Nothing like an Inman event in NYC!

I’m always get excited before heading out to an Inman event… The team at Inman has always made sure I get some great visibility through speaking and moderating panels, and truth be told, I simply have a blast meeting up with all my real estate friends.

This year is no different, they not only have me speaking about Facebook, but I’m also moderating a technology and media track where I get to host conversations with industry leaders on mobile, wordpress, twitter, and the extendable web (How cool is that???).

But there’s more!

Spinnio Event on InmanThis year, we’re also going to be running Spinnio interviews out of the Inman booth on Wednesday. So far, we’ve got Craig Newmark and Brad Inman confirmed and the Inman team is sure to line up some other great guests over the next few days!

Maybe even cooler, Kris Berg is scheduled to host all the conversations!!! She really is one of my favorite people in the whole world, so I couldn’t be more excited.

What’s up with Spinnio anyway? Why not just live stream the events?

I know I’m a bit biased since Spinnio is my baby, but what excites me (and obviously a few others) about Spinnio events is that they’re meant to get YOU engaged. Using either Facebook chat or Twitter, you get to ask the questions of the guests… You get to banter with them… We’ll be actively monitoring the live streams from both Facebook and Twitter, so getting involved really is simple.

Spinnio really is different. It’s not the usual “live streaming” of interviews or conference sessions. We’re letting you ask the questions of real estate and technology leaders… and all you have to do to take part is to show up at the spinnio event landing page on Inman on Wednesday.

Can’t wait to see you in NYC!

P.S. We’ll be updating this schedule of events as we confirm new guests:

Capturing the Hallway Conversations at NAR

Last Friday one of my companies, Spinnio, ran a live video chat with David Arquette at his Propr Clothing store that was hosted by Shira Lazar. It was so much fun with the two of them (and the many guests that walked into the store during the event) that it’s inspired me to do something similar at NAR this year.

Spinnio at NARMy hope is to create a place to capture some of the most interesting banter of a conference… i.e. the hallway conversations…and then invite you’all to take part. So, I recruited a partner in crime with the plan being that we’re going to stream live video conversations to Spinnio.com throughout the weekend (starting at RE BarCamp San Diego).

And if you want to take part in our conversations, I’ve set it up so you can ask questions and leave comments directly on the Spinnio page using either Facebook or Twitter. In other words, we’re not only going to do mobile video, but we’re bringing in the two most popular social networks so you can take part from anywhere in the world.

The only catch with this operation, is that I have no idea when we’re actually going to turn the cameras on… (although I expect it to be often). So if you want to be notified, make sure to follow Spinnio on twitter, where we’ll do our best to give some head’s up! (Won’t hurt to also make sure you’re following @tyr and @ribeezie since I’m sure we’ll be letting people know through those accounts as well)

And finally, if you know someone who should get some time on Spinnio (maybe you!), let me know. As I “confirm” guests for specific times, I’ll update this post!

UPDATE
Ricardo and I are going to use a shared google calendar in order to track guests and allow you to see who we’ve scheduled and when. Here it is:

4realz Roundtable: The Value of Home Values

I’ve got something special planned for this week’s 4realz Roundtable. In honor of Realtor.com’s release of the home valuation tool, we’re going to cover the value of online home values!

Join us on Thursday at 4pm (PST) to take part in the conversation!

Of course, the discussion is what makes the 4realz Roundtable work, and so far, I’ve confirmed three great guests for the conversation:

And, of course, YOU are always invited to join the conversation. For the past two week’s we’ve had an active chat conversation going on during the call, which has been just as interesting and entertaining as what gets recorded! 😉

(By the way, I reached out to the realtor.com team, but received no bites in terms of people who were willing to sit at the 4realz Roundtable…)

Here’s a general outline of things I hope to cover:

  • Discussion on the background on online AVMs
  • How have perceptions of online AVMs changed over the past two+ years… Both within the industry and among consumers
  • What are some of the interesting legal issues surrounding AVMs in terms of privacy issue
  • Is there a reason to think that AVMs will get better in the future?

