Zillow And Trulia Slip One Past The Fire Marshall

July 31, 2007

With due apologies to my civilian readers, my content over the next few days will be heavy on the geeky-technology-side of real estate — you know, with the Inman conference starting tomorrow and all.

Tonight’s back-to-back pre-conference events were sponsored by Zillow and Trulia at bars only a few blocks apart.  T-shirts, free alcohol, and bloggers were all in abundance.

Personal highlights included…

Kris Berg and Dan Green at the Inman pre-party in San Francisco, CA1) meeting The Incomparable Kris Berg (her new official title)…here pictured with Dan Green.  Despite her travails during the long trip here all the way from San Diego, she appeared in good spirits.








David G from Zillow with Therese Swan from Alain Pinel Realtors at the Inman conference in San Francisco, CA2) Connecting again with David G from Zillow, complete with a t-shirt that read “I’m DavidG from Zillow.  Who the hell are you?”  Here he is shown with special agent Therese Swan of Alain Pinel Realtors.








3) Scoring a t-shirt from Trulia, here modeled by none other than CEO Pete Flint.  First the front (”Find me on Trulia Voices”), then the back (”because I’m too old for Myspace.”)  A rumor was circulating that earlier versions of this t-shirt had the punchline “because I’m not creepy enough for Myspace.”

Pete Flint, CEO of Trulia, at the Inman conference in San Francisco CA Pete Flint, CEO of Trulia, at the Inman conference in San Francisco CA










 4) Getting a look at the fabled Sellsius blog mobile, fresh from a cross country trip:

The Sellsius real estate blogmobile, at the Inman conference in San Francisco, CA

5) Meeting the Sellsius twins again…Joe here pictured with Ardell Dellaloggia and Dan Green…and then with Mark Lesswing from NAR.  (Mark graciously forgave me for asking some tough questions during his presentation a few months ago at an Opes Advisors-sponsored event.)Joe from Sellsius with Mark Lesswing, NAR’s CTO Joe of Sellsius with Ardell Dellaloggia and Dan Green at the Inman conference in San Francisco, CA










6) Talking with Mike Simonsen of Altos Research (my blogfather), Joel Burslem (Inman and Future of Real Estate Marketing.com), and Scott Sambucci, also of Altos Research.

7) Comedic highlight of the evening was this somewhat futilely-posted sign, missing perhaps at least a zero, judging by the size of the crowd.The crowd at the Trulia-sponsored pre-conference event at Inman in San Francisco, CAAt the Trulia-sponsored event at Inman in San Francisco, CA


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“Reality TV” and real estate

July 31, 2007

I’m not a big TV watcher, but this review of the new program “Flipping Out” on the Bravo network put it on my “must TiVo” list.

“Jeff Lewis is a very scary man, and he isn’t scary solely because he treats his employees like dust mites or consults a psychic to assist him in the running of his business or sends his cat, Monkey, to an acupuncturist. No, Jeff Lewis, a Los Angeles real estate speculator, evokes a chill because he is so leveraged, a man balancing multiple mortgages like bricks on a noodle.

The subject of “Flipping Out,” a reality series that begins tonight on Bravo, Mr. Lewis buys million-dollar properties, works them over and tries to sell them for a few more million. “Staging” — dressing up a home to look meticulously lived in — is a passion of his, and one that appears to deflect his attention from the shifting realities of his business. ”

While the dust mites, psychic and cat acupuncturist are run of the mill aspects of LA life, it’s the reference to “balancing multiple mortgages like bricks on a noodle” that piqued my interest, as well as the mention that LA home foreclosure rates are approaching a peak of 11 years ago.

The review goes on to discuss Mr. Lewis’ discerning taste in rehabbing and staging Mediterranean / Tuscan-esque spec homes like we are seeing popping up all over Palo Alto’s Midtown area, Los Altos, Menlo Park, and now Mountain View. Compared to the prevailing California Ranch homes and Eichlers in this area, these McMansion spec homes are like mushrooms sprouting on a lawn. As a frequent visitor to Tuscany, I have yet to see a house there that looks like one of these spec houses. They generally tend to be a bit smaller, MUCH older, and sitting on more than a 5000 square foot lot.

