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April 02 2013

Will The Real Square Footage Please Stand Up

Given our local MLS returns the square footage as a range instead of a value, it’s difficult to offer this parameter for search and I wanted to know a “rule of thumb” in how others are interpreting this range, to potentially advise our engineers on how to handle these ranges to get a single value capable of search, or redesign the data for min/max in case other markets do the same thing.  I asked one of our staff to surf the web yesterday and pick 5 random listings and share with me what square footage the MLS, a couple large area brokers, and the major portals all display.  What we discovered is there appears to be no “rule of thumb” and the values vary.

Above you can see that some brokers display their own listings with exact counts, but other listings with the ranges delivered by the MLS.  It also appears that some brokers syndicate their data to some portals, and others are making guesses or receiving bad data.  Some are not even within the MLS range.

I’m still trying to find the happy medium and wonder if a feed doesn’t deliver an estimated total and instead a range (a string instead of integer value that requires additional processing), is there a “rule of thumb” to standardize on to allow agents and consumers to search for listings by square footage.

March 21 2013

Satirical Explanation of World Politics

A former partner of mine at Accenture in the UK posted this and I thought it was a funny way to illustrate various world political views.

SOCIALISM
You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbour

COMMUNISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk

FASCISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk

NAZISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you

BUREAUCRATISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then
throws the milk away

TRADITIONAL CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy
grows.
You sell them and retire on the income

ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND (VENTURE) CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by
your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption
for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States , leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

SURREALISM
You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to
produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why
the cow has dropped dead.

A GREEK CORPORATION
You have two cows. You borrow lots of euros to build barns, milking sheds, hay stores, feed sheds,
dairies, cold stores, abattoir, cheese unit and packing sheds.
You still only have two cows.

A FRENCH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three
cows.

A JAPANESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce
twenty times the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called a Cowkimona and
market it worldwide.

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows,
but you don’t know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

A SWISS CORPORATION
You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

A CHINESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

AN INDIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You worship them.

A BRITISH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Both are mad.

AN IRAQI CORPORATION
Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No-one believes you, so they bomb the ** out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.

AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

A NEW ZEALAND CORPORATION
You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive…

February 21 2013

Is There A Future For Brokers And MLS? I Think So.

I recently read a post on the WAV Group Blog speaking about former broker Alain Pinel’s opinion editorial about future of MLS and common broker complaints. I felt compelled to share some of my opinion, and optimism, that with the right leadership both can prosper and coexist with less animosity.

People blog their ideas (OpEd) all the time but it doesn’t mean there is a problem.  That said, I believe with a clear vision and focus on execution, there’s plenty of opportunity to not only survive, but thrive both for brokers and MLS.  My “OpEd” would suggest instead that brokers and MLS redefine their relationship and MLS clearly define their business model.

Relationship:

MLS should be a technology company, and not a member organization.  Many spawned from member organizations, and are “stuck” in this dues-based revenue model.  The MLS should define itself as a technology company, and clearly separate from the member organizations who are typically shareholders.  The brokers and MLS shouldn’t play tug-o-war over listing data and instead brokers should look at MLS as a technology “buyers group”, a technology “service provider”, and a commercial “marketplace”.  All three should be separate business units (products).   Changing this relationship can allow both to work together to align goals to their respective customers, the agents, and prosper when their customers prosper.

Business Unit #1 (marketplace):

Think NASDAQ, Ebay, and add a retail buyer group (volume purchasing power).  The MLS business model should be both subscription-based and transactional.  Their core businesses should not be about data, but instead about the “marketplace”.  Everything should align with simplifying access to and integration with the “marketplace” and the objective should be aligned with agents’ to increase transactions.  MLS, like NASDAQ, should have minimum certification or education requirements for participants and have a reasonable base annual or monthly support  fee (like Costco).

MLS, like EBay, should charge a publishing fee to list something for sale in the marketplace, and a fixed fee for the back end transaction and compensation split.  Instead of a % of sale like Ebay, a fixed price transaction charge would be simpler.  This could be $50 publish, and $25/transaction for each party ($50 if buyer and seller agent).  Heck, title companies almost standardize $750/transaction nowadays so fees could be higher and potentially part of closing costs, but I’d lean to a small and easy to compute fee.  If 4+ million homes sold/year, and only $100 extra/transaction ($50 publish + ($25 + $25 close)) they instantly grew MLS market from it’s shrinking $500 million/year to $900 million.  The mistake I see most make is focusing on cutting costs or beating up vendors (their lifeblood), or trying to get commission revenue from vendors; they should instead focus on increasing revenue from customers.

By focusing instead on providing the “marketplace” and less about the data, you solve that resentment and bickering over who “owns” data.  The data is not the valuable asset, it’s the organized “marketplace”.  I fear too few MLS and brokers get this and while bickering over data, other entities are trying to move the marketplace away from them.  MLSs should actually reduce barriers for 3rd party integration because the more “buzz” promoted by others to use the “marketplace”, the more transactions run through it, and more money both agents and MLSs make.  Do you see NASDAQ restricting ticker quotes and bid/ask data?  Answer is “no” because they know the more people excited and educated about their customers’ products, the more transactions will process (why they track daily volume of stock buy/sell).  Everything they do is to attract companies to list with them (instead if NYSE), and drive as many transactions as possible.

Business Unit #2 (buyers group):

Think Groupon and Crowdsourcing.  MLS should have separate opt-in subscription business  where participants may join the MLS buyer’s group.  This is an opt-in group and likely requires research how retail buyers groups work.  The subscription covers expenses for MLS staff or consultants to “vet” products and services that may be considered, and offering incentives or guarantees to vendors on minimum purchase levels in order to earn tiered discounts in volume.  Instead of an App Store that offers very low value proposition to vendors (high upfront costs, no guarantees, small potential market [compared to 200 million+ with Apple and Google's and standard platform]), MLS should instead form “teams” that may opt in to negotiate volume discounts for purchases of products.

Almost like crowdsourcing, or Groupon, each “deal” can announce to subscribers the products being purchased and agents can join in to bring down the overall price.  Once price agreed, participants get that deal and pricing.  This solves the “leveling the playing field” argument by brokers because vendors can have tiered pricing plans based on units, so the largest brokers may get the biggest deals for their agents in sheer numbers, but for some tools by aligning with other brokers they further drive the costs down.

Another feature they could do is kick off a “private or invite only deal” where perhaps they rally only their agents to get in on a product purchase and secure their company a better deal than smaller companies.  They really should differentiate and compete by hiring the best people because they too should be focused on increasing transactions.  If their customers are successful, then they are successful.

Business Unit #3 (products and services):

MLS can be a provider or reseller of technology tools.  This should be considered completely separate from other business units.  The marketplace should just be the back end “exchange” and API, and the products and services division offers various approved client solutions, or purchase and resell 3rd party solutions.  The MLS front-end is one example product.

Similar to MRIS in Maryland (DC area), MLSs could also market their own products like market reports, etc.  MRIS even built a new business for their RBI product, and several progressive MLSs are selling their solutions to other MLSs.  To attract the best vendors for the “directory”, the MLS products should be treated as equal to other products and pay same fees to promote its products as the vendors it aims to attract.

Business Unit #4 (Advertising):

This is where the “App Store” fits in, but instead I’d recommend the MLS become an affiliate and earn different revenue share based on their participation.  They can either participate in affiliate relationship like CommissionJunction.com, or charge for advertising, or both.  For example, if a product is one of many in a group then for every order the MLS generates, they earn 10% commission.  If the MLS promotes a product as the category featured solution, they could earn 15-20% commission.  If the MLS promotes an exclusive product for a category, they could earn 20-30% commission.

It’s completely fair to ask for affiliate commission if they indeed reduce a company’s acquisition costs.  If the company must generate orders themselves, then no commission is earned.  If the company wants to participate in a directory, it’s fair to ask for a listing charge (think Yellow Book), but the MLS should only expect a cut for revenues it drives to the company.  This aligns goals and incentives so the the MLS actually sells and not just lists, otherwise there is little value proposition to vendors.

There’s no reason not to provide a public-facing portal and collect advertising revenues or featured listing revenues, but this is shaky ground.  Brokers’ complaint on this is that the syndication of their listings reduces their expensive website’s traffic and SEO efforts.  I would analyze how HAR.com solved this problem in Houston and the value far outweighs the issues.  Regardless, just in focusing business units above and tweaking the model, the MLS could more than double it’s market size (to over $1 billion/year) very quickly and not on the backs of the very companies they rely on.

