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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Zillow Undergoes Another Upgrade…But Here’s What I’d Really Like To See!

December 20, 2007

The Zillovians have been busy lately…first, singing a Zillow-fied Christmas carol…then, more substantively, releasing their new Smart Search technology, which, if I understand correctly, presents different information intelligently, based on where and at what zoom level you’re searching.

At the San Mateo county level, for instance, I get this:

San Mateo County stats as shown by Zillow

At the city level, this is what I get for Menlo Park:

Stats for Menlo Park CA according to Zillow

If I want more info on Menlo Park, I learn that local residents

  • are well-educated
  • are often multi-lingual
  • are likely immigrants
  • spend more money on housing compared to others
  • ride their bikes to work

With the exception of the latter, it seems spot on.


Nice new features, but nothing earth-shattering.

What I’d really like to see from Zillow is something I’ve talked about before: addressing the advertising needs of buy-side Realtors. The Sellsius twins have weighed in on this issue as well.

Here’s what I have in mind: The advertising emphasis in real estate has always been on the listing side. If a home is for sale, that represents more than just an upcoming commission check for the listing agent: done correctly, it’s also marketing collateral. It’s an excuse to send out more branding postcards, to take out an ad in the paper, to hold open houses, to put out a sign…all things designed more to enhance the branding of the agent than to necessarily sell the home in question.

If the fact that I am selling a home or I just finished listing and selling my client’s home is good marketing collateral, why not make something of I just helped my clients buy a home?

We do a bit of this in the industry already: witness the occasional “represented buyer” newspaper ad — which is often just space filler around the more prominent “just sold” ads.

Zillow has a perfect opportunity here. While most of the online real estate conversation is about homes currently on the market, Zillow’s repository of all homes is perfect for telling a broader story, one which includes the buyer’s agent.

Hey Zillow — in your next product release, make it possible for the buy-side agent to tout their recent transactions too!

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Are Newspapers Dead?

May 17, 2007

I wanted to have a compelling title for a little experiment I recently did with my listing at 206 Palmita Place in Downtown Mountain View. It’s a newer construction home and I thought the location and price would appeal to couples or small families. Based on that demographic, I assumed more people would be searching for homes online, so I built a custom website for the house, and posted links to it on a number of real estate websites in addition to the ones like that link to data on the MLS.

I also followed conventional wisdom and ran ads in the Palo Alto Weekly and Mountain View Voice newspapers, and an entry in the Open Homes Section of the San Jose Mercury News.

I then did some informal polling at the various open houses, asking visitors where they found out about the open house, leaving it as an open ended question. I also tracked hits to the website and looked at who the referring domains were. I found the results interesting and surprising.

Where did they come from?

Over the course of 4 days of open houses (Thurs and Fri evenings, Sat and Sun afternoons) we had 135 groups of visitors through. Of these, only 2 said they came based on the ad in the MV Voice, 1 from the Palo Alto Weekly and 1 from the SJ Merc. Another 11 groups had seen the open house directional signs (I blanketed the neighborhood) or the For Sale sign in the yard as they were passing by. That’s 14 out of 135 groups, or about 11%. The other 89% of visitors either found the listing online or were referred by their agents.

Online sources

I also tracked where hits to the website came from. There were over 2200 hits to the website, and initially 70% of those came from Movoto which is an online real estate information / referral site. After the first two days, caught up, and after the first week was the source of about 70% of the hits. The house went under contract after a week, so I stopped tracking then.

While I admit that I am biased, I have had a theory for a while that newspaper ads for listings, especially in Palo Alto and surrounding communities, are more for advertising the agent and getting him or her more clients than getting potential Buyers into your home.

The National Association of Realtors estimates that 74% of home buyers begin their search for a home online, and the estimate for Silicon Valley is 92%. I’m still running an ad for my new listing in Redwood City, but it is only 1/4 page and that is because the sellers believe that potential buyers read the paper. I am also flooding the internet with placements and links, and I’m trying an experiment by posting the home on Zillow as well. It’s another experiment, and I’m partially doing it to get under Kevin’s skin as Zillow is a hot-button for him.