If you have other topics you’d like us to cover, please let us know in the comments and/or join us on the call and ask the question yourself! I’m going to do my best this time to make sure we reach out to some more of the people who call in to make sure we hear from you during the call!

UPDATE:

I’ve confirmed a few more guests for today’s show:

UPDATE 2:

What a great conversation!  Things definitely got a bit rough with David G on the hot seat for a bit, but overall, I had some great insights from the conversations and hopefully you will to!   If you haven’t listened to the conversation on the value of online home values, then listen here:

[podcast]http://recordings.talkshoe.com/TC-20339/TS-122563.mp3[/podcast]

Some choice words for real estate start-ups

This interview by Global Property exchange with Simon Baker, who just so happens to be the CEO of News Corporation-owned REA Group, features a few choice quotes about web2.0 start-ups in the real estate space. Here are the two comments that stuck out for me:

“You don’t have to look sexy to deliver.”

“Sites like Zillow.com get a lot of press and they look great but will they deliver? … I doubt whether they do more than US$3 million a year compared to Realtor.com’s US$300 million”

“Outside of Asia, South America and Eastern Europe, my advice [to would-be real estate portals] would be, keep your money. In fact, if you were given £20 million to start a new real estate portal, the best thing to do would be to [not to start the portal at all and] set up a consultancy to take the money from them.”

 (h/t to Yannick of Properazzi

The 4realz Interview with Pete Flint of Trulia.com

As I said to when I started the 4realz interviews, I reached out to four players in the real estate technology space and asked them a similar set of 9 questions.   I purposefully picked four people representing four different companies at different stages of development and different types/levels of funding.   First was Marty Frame of CyberHomes, then Alex Chang of Roost, and, today, I’m fortunate to publish this interview with Pete Flint of Trulia.

I first met Pete thanks to an introduction from Paul Rademacher before Trulia had launched (and they were going by the name RealWide!).    Thanks to my experiment with gHomes, I had started up a conversation with Paul and he knew I was looking to get out of  transportation engineering and into the wild world of online real estate.

During this initial conversation with Pete I was immediately impressed because he was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing:  starting up a consumer-oriented real estate search site.   However, he was way ahead of me…   Whereas I was still in idea-mode, Pete had teamed up with a fellow Standford MBA grad, Sami Inkinen, to get the funding and team in place necessary to build a top-notch website.

During that first conversation with Pete, we chatted about all kinds of opportunities in the industry and I developed a tremendous respect for him because I could tell that he “got it.”  I’ve always, always enjoyed my encounters with him since. He’s a true professional and after only a few years in the real estate space, he’s proven that he has all the necessarily executive skills to create a product that has already had an undeniably huge impact on our industry.

Dustin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about the products and services that your company offers for real estate professionals?

Pete: At Trulia we have a great selection of free and premium tools for real estate professionals to drive more online traffic to their listings and to expand their online audience. With approximately 4 million monthly unique users, Trulia.com is second to Realtor.com as a leading residential sites site for agents to get in front of an active audience of home buyers and sellers.
Free products:
Trulia Voices: Join the Conversation. Answer questions. Engage directly with active home buyers and sellers and share insights. Learn from other real estate professionals. How? Set up your profile for free, upload your picture and contact information, and sign-up for email alerts to find out when consumers ask questions in your area!
Listings submission: Get free exposure to your listings and significant traffic back to your own Web site. How? Build your feed, submit your site to be indexed, work with our listing feed partners or get your brokerage to send a feed to Trulia.
Trulia Tools: Add value. Get free, easy to install maps or charts for your Web site.

Premium products:
Agent Featured Listings: Get around 3x the traffic and exposure for up to 10 listings for $50 a month, email traffic reports and your photos on listings.
Banner Advertising: Buy banners in your neighborhoods or ZIP codes to enhance your personal brand.

Who do you view as your main competition and how do you differentiate yourself?

Other real estate sites that are supported by advertising dollars are our most obvious competition. Ultimately we think there will be a couple of big sites with a comprehensive set of tools that compete for traffic and advertising dollars. Competition is healthy which is spurring innovation that in the end will help both consumers and home buyers and sellers.

