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Archive for April, 2009

What’s Your Mental Age?

george and billboard What’s Your Mental Age?

Six years ago George Johnson arrived at work to receive his birthday greeting. He’s still showing up for work. (If housing market doesn’te get better soon, we’ll all be working at 96!

The real estate marketing world is changing at a fiber-optic space. The newest uses of technology invented yesterday are spreading like a viral video of Susan Boyle.

New business models are being designed around Twitter, which itself is only a little over two years old. (I blogged earlier this week on “what” Twitter is.)  Ponder for a moment these life questions: Are you ready to change everything?  Are you mentally and emotionally agile enough to plunge into the Internet age with wild abandon?

If you’re in your 40s, 50s or 60s do you sometimes question your place in the Internet era of marketing and selling new homes?

To find the answer we had to find America’s oldest realtor.

Our Internet maven, Carleigh, lives in a charming Seattle neighborhood called Ballard.  It’s known for its roots in lumber and fishing, both industries attracting a hardy Scandinavian stock from the Old Country, particularly Sweden, Norway and Finland.  I grew up there in the 50s and 60s when a Volvo was known as a Swedish Cadillac.  Our high school yearbook listed many Erics, Ingas, Svens and Torvolds.

It just happened that Carleigh spotted a local Ballard blog article and television feature about George Johnson, 96 years old, and still going strong.  George has been selling homes since 1937 and still shows up at his Ballard office, dapper as ever in a suit and tie. He lays claim to being America’s Oldest Realtor.  Who’s to argue?

George Johnson has a website and an email address.  I do believe therein lies the answer.  It’s not chronological age, it’s mental age and an understanding of the principles of real estate and people — principles that transcend technology.  People want the honest truth.  So if the Internet helps you provide the facts faster and more completely, embrace the technology.  People want prompt, polite, caring human interaction.  If email, instant messaging and text messages make you a better communicator, claim it!  Can a Tweet from you on Twitter about a new listing, or open house reach your following of several hundred local agents — then become a Twit!

I encourage you to read the My Ballard blog article about George, and watch the KING TV interview.  George is a cool guy and an inspiration to all of us!


Twitter is the New “WHAT?”

alwaysopen 1024x819 Twitter is the New  WHAT?

A world famous reader board on a peek joint about a block from my office, across from the Seattle Art Musem and next door to the brand new Four Seasons hotel and condos.

Most of us love metaphors. They are a tool to help us understand our world better by linking new and complex ideas to something much more familiar to us. When Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh computer in 1984, his team deftly built the interface around our very familiar desktop, complete with file folders, documents, adding machine keypads and more. It was an idea his team borrowed from the Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. Now there’s Twitter, still in its infancy and now, according to A.C. Neilson, 7-million users strong, up 1,300% from last February. Twitter is a very limited form of communication, allowing a blog-style message that maxes out at 140 characters. Some “tweets” are as mundane as “Had a great meeting today with al_doyle.  Follow him and learn good marketing” to KOGI is at NB 5 Fwy at Whittier Bl First 10 peeps get free Echo Park Blackened Quesadilla”. The first “tweet” was obviously from someone who was trying to butter me up, the second “tweet” from KOGI Barbecue, a Los Angeles based Korean Fusion Taco Truck that tweets its location and specials each day and has gained a huge following relying on only Twitter as their marketing medium. How is one supposed to describe or relate to a new medium like Twitter? Short messages displayed for an entire community? My brilliant friend, Kris Hoots, nailed it last week. Kris and her partner, Steve Thomas, run Oneicity, a fast-growing start-up consulting firm helping non-profits raise income. In a recent oneicity.com blog post, she used a stunning metaphor for Twitter!  The Reader Board.  According to Kris “So…while not everyone knows or understands Twitter, most everyone knows about reader boards. You’ve seen them in front of schools, stores, theaters, etc. for years. And essentially, this is what Twitter is. And like a reader board, you have a limited amount of space (characters) to communicate your message. And like a reader board, it’s very public.”