I’m curious if in 20 years, we will look at these homes and say “That is so 2005″ like we peg Eichlers as “50’s”, goldenrod or avocado appliances as “70’s” and vaulted and popcorn ceilings at “80’s”.

Check out Mr. Lewis tonight at 10 on Bravo.


Mortgage Mania - Part 9 The Capital Markets Strike Back

July 31, 2007

This whole subprime / mortgage industry meltdown hullaballoo is getting a little surreal, so forgive the Star Wars reference. This article in today’s New York Times reports that trading in shares of American Home Mortgage never opened yesterday, after the company announced following the market close on Friday that “it would suspend its dividend and was facing “significant margin calls” from its banks. “. I’ll bet that made for a fun-filled weekend for AHM execs . . .

This comes hot on the heels of last week’s announcement by the nation’s largest mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial, that it was seeing rising incidences of default on second mortgages to prime borrowers. Second mortgages to prime borrowers?!? Hey, isn’t that how we buy houses here in Silicon Valley if we didn’t get a job as a janitor at Google a few years ago? Uh oh . . .

So I rang up Andy Block at OPES Advisors, and asked him for some thoughts on all this, specifically how it is going to affect the purchasing power of my client Patrick. I mention Patrick because he is a “typical buyer” these days. He and his wife both have six-figure income jobs, and will net around $250K from the sale of their current home. They want to move from their current home in San Jose to Los Altos or Mountain View to get their kids into better schools, while getting a bit larger house. Andy had reviewed their income, credit, investment and retirement plans, debt, etc. etc. and came up with a range of $1.3M to $1.5M as a purchase price for their next house. They did the analysis about 3 months ago, because they are planners. Does this sound familiar?

It looks like the current changes in lending guidelines and interest rates are going to cost these folks about $100K or so in buying power, all other things being equal. Bummer.

I also chatted with Eric Trailer at Absolute Mortgage, and he agreed that we are seeing a period of adjustment, and that things should stabilize in 6 months or so once the regulatory reaction and new lending guidelines have had a chance to “work their way through the system”.

Both of these resources reminded me that mortgage interest rates are still 7% or less for borrowers with good credit, which are historically low, so don’t panic if you are in the market, and stay in touch with your lender if you have a pre-approval that is more than 30 days old.

Thanks for reading.

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Bay Area Housing Price Trends … In A Map

July 30, 2007

After a wonderfully fun — and occasionally frustrating — evening of hacking around, I’m please to present this mashup of Bay Area housing price trends. The graphs are from our friends at Altos Research, and the Google Maps were created using Zeemaps from Zeesource.

For a larger map, click here.

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Carnival of Real Estate

July 30, 2007

Gina Gena Riede of Sacramento Real Estate Voices hosts this week carnival. Her theme was the game of Monopoly, and while she did not call out one specific winner, there were some true gems there.


Today’s Real Estate Laughs

July 28, 2007

A real estate-related item to brighten up your Saturday…

Marin County (of George Bush Senior’s famous “hot-tubbing liberals” fame) agent Mark Lomas explores the similarities between finding that perfect person on the Internet and finding that perfect home.

Unfortunately, I can’t figure out the trackback url, so you’ll have to go here, then scroll about halfway down.

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Step Right Up…Carnival of Real Estate, Consumer Edition: Ben Franklin, 50-Year Mortgages, And How To Earn One Zimbabwe Dollar

July 26, 2007

Deluged by a flood of business and personal obligations, I alas had to delay judging of the Carnival of Real Estate, Consumer Edition, until today. Apologies…

Many of the entrants this week had mortgage-related topics.