At Trulia, we think that to be successful you have to both attract a large audience of consumers by providing useful tools delivered in a great user experience and be a trusted and cost effective marketing partner for the real estate industry.  Our strategy from the start was to do both. Other sites have either alienated the consumers by not delivering a great online experience, or they have alienated the real estate industry by attempting to marginalize their role. Establishing personal relationships on a broker and agent level helps us understand their needs. We are always listening. You’re seeing the big sites wake up now and change their strategies.

Between Move getting $100M, Zillow getting $87M, Redfin at $20M, Trulia at $18M, Terabitz at $10M, and NAR looking to invest approximately $30M through their 2nd Century Fund, there’s a lot of investment money floating around the real estate space at the moment. Do you see this as a good thing for the industry?

The VC and private equity money is a great thing for both consumers and the real estate industry. All these dollars flowing into the industry will ultimately lower the marketing costs for agents and also drive competition for consumers by delivering a great online experience. The online real estate industry is still in its infancy and may seem a little confusing right now, but the combination of capital, advertising dollars and ambition is a powerful combination and will move the industry forward for the better.

That said, I’m a little bit skeptical about the NAR fund, seems like given the current climate and their history of technology investments the NAR members might prefer those dollars to stay in their wallets.

Besides the venture capital money mentioned in the first question, there are also a few big players from related industries who are jumping into the listings game… Such as Fidelity with CyberHomes and HGTV with FrontDoor. Why do you think there are so many companies chasing the listing side of this industry?

Homes for sale are the number one thing that consumers search for in the real estate industry. Hence it’s natural that these companies with some existing real estate assets are moving into this space. They see the innovation and opportunity and are working to catch up. We all know that the online advertising dollars in the real estate industry are significant and so we’re all chasing a piece of that.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the big brokerages are only just beginning to use their websites to create a compelling consumer experience that competes with REALTOR.com. Why do you think it has taken the national brokerages so long to complete on this front?

Building a great site is REALLY tough and it is hard for large brokerage to attract the engineering and design talent to do all this effectively. Brokers should be building strong online experiences, but they shouldn’t be distracted from their strengths and core competency— selling homes!

ActiveRain, Trulia, Zolve, Realtor.com and others have created social networks that use real estate professional content in order to better inform consumers and (theoretically) drive more business to these online professionals. Does your company have any plans to either create your own social network or engage in these existing networks? If so, how?

At Trulia, we believe that the real estate transaction is the ultimate social transaction, in that you speak to more people before during and after the process for longer than any other purchase I can think of. As consumers and professionals have become more comfortable with sharing and socializing on the web, it is natural for social networks in the real estate industry to pop-up which take some of the normal offline conversations and activity online. We think that Trulia Voices is the best example out there of a consumer real estate site delivering a compelling user community for consumers and agents. And having an active dialogue with the community helps us understand our users’ unique needs. The Q and A format is just the beginning.

To date, many of the most successful real estate professionals do most of their marketing off-line. If one of these experienced real estate agents wanted to jump-start their online marketing, where would you recommend they begin?

Reading and watching are two of the best things someone new to the scene can do. This will help them understand the culture of social networks and blogs. Then start with the free stuff to learn how the online tools work. Participate in Trulia Voices and other online social sites or blog networks. Make sure you work with sites that are near the top of search results in google, as they will get the most traffic to you. I would hold off on launching your own blog due to the technical complexities and time involved. As you get more comfortable you can decide whether or not a blog is for you, sign-up for premium services, buy advertising on Trulia, Google and others.

Would it be different for an agent who is just starting out in the business? If so, where do you recommend they begin with their online marketing?

I would recommend pretty much just the same, but clearly new agents will have to work harder as they don’t have the existing contacts and reputation. Read and watch first. Then participate.

What do you see as some of the biggest changes coming to online real estate in the next two years?

Social networking will start to deliver an increasing portion of business for agents, it will take time, but these efforts will really pay off as consumers will increasingly use these services.

It is natural there will be some consolidation of the consumer audience and probably 2-4 major large online sites will exist, plus another 2-4 specialized sites serving specific, but large niches and then some large national franchise/broker sites. Competition among these sites will be fierce and innovation will continue to accelerate.

