September 2, 2014

Weekly Book Scan

What’s New in the New-Home Market?

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:05

Boyce Thompson’s The New New Home aims to “demystify” the factors in play when it comes to building a new home in the current market, with special attention paid to environmental and economic factors that many buyers might want to consider when purchasing or building a new home.

Credit: Will Scullin

In general, The New New Home proves a useful guidebook for people looking to build the home of their dreams. Thompson offers tips on making homes more energy efficient with careful planning: “Basic decisions—like whether you want a one- or two-story house, whether the garage will be attached, the height of ceilings, or whether you use dark or light colors on exterior or interior surfaces—profoundly impact energy consumption,” he writes.

Thompson urges those planning to build a new home to consider everything from what kind of lifestyle they want to lead in their new home (is a formal dining space necessary? How often do you entertain visitors?) to whether anyone in the family plays an instrument (will you need space for a large grand piano? Is a sound-proof area a requirement?). Tell buyers to collect pictures of design elements features that appeal to them, so that they can approach designers and builders with ideas already in mind (the book even highlights some homes—with pictures!—that have desirable features).

There’s also plenty of advice throughout The New New Home for those hoping to build environmentally-conscious homes, although an index or a glossary with a breakdown of the convoluted industry standards that determine whether a house is eco-friendly or not would have been a nice touch for real estate agents, home buyers, and builders alike.

Thompson also predicts what’s coming next for sustainable housing, so if you have clients who are really ahead of the curve, you’ll be able to understand what they need. For example, he says smart metering systems that can tell you the best time of day to do a load of laundry or run the dishwasher are coming. And recent news supports his position: Just this year, Google purchased the startup Nest Labs Inc., a company that produces smart metering systems and smoke alarms.

If you work frequently with clients looking to build their own homes, or want to get a good idea of what qualifies as an eco-conscious home, keep The New New Home on hand.

A Vocab Lesson for Nonstop Growth

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 09:12

Have you ever wondered why one month’s sales are slow, and the next is crazy busy?  Or maybe you feel like you’ve hit a ceiling on income potential and you’re looking for precise ways to accelerate the growth of your business.

Well, I’ve experienced both ceilings and cycles firsthand and let me tell you this: Without a implementing a consistent, methodological, and precise sales strategy, you cannot scale your business.

But if you’re ready for a new strategy, Colleen Francis’ new book—Nonstop Sales Boom: Powerful Strategies to Drive Consistent Growth Year After Year—is one you will mark-up, dog-ear, and highlight the heck out of. Her thought leadership in professional selling today comes through so brilliantly in it that I ordered ten copies!  Francis delivers practical advice in this book, but it also rivals some of the most challenging, problem-solving, and evergreen books in my collection.

The book—which is officially being released tomorrow—is loaded with assessment tools for self-analysis, visuals to stimulate thinking, and checklists to ensure every part of the process can hum like an engine.  I can flip to any chapter at any time during the course of a year and ask myself the same questions, but I’ll get a different set of answers based on this carefully outlined process.

Ready to try it for yourself? I recommend you add these three vital definitions that I took away from this book to your sales vocabulary.

Sales radar: Like a sniper aims at the center of a target, a sales professional needs to know how to focus on the bull’s-eye.  Each of the four areas of attraction, participation, leverage, and growth have quantifiable metrics so that can tell you how far off you are from the center, where you’ll find that elusive “nonstop sales” from the title of this book.

Sales leader classification model: Essentially, this is the idea that you should break up your time according to what type of customer you’re courting. In order to create a nonstop sales cycle, Francis suggests spending 25 percent of your time on maintenance and service accounts. The other 75 percent of your time should be spent on two types of accounts: high-potential, high-engagement key accounts or high-potential, low-engagement growth accounts.

VORTEX framework: In this case, “vortex” stands for variety, occurrence, reliability, truth, engagement, and excellence. Different sales tactics can be prioritized according to the accounts that need the most focus.  Tactics include sending an electronic newsletter, scheduling peer-to-peer meetings, and offering free training.