Summary:

I see MLSs and brokers have the right ideas on what they must do, but no one has laid out a clear road map to get there.  The first thing they must define are their business units (like above), eliminate the myopic focus on the data, and then work backwards with a tactical plan with milestones and dates to get there and track progress along the way.

I commend people like Michael Wurzer of FBS Systems for having the vision that the “front end of choice” will become an eventual truth.  The only mistake I see in the execution of the Spark Platform, for example, is the business model.  Currently it is confused for the app directory when in fact it should be the “exchange” or “marketplace” product.   MLSs should pay a hosting & support fee for this of possibly share in transaction revenue.

By redefining the relationship with brokers and agents, and focusing on the transactions and marketplace (prime asset), the MLS can significantly increase their revenue and support the vendors they rely on instead of the current cannibalization and price pressure on every contract renewal.  It’s not too late, but leadership, vision, and execution are required to get there.

February 20 2013

Top 3 Pain Points For Listing Agents

 

CEO INSIGHT Headshot - Mike Mike Sparr
CEO and Founder

“Connecting buyers and sellers”

Goomzee Logo

www.goomzee.com
406-542-9955


Hello listing agents,

With inventory levels at all-time lows, now is the time to focus on profit maximization and efficiency for every transaction.  Working with agents around the US, the same pain points seem to emerge and I wanted to reflect on them and share how we help you solve them at my company, Goomzee.

  1. Ficticious Online Leads
  2. Costly Listing Flyers
  3. No Way To Follow Up

If these look familiar to you, please learn how we help solve them below.

FICTICIOUS ONLINE LEADS Every agent I’ve discussed this with can recall the funny email addresses, names and phone numbers they see like “fred@flintstone.com”.  You spend so much time weeding through the fakes, your response time to the real leads suffers and you miss opportunities.  We call this the “Follow Up Trap”.

SOLUTION: Text Message Leads cannot be faked and give you real phone numbers from cell phone providers

 

COSTLY LISTING FLYERS
We all know the neighbors typically grab the first batch, and then the boxes are empty.  The expense to maintain this marketing tool from design, paper, printing, fuel, travel and your time can quickly add up ($hundreds/month).  Toll free numbers were a great option but consumers today despise being pushed off to a “voice menu or recording” and avoid dialing, resorting to searching on their own but you risk other sites advertising your competition.

SOLUTION: Reusable Text/QR Sign Riders allow buyers to view info on their phone 24/7.

 

NO WAY TO FOLLOW UP
If a potential buyer reads an ad, fills out fake information, or grabs a listing flyer you have no way to know who they are or how to contact them.  This lack of valuable data prevents you from better coaching your clients on pricing and market positioning, costing you and them days, weeks, or months of longer days on market.

SOLUTION: Cell Phone Call Capture alerts you of every request and you can always follow up without Do Not Call concern.

 

STARTER KIT FOR ONLY $45 We ship you two pre-printed sign riders with text message and QR codes, and our staff links them to your listing for you, so you can try our service for 60 days.  If you love it, then subscribe to our annual plan and I’ll credit you $45, plus ship you 8 additional signs.  Better yet, we ship you signs from Montana so there is NO SALES TAX.


Click Here To Order Now
(sign riders typically arrive in 2-3 business days)

 

Goomzee Connect Overview Diagram

How Goomzee Connect Works - Diagram

Call: 406-542-9955

or email

support@goomzee.com


Goomzee Starter Kit Overview

I’m so confident that you and your clients will love this service, that if you decide to subscribe to our annual service, I will credit you the $45 towards purchase of our annual plan, and even ship you eight more sign riders.  There’s no risk for just trying us out, and you still benefit from the savings of our discounted MLS price plans.

 

Click Here To Order Now

(sign riders typically arrive in 2-3 business days)

 

Call: 406-542-9955  or email  support@goomzee.com

 

www.goomzee.com

September 27 2012

Are Your Mobile Apps Slowing You Down – Goomzee Mobile MLS

Hello industry friends:

NEW MOBILE MLS APPS:
I’m pleased to share with you that our 18-month-long engineering cycle is almost complete, and we’re introducing the most performant mobile app API in the industry.  As you may have read recently with reviews by Clareity and others, the quality and performance from mobile solutions varies greatly, and some poor solutions leave you and your members relying on the portal apps to stay in touch with consumers.  We set out over a year ago to help solve this issue and I will be sharing some key performance metrics you need to be aware of when evaluating any mobile solution, and how we solved these issues.

Please read all about it below and see our “cheeky” flyer for this event.  ;-)

CMLS FLYER:  CMLS 2012 Flyer (pdf) CMLS 2012 Flyer (Zip)

Mobile MLS Apps From Goomzee - CMLS 2012 Boston

DATA-FIRST APPROACH WITH PERFORMANCE TOP PRIORITY:
We started at the data, then indexing the data, then the search engine, then the API server.  Every piece was carefully evaluated and tested before any technology was approved for our mobile “stack”.  I’m pleased to note that our API servers alone with just a static response message, serve requests at 20,900 requests/second per server.  Zillow’s returns approximate 147 requests/second for a static error message, for comparison.  Our user preference database performs write operations at over 152,000 writes/second.  Just to give you a comparison of what this means, we performed some benchmarks on many leading portal apps.

BENCHMARKED AGAINST TOP PORTAL APIS:
Using a brand new linux server in a large Texas datacenter with quad core processing, gigabit ethernet (1Gbs), and Sandy Bridge Intel processors we gave every mobile API a fair shake.  By monitoring network traffic on our wi-fi network, we documented the API urls that portal iPhone apps were sending listing search requests to, and then set up our tests to these servers with a small amount of traffic, off-peak.  Our tests revealed that the fastest portal API was Redfin, serving requests at 54 requests/second.  Zillow came in at 39 requests/second, then Trulia and Realtor.com between 13-15 requests/second.  Solutions like Smarter Agent and others either timed out or were below 5 requests/second.

GOOMZEE OUTPERFORMED FASTEST PORTAL API OVER 10X:
We performed the same tests on our API returning both 1 result and 20 results for a geo search (map search) and our API returned 1,200 request/second for 20 results, and over 4,000 requests/second for 1 result, primarily just limited by network bandwidth and speed depending on size of the response data.  These tests were against a single server and indexed database with over 10 million listings and 70 million photos.  To ensure fairness, we also tested from slow, low-bandwidth,  out-of-network server and still returned over 200 requests/second to an 8-year-old 2GB RAM server with a 10Mbs connection (100x slower connection).  What this means to you, is that when tens of thousands of simultaneous users connect to a Mobile MLS, a tool they need/use daily, less of them will be waiting for the server to respond.

SEARCH PERFORMANCE THANKS TO A REAL SEARCH ENGINE:
Long gone are the days of an OR clause and a % wildcard symbol in a SQL query for real estate search.  To remain competitive with portals, you need to implement the kind of technology they have access to.  We can all attest to the importance of accurate results and we took that very seriously, adding a real search engine with Near-Real-Time (NRT) indexing which means fresher data and search results.  Similar technology offered by Zillow and others, using Lucene search engine, had limitations with the powerful front end called SOLR because it required nightly batch re-indexing, thus listings would not be up-to-date as frequently.  Those technologies are catching up, but our chosen solution is already setting the new standard.

SEARCH ACCURACY THANKS TO GREAT MLS PARTNERS LIKE INTERMOUNTAIN MLS:
On the accuracy front, I’m grateful for MLS partners like Intermountain MLS in Boise Idaho and their staff who literally took a  prototype app out in the field and tested our search, tested common agent searches and mistakes, and helped us tune our search engine to deliver the most accurate results.  I personally have tested a few industry apps and the search accuracy has been all over the board.  The complaints we heard from MLS staff around the U.S. we focused on solving first, and we’ll let them tell you how we did – find Greg Manship, their CEO, in Boston.

ASK FOR DEMO OF OUR IPAD APP AT CMLS BOSTON 2012:
I do hope to see most of you this week in Boston and please don’t hesitate to grab me for a QUICK demo.  Battery-life-permitting, I’m very excited to show off what we’ve toiled over for nearly 2 years behind the scenes and what we’ll be formally unveiling very soon.  My hope is you too agree, and choose to team with Goomzee and offer the best tools available to your customers.

Thanks for your time and continued support!

Warmest regards,

Mike Sparr, CEO and Founder
Goomzee

http://www.goomzee.com

September 25 2012

CMLS Attendees learn about Goomzee’s new Mobile MLS apps

If you’re considering mobile solutions for your members be sure they are optimized for mobile.  It starts from the back end API long before the front end client apps, or no matter how pretty the screen, the user is left with a poor, slow experience.  Learn more about how Goomzee solved common issues in mobile performance and usability by finding our staff at CMLS Boston 2012 this week.

