not only that… from experience, I know that those iframes are very UN-friendly to search engine crawling and might as well be a blank page in the eyes of the search engines.

So immediately, one of my #1 goals became:  how do I fix this???  How can I get listings to show up as static pages of the website that can be crawled and found by the search engines?

As I was digging around and researching this problem, I stumbled upon a feature of the irealestate theme I had purchased that had a page template that allowed you to feed listings into into it through RSS.  Bingo!!  I thought I had found the perfect solution!.  You can see an example on this OC Foreclosures page.

The only thing that bothered me was that it just lined up all the listings on the page.  I had seen something like this before on Jay Thompson’s website under the Phoenix Listing Feed section.  It is really cool, but I recognized immediately that this wouldn’t solve my search engine problem.  Yeah, the search engine might crawl this page and find some of the listing data, but it was on a single page, and it would constantly change because of the data feed it was pulling from.  Not exactly the great solution I originally thought it was.

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So I kept looking…  I knew exactly what I wanted, but didn’t know how to make it happen.  My dream was to have a feature that allowed individual listings to automatically create a single blog post as they came into the feed under whatever criteria I chose.  So, if I wanted to have a category of listings in a certain zip code with a certain price range, I could set it up so every time a listing came up, a new blog post was created with WordPress.  This would ensure that each listing got it’s own unique URL on my site and would be able to be crawled and found by the search engines.

Alas, I began to start thinking that this was probably just impossible…

Around the same time I was looking for a solution to this problem, a friend of mine over at the Real Estate Tomato (Jason Benesch) announced the soft launch of a tool he called Listing Press.  It was almost exactly what I was looking for (and I highly recommend it if you want a plugin solution).

But being the DIY’r that I am, I had to find another way to make this happen and make it have the flexibility I wanted it to.  The the search continued…

Low and behold, after searching for many many hours, I found just the thing.  A combination of plugins and tweeks that would do exactly what I wanted.  I turned it on at about 2am one night after working for about 6 hours on it, crossed my fingers, and went to bed….  The goal was to set it up so the listings would populate as blog posts automatically without me having to do anything and I knew that by the time I woke up I would know whether I had accomplished this goal.

I rolled out of bed at about 8am to check the computer, and to my utter amazement, 95 new blog posts had been created over night!!!!!  Each one of them was a new listing pulled down from my Foreclosure feed that I had created with Diverse Solutions.  Amazing!!!

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Sorry, I know this post is getting long, but I almost feel like I need to journal it because what happened in the weeks to follow was incredible…

Because of some other work obligations and a vacation, I wasn’t able to really work on the site for about 2 weeks.  I did set up some new feeds…  I was really interested in the foreclosures because I knew that the REO market was really hot in Orange County and wanted to capitalize on that.  I created 5 categories on the blog, each one targeting a different price range of foreclosures.  I also found a really cool tool on Diverse Solutions that allowed me to find properties with price reductions… that was pretty cool too so I created a new page for that as well.

After a couple weeks, we had over 1,000 blog posts on the site as listings and noticed that many of them were even ranking when you did a search for the address, or even the street name.  I found that they even outranked sites like Zillow and Trulia for the same listings… and most of the listings were so fresh that most of the sites that publish listings hadn’t even found them yet.

But where was the traffic??!!  I was starting to get frustrated that my dad wasn’t getting any calls or emails.  Why wasn’t it working?

Then I got the call that changed everything…

My dad called me early on a Monday morning saying that he just got a call from very angry Orange County resident saying that he was so tired of his phone ringing off the hook for people wanting more information on real estate listings.  Bingo!

Stupid me!!!!  I had placed the wrong phone number on the IDX feed!  LOL!!!!  There were hundreds of listings being indexed by Google with this poor guys phone number on them.  I immediately deleted all of the posts and started from scratch.  But the good thing was, I knew it was only a matter of weeks before we started seeing some real leads and traffic.

It didn’t even take 3 days…  My dad called me on Thursday telling me he had 4 calls that day for people wanting more information on “listings they had seen on Google” and it looked like at least 2 of them were going to use him to represent them as a buyer’s agent.  Pretty amazing.  We had done it, and the scary thing was that we hadn’t even scratched the surface yet.

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That was a couple weeks ago.  Since then, the phone is still ringing off the hook, the listings are still getting posted automatically, and the traffic for the site is around 200 visitors per day when it was previously about 25 per day.  Over 90% of the traffic is coming from search engines and I’m just amazed at the potential.

Some possible opportunities and deals have opened up, and I’m weighing my options on what I should do with this technology.

I wanted to get some feedback from you, my readers on what you thought about this whole thing.  Even though I’m a nerd, I’m not as smart as I look.  I feel like I’ve got a tiger by the tail and am not totally sure what to do with it.