The clear, unapologetic winner this week is from … Phoenix (who would have thunk it?) It’s Jay Thompson waxing loquacious about the problems that can arise with people who try to be both loan agents and real estate agents. While there are some “Renaissance” types who manage to pull it off — think Benjamin Franklin as a Realtor/mortgage broker — for the most part, there’s simply too much that you have to know in either field for the average person to be good at both.

Coming in second was Dan Melson at Searchlight Crusade in an article explaining the dirty little tricks mortgage brokers play to avoid competing on the one thing that really matters for most consumers: price.  By doing sleights-of-hand around pre-payment penalties, claiming ignorance about prices up front, avoiding discussions of negative amortization, lenders can make a loan look more attractive — in some cases much more attractive — than if they were transparent.  Caveat emptor.

Grad Money Matters comes in third with a post dispelling some myths about mortgages and home ownership. Among the myths talked about: getting a 40 or 50-year mortgage instead of a 30-year will definitely save you money; the only way to get the benefits of the old twice-a-month mortgage payment trick is to sign up in the bank’s (not free) program.

Honorable mention goes to Digerati Life with a discussion about handling eyesore properties in your neighborhood. The writer found something pretty rare to start off the article: a run-down, possibly abandoned property in Atherton, one of America’s toniest towns.

Without naming names, there were, unfortunately, some entries that were sadly lacking. One of them looked like a runner-up in a fourth-grade 10-minute speed-writing contest, and in fact the only reason I could see for the article was the chance to annoy me with ads liberally sprinkled throughout the article, including some of the links themselves. Well, I probably enriched the author’s bank account to the tune of about one Zimbabwe dollar — at the black market rate, not the official bank rate — simply by reading it.

The next carnival takes place on August 7th, with judging to be done by that wacky blogging Realtor in the town-of-two-states: Delaware, Ohio: Toby Boyce.

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Mortgage Mania - Part 8 The Hits Just Keep On Coming

July 25, 2007

As I’m still reeling in shock from today’s developments in the Tour de Farce, I found this uplifting article in the NewYork Times (online edition of course): Top Lender Sees Mortgage Woes for ‘Good’ Risks

It looks like I was uncannily correct in my forecast of rough lending seas ahead for home buyers, as Countrywide Financial annouced today that they are seeing additional borrowers with good credit falling behind on adjusting mortgages. I guess default and foreclosure aren’t just for sub-prime borrowers after all.

Since Countrywide is seen as a bellwether for the mortgage industry, Wall Street reacted to their announcement by pummeling the stock dragging down the sector, and when the dust cleared, the S&P 500 was down 30.53 or 2% on the day. Additionally, the dollar fell to $1.40 to the Euro, downgrading the accomodations and shopping plans on my upcoming trip to Italy.

Did I mention that my title officer told me that she had seen the first short-sale in Palo Alto in recent memory close last week? Maybe Palo Altans should care about adjusting mortgages and the downside of exotic loans after all.

If you are thinking of buying a home, call your lender and get your pre-approval updated. Loan conditions are changing quickly out there kids, so make sure you are working with someone who is on stop of this stuff.

As for me, it’s back to the internet with a BIG glass (OK, bottle) of Brunello di Montalcino, to twist the knife in my heart over the latest doping scandals and chaos at the Tour de Farce, and the gutting of the sport that I love and the inspiration for the naming of my real estate team, The Ventoux Group.

Thanks for reading . . .


Realtors and Technology - Who benefits? Part 2

July 25, 2007

A big “thank you” to all of you who commented, sent emails, and voted for my last post “Realtors and Technology - Who Benefits?” from last week. I have also received a number of requests for the sequel, alluded to at the end of my last post. And so we go . . .

Technology for the sake of new technology without marginal benefit really is a waste of time and money. I briefly mentioned a couple of technologies that DO provide benefit to both client and agent, like electronic signatures and online listing search tools, virtual tours, etc.