September 01 2012

Who pays for R&D?

The other day I read an article on Inman News titled “Why is nobody making my dream real estate app?” and was inspired to highlight the R&D expenses most companies, including document management companies, must incur to support mobile devices and who is going to pay for it.

I asked a simple question to the author “how much would you be willing to pay for it?” and the reply was $20-30/mo or better yet, sell to the MLS or brokerage so they offer it for free.  This I believe is the same mentality with consumers (including real estate professionals) around the U.S. that everything should be cheap or free, but I fear we forgot how the world worked even 10 years ago before massive venture capital investments flooded into technologies companies devalued good software and paying for what it’s worth.

The author cites the lack of a single solution that does everything and the frustration to workflow various tools to do their day-to-day duties.  I agree, things should be simpler, and if someone does something great then be willing to pay a premium for it (think Apple).

There are some great tools and companies already, as mentioned in the comments to the article, but I can attest that mobile engineering often doubles and triples their engineering costs to build/support all the various devices/screens, etc.  What they should do is double/triple their fees to fund it, but pressure to offer the additional tools at no extra cost means they must sacrifice margins or provide “good enough” solutions to end the immediate complaints.

Remember the days when something new came out and the early adopters paid a huge premium (your first computer, television, VCR vs. current one)?  Today, with insanely-large venture capital investments to cover those R&D losses for years, consumers have become accustomed to no longer paying that early adopter “tax” for R&D with new products.  The traditional, privately-owned, profitable companies still must fund that R&D and recap expenses through revenues so if they don’t raise outside capital and sell off huge chunks of their company, they are forced to move slower and fund R&D through existing revenues, or increase revenues/prices.

I believe if you want more, you should be willing to pay more, and you’ll get much better service but for some reason people today want more and to pay less – Wal Mart.  It doesn’t seem to apply to everything, however, which is hardest to understand yet.  For example, if I want great service at a restaurant I frequent, I make sure to tip well so they eventually remember me and I get top-notch service.  We can all relate, I’m sure.  What I find puzzling is the reverse mentality when it comes to investing in critical tools for doing business.

I was reading Trulia’s S-1 filing the other day and saw their engineering costs alone were over $10 million/year.  Assuming a company investing the same in technology likely needs at least $25 million/year in revenues to profit (or say $2 million/mo), they need over 66,000 agents to pay $30/mo to reach that revenue.  Trulia’s S-1 filing revealed they have 20,000 paid subscribers and it’s taken 6 years to get there and they’re just breaking even, earning $140/user (far more than $30).  Nearly $100 million in total cost (reinvesting revenues plus over $30 million VC funding) and 6 years later, and they’re only 1/3 to the 66,000.  Very few can float those kind of losses.  There will always be companies investing much, much less in engineering and will provide “good enough” solutions as you mentioned, but put some simple numbers down on paper like I did and you’ll see why you get what you are willing to pay for.

Rest assured, there are many companies dedicated to providing the best-of-breed and taking this financial risk to hopefully be rewarded some point in the future through volume sales.  Don’t forget what it really costs these companies and the significant financial risk they make to try to improve the lives of real estate professionals like yourself.  They should instead be celebrated and recognized for their efforts.

References:

Inman News Article

Trulia S-1 Filing

August 28 2012

What Is In Your “Toy Box?”

By Lon Whittier

Remember when you were a kid and it was your birthday?  When getting that new, coveted toy was the one thing you really wanted?  That new toy was great and you played with it for days on end. Eventually, something newer, shinier and “better” came about, and that toy ended up at the bottom of the toy box. – The toy didn’t lose any of the fun.  It was still the same toy that provided endless hours of joy.  The problem was, it wasn’t the newest thing in your toy box.  You still knew it was there, at the bottom, waiting for you to start playing with it again.  You may have pulled it out, played with it and remembered how good of a toy it was.  No other toy quite played the same way as that one did.  But nonetheless you just stopped playing with it.

Now we are older and we get new “toys”.  Sometimes they are actual “toys” we use during our leisure time.  Other times these “toys” are “tools” that we use during our work day to make us more efficient.  All too often, we find ourselves falling into the same pattern we did when we were a child. – Being really excited about this new tool until something newer and shinier comes along.

Through my work with Goomzee, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work with real estate agents throughout the country.  Every time we get a new customer, they are excited to add this new “tool” to their marketing toolbox.  They understand the value of what our service does, and they enjoy how easy it is to use.  Immediately they start promoting their listings with Goomzee, and they start seeing leads coming in. – And, every once in a while, one of those leads turns into the sale of that particular listing.

But what happens after that initial excitement?
The agents that have had the most success with Goomzee are the ones that use it every time, on every listing.  Just like a new toy, they keep “playing” with it.  They customize the messages the prospective buyer receives.  They try different things with the sign riders.  They look for ways to differentiate their marketing from other agents with the tools in their Goomzee toolbox.  They look to integrate Goomzee tools into what they are currently doing to market listings.  All in all, they look for ways to maximize all the features.

The agents that have had the least success with Goomzee are the ones that tried it once or twice on a few listings, forgot they had the service, and didn’t continue to utilize it on all their listings.  Maybe the few listings they promoted were in an area with very little traffic, or the prospective buyers in that area were not “tech savvy”.  The truth is, there is no guarantee that a sign at a property is going to generate a phone call, text inquiry, QR scan, mobile homes search, or someone grabbing a flyer.  However, if you aren’t trying to get the attention of every potential home buyer with every marketing tool at your disposal, you are missing out on opportunities to sell.

There are many tools available that real estate agents can use.  Some tools you will choose to buy yourself, some will even be sponsored by your office, company or MLS.  Some are for marketing, others are for CMA analysis.  It’s very likely there are tools sitting at the bottom of your toolbox unused.  There are ones you may have never used, others you may have tried a few times.  Don’t let them sit there unused.  Pull them out and start using them!  You never know what didn’t work on that last listing might be the perfect thing on the next listing.

May 14 2012

The UK Tax System Explained In Beer

One of our team in Europe shared this with me so I felt compelled to re-post as it’s relevance here in the US, and people enjoy a good real-world demonstration of economics.

THE UK TAX SYSTEM EXPLAINED IN BEER

Suppose that once a week, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten
comes to £100.

If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something
like this..

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay £1.
The sixth would pay £3.
The seventh would pay £7.
The eighth would pay £12.
The ninth would pay £18.
And the tenth man (the richest) would pay £59.

So, that’s what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every week and seemed quite happy with the
arrangement until, one day, the owner caused them a little problem. “Since
you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost
of your weekly beer by £20.? Drinks for the ten men would now cost just
£80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the
first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free but what
about the other six men? The paying customers? How could they divide the
£20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share? They realized that
£20 divided by six is £3.33 but if they subtracted that from everybody’s
share then not only would the first four men still be drinking for free
but the fifth  and sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his
beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fairer to reduce each man’s
bill by a higher percentage. They decided to follow the principle of the
tax system they had been using and he proceeded to work out the amounts he
suggested that each should now pay.

And so, the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (a 100%
saving).
The sixth man now paid £2 instead of £3 (a 33% saving).
The seventh man now paid £5 instead of £7 (a 28% saving).
The eighth man now paid £9 instead of £12 (a 25% saving).
The ninth man now paid £14 instead of £18 (a 22% saving).
And the tenth man now paid £49 instead of £59 (a 16% saving).
Each of the last six was better off than before with the first four
continuing to drink for free.

But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings. “I only
got £1 out of the £20 saving,” declared the sixth man. He pointed to the
tenth man, “but he got £10″

“Yes, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man. “I only saved £1 too. It’s
unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me”

“That’s true” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get £10 back, when I
only got £2? The wealthy get all the breaks”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “we didn’t get
anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor” The nine men
surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next week the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat
down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the
bill, they discovered something important – they didn’t have enough money
between all of them to pay for even half of the bill.

And that, boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how our
tax system works. The people who already pay the highest taxes will
naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much,
attack them for being wealthy and they just might not show up anymore. In
fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat
friendlier.

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics.
For those who understand, no explanation is needed.
For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible

May 03 2012

Should MLSs Invest In An “App Store”?

It seems this year the MLS industry buzz is “App Store” and I see platform vendors scrambling to provide this shiny new object.  I’ve been approached by several asking if my company would participate and I’m always open-minded, but still have to scrutinize where I invest my resources.  I’m not convinced the benefit is worth the investment in many situations, so for me the jury is still deliberating.

Yesterday I noticed a post and some comments on the WAV Group blog about this subject and I felt compelled to share some insights and my personal opinion.  My comment is awaiting moderation so I thought I would also share it here for those that care to read my rather lengthy response.

