Wednesday, April 23, 2008

North Georgia Living at It's Best.

On a recent mailing I did I had the fortunate opportunity for one of my college buddies to give me a call regarding my letter.  As luck would have it, his sister is the president of a small chain of banks in the North Georgia mountains.  He was able to connect me with her and she in turn had a customer who had been considering listing some land she had inherited.  

I received the prospect's contact information and proceeded to call her. We'll call her Cindy for the sake of this blog entry.  After chatting with Cindy for a while about her land in Mineral Bluff Georgia it was apparent that Cindy was the quintessential charming Southern girl. I pride myself on my Southern roots as well so we had an instant level of comfort conversing by phone.

It was settled.  I would load up the 4-wheeler and make the 90 minute drive from Atlanta to see her land.  I drove I-575 up the Appalachian Parkway through Ellijay and into Blue Ridge.  It occurred to me driving through Ellijay how much it had changed in just the last five years.  Along the parkway there's plenty of the same chain stores and restaurants that you would find anywhere else in America.  Of course Wal-Mart had rolled into town and set up shop probably selling the same mountain apples at half the cost of the family owned local orchards they were now trying to put out of business.  There's a Ruby Tuesday and all the likely franchise siblings that generally follow suit in a booming area.

My point is that Ellijay didn't quite feel like mountain living anymore.  Certainly it didn't have that feel that it had when we used to bring the kids up in the Fall to buy apples.  Today I can pick up those apples in Ellijay at half the price along with the dryer sheets I forgot to buy.  Then I can have a plate of over tenderized baby back ribs at Chili's.  Not exactly worth the drive to Ellijay anymore now is it?  I really felt a sense of betrayal after driving for an hour.

Onward I pressed to my appointment in Mineral Bluff which I had never heard of and considered it probably a listing appointment marginally worth follow through with.  I mean, who the heck in their right mind would even come to Mineral Bluff to look at 55 Acres of mountain land, 30 Acres of Toccoa River pasture or a single mountain top lot?  That said, I was still anxious to get a new listing as I always am no matter how bleak the scenario might look.

I met this listing client at the riverside park of Horseshoe Bend along the Toccoa River.  As we chatted my attention was claimed by the train coming down alongside the river opposite of our meeting spot.  The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway was on it's way into McCaysville less than a mile away.  Riders would enjoy a two hour stop for shopping, dining and enjoying mountain culture.  The sights and sounds of the Toccoa River were calming and for no other reason than coming to get the listing I was enjoying the Toccoa River scenery.

After having the client orient me to the area and show me the boundaries of her mountain land  land I explored the areas via 4 wheeler and documented all that I could of this Toccoa River scenery with my digital camera.  All I could see were green pastures, hills waiting to come alive in the Spring warmth and plentiful water sources in the form of Wolf Creek.  Wolf Creek splits one of the properties of pasture land.  This is the 30 acres of mountain valley pasture.

To the North of our location and also the North side of River Road was another huge 55 Acre tract of mountain land.  I could imagine building a house totally secluded by trees and wildlife on what is known by the locals as Chamber's Mountain.  What a rare opportunity to own such a large tract of mountain land in proximity to the Toccoa River.  

Atop of Toccoa Ridge which overlooks Horseshoe Bend Park as well as the Toccoa River the client owns an intimate enclave of ten mountain lots ready for construction.  My mind began to imagine a cool fall evening enjoying the sounds of the Toccoa River from my mountain home deck.  In the distance I can also hear the musicians who gather every Thursday evening in the park for "Pickn' in the Park".  A celebration of local music and musicians. During the day I would be able to hear the clickty clack and whistle of the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway as it made it's way into McCaysville.

I spent most of the day exploring these three mountain properties and immediately fell in love with them.  I thought to myself, this is REAL mountain living.  No Wal-Marts, just the small IGA foodstore in McCaysville.  No Chili's, just the quaint corner mexican restaurant on main street.  Which has pretty good taquitos by the way and plenty of genuine people to enjoy meeting.  That thought about the people circled me back to my college buddy's sister who was so willing to help me make the connection for this listing appointment.  People caring about people and people willing to help people.