What I think is easy for a lot of agents to forget is that our clients tune into WIFM (What’s in It For Me) radio, and it’s their favorite station. We need to remember this and focus our marketing activities around this idea of providing value to the client, and the business will follow. A major proponent of this idea is mega-agent Craig Proctor, who sells around 500 homes a year and dominates his marketplace. Whether you think his marketing techniques or his televangelist style events are hokey or slick, you can’t argue with his success.With this WIFM idea in mind, let’s look at how it plays into the evolving role of the Realtor.


I have a saying that finding a Realtor in Palo Alto who advertises that they are #1, in the Top 1%, or a Top Producer in whatever category is like finding the oldest pub in England. There is one on every corner. I really don’t believe that my clients care how much money I make selling real estate, or how many homes a year I sell.

What IS important is how well I manage the transaction process and manage and mitigate risk on their behalf. Avid readers will recall my article “Are Newspapers Dead?” discussing polling I did at some recent listings, where I asked open house visitors how they found the open house, and was not surprised to find that few to none of them came from newspaper ads. Since newspapers aren’t an effective way of getting Buyers into my clients’ homes, I have shifted my advertising budget to television. A 2006 study by the Television Bureau of Advertising found that over 70% of consumers’ media time is spent watching TV or online. Only 4% is spent reading newspapers. I read the newspaper online, so I’m not sure where that gets counted. If you are wary of the source of that study, I’ll point you to the numerous articles in print and online discussing to troubled state of the newspaper industry because readers have switched to online sources for news.

So then, why do Realtors advertise listings in the paper? It’s a great way to promote themselves, and thumb their nose at their competitors and colleagues over their new listing. Newspapers do work, and a top producing agent in my office in
Palo Alto, who has asked to not be mentioned in this forum, has built a business on newspaper ads, but his ads tend to be more focused on him than his listings. As Steven Colbert would say, Moving on . . .

Consumers really only have 4 questions they are interested in answering when they contact you, unless they need to sell TODAY.

1)      What is my house worth?

2)     What is the market doing? (Related to #1)

3)     What is my neighbor’s house worth? (Also related to #1)

4)     How much is the house I want to buy?

Given that, is it more effective to send a someone market information like Altos Research provides, information on new listings in the neighborhood, or the typical recipe cards or football schedules to stay top of mind? Personally, I’d rather that people think of me as an expert on the local real estate market who is the source of information, than the person to call for a good recipe for Thanksgiving turkey.

Customer Experience:

I have had the good fortune to have been in sales with IBM’s Business Consulting Services division in a past life, and so I’m a veteran of their lauded sales training program / boot camp. The key to IBM’s reputation and their ability to grow their services business is the client’s experience. IBM costs more than about anyone else for similar products and services, but clients are willing to pay a premium because their IBM contacts are focused on making sure things go smoothly, customers’ expectations are met or exceeded, and if there is an issue, it is handled quickly and to the client’s satisfaction. 

If you doubt me, go to your local Lexus showroom, look at some cars and see how you are treated. Now go to a Hyundai dealership and do the same thing. It should be a pretty eye-opening experience.  

Here in Palo Alto, we have a lot of folks who drive BMW, Benz, Lexus, etc. and so that is the treatment they are used to and expect. They know that $50 for an oil change is ridiculous, but the dealership has good coffee, free WiFi, and a clean, new loaner car so they are willing to pay that premium.  

The same goes for Realtors and other service professionals. I think a big reason that discount brokerages like Help-U-Sell and Redfin haven’t made inroads into the
Palo Alto market is that consumers here are willing to pay a premium for skilled professionals to manage transactions. So far, I haven’t seen discount firms delivering the service and skilled professionals here. You do get what you pay for. 

That’s today’s rant. Stay tuned for more thoughts on the evolving role of Realtors in the Internet Age.

Thanks for reading . . . 


Carnival Of Real Estate, Consumer Edition, Delayed By One Day

July 24, 2007

Sorry for the delay, folks, but my judging of the Carnival of Real Estate, Consumer Edition, will have to wait till tomorrow.  A number of business and personal things have come up that has made it impossible for me to do so today.

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