 

MY RESPONSE TO: ( http://waves.wavgroup.com/2012/05/01/explaining-an-mls-app-store )

Gents, I’d like to chime in as we’ve tested this model at Goomzee and there are indeed pros/cons.

I haven’t seen LPSs offering yet but I know the gang are smart, and Rich is great at positioning and user interface design. I’ve seen the Spark platform and they’ve done a great job with documentation and preparation. I’m already working with other independent’s who’ve forged out this model and I have mixed reviews and serious concerns over whether MLSs should even be investing their time in this in lieu of other customer needs. Again, we have something shiny and new, but I don’t think people have really thought through or flushed out their business cases. Perhaps some perspective from someone who’s been there, done that not only in the real estate industry, but also in two other industries, might be useful (my personal experience).

The pros seem to really only benefit the MLS (and that is questionable actually as you read on), but at the expense of the end user and vendor in most cases. The only real problem solved is centralizing procurement and promotion. For an MLS that prides themselves on customer service, and a vendor that prides themselves on the same, and their brand, it can actually be a very risky proposition so indeed it must be done properly, if that’s possible at all, which I’m not 100% convinced. The real question to ask is whether your customers screaming for you to solve online ordering because it’s too difficult to visit someone’s website and enter credit card information?

Personally I think this model could work for small MLSs with limited staff and outsourced support to vendors because their end-users are already trained on that MLS-vendor relationship. In small quantities, that could work, but in large quantities, it’s a nightmare both for the vendor and the end user, and ultimately the MLS because of frustrated customers (the folks who ultimately pay their bills). I also think this model could benefit vendors, especially new entrants, to help acquire smaller markets that are fragmented that they might not have invested as heavily into multi-year sales cycles, tradeshows, travel, relationships, product, integrations, and brand.

For larger MLS markets that provide their own support, and those vendors invest $millions in multi-year sales cycles and business relationships, product enhancements, integrations, etc., I believe you have a disaster waiting to happen by diluting the very benefit from investing in those long business cycles. Further, I’ve seen firsthand the frustration MLS customers face when getting the “runaround” over who to contact to get their problems solved. One extra step or call and they’re livid and looking for someone to blame or bash online. MLS staff are typically not equipped to handle support for a vast array of products, and have enough on their plate just supporting the MLS system itself. Once customers have questions or issues with a 3rd party product, the MLS staff note the issue, then typically pass it onto the provider. The provider then has to attempt to contact the customer to make them repeat themselves, and often they’re not answering phone or emails at this point so it stretches out days sometimes. At that point, they’re so upset that they start to dislike the provider as an outlet for frustration, risking their brand and any potential referrals.

The #1 support issue I see with one of our products, for example, is logging in, and over 90% of the time, the user input the password incorrectly or improper case, sometimes caused by their phone capitalizing a letter and they didn’t notice. Something as simple as that, which the vendor was not at fault at all could take days to resolve (phone/email tag), could lead to product cancellations, bad reviews in app store, and no potential referrals and all could have been avoided if the end user contacted the provider directly. The support costs for vendors more than doubles because of the extra effort to reach customers after the fact, then troubleshoot and resolve. To make matters worse, most models want vendors to reduce their prices, and give up more of their revenue, and ultimately cost them more in support so if they’re smart, they’ll instead raise their prices to offset and in the end, yet again the end user is punished by having to pay more.

I have firsthand experience both in the real estate/MLS industry, and in my “past life” running my family businesses, and have seen these shortfalls (mainly in customer service and end user confusion) by adding this additional layer of separation between the end customer and the “service provider”. My family’s towing business, for example, was the largest AAA service provider for over 30 years in the Inland Northwest in regards to call volume. My grandfather personally sold AAA memberships right out of the truck for several decades to build up their membership in and around Western Montana. Customers called direct, received excellent service and recommended others, and because the service levels were so high, as our company and market grew AAA saw no reason to introduce additional service providers because the service levels and membership renewals were higher than other markets around the US. In other markets of the same size they’d have 2-3 providers but satisfaction levels were the best in the country so there was no reason to fix what wasn’t broken. This all changed when new leadership got the bright idea to centralize a call center and force all AAA members to call their toll free 800 number.

The first 2 years, customers were so frustrated and upset that memberships declined and many of our customers refused to wait for AAA’s toll free operators and called us back and opted to pay for service instead of the runaround, and submit the invoice to their insurance. This was great for our company initially because they paid us 100% more than AAA’s contracted price, but bad for them because of the hassles. Ultimately, most AAA contractors in the state started de-prioritizing AAA calls over cash calls and the end customer now has to wait longer to get rescued on the side of the road, and many cancelled memberships and now go the cash option.

Some service providers in other cities even dropped support for AAA altogether, and only service cash customers direct to ensure they receive high marks of customer service, more revenue per customer, and referrals given they maintain their business relationship. This relationship is key to long-term business success, especially in local markets. We only kept AAA because we treated it like a loss leader, and our drivers were “outside salespeople” selling the services of our other businesses, namely our auto repair shop. When local repair shops and dealerships saw a decline in their business (newer, long-lasting cars), however, they purchase towing equipment and promote towing direct to customers so they increase top-line revenue, and ensure they keep their customer relationship.

At this point, there’s was no incentive for our company to support AAA and they later introduced 2 other local providers and diluted the benefit, so it is no longer top priority to provide the same service levels for less money and a customer we have no relationship with. The issue was that extra layer of abstraction between the end customer, and the service provider, severed that relationship and results in substandard customer service and wait times to get issues resolved. But I digress so back to the MLS and real estate industry.

I might compare this model to the franchises’ approved vendor programs. They try to collect fees from vendors, and often require attendance to one or more conferences (committing $20-50K annually each in booth, travel, payroll, etc.). We were approached by the top brands and truly considered these years ago and marched down that path, only to learn that it was merely a revenue source for franchises and their agents knew it. Upon researching, I found that the agents put little, if any, stock into the directories (I asked them personally at many trade shows and all stated the same). I decided not to invest in that model and it was the best decision I ever made. It works to reach some new entrants, but most I found spend so much to get in the business they cannot afford to keep going so start dropping services as fast as they sign up and skate by on life support and credit cards or part time jobs until they get some listings and closings. Really vendors only prosper with that model as a “pay to play” strategy to gain opportunities to pitch the franchise for some enterprise solution (i.e. Market Leader, Wolfnet, etc.). At that point it’s a drop in the bucket for the $30-50K/year you have to invest to win multi-million-dollar contracts, but for most it’s a losing proposition and just means for the franchise to fill some booths at a retreat or trade show. There are no guarantees they will promote you, provide you mailing lists and whitelist your domain from spam filters, or offer any exclusivity of any kind so very one-sided.

I do still see that bandwagon affect, and organizations rushing to make decisions without truly analyzing their organizational goals, and the affects of their decisions only to have to back peddle and clean up the mess later. If you take a consultative approach to making business decisions, the first is to define the business case, your organizational objectives, and the measurements (or KPIs) to determine if your actions met your expectations. The bottom line is to ask yourself “what problem am I trying to solve?” and most importantly “are my customers asking me to solve this problem?”. I admit, I really wanted to make Social Media work for my company and even invested in prototypes and research but then the cold hard question of how that will benefit my customers forced me to abandon it. The harsh reality is that few models prosper from Social Media as sexy as it is. In the real estate industry the agents agree to cooperate at the listing level, but compete on nearly every other level, so if something is great they’re less inclined to “skill up the competition.” If I’d not really asked what problem I was solving and what the true benefit was, I’d have wasted more time and $tens to hundreds of thousands in engineering.

To me, an app store for small MLSs could work to solve the problem that they don’t have the staff or processes to efficiently select, negotiate, or promote 3rd party solutions to their members but if you dig deep, there still must be a selection/vetting process to avoid recommending substandard products to customers. If that is the case, they really only save on promotion, but must look at what you currently invest in promotion. For smaller MLSs, it could be a quarterly lunch and learn where they invite speakers (who typically sponsor lunch anyway), and a logo in a monthly newsletter or on a partner page on their website. The investment they make is so small, there’s little actual gain so again what problem do they solve?

One could argue that non-dues revenue stream is the justification to kick off this process, but many vendors already offer the revenue share model to MLS. In this case the only incentive is control and transparency, but that can be solved contractually (and typically is) by requiring the right for audits. Another rule of thumb is don’t do business with people you don’t trust and that typically solves all fears/concerns over control. If the revenue expectations are truly so great that it makes sense to kick off organization change of this type, I’d say instead invest more time and effort in supporting and promoting the companies they are already working with and get higher return, plus partners willing to work harder for them because there are incentives to do so.