When it comes time for me to retire or make a major location change you can bet I'll consider Mineral Bluff or McCaysville as a new place to live.  If that time were today I would snatch up one of these listings and either build a small ranch on the pasture land, a secluded mountain retreat on the 55 acres or maybe I'll build a mountain top retreat upon Toccoa Ridge.

In short, it was a day well spent in McCaysville and it made me forget all of what I had seen in commercialized Ellijay.  I realized the REAL mountain living was still possible and mountain land in North Georgia wasn't limited to the options in the tourist brochures.

If you would like to have a showing of these pieces of property please contact me.  I'll load up the four wheelers gladly and we'll spend the day exploring all that Mineral Bluff and McCaysville has to offer.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Going About My Business and You Should To

It's easy to get paralyzed by the headlines these days.  Especially when you're talking real estate as you can't pick up a single paper or business magazine that isn't shouting gloom.  As with every boom there is always a bust.  There will always be a corrective measure soon on the horizon of any industry that is making money "hand over fist".

Now that I'm nearly 40 I've had the opportunity to not only experience the real estate boom and bust but also the internet bust.  Before I got into real estate I was a marketing specialist and experienced some pretty awesome highs as many of my internet clients set sail and quickly accelerated to warp speed.  There was plenty of venture capital to be had as everyone with any liquidity wanted to pan for gold in the internet river.  I personally was offered stocks in several internet companies in lieu of my billing rate.  It all sounded like a slam dunk millionaire story as all I would have to do is wait for the companies to go public.  I was keenly aware that many of my friends had placed their bets and some had even started collecting their winnings.  It was obvious that my clients were riding the gravy train of VC money just spending like drunk sailors on a weekend leave.  I was more than happy to take some of that money.

You know what happened from there.  Millions if not billions were lost in the internet game and I had lined my pockets with cash instead of stock options.  I recall one client in particular who started five different internet companies and had actually sold one of those for several million dollars.  Soon after the dramatic downturn I heard less and less from him and eventually lost all touch within a year.  Fast forward five years and I pick up a small local business publication containing articles on local business people.  There he was being featured in an article about reinventing himself after loosing everything.  I wish him good luck and certainly wish him success.

Before you think I'm just a rambling blogger here, the point I'm making is that you have to know how to play, walk away and survive.  I shutter to think if I had traded all those billable hours for stock options that are now worthless slips of paper.  There was writing on the wall and I wasn't in denial of what was happening with my internet clients.  Even though I opted for the cash my business took a huge shot in the bottom line because my business was so internet focused.  I survived by transforming my focus into other industries and just in the nick of time I might add.  That said, I still own a few web sites and continue to enjoy the profits of those sites.  That was a survival strategy in holding on to what I considered some assets that would have future value.  These web sites were not built on venture capital and I built them with my own sweat, blood and money.  The most important points are that I worked with cash not credit and my goals were based on future gains not immediate returns.

It's interesting when you think of the internet as paralleling real estate and maybe that's the way the inventors of the internet viewed it as they issued the first domain name.  Al Gore didn't invent the internet by the way but I do believe he thinks he's Mother Earth.  Anyway, by looking long term and not getting caught up in the get rich quick hype I'm now enjoying some on-going steady revenue from my domains and my marketing consultancy work survived.  

Just like the internet, real estate is now suffering the same corrective cycle at this time.  If you didn't get caught up in the hype and still have liquidity, you're in a commanding position to prepare for the next upswing in real estate.  Just has the internet has corrected and survived so will real estate.  The difference here is that the internet has only experienced one corrective cycle in it's short existence.  Many a battles for internet real estate are still to be waged I can guarantee you that.  Real estate (land) on the other hand is as old as human beings themselves.  From the moment Adam and Eve were served their eviction notice the quest for land began.  Since then, battles have been waged, lives lost and dollars beyond count have been made and lost in real estate.

As John D. Rockefeller said, "The way to make money is to buy when blood is running in the streets."  As it relates to real estate I think we'll have to roll our pant legs up a bit farther before this is all over with.  If you're a seller you not only have the real estate bust to deal with but also the media created perception that this is a terrible time to buy.