There you have it. Kris said it first, Twitter is the reader board for your community.  Who is your community?  Like a town, city or neighborhood, you decide who you follow on Twitter, and your community decides to see your reader board by choosing to follow you back.

Now, for the sake of all of us, keep those reader boards relevant and interesting!  Keep track of me at www.twitter.com/al_doyle.

Photo from jdbones photo stream on flickr by Steve Keiser  protected by a Creative Commons license.


What Do You Do With A Live One?

bankowned What Do You Do With A Live One?I have had my worst fears confirmed. There truly is a missing link in the evolution of new home sales.At least in the Seattle market.For my out of town readers, I’m checking up on you as you read this, so don’t get too smug…yet.

New homebuilders spend tens of thousands of dollars on websites, and even more on media ads and internet campaigns in search of those increasingly elusive buyers.One of my worst fears as a provider of marketing advice and services was the thought of how many buyers get lost through the cracks of a well planned marketing campaign?A few weeks ago, I realized I was in the market for new home. After 19 years on Bainbridge Island, it was time to make the move back to the city, perhaps downsize, find a cool neighborhood, explore the options of condo convenience or single-family privacy.Here was my chance to do some first hand research.I had everything a “live one” needed: motivation, a price range, a timeline and questions.Here we go, I thought. I’ll use this opportunity to see who is doing the most outstanding job of following up on leads.

To even the playing field, I established some rules.I would look in the Seattle Times New Homes Saturday two times. First on March 22, and then two weeks later on April 5.I chose the Times because it was the most expensive place a new homebuilder can go to generate live ones…leads that is.We’re talking about ads that cost from about $1,500 to well over $6,500 for single run. That’s how important new leads are.Second rule, I would only respond via the builder or building’s website.I would completely fill out the form, answer all questions, and only initiate the test if the project fit my price range and other criteria.I would then proceed to answer questions, etc. as the bubbly sales agent followed up on this live one.So, on week one, eager to meet some exciting new people and see some wonderful new product I began my quest.I had some great places to choose from and even knew quite a bit about many of them.Here’s who I signed up for more information with:Caymus Townhomes, Veridian Cove, Cooper Creek (Centex), Berrywood (Quadrant), Element, Trace Lofts, Bellevue Tower, Ruby, San Juan Passage, Front 9, Verdeaux, Canal Station, Brix, diModa and Centerra.I would have signed up for a cool project in Columbia City, a neighborhood I love, but the listing agent only offered his phone number, not even an email.I guessed he didn’t want me to call him after midnight, the dope!Two weekends later I added The BelBoy, 5th and Madison, Polygon at The Point, One Main Street, The Vue, The Parc and Olive 8.If you or your client are represented above, you might want to stop reading right here.

The scorecard:

Eric Jones of Centex.You’re my hero.Centex sent an auto-responder and Eric followed up with several polite emails and phone calls, engaging me in conversation about my needs. The agent for San Juan Passage sent an excellent personal response within hours after my inquiry. Sean from Ruby followed up with an email wanting to know more about what I was looking for.OK, that’s three out of twenty five! The rest of you?Pretty much missing in action.

Williams Marketing rocks in the auto-responder department, every project I inquired about netted me a quick robot reply. One auto-responder even promised me a 24-hour personal follow-up. That was March 26… I’m still waiting. I got few other auto-responder messages, and on more than half—thirteen out of twenty-five—of my inquiries, I received absolutely no acknowledgment or follow-up.

The lessons learned?Before we spend a builders’ hard-earned money on ads, search and outreach, all of us have to sharpen up how our sales teams get the resulting leads and think long and hard about effective follow-up and lead tracking systems.Each lead, in these current market conditions, is costing builders and developers in the high hundreds or even thousands of dollars each.The least we can do, from the marketing and sales side, is make sure someone invests in at the minimum a phone call and a personal email.