One of the other justifications for this model I’ve seen is central access or SSO integration, which again leads me to believe this might work for smaller markets but not for larger multi-regional markets. Most vendors, like my company, have already integrated with the MLS systems in these larger markets, and must customize their systems to handle the unique rules as result of mergers and combined boards and legacy data designs and processes.

In looking at the pros/cons, especially as a vendor who is testing this model already, I can say for certain that the end-user suffers regardless just by sheer confusion, runaround and frustration, plus more change which is tough as we all know. I would strongly encourage MLS executives to first define a business case before jumping on any bandwagons. Ask yourself whether your customers are demanding that you make signing up for products online easier, and how important that is compared to all their other needs, and ultimately what problem you’re solving and the risk vs. reward.

As a vendor, I personally am on the fence with this model, but always keep an open mind and try anything once (or twice or thrice because I’m a stubborn and optimistic entrepreneur). Ultimately, the only justification as a vendor I can see for this model is to pick up smaller fragmented markets for marginal revenue opportunity, but I’d first design my product and service expectation levels to more of a self-service model to avoid risking my brand and setting proper customer expectations up front. If the product is not designed for self-service, watch out!

As enticing as additional margin revenue opportunity is (with no guarantees of course), I also have little/no interest in diluting the significant ($millions) investment I’ve already made in existing markets, knowing the significant disincentives that lay ahead. The level of customization required to effectively support these costs a lot of money and resources. MLSs should not  recklessly discard the investments they’ve asked companies to make to date, only to ask for even more investment with no incentives (exclusivity, higher margins, more promotion). Instead of incentives from the programs I’ve seen, I actually see the opposite: asking for larger cut into margins, lower prices, no exclusivity, no personal customer relationships, risk brand reputation because of frustrated and confused end-users, no control over cash flows (waiting for commission checks), and no way to solve billing or cancellation issues and instead giving end users the runaround.

My biased (but honest for those that know me) advice is to think long and hard on what problem you truly solve and ultimately whether the end-users are asking you for it. Also think about what incentives you offer the service provider to subscribe to such a model, because ultimately they are whom you rely on to maintain your reputation with your customers. If it’s not truly a win-win relationship, all suffer or your customers are left picking up the scraps. You could spend more time and energy supporting your partners and making them successful instead of constantly chasing that shiny new object for fear of getting left behind. Your stakeholders will not fault you for bolstering customer satisfaction, revenue, and a stable and successful partner relationship.

July 25 2011

QR Technology Approaching Ubiquity in U.S.

In June we discussed Making Room in Your Ecosystem for QR Codes. At that time the good folks at ScanLife had released a report analyzing QR code implementation and interaction rates throughout 2010.  In a nutshell, the findings illustrated how QR technology in the U.S. is on the rise but still not quite to the state of omnipresence.

As we round the corner on the second half of 2011, let’s go to ScanLife’s latest report for a radically different snapshot of QR code adoption.

 

In mid-2010 ScanLife was only recording 10 QR code scans per minute.  As of this report, they are currently logging one scan per second. As you can see from the graph above, QR code adoption started slow but has grown exponentially since July 2010.  As U.S. handset companies begin to incorporate QR technology into their base models, expect the ‘per second scan rate’ to only increase.

Another golden nugget gleaned from the report is the increased usage among mainstream Americans, detailed in the image above.  As expected the 25 – 34 year old age group leads the charge, followed closely by 35 – 44 year olds.  The first-time homebuyer bracket (25 -34 years of age) has traditionally preferred to interact on mobile devices, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see that the 35 – 44 year old age group is:

1.) so close to the younger age group in number of scans, and

2.) scanning at a higher percentage/rate than the younger age group.  At the current rate this will result in a surplus of tech-savvy homebuyers spread across more age groups than ever before.

—-

The report also contains some interesting stats regarding mobile OS market share, scan rates per city and country, and an interesting comparison between 1D and 2D barcode scanning.  Click here for ScanLife’s Q2 2011 Trend Report.

 

-  Austin Smith, Goomzee Community Manager

 

June 29 2011

Have No Fear, The Mobile Tsunami Is Here!

What an exciting world we live in today!  Every direction you turn, business professionals and consumers alike are cutting landlines and trading their desktop computers for tablets and smartphones.  Even my grandfather, a 75-year-old Italian immigrant and Korean War veteran, is now using his iPhone to send me pictures of his rose garden.  I never thought the day would come…

But it has, and not just for me but for everyone!  The “mobile shift” that we discussed in hushed tones last year, possibly in fear of it turning tail and crossing the Atlantic from whence it came, is now an undeniable paradigm switch that Nielsen has labeled a “Mobile Tsunami”.

Below are some of the latest mobile statistics that reflect just how drastically cell phones have permeated today’s America.  Since outrunning a tsunami is borderline impossible, just sit back and let the waves of progress wash over you…

 

-  USA cell phone penetration currently at 96%

  • Up from 13% penetration in 1995

-  37% of all mobile subscribers have smartphones

-  40% of smartphone users have downloaded a QR code reader

-  49% of smartphone users who have seen a QR code have scanned it

-  Average data usage is up almost 200% across the nation

  • 230MB/month in 1st Quarter of 2010, 435MB/month in 1st Quarter of 2011

-  Average data usage per user has increased 89% in last 12 months

  • 582MB/month average for Android users, 492MB/month average for iPhone users

-  Cost per unit of data had dropped 46% despite increased consumption

  • Dropped from 14 cents per unit of data to 8 cents

 

Mobile statistic aggregators are also reporting fluctuations in more areas of the mobile industry than just data usage:

 

-  Foursquare now has as many users as Bolivia has citizens (10 Million)

-  12% of U.S. internet population (ages 8-64) own a tablet

-  35% of new tablet owners report using their PC significantly less, or not at all

-  32% of laptop owners reported the same

-  96% of small business owners report that they would not be able to remain relevant without using mobile technologies

 

 

Feeling refreshed yet?!

 

(Data points above were collected from independent aggregators, not affiliated in any way with Goomzee.  For citations or other bibliography-related inquiries, please email:  asmith (at) goomzee (dot) com.)

 

- Austin Smith, Goomzee Community Manager

 

June 17 2011

Three Key Elements of Marketing

This evening I attended a business function and one of the guest speakers was a renowned author, consultant and professor specializing in high-tech marketing named Jakki Mohr. She had 15 minutes to educate the audience on marketing, arguably a topic that can rarely be addressed in hours let alone 15 minutes. I was surprised she was able to really break down marketing into three key elements, all of which are required to achieve business success, in her “15 minutes of fame.”

Mohr noted that most businesspeople think of marketing only in the advertising sense, or the desired outcome, but often neglect the foundation that begins well before the latter stages. As an entrepreneur many times over, I can attest to the importance of them firsthand and will try to share the breakdown below.

1. Define And Know Your Customer
Although this is known by most, Jakki went so far as to challenge businesses to truly isolate who it is they are marketing to, and ignore the others despite temptation. She noted a common mistake businesses make is the fear to leave money on the table and desire to serve and sell to everyone – a fatal mistake in her words. This rings true and many businesses would be better served identifying their best customer, then becoming experts in identifying and solving those people’s problems and establishing thought leadership, relationships, and brand.

2. Identify Your Value Proposition
The only way someone is going to purchase your product or service is if it delivers value to them, and you can articulate what that value is. Mohr noted that most the entrepreneurs in the room were selling to other businesses and there are only two value propositions they will make a purchase decision on, saving money or making more money. If you cannot clearly describe and ideally prove how you are doing one or the other, or both, then you are wasting your time and money in advertising. Mohr’s advice to businesses was before you spend a dime on advertising, make sure you have #1 and #2 clearly defined.

3. Execution
Execution is quite simply delivering on the promises of #1 and #2. If you establish yourself as the leader in customer service, but you partner with companies that provide poor service, you are not delivering on the promises you’re brand messaging are stating. As such, this can diminish your brand and credibility and lead to wasted investment and lost business.

Jakki went on to note that after these first three key elements of marketing are executed, the practice of measuring the effectiveness of your marketing becomes very important. You need to determine what factors drive your business and measure whether your marketing efforts meet your objectives. She joked that some of her students told her they decided to go into marketing because they were bad with numbers and she just shook her head – the numbers are very important so make sure you have a plan, goals, and way to measure how you are performing and spending your hard-earned money.

The last point of the evening was that most businesses should plan to invest in marketing, and it should be a relative percentage of their budget to what they spend in building their product or service. There are no exact ratios and the best advice is to research other companies and find industry averages with businesses similar to yours to determine if you’re investing the proper amount.