We don’t see the real estate transaction changing that much, but the consumer research and agent marketing will be permanently changed.

Thanks, Pete, for the fascinating interview!  

The 4realz Interview with Alex Chang of Roost.com

After interviewing Marty last week, I thought it would be interesting to turn to Alex Chang (CEO of Roost) in order to get the perspective from someone entering the real estate search space from a different place in terms of timing, funding and resources…

Roost LogoI first met Alex while we he was setting up shop at NAR (in Vegas) outside of the blogger’s lounge at a table right next to mine. He was holding court with some interesting players in the real estate space, so when a free moment for both us turned up, I introduced myself and was pleasantly surprised to find out that Alex not only knew who I was, but that he had a strong command of the players in the RE.net (score a point for Alex!).

A few months later at RE Connect, Alex was nice enough to give me a demo of Roost, and I was immediately impressed. His team is obviously focused on doing one thing right (real estate search) and they have the money and talent to do it. However, seeing as they are relatively new to a fairly crowded space, I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that they have their work cut out for them.

Dustin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about the products and services that your company offers for real estate professionals?

Alex: Roost is an open and inclusive marketing platform for all brokers, large and small. Roost’s goal is to help broker partners drive more business for themselves and their agents in a way that puts them in control. To do this, we provide two services that operate in parallel. First we offer brokers of all types & sizes a powerful, IDX-compliant property search site that they can use at their discretion. Second, we send qualified home buyers to their sites via the Roost.com search engine. Our model is transparent and performance based. The broker only pays for the traffic they want by setting a monthly budget that meets their needs.

Who do you view as your main competition and how do you differentiate yourself?

There are a lot of companies out there doing related things in different ways.

In order to differentiate, we need to appeal to the fact that buying a home is one of the most important life decisions consumers will make. We need to offer a comprehensive, easy, fast and fun way to search for homes. We feel that Roost has cracked the code on providing comprehensive data on top the fastest and most intuitive way to search for homes. That’s our biggest differentiator.

When we think about our competition, we think more about the demands on a consumer’s time than we do about other companies. Between work, kids, home maintenance, etc consumers only have so much time in their day to dream about their next home and actively research it online or off. Roost’s mission is to create an experience that works despite these demands.

Between Move getting $100M, Zillow getting $87M, Redfin at $20M, Trulia at $18M, Terabitz at $10M, and NAR looking to invest approximately $30M through their 2nd Century Fund, there’s a lot of investment money floating around the real estate space at the moment. Do you see this as a good thing for the industry?

Without question. That capital is fueling innovation. And in most cases that innovation is an effort to provide the industry with better/more efficient marketing tools for brokers and better services for home buyers. Ten years ago it would have been about trying to disintermediate the Realtor. But that’s not the case today. The more options Realtors have to market their services, the better. Competition keeps everyone honest and striving to provide better services.

Besides the venture capital money mentioned in the first question, there are also a few big players from related industries who are jumping into the listings game. Such as Fidelity with CyberHomes and HGTV with FrontDoor. Why do you think there are so many companies chasing the listing side of this industry?

I doubt your average adult site would be very successful without the porn. Consumers want access to listings plain and simple. Other bells and whistles around home buying are nice, but when my wife Beth and I sit down to think about our next home, 90% of that time is spent checking out listings of homes we could go visit. I’d imagine that’s pretty common. That’s the focus of Roost and we’re solely concerned with filling that need. And besides, listings one of Gary Keller’s “3 L’s of the Millionaire Real Estate Agent” – so you know they’re important.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the big brokerages are only just beginning to use their websites to create a compelling consumer experience that competes with REALTOR.com. Why do you think it has taken the national brokerages so long to complete on this front?

It’s a question of core competency. It took a long time for retailers to get good at building e-commerce sites which is one reason why Amazon has done so well. Clearly, forward thinking brokers get this and are investing in their own websites. But the bottom line is that building great customer experience online is hard, even if that’s all you focus on all day long. And it’s not cheap. Also, I think it takes a little while to start to be able to measure and see a return from a broker’s site in this industry. So you have to have the appetite to make longer term investments in technology. That can be a tough pill to swallow.