I've never understood why media hype can always outweigh common sense and good reporting.  If I were writing an article about real estate I would be gaining fans by reporting the great opportunities that currently exist in the real estate market for buyers with liquidity and good credit.  Let's examine a scenario of waiting versus buying now.  This is an example of a residential purchasing but the same math could be applied to land as well.

You put down 20% and obtain a 30yr fixed on $218.900 at 5.5%.  Your payment is $934.  Now let's imagine that a year from now the same house has dropped 10% in value or $197,010. By this time the recession or perceived recession has begun to improve.  The Fed's reaction to stem off inflation is to raise rates.  Now, your rate is 6% and your payment is still $934.  The summation is that you would have saved nothing by waiting those 12 months to commit.

The caveat in this scenario is for those of you who have a home to sell before buying new or moving.  The inventory of new homes and resells in most areas is monumental.  Also consider the number of foreclosures that are coming on the market daily.  You know all this already though as you've had it pounded in your head by the media.

In conclusion, if you're in the position credit-wise, cash-wise or otherwise now is the time to buy real estate (or stocks for that matter).  I know I'm going about my regular investment schedule and in some cases buying stocks at a 75% discount from only a year ago.  I plan to do the same with real estate as I hope to buy a sizable tract of land and/or a vacation rental property.  All of those great plans hinge on my next real estate commission.  So, buy real estate and let me be your real estate agent.  I couldn't resist!

Friday, February 22, 2008

What is IDX Real Estate Mapping and Do I Need It?

I like to think I have a pretty decent real estate marketing web site and I'm pretty proud that I built it myself. You might think that I believe it's some great accomplishment but truth is I'm not satisfied.  I mean, it's informative, I can feature some listing and of course I can tell you what a great real estate agent I am. Being that I'm a real customer experience focused person I think the web site should do a lot more. It should do something for the customer/prospect (all the while I go fishing). With that thought in mind I went trolling the internet to see what was possible to build this online real estate mecca of information and interactivity.

As I set off on this information gathering adventure I continually encountered an acronym I wasn't really familiar with. IDX or Internet Data Exchange.  Now, I'm no expert and I still don't know what all is possible with this IDX technology but I do know it's sexy. What I mean by that is I found all kinds of interactive maps where I could enter search parameters and like God placing the houses himself, there they appeared on the map.  I could click, drag, pop-up and even zoom in from space and see the pool of my neighbor's house.

It all sounds pretty wonderful but I soon figured out what some of the shortcomings are.  I first realized as I did a mock search of an area I'm very familiar with some listings were missing.  When I say missing, I mean that I know they are for sale and have been for some time and yet the listings were not being mapped. Again, I'm no expert on IDX but my thinking is that with over 90,000 listings in the Atlanta area something has got to be filtered out.

My other proof of this idea was the speed in which I received the mapped results for what I had searched for.  It was brutally slow (sometimes never responding) and although sexy when presented, many times slower than the standard FMLS search system.  You know, the old school search. I figured that maybe it was just that particular web site so I searched and found other web sites in the Atlanta area using the same IDX technology.  It was a common experience to incur a long wait to review results.

IDX is one of those things that looks so good that you want it to work and you'll want to ignore the reality of it's faults because it has so much potential.  That's exactly where I found myself.  I began to justify the expense and began making calls to vendors and asking questions about installation and on-going costs.

Then in a moment of sanity I decided that I should not be sucked in but investigate further.  This probably had something to do with the installation costs and monthly service charges that come along with the integration.  So, I went to the national level exploring examples and unfortunately reached the same conclusion about integrating IDX into my real estate web site.

Although I think it's one of the most engaging real estate marketing services I've seen on a real estate focused web site it's also one of the most frustrating in terms of speed.  With the realization that some listings were missing I also wonder the quality.  Maybe it's just the sheer volume of listings that are currently in databases that is hindering the performance and usefulness of IDX at this point. I'm not the expert, just a user observer.

I love the idea of IDX real estate interactive mapping and I still plan to implement it at some point.  But for now I believe the better online search experience for searching real estate is the old school FMLS search.