I’m tracking the marketing response on the Redwood City house as well, and I’ll do a post on the results from that when it goes under contract. In the meantime, I welcome your comments and hope for a bit of banter on online vs. print marketing.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Morning Tech Geekage

March 19, 2007

Do yourself a favor this Monday morning and head on over to Greg’s post over at BlueRoof about some sweet tech toys for Realtors. My personal favorite? Number 2 on his list: the IBM Magic Book which can apparently record your conversations and then search through them using voice recognition technology. A bit big-brother-ish, but highly cool.

And speaking of magic, here’s something I’d like to see: a Realtor magic key embedded into a cell phone. I understand some areas of the country have these, but here in the heart of Silicon Valley we still have to schlepp around that little black box that allows us to open the key box of all homes on the market.

Included on my top ten list of cool new Realtor technology would have to be ComVu’s Pocketcaster, which enables — get ready for this — live, on demand video-podcasting…from your cell phone. The resolution currently offered isn’t great, but when it improves, I can easily see using this to make quick, on the fly virtual tours of homes for buy-side clients. The “live” part (actually, there’s about a 10-second delay) isn’t what really intrigues me — after all, it’s not clear to me that my clients are wacky enough to stay tuned to my ComVu channel 24X7 just to wait for my next breathless broadcast. What I find cool is that PocketCaster auto-uploads and archives my content, so I no longer have to go to the hassle of taking the SD card out of my cell phone, plugging it into my laptop, transferring it to my laptop, then uploading it to a video site.

Geek on.

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A romp through the Dutch polders in my klompen … wonder if my grandparents’ farm homes are still there?

December 4, 2006

klompen.jpgTrulia’s interview of Marque Joosten, CEO of the Dutch online property site, got me pretty excited for at least two reasons: Wicked cool technology, and a burst of patriotic curiosity. You see, Dutch blood runs thick in my veins: “Boer” simply means “farmer”, which pretty accurately describes my ancestors’ way of life on both sides of the family tree…until one grandfather became a barber, and his son — my father — went to University and got himself a PhD! Somehow I ended up selling real estate in Silicon Valley. But we digress… apparently has 3.5M unique visitors per month from the Netherlands alone, which gives them a reach of some 20%. Joosten says Internet penetration in the Netherlands is around 85%, of which 90% is broadband, and as a result traditional print media real estate advertising has all but disappeared. He considers the newspaper advertising we have here in the US to be “probably worthless,” and he advises a simple trick to convince sellers that there’s no need to advertise in newspapers: “You can show them how many leads they get from a newspaper ad…zero…and then how many leads they get from the Internet…and that’s tens or hundreds.”

I thought I’d give the site a spin, and thankfully the cobwebs in my brain cleared sufficiently for the 50-odd words of Dutch I still know to come in useful: “Verkoop = “For sale”; “Welkom bij Funda” = “Welcome to Funda”; “Zoeken” = “Search”; “Plaats” = “City”.

A neat little integration with Google Earth pops up some very slick maps.

This is my dad’s home town of Lutjegast (”Little Higher Sandy Ridge” says Wikipedia), whose claim to fame is being the birth place of Abel Tasman, the Dutch seafarer who was the first European to stumble upon the island of Tasmania.


My mom’s home town was Hantemhuizen, which even Google Earth can’t locate. The nearest town was Dokkum, which looks like practically a bustling metropolis!


Image of “klompen” — wooden shoes — courtesy of Yes, I do have a pair…somewhere. No, I never wear them.

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Real estate office in a box

November 19, 2006

Inspired by Pat Kitano’s recent post on Google Apps, which in turn was inspired by Loren Nason’s musings on real estate technology, I thought I would chime in on the discussion about cool tech tools.


Traditionally, one of the benefits of working for a large brokerage like Alain Pinel (my broker) was the technology infrastructure they provided — email service, fax machines, web sites, photocopiers, a PABX, desktop computers, servers, perhaps even cell phones — and discounts for third party services like graphics design, mailer printing, and office supplies. These days, however, even a one-person shop has much of this functionality at his fingertips…for a fraction of the “desk fees” charged by many of the brokerages.

desktop-computer.jpg fax-machine.jpgoffice-supplies.jpgtelephone.jpgphotocopier.jpg

Let’s look at how a small brokerage might tackle its technology needs in three categories: communication, marketing, and administration.
We start with a computer, which will end up being your primary tool in all three categories. Some folks prefer a desktop for their main office and a laptop on the road, but I prefer having only a laptop. Be sure you get one with a good-feeling keyboard, and you might want to spring for a large monitor to plug the laptop into when you’re at your office. You may also want to invest in a high-speed Internet access service for your laptop, such as that offered by Verizon.