You’ll notice that I didn’t get into alot of detail on how I did it, and that is for a few reasons:

First, I’m not completely sure what I should do with this information.  Should I share it with the world, or keep it under my hat?

Second, I don’t want everyone and their mother flooding the Google index with listings.  A wise man once told me that if I have something good going, why try to publish it to the world and risk running into unforeseen problems (that man was actually Jonathan Washburn who gave me personal advice on another business I had in late 2006)

Third, I’ll be honest… I’m selfish.  I’m not sure I want to release it on a broad scale because there might be some business models I can create out of it.

So, I defer to you the my readers.  What do you think I should do with it?  I’m trying to be as transparent as possible here.

Here are a few of my ideas… you let me know if I’m crazy or not…

  • Keep it secret and just make my dad a ton of money.
  • Release it to a few key brokerages around the country that could benifit from it as a source for leads.
  • Create a business that designs basic WordPress sites, or takes existing WP sites and add this functionality.
  • Hire a developer to create a WordPress theme that has this functionality built in.
  • Create a bunch of sites around the country and use them to farm leads and create a referral network.
  • Lastly (and this is my favorite and the one I’m leaning towards)…  create a large video series on how to do it and release it for a small fee.  There are a ton of features and possibilities that I didn’t even go over in this post.  Like how to exclude listings from showing up in your main blog, how to syndicate this feed to Twitter and Facebook, how to create a custom email subscription box for a certain search criteria, how to create a feed based on any search criteria you choose… the possibilities are endless and I think I could create about 5-6 hours of video that would explain how to do everything…

What do you guys think?  Am I crazy?  Shoud I try one of the above ideas or just keep it under my hat???

Thanks for listening to my ramblings this morning….

Carnival of Real Estate #102 | Farming For New Real Estate Blogger Talent

Farming For New Bloggers

Welcome to the Carnival of Real Estate #102

I had an awesome time last year hosting Carnival #45, and was pleasantly surprised last week when I found out from Drew that I was on the schedule again for this year. You’ll notice that I’m blogging on a different site, but I still work for the Christian Real Estate Network, and am still the director of coaching for the Real Estate Tomato.

In keeping with the tradition of last year… I decided to theme the carnival around a funny picture I found online. This year, it’s all about farming for new real estate bloggers. I thought it would be cool to feature some of the newer up and coming bloggers in the real estate arena. One of my favorite things about the carnival is discovering new blogs that I’ve never seen before. There is some great new talent out there, and I hope to be able to showcase some of it here.

So, without further ado, here are the top 3 winners for this week:

#1 “My Real Estate Investment Strategy Changes Again” | By: Jeff Wilcox of MindingMyOwnBusiness.net

Blogging since: March 30th 2008 – Never mind that Jeff was a Top Gun instructor in the Navy (WOW!), his talent as a blogger really impressed me. His angle as a real estate investor makes for some great reading. His style almost reminds me of a Casey Serin, without all the hype and drama. Thanks for the great article Jeff!

#2 “Don’t Trust What You See or Read on the MLS!” | By: Scott Ficek of MinnesotaInvestmentRealEstate.com

Blogging Since: August 6th 2007 – Scott is coming right up on his 1 year anniversary with this blog, and as I went all the way through the archives, I was really impressed with the quality of each post, and how his writing has improved over time. Scott should probably be considered a veteran blogger, but since it hasn’t been a year yet, and technically, according to the CREST Study, the median start date for real estate blogs is Aug. 1st 2007, I thought he deserved to be on this list as one of the up and coming bloggers.

This article was a fun read. I’m a sucker for articles that show bad MLS photos. He points out why you should never trust the info you see on the MLS because often times it can be misleading, or downright wrong. Thanks Scott!

#3 “Planning For Higher Gas Prices” | By: Patrick Duffy of HousingChronicles.com

Blogging Since: November 12th 2007 – Patrick looks to be a long time real estate writer/journalist. His stuff has been published since 2006, but it appears that he just started blogging in late 2007. The professional style shows, and most of his posts get right down to business. I could easily see him writing for a blog like Bloodhound. Patrick’s article went over some of the implications of rising costs in energy, and how it is affecting the housing market.

Runner Ups:

Look Who’s Moving To Colts Neck” – By: Sarah Bandy of TylerTalkAlot.com (Blogging since: Sept. 7th 2007)

HR 3221 – Good For Tallahassee” – By: Joe Manausa of Manausa.com (Blogging Since: Jan. 8th 2008)

Bush Signs Historic Housing & Economic Recovery Act” – By: Michael Bergin of GWSleptHere.com (Blogging Since: Jan. 30th 2008)

Thanks for everyone who participated this week! And thanks again to Drew for organizing a great Carnival!

