September 3, 2015

Weekly Book Scan

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Updated: 26 min 20 sec ago

Smart Design Advice From Real People

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 16:17

Growing up, I always wished I had an older brother or sister who could tell me what was cool. Back in the day, I wanted someone to explain which bands were awesome and which ones were “posers,” as was the vernacular at the time. Now that I’m about to purchase my first home, there’s a part of me that wishes I had an older sibling who was working on making their second or third house a home. What disastrous remodeling project would s/he warn me against? Is my DIY idea going to be a homey improvement, or cheesy and impossible to resell? Is wallpaper a natty way to dress up a nook, or is it a literal pain in the neck that will be outdated by the time I’m done Instagramming it?

Sure, there’s Pinterest and Houzz and a million other home improvement blogs I could consult with my specific design queries. But what if I want to have a conversation? What if I wanted to page through the potential of my new home, room by empty room?

Sherry and John Petersik (©Todd Wright)

Well, I’ve decided on adopting Sherry and John Petersik as my know-it-all older sibs.* Not that they’re arrogant (quite the opposite really) but they have much more experience than I do at this sort of thing; they have three home purchases and countless upgrade projects under their collective belt. The couple started blogging about their home adventures some seven years ago, and continue to do so at Young House Love. Now they’re on their second book (Lovable, Liveable Home: How to Add Beauty, Get Organized, and Make Your House Work for You, due out from Artisan publishing on Sept. 22) and reading it, I can guess how the first one found its way onto the New York Times Bestseller list. Their advice is eminently approachable and chic while always keeping cost considerations as part of the conversation. Among their own step-by-step project instructions and case studies from home owners around the world who conquered their own design issues, they sprinkle in snarky asides from their dog, Burger, poll results of their sizable readership on trends and common home conundrums, and realistic but flexible rules you might glean from an interior design class.

Burger the dog (from Lovable, Livable Home).

My favorite part is the Petersik’s approach to infusing personality in one’s home. Because, please: Who wants to actually live in Martha Stewart’s house? No thanks. Instead, the guiding principle of their advice is to try for the perfect blend of form, function, and meaning. Having the most efficient, workable house (function) is no better than having the most beautiful one (form). Then again, no one picks up a home design book with the intention of wallpapering the whole place with their children’s amateur artwork (meaning). The key, say the Petersiks, is to marry these three ideas as best you can in each project.

Above all, this is a practical read. The Petersiks include considerations for families in all stages of development and often make note of the most durable, easy-to-keep-nice options available to each project. They’re keen on helping home owners make a good use of the space they have (whether that’s too much or too little).

I’ve been trying to read it slowly, because we haven’t moved in yet and I think it’ll be more useful when I’m actually in our new space (can you tell I’m counting the days?) But I can’t put it down, so I guess I’ll be reading it twice. It’s the most addictive home design guide for new-ish, young-ish home owners I think I’ve ever come across, and I highly recommend it as a closing gift, or even a staple in your office. Because we all need a big brother or sister’s advice from time to time.


*I should mention here that I draw plenty of inspiration from my little brother and sister-in-law’s adorable home in Minneapolis and my husband’s brother and sister-in-law’s super cute Salt Lake City home, and I wouldn’t give any of them up for the world!

Writing Tips for the Digital Native

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 11:30

Let’s face it. No matter who your customer is or what type of transaction you represent, each one of us can improve our digital communications. Whether you are exchanging e-mail, posting to social media, or texting, how you structure your message is as important as what’s in it.

Credit: Alejandro Escamilla

Do you ever ask yourself…

  • How can I save time in an e-mail exchange and get to the point quickly?
  • How do I increase the likelihood that more of my marketing e-mails get opened?
  • What choices will help me be more concise and clear in my website text?

Dianna Booher’s E-Writing: 21st Century Tools for Effective Communication is more than a decade old, but the book is still overflowing with excellent lessons many still haven’t learned. It’s the perfect step-by-step guide to analyze your current writing skills and self-correct according to the certain types of messages, recipients, and situations that most often confront you in the workplace. It’s a fast read, but in order to get the most out of it I highly recommend taking the time to fully absorb each chapter. If you purposefully make improvements as you read the book, you’ll be able to see the difference in time savings and marked increase in the effectiveness of your communications.

Here are some quick tips from the book:

  • Don’t use ALL CAPS in the subject line or message body. This goes for promoting open house listings, sending out your newsletter, or requesting urgent responses. It looks like you’re yelling.
  • Not every e-mail is a marketing piece. A simple message to coordinate transaction logistics doesn’t require your marketing brochure be sent as an attachment or your logo to appear beneath your signature. Along those same lines: It’s a problem when your e-mail signature is longer than your message. Your awards, leadership participation, and services were meant for your website. Don’t abuse this space.
  • Not all e-mails deserve a response. Increase your productivity by only responding to e-mails that require a response. You may think you’re being polite by responding to everything, but your replies take up the recipients’ time, too.
  • Consider audience type when using emoticons. Senior or corporate clients might see this as a turnoff, even if you’re only intending to keep the communication lighthearted.
  • Short, abrupt messages may signal lack of empathy in certain situations. Take that extra five seconds to send a warm message that shows you care.
  • Avoid conscious rambling. If you notice yourself rambling when speaking to others there’s a good chance it happens electronically too.
  • Change e-mail subject lines when a task evolves into a new direction or someone else gets involved. Many professionals use e-mail subject lines to organize incoming messages; they’ll appreciate you helping them be more efficient.
  • Distinguish between information vs. recommendations. MLS statistics represent the information, but you add value with your interpretation of that data.
  • Differentiate your writing style for the occasion. Your tone should vary when you’re giving showing instructions, explaining home-buying processes, providing definitions of unfamiliar terms, and composing the Q&A section of your website. Always consider the needs of the audience in each situation.
  • Use speech-to-text tools. The average person can speak three times faster than they can write. And typing on mobile devices is even less efficient than using a full keyboard. Practice using your computer, tablet, or mobile phone speech-recognition software to enter in new messages. This will improve your writing productivity and response time. Eventually you may be able to develop speech-to-text as unconscious skill set, like driving a car.