What are you doing strategically to position your business in front of high-potential, high-engagement clients? What are some of the most productive tactics that have helped you create a system of leads and referrals?

Changing the Game, One Chapter at a Time

Wed, 08/06/2014 - 11:25

Dallas Hancock, CEO of the Peoria Area Association of REALTORS®, only needed to see the table of contents of Game Changers—The Unfounded Fears and Future Prosperity of the Residential Real Estate Industry to know that it was something her board could really dig into. Authors Steve Murray, Lorne Wallace, and Lon Welsh (in partnership with REAL Trends) used extensive research to tackle the many issues facing the real estate industry today, from agent ratings to MLS consolidation to third-party listing portals. Hancock ordered a copy for each of the 15 directors and officers on her board, and the book became a jumping-off point for their discussions about the future of their board and real estate in general. I recently spoke with Hancock about the ongoing discussions the book has helped to foster and why real estate professionals across the country should consider cracking open their own copy.

Credit: hotblack, 2012. Morguefile.

What initially grabbed you when you looked at the topics in this book?

I looked at the table of contents and I said, “These are key issues that we need to be discussing and are discussing to some degree already.” We have been taking on one chapter each board meeting. We open each one of our board meetings with industry issues. So I ask members to read it prior to the meeting and then we considered the reading as part of that opening discussion dialogue.

Have you been following the book in chronological order?

We started with chapter eight, which is on listing portals locking up the consumer relationship. We actually had something on our agenda that month where we were considering the issue, and I figured that information could assist people in their thinking.

Now they have the book in their hands and we’re going to be encouraging them to read further ahead. We will still use a chapter in each board meeting to discuss, because that interaction and exchange of information it is very valuable. But we want them to try to read ahead because I have scheduled a webinar with Steve Murray in September to talk about the book. Again, I think the interaction and discussion is important, but I want them to hear from the author.

One of the things that intrigued me about this book is all of these topics are things that we’re talking about locally, state-wide, and nationally. But it also is not overly dramatic. Not all of these issues are five-alarm fires. Each of the chapters lists the title and then the probability of whether or not it will happen like that, as well as the potential impact on the industry.

What is one issue that resonated particularly intensely with your board?

The issue of agent ratings is one of those. We were one of the associations selected about five years ago by NAR to look at the development of an agent rating program in our area. It’s been really hard to get off the ground. And so looking at that chapter brought that issue back to the forefront.  In this book, the idea of ratings and reviews entering our business strategy is listed as a high probability, with a moderate impact. A lot of the resistance was fear of the unknown. But this book is showing that many real estate professionals are scared of something that probably won’t have as big of an impact on them as they think. So hopefully this chapter is going to help push an initiative that we believe is important.

Some of this stuff is not new but it helps. You’ve got the officers and myself who are attending lots of great programs by NAR and in our states so we’re hearing a lot of these things. But for the directors who are not going to all of these meetings, they don’t hear as much. This book provides the data in black and white. It’s not just someone’s opinion. The authors did surveys and market research.

You also mentioned that some of your staff has been reading along. What kind of impact has it had on your association from a strategic mission standpoint?

It’s a good way for staff to understand where the industry that they’re working for is going. It helps them when we’re considering programs, products, and services. And it’s not just me trying to explain to them where the industry is going. It’s not just, “Dallas said this is what’s happening.” They’re reading and learning about this through these publications so they have more informed input. They can discuss it; they can debate whether or not it will affect our market. They like being a part of the process and having an opinion based on what we’re reading here.

At the very least, when something comes out of the board of directors, they are on the same page. The understand why the board wants to try this agent rating thing again, for example. One of the chapters has to do with the competition and the gross margins and it talks about brokers’ profitability. That helps staff understand why brokers might get upset if we are rolling out a program that is in some way competing with them.  There’s better buy in when they understand firsthand from our discussions. Finally, it’s just a little more interesting to talk about some of these big picture things than it is to talk about what meetings are on the agenda for the week.