I did get into google maps and figure out how to get that interactive real estate map I wanted on my site.  It's limitations are that it can only display my listings as I have entered them and not every listing in the FMLS.  Maybe that's not a bad thing and maybe the fact that a customer can use it and it's fast and works just the same as an IDX interactive real estate map in terms of features. I mean, if I can sell one of my own listings and not split the commission then I'm pretty happy. With the IDX mapping on my site I pay the installation, service fees and more than likely if it does help me make a sale then I'll be splitting that commission with some agent who probably did much of nothing to market the property. There I go justifying things again!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Real Estate Marketing "F-ort" Part 2

It's expected that you're going to get a box of flyers in the front yard and this sounds like an easy enough task for any agent worth their salt.  Truth is, most real estate agents don't have the skills to do this in a manner which best represents your residential real estate. They often don't even attempt to provide you with color flyers as to save themselves a few pennies per flyer.

With color copies constantly on sale at any office supply store or even strip mall mailbox shops for 39 cents there's no excuse not to have color flyers.  Some agents will start with 30 or so color flyers just to impress you a little but once the nosey neighbors grab those few then it's black and white flyers from then until the listing expires.

In today's ad driven society, without color and decent photography (I'll touch on photography later) of your real estate offering you're as good as invisible. Let's imagine for a second that you're in the grocery store and in the market for a can of soup.  You stand there pondering all of the delicious possibilities of 200 varieties.  You finally make your decision.  It's my prediction that you didn't select the brand with the white label, black lettering and without the steamy soup bowl photography.  Hmmm, I wonder why.  It's because your impression of that brand didn't create a sense of warmth, fulfillment, quality and eventual satisfaction.  No matter how big and bold they made those letters or how many fonts they used or even if they had a black and white photo of a steamy bowl of soup you're just not buying.  

Now think in terms of todays real estate market.  Hundreds if not thousands of buyer choices but only one will make them feel a certain way.  There's just one that caught their eye when they saw the good photography online.  There's only one that had a memorable color flyer that was well designed and stood out from the 20 others they collected that Sunday afternoon.  My hope is that one house for sale they recalled and fell in love with was yours.

The first impression of your home could be that black and white soup can label style marketing the agent has graciously spent 4 cents a copy on.  Don't expect a positive reaction especially in this market.  Again, our natural selection theory we presented in part one of this article is at play here.

The point here is that home buyers are currently few and far between so don't miss the opportunity because your agent in scraping by on 4 cent black and white flyers.  And just one more thing when your discussing real estate marketing services with your agent, make sure they know how to spell or use spell check.  Nothing more embarrassing for you and the real estate agent than typos on your flyer.

There's not a lot I can say about real estate marketing signs. On the one hand, going with a more well known real estate chain can add a level of confidence for the seller.  Of course you're going to end up with one of their homogenized signs that looks exactly like the other 10 on your street.  Nothing too eye catching about that.  The alternative in going with a smaller more customer focused real estate agency like L&M Property Group with unique signs.  It's not that they use anything amazing like a glow in the dark sign.  It's the fact that their brand and color scheme is going to stand out in a sea of Remax signs at the entrance to your neighborhood.  I think it shouts, "there's something unique here, have a look!"

This concludes part two of Real Estate Marketing F-ort.  Subscribe to my real estate blog to ensure you get the remaining chapters.  In the meantime, contact me if you are in the Atlanta area or are relocation to Atlanta.  I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss being your realtor.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Real Estate Marketing "F-ort" Part 1

It wasn't so long ago (maybe just a couple of years) that being a real estate agent was really an effortless profession.  Just take the listing, slap a sign in the yard and sit back and wait on that commission check.  Even my broker had made the comment that he and his partner were "printing their own money" there for a while.  Well, those days are gone my friend and some Darwin theories of evolution are about to come into play real soon if they haven't already.

If you're unfamiliar with Darwin and his theories on evolution let me just touch on one of his theories.  I don't dare dive into that whole Adam and Eve debate in this posting but yet another theory most people can digest.  Natural selection was and is still believed to be at work in our world.  The lay term for natural selection goes something like this, "only the fittest survive."  We'll focus on natural selection here for a moment and leave alone that whole evolution theory for another time.