June 13 2011

Exhibit A

We recently stumbled across a QR code success story that is a perfect example of effective, consumer-oriented marketing.

Based out of Birmingham, Alabama, a broker named Charita Cadenhead was struggling with a way to entice open house attendees to sign the log-in sheet.  So, she created and began distributing double-sided sign-in cards.  Each card had places for contact info on the front and instructions for downloading a “QR reader app” on the back.

After filling out the card and returning it to Charita, each attendee received a “One Day Sale” QR code coupon to scan.  And for the first time in Charita’s career, everyone who attended her open house signed in without hesitation!

This is a great example of QR code usage in real estate on several fronts:

1. Solves a Problem – Having troubles getting attendees to log their contact info at open houses, Charita let technology step in.  By implementing her campaign with a fantastic call to action, she was able to overcome the ‘privacy issues’ hurdle and connect with her market’s tech savvy homebuyers.  Like any good carpenter, Charita let the tool do the work for her to solve a problem.

2. Call-To-Action – Too often, QR codes will just lead to contact info or property info that was already available on the media it was just scanned from.  In this case, Charita used a coupon giveaway to create value; a special, otherwise inaccessible offer available only to those who took the time to sign the cards.

3. Clear Instructions – Unfortunately, a limitation we are currently facing in QR code adoption is the lack of inherently supportive mobile handsets.  Many phones in Asia have been hard-coded to read and scan QR codes.  In America, the handsets are not quite to that point yet; QR interaction still requires the download of a “QR reader app”.  Aware of this issue, Charita printed clear, easy-to-follow instructions on the back of each sign-in card.

4. Mobile Optimized Landing Page – Charita also paid attention to the post-scan consumer experience by creating a “special Postlets page”.  The QR code did not lead to her existing agent website or property search, but to a mobile-ready site that was created specifically for her open house marketing campaign.

Taking the time to construct your QR campaign correctly will open the door to interaction with homebuyers through the mobile medium they prefer.  And as you can see, proper implementation of QR code technology can also help overcome some of the adoption hurdles we currently face here in the U.S.

June 03 2011

Making Room in Your Ecosystem for QR Codes

Just like your business cards, flyers, IDX website, and ‘For Sale’ signs, Quick Response (QR) codes are a key piece of the complete real estate marketing ecosystem.    Since the demand for mobile-optimized information has reached a new peak, (driven by a generation of tech-savvy first-time homebuyers) the effective marketer will make sure to utilize QR alongside traditional media and other mobile marketing tools.

While some may view America’s adoption of QR codes as a hurdle, it is, in fact, an opportunity.  According to a 2010 trend report from ScanLife, 40% of all U.S. smartphone users have downloaded an app to scan 2D barcodes.  While we’re not quite at Japan’s level of adoption yet (where barcode software is hard-coded into 65% of mobile phones), ScanLife also reports a 1600% increase in U.S. barcode scanning throughout 2010.

Unfortunately for the U.S., some early QR practitioners have not fully honed their marketing for the mobile channel.  Since a bad experience inhibits consumer adoption, here are a few tips for your QR code campaign:

1.  Optimize for Mobile

  • First and foremost, the destination behind a QR code must be mobile-ready.  Since QR technology is mobile-focused, consumers are going to expect that whatever website or landing page they are being directed to will appear pre-formatted for their handheld device.  If it doesn’t, the effectiveness of the mobile interaction is nullified.  To ensure effectiveness, make your landing page easy to interact with across all mobile devices.

2.  Reward

  • Just like any other marketing medium, the consumer needs to be rewarded for their troubles.  Mobile users who scan QR codes are expecting a payoff, and it needs to be more than they are left with had they not scanned the code.  Successful marketers have been providing rewards in the form of coupons, special offers, or even just additional information.  As long as the QR code is a gateway to a new experience, consumers will always want to see what they are missing.

3.  Use in A Complete Marketing Ecosystem

  • In a previous post we discussed the marketing ecosystem – the concept of utilizing various and distinctly separate marketing mediums to create a network with a single message.  Part of maintaining a successful ecosystem is adopting avant-garde technology and blending it with existing tools.  In this case, adopting QR code technology and merging it with SMS (text message), mobile web, email, and phone.

Critics of QR technology in the U.S. say it will soon be replaced by augmented reality, if the slow rate of adoption doesn’t twist the knife first.  Based on the numbers we see from ScanLife in regards to adoption we know that this is simply not true – usage is on the rise, and the current climate is a great opportunity for professionals looking to stand above their competitors by correctly implementing a technology that consumers demand. Unfortunately for augmented reality, results are limited by the aggregator and not driven by a personalized marketing plan.  In advertising terms, augmented reality is “inch-deep, mile-wide marketing”, a powerful tool in its own right but one that does not compete with QR’s ability to literally pull users into your marketing.

If we have learned anything from the thoroughly-critiqued adoption of technologies such as Twitter and SMS, then we know that the negative feedback typically comes from those who are using the medium incorrectly.  By implementing the proven methods discussed above, however, Quick Response codes can be a flexible, relevant, and valuable part of your complete marketing ecosystem.

May 11 2011

Useful Listing Syndication Terms Learned at Mid Year

Today I was present in various meetings (before the fire in my hotel of course) and one takeaway I thought would be useful to others was information from the CMLS Workshop on listing data syndication. There are often terms out there that people don’t know exactly what they mean so I thought it might help to get these written down in the blogosphere for others. Consider it my listing syndication dictionary thanks to CMLS and volunteers to helped pull the first “Brings It To The Table” meeting together.  A special thanks goes out to the organizers for a provocative discussion.

Aggregator – a term used to describe an entity that compiles and stores listing data.

API (Application Programming Interface) – a set of rules and specs that allow communication from one software program to another.

Channel – a public (non-agent/broker) website to which syndicators distribute data; a.k.a. “portal”. Not regulated by MLS rules.

Derivative Works – use of information from a data set, other than the original intent; a.k.a. “re-purpose”.

EULA (End User License Agreement) – governs use by the individual user on a particular site, product or service.

Enhanced/Featured Listing – added content or premium placement provided as an up-sell to agent/broker by Publisher.

Extended Network – a shared search experience on a public website other than an original channel; Data doesn’t leave control of the original channel, but remains resident in the original database. A.k.a. “framing” or “powered by”.

Framing – surrounding the property search of Site A with the branding of Site B; data does not leave the control of Site A. See “framing” and “powered by”.

IDX (Internet Data Exchange) – website owned by an agent/broker wherein other brokers have given approval to each other to advertise listings. IDX sites are regulated by MLS.

Opt-in vs. Opt-out – in either instance, the broker is given the means to indicate their own choice as to the display of their listing data on a given national website/channel. Opt-in – the broker chooses to participate; Opt-out – all brokers’ listings are included unless the broker actively prevents it.

Portal – a public (non-agent/broker) website to which syndicators distribute data; a.k.a. “channel” or “publisher”. Not regulated by MLS.

Powered By – provider of information for a website; host or developer of website; property search of one national website framed to the branding of another.

Publisher – national website operator; a.k.a. “channel” or “portal”.

Re-Direct Link – link to the property detail page of the listing agent/broker’s IDX site.

Re-Purpose – other use than the explicit purpose for which it was provided, often unauthorized; a.k.a. “derivative works”.

Re-Syndication – when a publisher to whom listings have been syndicated forwards that content to another, typically for display on another website.

Syndication – method by which the broker can instruct the MLS to distribute their listing data to outside websites other than IDX and VOW.

Transient Download – method of displaying data on a website by pulling data from another server so that the data never leaves the original source (server).

April 20 2011

What I Learned At RE BarCamp Phoenix (iPad apps REALTORS love)

I was in the Phoenix/Mesa area this month and was fortunate enough to learn about the local RE Barcamp. I’ve attended others before but must commend the organizers, volunteers and attendees on making it one of the best networking and knowledge sharing events ever.

The BarCamp Pre Party was held the night before at a collaborative workspace that is sponsored by Chicago Title and featured amazing barbecue from Smokin’ Aces and the pitmaster, Kevin, who’s been featured on the Food Network. We were dazzled with impromptu magic by my new buddy, Gene, who is marketing manager for his brother’s Realty Executives team.

The BarCamp was held at the Scottsdale Stadium and we kicked things off on a gorgeous day sitting in the bleachers. We then broke into separate sessions held in locker rooms, suites, etc. and a variety of topics on mobile, iPads, QR Codes, social networking, blogging, Droid, short sales, property management and more. Given my areas of expertise I focused on the mobile tracks to learn what issues and tips were discussed in Northern Arizona and was pleasantly surprised with the tech-savvy agents and tools they found to solve their everyday problems.  I was particularly impressed with the tools used on iPads used to virtualize their businesses.