What do you think the average salesperson or small broker might get out of reading this book?

I think it would be a tremendous value to them. I have a couple of copies in our REALTOR® store, but I will probably do more promotions on it and encouraging broker-owners to read the book. I think it’s really important for them because it’s not an alarmist viewpoint but it does give you a lot of really good facts and there are a lot of interviews with industry leaders. Small brokers can better see what they’re needing to do to survive and what they need to be doing regarding accountability to their agents. All of these things are important whether you’re a large broker or a small broker. It’s also so affordable that they cannot afford to not at least take a look at this book.

One of the stumbling blocks right now with some of the members is fear. It’s fear of the unknown, fear of change. Nobody likes change. If the leaders of our organizations are more informed about some of these things then maybe they won’t fear the future quite so much. They will be able to embrace what’s coming. And some of it is very positive—you know, not all change is negative! It’s all about being prepared for it. Maybe some of the people who are resisting wouldn’t resist so much if they understood better what the impact of change might be.

What Do Millennial Renters Want?

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 12:52

As a card-carrying member of the Millennial Generation (those of us born sometime after the early 1980s), I can attest that my peers and I are something of a different animal when it comes to real estate. We prefer to rent, not buy, and we’re looking for places in urban areas with easy access to everything from our jobs to the movie theater. And once we find a place we like, we want our landlords to be friendly, understanding, and responsive — not sleazy!

Credit: thinkpanama

A new e-book from Renters Warehouse identifies a few easy things that landlords can do to convince Generation Y that their property is the best option. Here are some of the best tips:

Emphasize the location. That’s not a tip that’s specific to Millennials, but it’s important to point out to potential renters that a property is close to certain amenities, like the grocery store, the bank, and public transportation. Many Millennials don’t have access to cars, and will need to walk, bike, or take the bus. No one wants to sit on the subway for an hour to get to the pharmacy!

Make a great first impression. Millennials — especially those of us who are fresh out of bad experiences with slumlords in college towns — want to feel confident about their new landlords. Make sure the property has clean floors and fresh paint, and spruce up the exterior if there’s any maintenance to be done. Outfitting the property with large windows, stainless steel appliances, and ample closet space is a plus, too. Connect potential renters with current renters who can provide stellar references for you.

Stay connected. Once you’ve found your renters, maintain a good relationship with them! Make sure you’re easily reachable via email or phone, respond quickly to maintenance requests, and follow through with any promises you may have made (I’m really feeling this one! Still waiting for the in-unit washer and dryer that was mentioned to me before I signed my lease 10 months ago).

Had any experience working with Millennials? Got any additional tips?

How to Avoid Social Media Overload

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 10:22

Have you ever been told before that “you HAVE to be on Twitter” because of how much business you will are missing out on? Well watch out, because you’re probably listening to some self-proclaimed guru that assumes this social media silver bullet will be the answer to all of your problems.

In Corey Perlman’s book, Social Media Overload: Simple Social Media Strategies for Overwhelmed and Deprived Businesses (Garnet Group Publishing, 2014), he says you don’t have to be on every social media site. In fact, he says the fewer platforms that you spend your time concentrating on,  the bigger your potential return will be.

If you aren’t sure where to begin or which social media sites to prioritize, you should take a look at Perlman’s book. It’s one of the few that actually makes this complex question simpler.

Some of my main takeaways were:

  • Make sure your website is solid before you invest time in social media and ensure it’s specifically designed for lead conversion.
  • Even if you’re not on the Google+ as a social media user, you can still create a Google+ local business page to increase your visibility.
  • Post value-added, concise content with a catchy title relevant to your audience. And don’t forget an engaging picture!
  • Blogging can help you become a thought leader in your market.
  • Make your message about your customers, not about your business offerings.
  • Don’t aggressively sell with social media or you will lose trust.