Although I haven't been an agent as long as I have been in marketing I do know that I didn't learn a darn thing about marketing in real estate school.  It's quite a shame that even the basics of marketing were not presented in the salesperson course.  Although if it were, I would have probably rolled my eyes and fast forwarded on to something interesting like metes and bounds.

All that said to make the point that unless you know something about marketing you've got an uphill battle on your hands.  And who really suffers is the clients.  A lot of agents think the gravy train hasn't left the station yet and when they awaken tomorrow morning they'll be back in the money.

The point I'm eventually getting to in this diatribe is that when it comes to effort, a whole generation of real estate agents get an "F".  Let's refer to it as eFFort just for kicks and giggles.  As long as the real estate agent displays eFFort to the client in terms of taking the listing, putting the sign up and maybe, just maybe, actually finding a suitable prospect to show the property to the client considers this an "A" for eFFort.

The problem here is that the client, trusting their real estate agent is knowledgeable and motivated enough to make the sale.  Does the client really know how many avenues of marketing the agent is attempting?  The client may assume their real estate agent has explored every possible means of "getting the word out" about the listing.

It's true that in the case of listings in Georgia the most obvious place to expose the listing is in the FMLS (First Multiple Listing Service).  Although good exposure, consider the current fact that the FMLS had over 92,000 listings today.  WOW!  How can one single property be found in the literal haystack of residential listings.

Let's explore some less conventional avenues for residential listings that most real estate agents have either never even heard of or are too inept to learn.  I will elaborate on some of these in future blogs but for now, let me just put a bug in your ear with the following: - Similar to eBay but without fees and a self-monitored community of users.  I can't begin to tell you how much I've sold on Craigslist and it continues to be one of my favorite sites in the whole world.  I'd use it for selling anything from hundreds of acres to an old printer I can't use anymore.  Again, highly successful and don't underestimate it's power at first impression.  What it lacks in beauty it makes up for it in results.

Google Base for Real Estate - This is another one of those "freebie" sites that has flown under the radar of public awareness.  Like craigslist, it ain't pretty but who doesn't want their real estate listings to show up in a Google search?  Are you kidding me?  This is a must for your real estate agent to participate in.

Your Own Real Estate Web Site - Flyers in a box out in front are useful but generally not enough to capture all that could be said about your real estate listing. This meager flyer should very boldly point to an accompanying web site loaded with photos, details, video and piles of useful information for the prospect.  Considering the fact that you can own a web site for about $25 a year these days there's no excuse not to have one.  If your agent can't deliver these type of real estate marketing services as part of the engagement then consider another.

This concludes part one of this real estate marketing F-ort blog.  Subscribe to my blog to receive the conclusion.

Why do I need a real estate agent when buying a new home?

The on-site agent represents the builder and although probably nice and cordial, not interested in negotiating with the builder as they have been hired by the builder to sell homes at a maximum price.

Using a buyer's agent to negotiate on your behalf costs you nothing. Commissions are paid by the builder/seller.

Builders have negotiating dollars built into their listing prices. They are already prepared to shave off thousands of dollars to make the unrepresented buyer feel like they negotiated a great deal. Truth is, there was probably money left on the table for the buyer.

A realtor representing you (buyer's agent) has more information at their fingertips regarding home values than is accessible by most people. Your realtor will know the fullest extent of negotiating limits. They should understand the area trends and have access to the data that will assist you in negotiating the best new home buying deal.

Contracts for new homes are written in the builder's favor in most cases. Having an experienced agent review these agreements can determine your satisfaction with closing the deal on the home.

The buyer's agent can shield your from aggressive on-site realtors who can tend to overstep boundaries in a constricting real estate market. A buyer's agent can make your new home shopping experience more focused on finding the right home and less time spent dealing with pesty builder agents.

The builder's agent will almost always direct you to finance options in which they have an interest in. A buyer's agent will be able to help you explore other finance options and varying lender's to match your requirements.

In summation, not using a buyer's agent can cost you thousands in negotiating dollars and possibly leave you with a less than pleasant real estate buying experience.

Let me represent you in your new home purchase. Why waste time, money and risk making critical mistakes going into a new home purchase without representation. 

Contact me as your buyer's agent and visit to find out more.