ActiveRain, Trulia, Zolve, Realtor.com and others have created social networks that use real estate professional content in order to better inform consumers and (theoretically) drive more business to these online professionals. Does your company have any plans to either create your own social network or engage in these existing networks? If so, how?

No, we don’t. Our sole dedication is on search and building the Roost platform for brokers. That means we have to say no to lots of other seemingly cool and sexy ideas. I won’t say that we’ll never expand past this focus, but right now, being excellent at search is enough of a challenge and something that we believe the market is lacking.

To date, many of the most successful real estate professionals do most of their marketing off-line. If one of these experienced real estate agents wanted to jump-start their online marketing, where would you recommend they begin?

It starts with your own Web presence. First, create a couple great websites and blogs that get across why you are the best at what you do in some specific ways. Ensure that there are all sorts of ways for consumers to contact you on these sites, and obviously make sure you have some excellent ways for consumers to search for homes on these sites (you knew we were going to say that). Second, get some tools that will help you actually see what return you’re getting from traffic to these sites. Where is the traffic coming from? What leads is it generating? When those are done, find targeted marketing vehicles that send traffic you can actually measure to these sites at budget levels you can afford.

Would it be different for an agent who is just starting out in the business? If so, where do you recommend they begin with their online marketing?

I don’t think it’s a different set of steps for new agents. In fact, I’d say following the above list is even more important for a new agent who may not have an installed referral base.

What do you see as some of the biggest changes coming to online real estate in the next two years?

I see three things on the horizon. First, I think there will be a shakeout of wheat from chaff. Businesses that can’t add real value to both the consumer and the Realtor in a way that proves profitable, are not going to make it. Second, I think there will be a real premium placed on great product. This industry needs to catch up (and we’re seeing that happen). Sites that offer excellent experience will rise to the top. Finally, like many, I think mobile is going to become a huge force in this industry both from a consumer and Realtor perspective.

UPDATE: Joel just published a video interview with Alex on Inman News that is definitely worth checking out!

The 4realz Interview with Marty Frame of CyberHomes

I couldn’t be more excited that Marty Frame, the CEO of CyberHomes, agreed to talk with me in this series I’m calling The 4realz Interview.

Cyber HomesI first met Marty Frame when he took me out to lunch during my job interview at Move. At the time he was the CTO responsible for consumer experience, product strategy, and product development for Realtor.com and clearly one of the most influential people at the company. Needless to say, it was a real wake-up call when (during my first week!) Marty announced he was leaving Move to work at Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions.

The result is that I missed out on a major opportunity to learn first-hand from an industry leader… and to add insult-to-injury to those of us he left behind at Move, it took Marty only six months to launch CyberHomes; an incredibly rich home valuation and listing site. For reasons that should be obvious, I couldn’t be more excited that this series is launching with insights from Marty on his company, our industry and how agents can effectively marketing themselves online.

Dustin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about the products and services that your company offers for real estate professionals?

Marty: Cyberhomes combines the homeownership and property content of our parent companies, Fidelity National Financial and Fidelity National Information Services, with more than two million listings aggregated through our broker, franchiser, and MLS relationships, to create an information experience which is exceedingly rich for the consumer, and creates focus for our business partners. We offer our content for free to real estate firms and their associates through two products: a simple plugin which includes all of our content and no advertising, and an API. Collectively, the two have been installed on thousands of real estate sites, from many of the very largest brokers, to the smallest. We advertise listings at no charge on Cyberhomes.com and at AOL Real Estate, fully enhanced, including multiple photos and more than half-a-million virtual tours, as well as more than half-a-million foreclosures with full addresses and no consumer subscription required.

Who do you view as your main competition and how do you differentiate yourself?

Fidelity is a B2B leader in property data, automated valuation, MLS systems, settlement services, and a variety of other homeownership categories, so exposing our expertise for free to the consumer is a pretty powerful statement. Likewise, because we are fundamentally in the customer service business to every segment of the real estate industry, we are presenting brands which are already well-known and trusted by the consumer in a way which magnifies their strengths. There are certainly a lot of good publishers looking for leadership online right now, but none who bring a built-in relationship with the principals that goes “beyond the banner.”