So now that I’ve got you focused, tell me: If you could use only one social media channel to promote your business, which would you choose and why?

Time to Go to War on Your Mind

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 13:39

The number one reason why salespeople exit the business and seek more stability in salaried work is the fear of rejection from potential clients. Simply put: They are afraid to pick up the phone, go visit potential prospects, or ask for the business.

In Steven Pressfield’s book, War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, he brilliantly captures the essence of what prevents people from doing what they need to do in order to be successful.

Pressfield is primarily a fiction writer, but this non-fiction business book expertly examines the roadblocks that occur between your two ears. He says that resistance can’t be seen, but it can be felt.  It is the enemy inside of ourselves that has no conscious, is always lying, and cannot be reasoned with. Yet it is a force of nature that needs to be reckoned with.

Procrastination is the easiest symptom of resistance to recognize because it becomes a habit. Anything that draws gratification can create resistance. This can include self-dramatization (making things seem bigger than they actually are), sex (better to feel loved than to do work that is hard), self medication (drinking and doing drugs to inhibit personal dissatisfaction), and victimhood (a form of passive-aggressive behavior).

Sound familiar? Well, then it’s time to create a revolution inside your head and eliminate the self-talk that can prevent you from getting in front of buyers and sellers. Try these tactics to go to war on your mind:

  • Don’t talk about doing the work; do the work.
  • Accept no excuses.
  • Do not tolerate disorder.
  • Respect resistance for what it is, then eliminate it.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
  • Do not take success, rejection, humiliation, or failure personally.
  • Do not enlist criticism.
  • Recognize your limitations.
  • Stop taking workshops if you’re not implementing anything you’ve learned.

There is a difference between a hobbyist and a professional. The hobbyist only goes to work when it is convenient, only looks forward to the fun parts of work, and doesn’t care if they are compensated or not. The professional shows up for work every day regardless of how well they feel, how much there is to do, or how much fun they are having.

So be a professional and go to work on your mind. Make a habit out of doing what you don’t like doing. Resistance may be the enemy, but the only thing that is holding you back is you.

You’re Not a Virtual Cupcake. Celebrate It.

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:00

This past weekend, my home city celebrated the first Chicago Independent Bookstore Day. A handful of stores hosted author talks, offered discounts and gourmet cupcakes, and each featured a limited quantity of passes to access a special promotional product that could only be obtained at the physical stores.

Basically, the event was an attempt to mimic the runaway success that many independent record stores have had over the past few years with Record Store Day. The commonality behind these two efforts is the push to rescue the purchase process from a strictly online world, and help consumers truly connect with books and music in a physical way that’s not possible on Amazon or iTunes. Participating bookstore owner Linda Bubon explained this facet of the event in a recent interview in New City:

“We have a common, clearly stated enemy in Amazon. Amazon makes it absolutely clear they will completely dominate the entire book industry. Get rid of bookstores, publishers, editors and book designers. Just Amazon and the author. If we don’t fight back, we’re just going to lose a huge, cultural richness in bookstores—places people gather, where readers meet writers, where book clubs meet.”

Sound familiar? Just like Amazon and iTunes, I think it’s safe to say that third-party real estate websites have to potential to take the real-world connections out of the real estate process. But only if we let them.

Yes, Chicago Independent Bookstore Day made me think of the efforts of real estate professionals to explain that the home search process might begin with an online search portal, but it’s an involved process that also needs to take place in the physical world. It made me wonder: How could real estate professionals organize events to bring buyers and sellers out from behind their computers? I think NAR’s new ad campaign definitely speaks to the issue. What can real estate professionals do to bring this idea “home” to their local community? I’m imagining historic house tours, talks from expert stagers and loan officers, giveaways of Not-For-Tourists guides and local business gift certificates…

Oh, and cupcakes. Plenty of cupcakes.