  • Phone — Get a VOIP (Voice Over IP) phone service from a company like Vonage or Skype, and give out that number. When you’re in your office (which for a small company could be at home), use that as your primary phone. Configure it so that if you don’t pick it up in 3 rings, it forwards to your cell phone. Get a cell phone with a generous plan and possibly with high-speed Internet access, depending on whether you’ll also get high-speed service for your laptop.
  • Internet access — If you work from home and already have high-speed Internet access, set up an (encrypted) wireless router so you can work on your laptop from anywhere. If you have a dedicated office, you may have to spring for an Internet connection plan — especially if there are several people in the office. If you’re literally a one-person shop, you might get away with having only the high-speed Internet connection on your laptop.
  • Fax machine — Skip it and save some serious bank. Get a $9.95/month Internet fax service plan which enables others to send you a fax to a dedicated number and forwards that fax as an attachment in your email, and be sure it also has an outgoing email-to-fax service. That way, you can send and receive faxes from anywhere you have Internet access. Two options to check out are Onebox and Greenfax.
  • Email — Lots of folks use an Exchange hosted solution; some are beginning to migrate to Google Apps for Your Domain, though there’s some privacy concerns re. the latter. Loren Nason has a good explanation about setting up Google Apps. Your web site provider may well have an email service as well.


  • Web site — If you prefer a low-hassle solution, and you’re not terribly interested in getting involved in the nuts and bolts of it, you’ll probably want to stick with one of the many, many real estate web site solutions. If you feel like getting your hands dirty, you may want a hosted solution that gives you complete control. I use Bluehost, which for less than $10/month gives me several domain names, a ton of free apps, and pretty good performance.
  • Fliers/brochures/postcards — If you’re reasonably handy with Powerpoint or Publisher, you can design most of what you need yourself. Alternatively, you could hire a graphics artist to come up with a couple of neat templates for you, and then edit for each use accordingly. If you’re well-organized, you can save a lot of money by getting your mailings and open house fliers ready a week in advance, since you can use one of the Internet printing services like VistaPrint or OvernightPrints, which gives you good quality on full-color double-sided 4X6 postcards for something ridiculous like 15 cents each. Some of the services will even bulk mail them for you — but that adds up pretty quickly at 20 cents a card. If you’re not as well organized, you can probably get them done overnight at a local Kinko’s FedExKinko’s.


  • Printer — I personally wouldn’t recommend investing in an expensive, high-end printer. What’s often more cost-effective — again if you’re well-organized — is to get a $300 color printer that you use when you need, say, 10 copies or less. For more than that, and especially if you’re printing out 10 copies of a 100 page listing disclosure, you might want to check out FedExKinko’s online print service.
  • Photocopier — Again, give it a miss and save some money, or get a cheap one (preferably the same gizmo as your printer) for doing 10 copies or less.
  • Scanner — This is something still not found in most of the traditional brokerages, but I highly recommend it for any small business. I’d get one that’s reasonably fast — say, 15 pages per minute — and it becomes your defacto photocopier and fax machine. Say you get one of those annoying old-fashioned paper (shudder!) 100-page disclosure packets from a listing agent. Scan it in and forward it to your clients by email — they’ll have a much crisper copy and be duly impressed with your tech skills.
  • Signature service — Ditch the old routine of print, fax to client, wait for fax to come back, etc. Try one of the electronic signature packages — provided, of course, that electronic signatures are legal for real estate transactions in your state — and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. I use Docusign, but I’ve heard good things about Suredocs as well.
  • Backup — If your whole business is on your laptop, you need to protect that data. I use Carbonite, a neat online service which backs up whatever you want it to for something like $5/month. Whenever you have an Internet connection, it scans your laptop for new or changed files and then quietly uploads them to Carbonite’s servers in the background. (Actually, I believe Carbonite uses Amazon’s S3 data service.)

