Geeks Of The World Rejoice! Behold The First-Ever Twitter-MLS!

July 22, 2008

I’ve been accused — rightly, I might add — of being a geek. I also happen to be in real estate. You put the two together, plus a keen interest in using new social media tools like Twitter, and what do you get? The Twitter-MLS!

For a long time, MLS searches have been available via email. Recently, some real estate search providers — like our friends at Trulia and at Diverse Solutions — have enabled MLS searches via RSS feeds. (That’s actually the technology I use on the sidebar to provide the link searches.)

As the latest new big online thing, Twitter has attracted a massive cult following, and as a permission-based communication tool, it’s ideal for sending out news snippets such as new listings.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up for an account at Twitter if you haven’t done so already.
  2. Head thither and “follow” my Twitter “Menlo Park MLS” account. Other towns in the Bay Area will follow shortly.
  3. Sit back and enjoy the “tweets” that will come your way by cell phone, email, Twhirl, online (depending on how you configure Twitter). These “tweets” will be little news snippets about new homes to hit the market. Want more details? Click on the link in the tweet and you’ll see pictures, details, and much much more.

If you’re more of a FriendFeed type, I have the same offering available in FriendFeed room format. Find your way yonder, select your favorite city, and click “Join This Room.” And, as our British cousins would say, “Bob’s your uncle!

FriendFeed room example for Burlingame:

Twitter example for Menlo Park:

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Bad memory? Use technology to compensate…

December 3, 2006

In an average week, I probably preview 20-30 properties on behalf of clients and simply to keep on top of the market. Some Realtors have a nearly photographic memory — they’ll spend 3 minutes in a home and remember it for life. It’s amazing to watch them in action. “This home was on the market 12 years ago, listed by John Smith of Smith Realty. It only had 3 bedrooms then, and the kitchen was falling apart. I think Jane Doe sold it, and I think it went for around $350K.”

Alas, I am not thusly blessed…but thankfully I can hack my way through Access reasonably well. So…I put together an Access database application that sucks in all MLS listings from the last 10 years and stores them on my laptop. When I go around previewing properties, I use the application to take brief notes about each property from the viewpoint of each client’s preferences. When tour is over, I email my clients the finds of the day, or, in some cases, upload them to Jotspot. Works great — I remember what I’ve seen, my clients get updated, and everybody’s happy.

I’m quickly finding other uses for my creation. I’ve started to track when offers are due, how many are expected, and how many actually came in.

Hmmm…maybe I should contact Redfin and offer to sell them these property reviews as a way to jump start their property-blogging efforts?


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Real estate office in a box (Part 2)

November 20, 2006

photosynth.jpgHere’s another really slick piece of Web 2.0 software that may soon be a part of every tech-minded listing agent’s arsenal:  Microsoft’s Photosynth product, still very much in Beta.

What is it?  It’s sort of a souped up virtual tour, on steroids.  It stitches together hundreds of photos of a certain setting into a very believable 3-dimensional world in which you can zoom in and out, walk around, pan around…in short, get as close to being there without actually…being there.

I’d love to test it out personally, but currently there are two obstacles for me:
1) It’s not yet open for the public to play with; for right now the site only has canned demos.

2) It requires IE7 to operate, and I make it a policy to not be an early adopter of Microsoft browser products…plus QuickBooks 2005 doesn’t like it.

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October 27, 2006

Thanks to RIS Media for pointing this out

A video of the fabled dustup between Zillow’s Lloyd Frink and’s Alan Dalton is finally online at the web site of the California Association of Realtors.

I’m at a cafe with really slow Internet access right now, so I’m having a hard time viewing it. Is somebody going to upload this to Youtube?

Update:  It’s a 100MB+ file, and presumably copyrighted, so I’ll take a pass on uploading it to you Tube.  Why CAR hasn’t done so is completely beyond me.

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Part 2: The nice thing about making the rules is … you get to break them!

October 25, 2006

My previous post about displaying sold listings led to a stimulating converation with a reader named “Endtable20″, who challenged me on my assertion that is going against our local MLS rules in doing so. I’ll be the first to admit I could be wrong, but here’s more evidence. You decide!

The “Internet Display Guidelines” document starts as follows:

I know from personal experience that “Guidelines” is not the right word. I tried to bend the rules myself once and got roundly called to task within a few hours. :(

Further in the document we get this: [yellow shading mine]

“Authorized User” refers to someone with whom the MLS has an agreement, be it a broker or a 3rd party like “Electronic Clients” are people who view this information online.