If anyone mentioned above has some lame excuses to offer or would like to bust my chops, that’s what the comment box below is for.


Less Square Feet, More Imagination

April 14, 2009. We love optimism, based on realism. Today we’re in discussions with a group who believes in doing the right thing and doing things right. The focus is the buyer most home builders love to ignore. We believe there is a “sweet spot” in the market, and that is as well designed, green home priced for the first time buyers. Not just a bared-boned box or stripped down stock plan. The mantra for this new product needs to be “Less Square Feet, More Imagination. We’ll keep you posted.  (Yes, I know it should read “fewer square feet”.  Humor me while I parody David Miles.)

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Beware of Technogeeks

The Social Media discussions are heating up around the new home industry as our home and community building friends continue to look for more efficient ways to reach their customers. What worries us most are the possibilities of a misstep or two with do-it-yourself approaches or non-housing techno-geeks trying to speak the nuanced language of the home shopping experience. We know we are going to have to share what we’re learning with as many people as possible.

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Do The Boomer Builders Know What Their Kids Want?

Experts say that Millennials “are unlike any other youths in living memory: More numerous, more affluent, better educated and more ethnically diverse than those who came before.” Those words came from William Strauss and Neil Howe, social scientists who coined the term “millennial” in their book Millennials and the Pop Culture (LifeCourse Associates, March ’06).

I took this quote directly from a blog post by Kelly Noble, Campbell Homes in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  She’s a lot closer in age to the Millennial Generation, which, by the way is nearly 20 million people larger than the Baby Boom generation.  If you’re designing, building, marketing or selling new homes, listen to this generation as if your future depends on it.  I’ll add my 2¢ on the subject over the coming year, but let’s get the discussion fired up right now.

What do the millennials want from life, from love, and from NEW HOMES?

Read what Kelly has to say….then please add your voice to this discussion.

PS:  Kelly’s Facebook presence for Campbell Homes rocks. Great broker relations tool! Check it out.


Is Big Better? Today There’s a New #1!

pultefreshstart1 300x281 Is Big Better?  Today There’s a New #1!

Will Pulte and Centex Go Fresh?

Below are links of some of the best articles on this news:


Chicago Tribune

PR Newswire

Number Four ranked Pulte just pulled off a stock swap netting for itself #3 ranked Centex to become the new #1, overtaking long-time leader D. R. Horton who slipped to the new #2.Last year, Pulte and Centex combined closed 39,000 sales.To put it in perspective, that’s 150 homes per business day in the worst housing market since 1930!

What are we to think?At first blush, Wall Street Journal reported that the stock market smiled on the other large national public builders—Beazer, Lennar and Hovnanian shot up in midday trading, while Moody’s pondered a credit downgrade on the new entity.  Centex was the Old Skool queen.Cheap. Efficient. And unimaginative.Pulte was the steady Eddie who also lucked out by a big presence in Texas and the Carolinas, where the housing dive hasn’t been quite as bad.

What I’m waiting for is the Apple of the home building industry to make its appearance and take us into New Homes 3.0. We need a design and innovation revolution to create new products for a new generation.We need to see homes that are way greener than the current green-wash approach used so much. We need homes close to public transportation.We need the Del Webb (Pulte owned) for the new generation.

I have two young adults in my family who are within a few years of their first home purchase.Who is listening to this generation?They will trade square feet to live near friends…to be less dependent on cars. And they will trade mom and dad’s oversized suburban box for coolness.

If this innovation comes from the new #1, I will be both shocked and thrilled.But believe me, I’m not holding my breath.

Who do you know out there who are building a new, exciting and appropriately priced products for the Millennial generation?

And who’s building smarter and greener? We need to get the word out and keep the heat on the big boyz.Leave your comments or rants in the handy space below.

Right now I’m thinking small is the new big.