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Today’s sign that the apocalypse is nigh…

November 8, 2006

apocalypse3a1.jpgI doubt I caused this, but I’m shocked nonetheless.REIL, our local MLS, has just announced a rule change to its long-standing prohibition against displaying “sold” listings on a web site:

Over the past year, REIL’s Board of Directors, its Data Use Policy Committee, and REIL staff have researched data policy issues. From this research and following in the groundbreaking footsteps of Northwest MLS’ sold-data policies, RE InfoLink’s Board of Directors has adopted a new data use policy that addresses these trends. The policy:

  • Allows more types of information on IDX websites such as:
  • Search and display of SOLD listings
  • Automated valuations
  • Statistical analyses (only allowed when data is obtained through a datafeed and custom analyzed – does not include reprinting statistics published on

What does this mean, and why should you care?

If you’re a Realtor, there’s bad news and good news. First, the bad: prospective clients will no longer need to call you to get information about properties that have recently sold. The good news: prospective clients weren’t actually calling you anyways, since they could get this information from various online sources (e.g. Zillow et. al) Now you finally get to compete with Zillow as an information source for sold properties. (Hint: If this rule had been changed, say, 3 years ago, Zillow probably wouldn’t exist today.)
If you’re a member of the public, it means the old contemptuous way our industry used to treat you — “we’re the guardians of the information, and you must come through us to get it” — is continuing to change. As an industry, we’re finally acknowledging that our value-add isn’t and shouldn’t be access to information.

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Assistants 2.0

November 4, 2006

An indispensable asset for many Realtors is their assistant, who’s responsible for maintaining order, keeping on top of the escrow file, scheduling appointments, helping with advertising, running errands, photocopying…and generally trying to keep your life from going completely stark-raving insane.

I can’t say enough good things about my part-time assistant, Cynthia, who does an absolutely fabulous job.  [Full disclosure:  Cynthia also happens to be my sister.]  Like many real-estate related folks these days, she lives in…Seattle…837 miles from where I do my business.

How does this work?  Quite well, thanks to some Web 2.0 technologies, like Docusign, which I’ve commented about before, and another neat little piece of software from some Israeli software geniuses called Beinsync, which, as the name implies, helps keep documents synchronized on different computers.

I run nearly everything in my business off my trusty laptop.  I’ve configured Beinsync to make sure that my laptop and Cynthia’s always have the most up-to-date version of important documents.

The best example of our workflow is when we’re putting together offers.  Most listings in this area come in tandem with a 100+ page disclosure packet, of which perhaps 50 need signatures from myself and my clients.  I scan in the disclosure packets, and Beinsync promptly and obediently (and fairly quickly) uploads them to Cynthia’s laptop.  (If the disclosures are available online, which they are about 20% of the time, Cynthia downloads them directly.)

She gets the disclosures ready for signature and emails them out to myself and my clients.  After we sign them — which takes at most 2 minutes — she packages them all together in a PDF file, along with supporting documents like a pre-approval letter and a cover letter, and saves them on her laptop.  Once again, Beinsync kicks into action and uploads the signed disclosures to my laptop.

Our record was a deal we put together in which the parties were in five different cities!

  • I was in San Diego at a friend’s wedding
  • Client 1 was in Fresno (California)
  • Client 2 was in Petaluma (also in California)
  • The mortgage broker was in San Rafael (again, California)
  • Cynthia was up in Seattle, coordinating all the activities


This sort of thing would have been nearly impossible just two years ago.  Thanks to Docusign and Beinsync — and, most importantly by far, an extremely efficient and tech-savvy assistant — we pulled it off as smoothly as if we had all been in the same room.

Oh, and yes — we did get the deal!

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Electronic transactions and peace in the Middle East

October 29, 2006

At the recent convention of the California Association of Realtors, Brad Inman, President and CEO of Inman News Features, spoke about how technology has been changing the business of real estate. Inman’s a pretty sharp character, and he “gets” technology in real estate in a way that many industry leaders don’t.

Here’s what he had to say about electronic transactions:

Uh, Brad…next time you’re thinking of buying or selling a home, let me know…we’ll do all the paperwork electronically, and the first and only time you’ll have to put a pen to paper is when you sign the closing documents at the title company. Alas, California law still requires mortgage documents to be signed the old fashioned way.

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A Lexus ad on Zillow?

October 24, 2006

Zillow has made it clear they’re a media site, and that they make money exactly like other media sites do — through advertising. Much of the advertising on Zillow looks like this:

For the first time today, however, I saw an ad that looked like this:

If non-real-estate-related advertisers like Lexus are buying ads on Zillow, that can only mean they’re reaching a pretty broad audience, and perhaps a fairly affluent one at that.

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