Wednesday
September 17, 2014

Weekly Book Scan

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Updated: 32 min 59 sec ago

Reader’s Special

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 10:28

One of the privileges of my position at REALTOR® Magazine is introducing our print stories to the Internet every two months. Tomorrow is the day that the September/October issue hits the web, and there are a lot of reasons to be excited. We were able to chat with some of the hottest speakers coming to this year’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo, and we compiled some great risk management tools when dealing with everything from website accessibility to fiduciary duties to meth homes.

Photo: Paodoruvel, 2014; via Morguefile.

I’m always on the lookout for places where books and real estate collide, and the commentary in the upcoming September/October issue from Steve Murray is one of those places. Murray, editor of REAL Trends and president of REAL Trends Consulting Inc., explains why real estate professionals who are frustrated with listing issues surrounding the MLSs should read Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.

When you think of the U.S. stock market, it’s the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ that comes to mind. But as Michael Lewis’s new book, Flash Boys, reveals, there are more than a dozen exchanges—and that doesn’t even count the “dark pools,” the private systems operated by most major U.S. investment houses for the benefit of their big-money clients…

…Cooperation and compensation were baked into the MLS. Want to know how important those practices are? Think about commercial brokerage, where everything is subject to negotiation right up to the closing, and imagine fighting over commission splits in front of home owners at a closing table. Then read Flash Boys to find out how securities traders game the system.

OK, so that puts Lewis’ latest officially on my ever-growing to-read list. But I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read it yourself.

And just because I take care of my loyal Book Scan readers, you can go ahead and read Murray’s full commentary on REALTOR® Mag Online, a whole day early. To the readers go the spoils!

Home: A Deep-Seated Need

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 09:18

Sometimes one can find intrinsic truths about the human condition in the most mundane of places. Like the introductory chapter of an architecture textbook.

That’s what happened to me this week when I was skimming through Invitation to Architecture: Discovering Delight in the World Built Around Us (Taunton Press, 2014). The book’s authors—Max Jacobson and Shelley Brock—both teach introductory courses in architecture, and though it is a well-designed tome with a decidedly non-academic flavor to it, the book is essentially a primer. I was digging into it as I usually do, with the intent of finding out how useful it might be for our readers. Imagine my surprise when I was confronted with a love letter to the notion of home ownership!

In the first chapter, the authors talk about how important ordinary buildings are to children, especially the structure of home. Like the best poetry, their writing contains a revelation that is both surprising and self-evident at once. These architects then proceed to delve into the following features humans crave from built world, and the psychological reasons behind them.

Shelter: Ever since emerging from the womb, we as human beings are constantly looking for a place that will keep us warm and secure. “This experience can include the pleasant feeling of being safe inside during a storm, or gathering together with others in a space made for that purpose, or in the simple satisfaction of owning a space that one has created for oneself,” the authors note. They go on to assert that the reason a child enjoys building forts is “because he or she is actively creating, or designing, the small-scale space that is so vividly felt as satisfying.”

Vantage: A room with a view may seem more like a luxury than a necessity, but the authors insist that the desire to be up higher than others is part of our evolutionary make-up. “Our ancestors sought out high, protected places from which to apprehend approaching danger and to have a height advantage to either attack or defend,” they write, adding that this is also why kids love spying on the adult world from high balconies or tree houses.

Ownership: As a child, did you ever paste a sign on the door to your room proclaiming exactly whose room it was and who was allowed in? Or maybe you and your friends had some sort of clubhouse you could call your own. This exclusivity easily transfers to home ownership and other structures of adulthood. These feelings are also especially strong when applied to a place with a height advantage, such as a porch or stoop.

Creation: Whether it was with blocks or a deck of cards or a dollhouse, most of us spent some time creating imaginary structures to suit our childhood desires. According to the authors, working in miniature also gives children’s little brains the opportunity to experiment with the world in a safe environment, exercising “the mental skills of attention, imagination, creativity, and intelligence, allowing them to grow and develop.”

That last item contained a curious footnote at the end, noting that as kids today “spend less time with creative play” they are not as prepared “for the form and space-making aspect of architectural design.” For a moment, this worried me. I wondered if the proliferation of the iPad as teaching toy would mean a lessened love for home ownership. I thought about it for a bit and decided it probably wouldn’t have much effect. After all, the authors have clearly established that the need for shelter and home ownership are traced well into our evolutionary past, and we crave security right out of the womb. There’s not much a new toy can do about that.

Present It Like TED

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 08:53

When you watch a TED Talks video, you might learn how to tie your shoes more efficiently. You could also learn whether or not humans can prevent the end of the world. In other words, the group’s motto of “ideas worth spreading,” is a pretty broad one. But regardless of your viewing choice, you tend to come out of it at least a little bit smarter, which is something you can’t often claim after emerging from the typical YouTube binge.

A sampling of topics from TED.com

That’s why I was so eager to pick up Carmine Gallo’s book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds (St. Martin’s Press, 2014). A public-speaking coach himself, Gallo watched some of the most popular TED Talks from over the years and interviewed the people who gave them, ranging from diplomats to supermodels to neuroanatomists. He came out of the experience with tips for ordinary folks to incorporate into their speaking duties. I thought I might extract a few that could help you bring your next listing presentation to a viral level.

  • Start strong. Whatever your plan, make sure your first action is not opening up your presentation software to the first slide. Connect with your audience before you begin. If you start off with what Gallo calls an “emotionally-charged event,” your presentation has a far greater chance of being remembered.
  • Demonstrate your passion. Your task here is not to simply ask for the chance to sell these peoples’ home. You need to show how much you love doing what you do, and how passionate you are about their property. After all, they probably bought it because they loved it (or something about it, at least!). Show that you understand their connection to the place, and demonstrate that you are ready to pass your passion off to the perfect buyer.
  • Tell your story. Yeah, it’s not all about you. But here Gallo references some pretty powerful evidence from a variety of behavioral and biological studies showing that personal stories can cause listeners to form a sort of “mind-meld” with the speaker, causing deeper and more meaningful connections than other kinds of communication can.
  • Gesture with purpose. It’s important to move when you speak, but you should always connect your words and your body language or you’ll risk having your movements distract from what you’re saying. Gallo suggests the best way to identify useless mannerisms and replace them with purposeful movements is to tape yourself giving a presentation and watch it back, noting all your movements and making an effort to change them where they’re not connecting directly with your words.
  • Be innovative. Gallo notes that humans love to be taught new things, and encourages readers to offer “a fresh and novel way to solve an old problem.” Find out what the issue is for your audience, and then figure out how to solve it in a way they haven’t heard from other real estate professionals.

Now, I’ve just scratched the surface here; Talk Like TED has far more tips in it for successful presentation than just these. And while I do think Gallo’s book is helpful to the average real estate salesperson, his thoughtful, well-researched words are indispensable to someone looking to get into training or public speaking, or for the broker hoping to connect more deeply with her team.

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?