Between Move getting $100M, Zillow getting $87M, Redfin at $20M, Trulia at $18M, Terabitz at $10M, and NAR looking to invest approximately $30M through their 2nd Century Fund, there’s a lot of investment money floating around the real estate space at the moment. Do you see this as a good thing for the industry?

I think it’s a reflection of the fact that there is no well-known leader in the online real estate category, and that after all these years, it’s still wide open. REALTOR.com comes closest, in large part through leveraging the strength of the REALTOR brand, but if you look at the reach of any of the names you mention in your question through the audience measurement lens, they’re actually de minimis. Individual investments of less than $20MM can’t begin to change that in a meaningful way. The one outcome I’m confident of, however, is our industry’s capacity to ensure that things that aren’t good for it don’t sustain traction.

Besides the venture capital money mentioned in the first question, there are also a few big players from related industries who are jumping into the listings game… Such as Fidelity with CyberHomes and HGTV with FrontDoor. Why do you think there are so many companies chasing the listing side of this industry?

You can’t have a credible homeownership site without listings. No amount of home evaluation, neighborhood, or lifestyle content can overcome the basic requirement that you need inventory. Listings aren’t the whole picture, but everything else has no context without them.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the big brokerages are only just beginning to use their websites to create a compelling consumer experience that competes with REALTOR.com. Why do you think it has taken the national brokerages so long to complete on this front?

I actually think that the brands that truly are national have done a good job competing – look at the huge growth of RE/MAX.com, the sustained leadership of the Realogy brand sites, and the major shift Prudential created years ago through it’s partnership with Yahoo! – to name a few. Regional and local company sites don’t need to compete with REALTOR.com and other national sites – they benefit from the concentrating effect of the big players, and the fact that none of these general-interest sites can truly be “destinations” because as a consumer you have not “arrived” once you get there.

ActiveRain, Trulia, Zolve, Realtor.com and others have created social networks that use real estate professional content in order to better inform consumers and (theoretically) drive more business to these online professionals. Does your company have any plans to either create your own social network or engage in these existing networks? If so, how?

Listings are the primary User Generated Content of the real estate industry, and the network we have created focuses on this and the services through which practitioners build their communities. RealTown and ActiveRain have both proven on a broad scale that B2B social networks are completely congruous with the coaching and referral fundamentals of our industry, but I believe that the consumer is looking by-and-large for hard data. The kitchen table comes later.

To date, many of the most successful real estate professionals do most of their marketing off-line. If one of these experienced real estate agents wanted to jump-start their online marketing, where would you recommend they begin?

For the successful agent, the answer to this question depends on his or her business objectives: the referral-focused producer will obviously want to concentrate on the tools which provide the highest level of service to an established client base; buying online media is no more or less useful in this case than offline, by helping to maintain a high profile. Someone with a direct-response practice, however, will want to start buying into as many places as possible and try to be at least semi-scientific about which ones yield and which don’t, and keep moving on until attaining the right flow and conversion metrics. Most people won’t be able to accomplish this without some kind of lead coordinator.

Would it be different for an agent who is just starting out in the business? If so, where do you recommend they begin with their online marketing?

The best advice here is to join a firm or network which takes care of the online marketing for you so you can concentrate on learning the fundamentals of the business. Your window to succeed is short and the barrier is high, so diving into the mechanics of figuring out and optimizing all of your options online can doom you to distraction. The good news is that a good many companies at this point have figured out their role in helping their associates navigate the different online options at a basic level, so there are plenty of good choices.

What do you see as some of the biggest changes coming to online real estate in the next two years?

The herd will thin again based on two primary factors: performance and the degree to which each of the competitors unyokes itself from having to “monetize” by charging its content providers for traffic. Lagging the actual real estate market by just a little bit, we’ll see this turn from boom to street-fight pretty quickly, and only the insanely disciplined will come out the other side. The current cycle has given us a lot of good innovation to play with, however; so the survivors will have put the best of it together.

Thanks you so much Marty!