Zen and the Art of Real Estate

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 10:11

I don’t know how your summer is going, but things are crazy over here! It’s times like these when I feel like I barely have time to glance at a long-form article, much less crack open a whole book. But who’s too busy to take in seventeen pithy syllables about real estate?

Not me! When Matt Bless, ABR, broker and founder of Vanguard Realty in Brookline, Mass. asked me what I thought about his idea to host a contest to see which of his associates could craft the best haiku about real estate, I couldn’t help but smile. “Our business could use a little poetic/literary injection, don’t you think?” he wrote to me in an e-mail this last month. Yes.

canibek, Morguefile

Now, to some of you who are more accustomed to the traditional sales contest, Bless’ idea might seem silly. But there’s no shortage of folks who believe the effort to write these three-lined poems can have other benefits outside of healthy competition and teaching kids what a syllable is. “Composing haiku is excellent practice in close observation, clear thinking, and tight writing—all essential skills for a writer in any genre,” writes Alistair Scott, editor-in-chief at online book publisher StoryPlus (his article also sports a comprehensive guide to get started writing haikus). Blogger Margaret Boyles says you don’t have to even be an aspiring writer to benefit from haiku composition. In addition to having better attention to detail and concentration, she says that trying to write one haiku a day has helped “boost my emotional resiliency, help me navigate life’s rough patches, and expand my self-awareness.” OK, I’ll have what she’s having. Simplicity blogger and author Leo Babauta even used the form to create a “Haiku Productivity” system that he says helps him be better able to follow Pareto’s 80/20 Rule (a popular tool in many business coaching circles, real estate included).

Bless had still another take on why brokers might consider holding a haiku contest, one that specifically spoke to the pressures of real estate: “The contest was a fun way to get agents thinking creatively, and a chance to let off some steam. It can be an intense business with emotional ups and downs, so I think anything we can do to lighten the mood and get into a different mode of thought is positive.”

Hear hear! Bless asked me to share my favorite submission from his office with Book Scan readers. I loved reading them all, but this one from real estate sales associate Nate Driscoll was too awesome not to post:

In search of condo
Must accept my furry friend
What! No grizzly bears?

Under the surface, you can feel Driscoll’s frustration with unrealistic buyers, but it’s coated in just the right amount of light-hearted humor so as to strike a perfect balance. I should also mention that Bless himself is no literary slouch. Here are two of his own haiku creations that I really liked (though he recused himself from winning the contest, he did compose a few just for fun):

FSBO wrestling match
Talked a buyer off a ledge
Day at the office

Darkened rooms, scuffed floors
Footsteps down a barren hall
Tomorrow, new life!

I think he really captured the sweet-and-sour roller coaster that often represents life as a real estate pro, don’t you? And if you have any poetry of your own that’d you’d like to share, e-mail me. Heck, maybe we’ll make a habit out of it.

Use Search Like a (Web) Master

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:43

If information is power and the World Wide Web hosts it all, then the No. 1 skill set to access what you need when you need it is search. And how you search for information is just as important as the particular information you seek.

mconnors, Morguefile

Here are the common searches you might perform in the course of doing business:

  1. Competitive search: keeping up to date about what other companies in your industry are up to.
  2. Customer search: accessing the best data about your clients and target customers.
  3. Technical search: finding the best tutorial in order to solve a specific problem.

The trick is to use a search engine like Google among other tools to have the right information so that you never say to a customer, “What have you been up to?” or “I wasn’t able to find out.”

And the best book I’ve read on searching for the right byte is Sam Richter’s Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling: Web Search Secrets for the Inside Info on Companies, Industries, and People. Richter’s tips will save you a ton of time in your use of the search bar. Plug in a combination of symbols and characters on the right site and you will be surprised at what you are able to find. Here are a few of the tips that I found most useful in the book:

  • On Google you can begin typing in the search box to see other suggested searches have been made without continuing the entire search. This gives you an idea of what people look for online, which gives you a better view of what potential customers want to know about real estate.
  • Knowing how to search by file type will allow you to find documents on websites that are not password protected. Some companies disclose news via PDF only (as opposed to a searchable website or blog entry), so this skill could help a relocation specialist know ahead of time if a big company is thinking about moving to the area.
  • You can also sort Google search results by “news” to find the latest mentions of customers, competition, or constituents.

Using the corporate relocation example again, search can help you understand the dynamics of a larger company. These specific search tools will help: Manta can help build lists of leads according to customer fields, revenue, or company size. InsideView provides a brief overview of a company’s description, financials, and news feeds. And Smash Fuse will help you navigate the social buzz around a specific company or industry.

If you are searching for specific people, you can use reverse 411 to locate other contact information when all you have is a phone number. Zaba Search helps you find personal contact information from a name + region search. Claritas is a subscriber service from Nielsen Ratings that provides psychographic data on local consumers attitudes, lifestyles, and behaviors segmented by geography.

There are hundreds more of websites, tips, and tactics loaded in Richter’s book. Reading his reference guide will save you time doing the homework that used to take hours to retrieve. If you don’t want to take my word for it, then search for know + more + web + secrets and you will get your answer.