It’s pretty clear that displaying “sold listings” is prohibited.

The final shaded text says that the Authorized User may “augment” the MLS data with “additional data not otherwise prohibited from display so long as the source of such data is clearly identified.” follows the rule about identifying the source of the other data…

…but that’s a moot point because the data being displayed (sold listings) is clearly prohibited.

Therre are only two ways I can see that would make this ok:

  1. The agreement that REIL has with is a different agreement than REIL has with every other “Authorized User.”
  2. Creative legal reasoning that says the data being displayed is not “sold listings” but “sold homes.”

By a similar argument, I could get around the prohibition on displaying “sellers’ or occupants’ names, phone numbers or email addresses” by

  1. identifying the non-MLS source from which I got that data and
  2. referring to “sellers’ or occupants’ names, phone numbers or email addresses” as “owners’ or renters’ personal information“? Something like this, perhaps:

Seems pretty clear to me. Am I missing something?

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Why “incredibly time-saving and cool” isn’t enough to change Ronald the Realtor’s business practices

October 22, 2006

I was working late in the office the other night and ran into a friend and colleague who was in the classic Realtor time-crunch. Ronald the Realtor — not this person’s real name — was in the process of writing up a contract, after which he had to

  1. Drive to wife-half-of-client-couple and get her signatures
  2. Come back to the office
  3. Fax contract to husband-half-of-client-couple (who was travelling) to get his signatures
  4. Wait for the contract to come back via fax
  5. Double check it for accuracy

To me, this looked like a classic test case for using electronic signatures, which would have transformed this 2 hour (at least) ordeal into a fairly easy 30 minute process, not to mention looking incredibly cool.

I wondered why Ronald wasn’t using e-signatures, since he’s a pretty successful, tech-savvy, smart individual who — to boot — had recently attended my e-signature training session.

Here’s my explanation: Of the three types of Realtors, electronic signatures don’t yet offer enough value for two of them, and for the third type, it’s a question of getting over the learning and comfort curve.

The three types of Realtors (at least for the purpose of this discussion) are:

  1. Low-volume
  2. High-volume
  3. Medium-volume

Low-volume Realtors might do four or five deals in a year, so saving time is not something they tend to be concerned about. High-volume Realtors tend to have one or more assistants, and saving them effort is usually not a high priority. It’s the third type of Realtor — medium-volume ones — for whom, I believe, e-signatures currently offer the most benefit.

Why aren’t they adopting it more quickly? Ironically, I think it’s largely because they’re just too busy to take the time to learn something new — and I’ll be the first to admit that the first couple of deals you do using e-signatures may well take you more time than the traditional method. Kind of an unfortunate Catch-22 for those folks.

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The nice thing about making the rules is … you get to break them!

October 20, 2006

I rarely have a need to go to, but when I did so last night I had quite the surprise — there were not just active listings, but recently solds as well!  Their source for that data?  Not the MLS, but a 3rd party data aggregator called OnBoard.  I’m getting a headache.


It’s taken as a given in this industry that by withholding information from consumers, you encourage them to call a Realtor, which has been the rationale behind the archaic prohibitions on showing data on sold properties.  Alas, this thing called the Internet came around and set a whole bunch of data free, much of which is gleefully basking in the sun at  So now consumers who want sold data can simply ignore Realtors completely.  Bad move on our part.

As a competitive response,, the “official site of the National Association of Realtors,” now displays sold data…in violation of the recommended rules of…you guessed it, the National Association of Realtors.

From the NAR site:


Our local MLS, which provides the data feed for this area to hundreds of web sites, including, is pretty explicit on this issue:  [I assume the first line is supposed to say, "No one may publish the following kinds of information..."]
So let me see if I have this straight…REIL, our local MLS, operating under guidelines from NAR, explicitly prohibits the display of sold listings.  REIL licenses its data for this area to, NAR’s official site, which then breaks REIL’s own rules by displaying sold data?

Perhaps they’re able to get around the prohibition simply by using sold data from a 3rd party aggregator, instead of from the MLS.  Ingenious, and disingenuous, at the same time.

Real time update…I just called REIL’s compliance department and spoke to a very friendly and helpful person.  She promised to look into it and get back to me.  I explained to her that while I think it’s a silly rule, if other people have found a way around it, I’d like to be able to do the same.