Perusing the Biz Section

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 09:45

It’s been awhile since we checked in with the business section of the New York Times bestsellers list, so I thought we could peruse the shelves together. The ranking below reflects sales in June 2014.

Credit: Ben Eenhoorn, 2005

  1. CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, by Thomas Piketty. (Belknap/Harvard University.) A French economist’s analysis of centuries of economic history predicts worsening inequality and proposes solutions.
  2. THINK LIKE A FREAK, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. (Morrow/HarperCollins.) How to solve problems creatively, from the authors of “Freakonomics.”
  3. FLASH BOYS, by Michael Lewis. (Norton.) The world of high-frequency computer-driven trading, from the author of “Liar’s Poker.”
  4. OUTLIERS, by Malcolm Gladwell. (Back Bay/Little, Brown.) Why some people succeed — it has to do with luck and opportunities as well as talent.
  5. LEAN IN, by Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell. (Knopf.) The chief operating officer of Facebook urges women to pursue their careers without ambivalence.
  6. #GIRLBOSS, by Sophia Amoruso. (Portfolio/Penguin.) An online fashion retailer traces her path to success.
  7. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux.) The winner of the Nobel in economic science discusses how we make choices in business and personal life.
  8. STRESS TEST, by Timothy F. Geithner. (Crown.) The former Treasury secretary explains the choices he and others made
 during the financial crisis.
  9. POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg. (Random House.) A Times reporter’s account of the science behind how we form, and break, habits.
  10. THRIVE, by Arianna Huffington. (Harmony.) Personal well-being as the indispensable third measure – with money and power — of success.

But like I always say, just because it’s a bestseller doesn’t mean it’s good. I’d love to hear from you about which of these books deserve a read, and which ones are a pass. Or, if you’re devouring a new book that should be reviewed at the Book Scan, that’s worth a shout-out, too.

Does HUD Belong on BuzzFeed?

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 09:46

Maybe it’s just because I’m a news nerd, but I’ve always really enjoyed media parody. Last month I added a new site to my perennial favorites of The Onion, The Daily Show/Colbert Report power hour, and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me: ClickHole. It’s a new effort from the folks at The Onion devoted to mocking so called “click-bait” sites like BuzzFeed. Click-bait sites thrive on quizzes and headlines that tap into outrage as much as they do the faux personalization of nostalgia (see: “WTF Is In Your Favorite Fast Food?” vs. “7 Signs You Grew Up In A Boring Town”). They feature very little text, and “articles” are mostly made up of a list or slideshow of gifs and images with snarky captions.

ClickHole, on the flip side, skewers these click-bait sites magnificently, with headlines like, “How Well Do You Know This Quiz?,” “Tips For Crafting A Strong Password That Really Pops,” and “This Video Will Drastically Change The Way Pitbulls Think About You.” Now that I’ve added ClickHole to my Facebook feed, I think I’m seeing more parody on my page than real news. It sounds a little dangerous, but it does have the positive impact of making me question the validity of the often overstated click-bait headlines I do see.

But what happens when real items are posted on BuzzFeed in true earnest? You might chuckle, but that indeed happened this week when HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan posted his own top ten list of “Reasons Why Home Ownership Never Goes Out of Style.” It’s the second example I can think of where this administration went silly with a serious subject (Obama promoting healthcare changes on Between Two Ferns being the first).

On the one hand, this represents an eminently sharable way to reach out to younger consumers who might not listen to these messages if they aren’t couched in gifs and irony. On the other hand, I do feel like BuzzFeed is a little below the lofty goals of the American Dream. I mean, does a gif of Kenny Powers from Eastbound and Down saying “dolla, dolla bills, ya’ll” really convince anyone of the value of home equity? I mean, just look at Donovan’s byline! He’s been demoted from “United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development” to “BuzzFeed user.”

But heck, I’m just a writer. I would love to hear what you guys, as real estate pros, think about whether or not it helps housing for HUD to use click-bait sites to preach the message of home ownership. Chime in below, and click safely.