BarCamp session on QR Codes

In this spirit of knowledge sharing, I felt compelled to spread the love.  Below is a list of the top recommended tools for iPads that helps agents mobilize their business.  These are just the apps that came up most often, recommended by agents who attended the sessions at BarCamp.  Note the agents who recommended these apps often recommend the pay version versus the free version.  Don’t hesitate to spend a few bucks to get quality software that will be supported, especially if you count on the tools to do business.

Drop Box (file sharing application)

Drop box was revered as one of the most important tools the agents used.  It allowed them a simple way to synchronize files from their office, team, and even clients so they have access to documents from any where.  It seemed that most agents were familiar with Drop Box and used this tool for document sharing and collaboration.

Evernote (notetaking, voice recording, organization tool)

Evernote was another popular app for the iPad.  Many agents reported they use the tool to record meetings with clients and even lenders which has “covered their butt” when certain matters were disputed later on.  The tool will be even more functional with the iPad 2 because like the phone-based version, you will be able to take photos of your hand-written notes and it even tries to recognize the text to make it searchable.

LogMeIn (remote desktop management)

LogMeIn and another app called PocketCloud were revered as must-have tools that allow agents to access their desktop computers remotely from their iPad.  This allowed access to documents, and even the ability to run search applications on the computer.

PDF Expert (PDF document creator/editor)

One of the challenges with trying to mobilize an agent’s business is dealing with contracts.  Unfortunately most regulations prevent overlays as signatures and this tool is no exception.  That said, this was the most frequently recommended tool for reading, editing, creating PDF documents on the iPad.  One suggestion I made was to edit a Word document and add the signature there, then generate a PDF document to get around the overlay issue.  Some agents said this was possible and the Apple office apps, Pages and Numbers were highly recommended.  Some stated that in Notes you could save a document as PDF so this is worth trying out.  A tool called Prezi was also recommended for presentations, and touted better than PowerPoint and Keynote so check that out.

Print n Share (network printer application for iPad)

Print n Share was a top recommended app for accessing networked printers (not just the HP Printers accessible by Air Print).  A couple agents claimed they could choose to print a document or page and then print it as a PDF instead of to a printer so that too could solve the overlay issue with the PDF documents.

TeamViewer Pro HD (collaborative remote desktop management and presentation tool)

TeamViewer was another recommended tool for collaborating with others and sharing documents, presentations and remotely controlling computers.  Think of this like GoToMeeting for iPads.  I haven’t checked it out but was praised by many as a must-have tool.

Open Home Pro (visitor registration and survey tool for open houses and events)

Many agents have recommended this application and they set up their iPad at the entrance of a home asking for visitors to “sign in”.  This application acts as their virtual guest book and agents claim people are more likely to sign in with their iPad than pen/paper simply due to the coolness factor.  The app will also email a thank you and follow up to the visitors, saving time from follow ups.  There may be other showing solutions that do this from the lock boxes, but those typically poll agents and not the guests so this could be another way to build up your rolodex for current and future business.

Mortgage Calc Pro (mortgage and ammortization calculator)

The agents that used this tool said this was within dollars of the standard tools and very useful when out in the field.

Other Tools of note:

  • Stylus pointer devices recommended were the Pogo stylus and the Acase stylus.  The Acase is reported to last longer and is cheaper and can be found on Amazon for about $5 compared to the $14 for the Pogo.  My aunt is an artist and swears by her Pogo after trying many others but many agents and techies swear by the Acase so it may be a matter of preference and budget.
  • Springpad was another notetaking and organization tool mentioned so it may be worth looking into that when looking at Evernote.
  • Prezi and Keynote were the top recommended apps for presentations (like PowerPoint for Windows).
  • PocketCloud was another remote desktop management app discussed so check that out when looking at LogMeIn.

I hope this list is useful and if you have recommendations or feedback on the apps mentioned, please don’t hesitate to share.

April 15 2011

The New Marketing Ecosystem

There are several valuable data points contained within comScore’s 2010 Mobile Review, but the one that hit home with me involves ‘social networking ecosystems’.  The first few sections of the report illustrate the expected mobile metrics: rise in smart phone users along with rise in mobile media access, Europe hosts a more developed mobile market than U.S., and so forth.  But at the end of a paragraph about smart phone buyer criteria, comScore re-branded a concept we’ve been discussing since 2008:

“Smartphone users are increasingly sophisticated consumers who are looking not just for a phone, but for a device that is part of a larger ecosystem that provides a complete mobile experience, including apps, music, and video.”

I remember the day in 5th grade when the concept of nature’s ecosystems finally hit home with me.  We were discussing swamps and I remember the moment of enlightenment during which I grasped the scope of an ecosystem – an unending list of seemingly independent parties (frogs, snakes, or, for the sake of this discussion, networks like Facebook and Twitter) that only achieve success by working together in concert.  When one of the parties is taken out of the environment, the rest will either fail or fill in the missing component with a like-minded organism.  Cohesion between organisms ultimately begets a rounded and functional living environment.

This idea is easily applied to social networking.  At this point in the networking realm, those without blogs are behind the curve.   Likewise, the very consumers they serve are leaving those who deny the important role technology should hold in their business model behind. So let’s assume that the majority of profitable agents today maintain some degree of a social network.  I don’t need to reiterate the importance of transparency and the Golden Rule, and I don’t need to re-hash why you should have a profile on multiple networks pointing to a central hub, etc.

I also don’t need to discuss the prevalence of mobile technology and the consumer demand for mobile information retrieval, but I will.  As detailed in comScore’s report, approximately 1/3 of all U.S. mobile subscribers have an unlimited data plan.  While the U.S. market is behind Europe and Asia in terms of new tech adoption, 18-34 year olds make up 43.9% of mobile subscribers in America.  Traditionally, this age bracket has been known for texting (SMS), emailing, and requesting mobile information to a higher degree than the rest of U.S. subscribers.  comScore also reports that 68% of mobile users in the U.S. named ‘SMS’ as their top mobile activity.

I will also stress the importance of utilizing relevant technologies to communicate with potential buyers and, at the very least, get them plugged into the rest of your social networking ecosystem.  To enjoy the fruits of an effective networking strategy, you must establish a transparent message that is verbalized through content syndication, as well as maintain ‘points of entry’ so the public can easily access your ecosystem.

As Joel Burslem says in his post for 1000Watt, an effective online marketing strategy will reward the viewer for their click-through by providing an applicable, media-rich experience.  In the past, online advertisements such as banner ads have been used to drive traffic to agent websites and blogs.  At this point in our internet arena, the click-through rates for email and online ads are suffering.  SMS and QR codes are the avant-garde technology, the “shortest distance between curiosity and info retrieval”, according to comScore.  The click-through rate for SMS is staggeringly high, and therefore can be effectively used to drive traffic into your existing ecosystem.  Standalone SMS advertising is debatable in its effectiveness, but when used in concert with the rest of your marketing SMS advertising is all part of a complete ecosystem.

The methods consumers rely on to request and access information are continuously evolving.  The need for audiences to be rewarded for their time, however, will never change.  comScore has this to say:

“But in order to establish the mobile channel as a legitimate advertising medium, all parties require access to [a] transparent measurement of the mobile ecosystem.”

Cohesion between mediums ultimately begets a transparent and valuable social networking ecosystem.

March 30 2011

Park Regency Brings In Mobile Technology

Granada Hills, California– March 30th, 2011 –  Goomzee Corporation, a leading provider of mobile technology solutions that connects buyers and sellers, announced today it has agreed with Park Regency Real Estate of  Granada Hills, California to provide its product, Realty Connect, to their 110 agents which will allow Southern California homebuyers to receive real estate listing information on their cell phone.

“We strive to put the best tools in the hands of our agents.  By providing the latest technologies we can better serve our customers and meet the needs of today’s tech savvy homebuyers,” stated Park Regency President, Joe Alexander.

Goomzee’s Realty Connect® helps connect buyers and sellers using text messaging and integrates with MLS data systems.  Agents place signs or ads regarding a property for sale that prompts potential buyers to send a text message with a unique property ID code.  Within seconds the buyer receives a text message response containing property information and pricing.  The buyer then has the option to receive and view photos of the listing immediately on their phone.  At the same time, the agent is notified of the buyer’s inquiry.  Automated tools and responders then help the agent cultivate those leads and begin to establish a relationship with the buyer.

“Homebuyers in the San Fernando Valley are very busy people. It‘s important for real estate professionals to make searching for a home as efficient as possible.  At Park Regency Real Estate we serve the majority of the Valley.  We find it important to lead the way for real estate professionals and recognize and meet the needs of our neighborhood homebuyers,” explains William and Leticia Mere of the Mere Team with Park Regency.