How to (Mis)-Manage Internet Real Estate Leads

If you’ve never checked out Chris Pollinger’s blog, you need to.  His insights always impress me, and I’m a regular reader.  One of his most recent posts is about why he is frustrated with the real estate industry, and it really hit home for me.

In case you didn’t know, the Christian Real Estate Network is a lead generation service.  When you strip everything else away, that is what it really boils down to.  We generate real estate buyers and sellers around the country that want to connect with a real estate agent.  We then send out these leads to one of our members which totals around 1,600 currently.

I share Chris’ frustration when he isn’t able to get agents to follow up on leads.  It is truly maddening to get a followup email 2 days later from the client saying that they were tired of waiting, and made an offer with another agent.

Why is that??  In such a tough market, I would think that agents would jump over their own mother’s to get leads, but it just isn’t the case.  In his post, Chris talked about agents becoming jaded with lead generation companies, but I’m becoming jaded about the general service of real estate agents!  I’ve grown up my whole life around the real estate industry, and I’ve seen enough to know that some agents simply get it done, and the other 90% just sit around and wait for deals to fall into their laps.  It’s unfortunate that the 90% even exist, because they simply give the other 10% a bad name.

Here are some basic tips for the 90% of agents that don’t know how to manage real estate leads. (translation: common sense for the rest of us)

1.  Pick up the phone, look at your fax machine, and check your email

Pretty incredible insight huh?  Isn’t it the most amazing advice you’ve ever heard?  I should tour the country as a motivational speaker or something.  Of course I’m being facetious…  or am I?

It is seriously shocking how hard it is to get in touch with some real estate agents.  When we send leads out to our agents, we call, fax, and email the information just to cover all bases.  But it never ceases to amaze me how many clients aren’t contacted.

2.   Email and call the client immediately

Again… I should win a pulitzer for this stuff.  I have a personal theory that 80% of internet based real estate leads are lost in the first 12 hours.  And that is probably a huge understatement.  People on the internet want instant satisfaction.  They don’t want to have to register for something, they don’t want to fill out long complicated forms, and when they are requesting information, they want it now.  Don’t make them wait, or you will probably miss out on the lead.

3.  Be persistent, but don’t harass

Your average person is unlike your average real estate agent.  They will actually return your call if they want to talk to you.  If they don’t want to talk to you, they won’t call back.  Calling them everyday for 2 weeks is not going to help.  Be nice, be persistent, but know when to “take a hint”.

4.   Put buyers into the loop immediately

Don’t wait until after you’ve had the chance to visit with the lead in person.  You need to put them on a listing drip campaign immediately.  This means you will need to get their basic criteria during the first phone call or email.  That way, they will be getting active listings emailed to them right after you first talk which will gain their trust, and may even get you an easy sale if they see something they like.  There is nothing worse then showing 50 properties with gas prices these days.

5.   Long term clients still deserve the same level of service

This is one of my pet peeves.  Just because you get a lead that isn’t ready to do something for 6 months doesn’t mean you should kick them to the curb.  It’s just bad service.  The best agents recognize that they can’t live paycheck to paycheck and will have solid effective ways to stay in touch with people over the long term.  A simple email or phone call every couple months is sometimes all it takes to stay on someone’s radar screen.  I can always tell a good agent… they are the ones that send us a referral fee from someone we sent them 3 years prior.

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If you are one of the 90% (you know who you are), please clean up your act.  The simple courtesy of returning phone calls would be a good start.

Ok… my rant for Chris and myself is over.   ;-)

The New Localism.com

After a lengthy wait, the new Localism.com has finally arrived…

After some of the launch day bugs were worked out late last night, the site seems to be running pretty smoothly all things considered.  The new face of Localism (a sister site to Activerain.com), is at first look very impressive.  In the older site, the information was organized in a very sterile manner that simply corresponded directly with blog posts on Activerain.

In my opinion, the most valuable change has to do with aesthetics, but also with the way the blog posts actually render on the location pages.

Each major city, with a population over 40,000 will now have a sponsorship opportunity, that allows one agent to pay for a special picture, location description, and contact information like this sample city:

Sponsorship opportunities will open officially  on July 31st at 12pm.  You can read more about it on Rich’s Activerain blog.

Another significant change is the article review process.  According to Jonathan Washburn (one of Activerain’s founders), each article and picture submited to Localism will now have to pass a human review process.  The quality of posts was really becoming a problem on the old site, and this is a great addition although it will slow down the publishing process.

One obvious feature that is missing in the release are the Localism categories from the earlier version.  I don’t see any section to look at posts about individual listings, or market reports.  This is a very important feature that I hope they implement eventually.  It’s nice to have community information, but it would be such a waste if they threw out all that content.

Great job guys!  I look forward to the evolution of the new site, and hope you listen to the members of Activerain to make adjustments and improvements.  The loyal AR community members are still the number one reason for AR’s success…