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October 20, 2006

Rumors abound of a Jerry Springer-like dust-up between Lloyd Frink of and Alan Dalton of on Tuesday at the California Realtor Expo — see here, here, here, and here. Unfortunately, there does not (at least yet) appear to be a transcript or recording of the event — not even at the California Association of Realtors’ web site — and no mention either at the Zillow Blog or at itself. Youtube, where are you?
I’ve heard Dalton speak a few times, and he’s an engaging, if somewhat excitable, character. For somebody so associated with the old guard, he really does, I believe, “get” technology. If you can wade through his somewhat verbose writing, this article in a recent issue of RIS Media highlights his thinking on real estate and the Internet and demonstrates that he’s not just some old fuddy-duddy. Money quotes:

“We are in the information age … and yet our industry’s DNA would seem to suggest that there is a relentless reluctance to give out information.”

“…ill-positioned premise … that the mere “listing” of a property is actually a highly celebrated achievement.”

“My major suggestion on how to take the business back … from the industry-assaulting classified ad extortionist newspapers, is to recognize that nobody is going to outperform the Internet’s ability, appetite and destiny to display listing data in a ubiquitous way. Simply put, as an industry we have to decide which war are we more capable of winning: the Internet Information War or the Real Estate Marketing War?”

So what’s with his apparent assault on Zillow? I don’t believe it has anything to do with being “afraid” of technology or “not getting it.” It’s the exact opposite: because he does, indeed, “get” technology, he understands that Zillow could be a big threat to’s lucrative, if thoroughly mismanaged [prior to Dalton], business. If Zillow continues to take consumer eyeballs away from, surely the Realtor ad revenue will follow…assuming Zillow can convince Realtors it’s not the Antichrist.
Secondly, Dalton was playing to the home crowd — Realtors — and taking shots at Zillow was simply great publicity. He’s used phrases like “Cyberspace Carpetbaggers” before in reference to online real estate companies.

Here’s hoping somebody at the event recorded it and uploads it to Youtube!

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A realtor’s job is never done

September 28, 2006

So here I am in King’s Beach, on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, ostensibly on vacation. I’ll be spending some time today getting an offer ready to submit tomorrow. Fortunately, technology makes this pretty straightforward and painless… Thanks to the good folks at the Java Hut for providing some great coffee, a little table to work on, and funky, inspiring tunes (including, for a while, some classic Fela tunes)… ..and thanks to the neighboring restaurant, Steamers, for inadvertently providing me with Wifi access… …add in the help of my Lenovo X41 Tablet PC, our local real estate forms provider, an e-fax system, and, of course, my e-signature provider… …and it all comes together pretty effortlessly, even getting the 125 pages of disclosures ready for signature… Turns out the seller of the property on which I’m submitting an offer is a meticulous record-keeper. I know this dates me, but was there really a time when tradespeople charged only $10 an hour?

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Fun with Zillow — #4 — Exploring Zillow’s new features

September 20, 2006

Hats off to the Zillow team for adding some ridiculously “z-addictive” features to their offering! The real estate blogosphere is abuzz with comments, some relatively positive and some negative.In this post, I’ll describe what I found, and in the next one, I’ll provide some commentary on what impact I think these features will have on the agent community and the general public.

While you can continue to use Zillow as before without registering, you do need to get a Zillow account before you can use some of these new features. Once you’ve done so, you search for a property…

…and click on “See home details” which gives you, uh, the home details…

…and three options.
“Save Favorite to My Zillow” is pretty tame. The other two options, however, have a lot of folks hot and bothered. Let’s see what the fuss is about…

“Owner Tools” gives you three further options:

Confirming ownership sounds a bit dubious at first, and indeed the first time you do it you only have to confirm the owner’s name:

Thankfully, to claim a second or subsequent property as your own, you have to enter your credit card information (which Zillow dutifully promises not to use for spurious purposes), enabling them to match their ownership records with the name associated with your credit card.On to the next feature…editing your home facts. They’ve made this ridulously easy to do. In my case, the basic features of the home were correct, but Zillow was missing information about the type of heating and cooling system, the roof type, and a few other items.

The third feature, “Create an Estimate and Make it Public” was also pretty straighforward. You start by editing basic home facts, if necessary……followed by adding home improvements……and other features… …and finally by specifying which comps make the most sense for your home:

When you’re all done, you get an updated personalized estimate, which is different from the public Zestimate.

Go ahead, give it a spin yourself! Warning — it is addictive.

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