Goomzee’s CEO, Mike Sparr, commented, “we’re excited that more brokerages are deploying Goomzee’s technology as an office.  It’s truly a win-win because the company gets more recognition, the agents save money on valuable marketing tools, and the more consumers who see the signs the quicker they are trained and leads come in.  Park Regency is recognized as a leading firm in their community so we are very pleased and look forward to helping even more southern California REALTORs.”

Park Regency Real Estate services Granada Hills, Reseda, Van Nuys, Palmdale, and Lancaster, and all other areas in the San Fernando Valley and Antelope Valley.

About Park Regency Real Estate
Joe Alexander, currently the company’s President, founded Park Regency Realty in 1977. The company has been operating in the San Fernando Valley since its inception and has been based in Granada Hills for the past 20 years. Our goal is to make a total commitment to service and merchandise property in the most thorough, professional, and ethical manner possible. Park Regency Realty has grown to be one of the top 15 real estate companies in the Los Angeles county, with more than 110 full time agents and growing.

About Goomzee
Goomzee empowers real estate agents to connect with today’s mobile real estate consumers using cell phone technology and helps convert more leads into sales.  The company’s product offerings include Realty Connect, a text-message advertising and call capture tool and Realty Mobile, a mobile MLS and branded mobile IDX solution. Goomzee’s products seamlessly integrate with MLS property listing databases to provide accurate, relevant information for the real estate professional and their clients, preventing extra work for the agent while fostering potential buyer and client relationships. To learn more, visit us online at http://www.goomzee.com or contact us toll free at (877) 324-1796.

March 27 2011

Six Steps To Help Avoid The “Follow Up Trap”

Every sales professional has probably experienced this but never put a name to it so at Goomzee we have. Quite simply, sales professionals have now become captives to their broad Internet-based marketing and must be on call to respond to leads 24/7. With the addition of Internet marketing which seemingly never sleeps, the sales professional must be willing to respond and follow up with leads all the time or they will go cold. We call this the “follow up trap”.

We hear from real estate professionals around the country and one common theme noted from the industry’s veterans is that things used to be simple and they’re frustrated trying to keep up with all the new things they “have to” do to market and sell real estate. In the past you would list the property in the MLS, place a sign at the property, print up flyers and occasionally advertise in the newspaper (often to appease the sellers). Something that was very clear back then was the target market which typically was other real estate professionals within the community. That made marketing easy because there are a finite number of people you market your properties to and the MLS made this possible to achieve, efficiently, creating a “clearing house” of real estate listings that other agents could gain access to. The target market was clearly defined which made this approach very efficient and effective.

Today the real estate agent is trying to market properties to the consumer and this target market is exponentially larger. In my hometown of Missoula Montana we have approximately 100,000 people and approximately 700 real estate agents. In the past, an agent had to market to 700 people to get their home sold and now they have to market to an audience 142x greater. If they spent $10,000/year in the past to reach 700 people, could this mean they have to spend 142x that amount to reach consumers?

Obviously having a property search on their website and placing advertisements on national search portals have allowed agents to benefit from the efficiency of online marketing. This has introduced troubles, however. Now they just place listings online and leads come in from around the country and they spend their time being reactive all day long in hopes the leads will turn into a perspective buyer (or seller). As such, they are captives of their broad marketing efforts to be “on call” 24/7 and most cannot respond quick enough to keep the best leads “hot”.

There are a variety of techniques and tools available to help but it takes discipline to truly take advantage:

Step 1) Define your best customer and narrow your target market focus

First you want to narrow your target market so the leads you receive are your best customers.  Look back at the homes you have successfully sold and identify who your best customers truly are.  Were they local or out-of-state?  What age group and sex?  What was their income level?  How did they find you?  If you ask yourself these questions, you may be surprised to find your best customer is not who you thought they were and they found you where you’d least expect.  Many real estate professionals track this information but if not, simply contact your past customers and explain you are performing a customer satisfaction survey and wanted to ask them a few questions to help better serve them in the future.  This not only helps you, but it keeps those leads thinking of you and recognizing your professionalism (likely leading to more referrals too).  Below are a few questions you might ask:

  • What is the most important thing you look for when choosing an agent to represent you?
  • When searching for a home to buy, do you drive around to visit the neighborhoods?
  • When requesting information about a home, how quickly do you expect a response?
  • What best describes you?  (male/female,   18-24, 25-32, 33-40, 40+)
  • When you were looking for a home to purchase, did you live in the same city?

Step 2) Identify where your best leads come from

A study at Baylor University revealed that real estate agents spent more money on the marketing tools that delivered them the least value.  In terms of value, the #1 was referrals and #2 was IVR (or call capture technology like 800 numbers and text messaging sign riders).  The key is to identify where you receive the most value that truly accomplishes your goal (more transactions in less time) and fine-tune your marketing investment.

Now look at where real estate agents received the most value and you’ll see they spend the majority of their money in the things that deliver them the least value.

Step 3) Focus your marketing efforts towards your best customers

As you can see above and in analysis of your business, you’ll find areas that deliver the most value.  Once you identify where your most value is received, you can make a list of the tools and marketing channels best suited to exploit them.  If you receive most of your business from referrals then identify where they come from and make sure you invest in networking, sponsorships, and maintaining your professional network and address book follow ups on a regular basis.  If your business comes from online sources, identify who actually buys and where they are located so you can hone in your online marketing efforts to reach those customers more efficiently.  Where do they go to search for homes?

Step 4) Use technology to automate repetitive tasks

Although some may be frustrated with all the new technology tools and ever-changing software solutions, most are designed for one reason and that is to automate repetitive tasks.  If you look at your typical workday and break it down to what activities you perform over and over, you can then look at tools that will help you automate those activities and get more hours of productivity each day.  This results in more transactions and thus, more money, so investing wisely will pay off.

An example might be that your best results come from taking top buyers to lunch on a regular basis.  You may want to use a calendar application and set up an automated reminder to schedule a lunch meeting each month with your top buyers.  If you spend a lot of time answering emails, perhaps you can set up an automated response that thanks the sender for their email and tells them the time of day you will call them back.  Better yet, at Goomzee we have a tool called the Auto Responder which will start a conversation automatically with the lead and notify you if they express interest in follow up, saving you time from following up with all leads, all day long.  The trick is to identify what you do and what tools can automate those tasks while keeping the customer engaged.  One thing to use caution with are tools that effectively push away buyers or seem too impersonal like recordings or voice menus.  Make the communication interactive, and personal, and you’ll satisfy today’s demanding buyers.

Step 5) Establish a regular time for lead follow ups

No matter what tools and advertising you invest in, you will gain leads all the time.  By leveraging automation tools like an email or text message auto response, you can effectively manage the customer expectations and set a time they will expect your follow up.  Email alone may not provide them information they seek right away but often that form is tied to a website which allows them to view property information.  You can simply set up an “out of office” message for an email account so your Internet leads are responded to automatically.  Text messaging typically works with at-property sign riders which also deliver information to the buyer instantly so they will accept you calling them back later.  Text messaging adds the ability to make the response Interactive and if the lead is really hot, you can receive notifications on your phone to allow callbacks of the best candidates.  If you utilize these tools or ones like them, you can establish a regular time you follow up with your leads each day to avoid being trapped and the lead quality when you do follow up will be much higher.  The “trick” is effectively managing the expectation of the buyer, but also satisfying their desire for instant gratification.

Step 6) Measure and analyze the results

After you analyze your business, target your marketing, automate repetitive tasks and “time box” your follow ups, you will want to measure results.  Often what we expect is not what results, like in the example from the Baylor University study.  As such, when you form assumptions on who your best customers are and where you find them, keep track of your ongoing transactions and either validate your assumptions or refine your targeting.  If you find that following up with the leads in the morning is better than the afternoon, for instance, then you may want to change the time you set aside for follow ups.  Tools that offer you tracking of your leads and when you received them can help you determine the best time of day for your “callback hour” to achieve the best results.  You may need to try a few tests for a period of time each and find what works best but if you make the investment, you’ll remain a step ahead of others and likely keep more of the money you earn in the process.

Mike Sparr is a global expert in mobile technology and founder and CEO of Goomzee.com. Goomzee helps real estate professionals increase sales efficiency by delivering high quality buyer sales leads and automating lead follow up using mobile technology. You can instantly learn more about improving your business and mobile technology done right by visiting http://www.goomzee.com

This article may be freely printed or distributed in its entirety in any ezine, newsletter, blog, or website. The author’s name, bio, and website links must remain intact and be included with every reproduction.

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