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Inman News

Getting Realogy To Move So They Don’t Cartus Away

February 24, 2006 | 12:01 am | |

Cendant Real Estate Services Announces New Company Name: Realogy Corporation [RISMedia]

We coined a new word for our new company [Realogy]. Realogy results from the fusion of “real estate” and “-logy,” the suffix meaning “the science or study of.” The company’s new logo includes a stylized “A,” representing the company’s position as the investor’s doorway to the real estate sector.

There’s a lot of name changing going on in real estate [Inman] these days. Perhaps its part of the New Year’s resolution process, changes occur as companies reorganize after the new year. Realogy seems too cute for a big real estate conglomerate, doesn’t it? Perhaps I just need to get used to it.

Here are two others:

Guy Kawasaki’s Blog calls this The Name Game and provides guidance to companies who re-name their company or product. Realogy doesn’t seem to follow his advice. He mentions this hysterical Salon.com post from a few years ago also called the name game.

Here’s a great post on how they named companies [day2day activities]. My favorites are: Apple, eBay, Mozilla Foundation, Nike, Pepsi, Sprint, Volvo and Yahoo!

So whats in a name? Apparently a lot.


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Deer In Headlights: Miller Media Clip At Inman

February 16, 2006 | 9:04 am | | Public |

Here was my interview by Inman at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York just before I was set to speak on a panel.

Click here to play clip


Rhymes With Pillow: Zillow.com Takes A Breather

February 9, 2006 | 12:30 am | |

At a party recently, I had the chance to meet Richard Barton, the founder of Zillow and he mentioned he was starting up a real estate site. He was a nice, very low key guy who happen to be one of the founders of Expedia.com, which turned the travel industry on its ear. His new site, Zillow got everyone’s attention and no one knew what it was – until yesterday. Inman spent a lot of effort peaking our curiousity and I got a lot of calls from people in the industry asking what the heck it does.

Wednesday was launch day. I read four articles this morning about the site and got excited to check it out for myself when I got into work. The NY Observer article was especially good. In fact I read it on my Treo as I commuted in to work.

As far as the media coverage goes, I find it interesting that technical tools like this are often painted as spelling the end of full service brokerage services. I find this point hard to accept. I think that tools like Zillow and others are a natural evolution of technology and special services like this offer something that full service brokers cannot provide and really aren’t in business to provide. I think its kind of like the iPod. Apple builds them but third parties build all the add-on accessories.

The result of these tools is a more efficient market because of the additional flow of information. Its also raises the bar for full service brokers to have staff that are more fully informed about the market. There is opportunity to interpret information. Over this next year or so, the number of transactions is likely to drop and many brokers who have relied on being order takers will now have to actually market. Those that always marketed in boom times, should have nothing to worry about.

Since the Zillow involves valuation, and I am an appraiser, I was especially curious because its such a daunting effort to automate valuation on such a large scale. In fact, for the most part, the lending industry has been trying to do this for the past 5 years with limited success (If you base success on accuracy rather than simply pushing paper for the files to keep the regulators happy). A few months ago, a national lender told me that out of the 10 major automated valuation services (AVM’s), 8 were totally unreliable, 1 was marginal and 1 was pretty good. This lays the groundwork for my initial skepticism about Zillow, but I am open minded. I think it will evolve and will have more strength in certain markets than others depending on the data they are fed.

Well, apparently, the public relations juggernaut the emerged over the past few weeks with the build up, overwhelmed the site early in the day and as of 11:51pm tonight they are still of the air. I found their ZillowBlog which explained the problem and put a human spin on it. They should definitely link the blog to their home page to keep a dialog of their technical progress.

For those who were lucky enough to get access, the reviews were pretty good but basically mixed (after all this is a beta and there is a lot more data for them to tap into.) Of course the “red light theory” seems to apply here. Users will likely only remember the valuations that were not accurate and not those that were.

I anxiously await my turn. I am sure this is going to be fun. More to come.

_As seen from their web site_


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Trulia Flips The Switch And Does A Mash-Up On New York Real Estate

January 30, 2006 | 9:07 pm | |

Mash-ups have become exceedingly popular these days especially after Google placed its API (application programming interface) or “hooks” in the public domain to let innovative companies combine different sources of data to a create new effect. One of the best uses of the mash-up concept in real estate to date has been created by Trulia.com. Trulia was created by Pete Flint and Sami Inkinen in the summer of 2004 while they were graduate students at Stanford University. Note: the Google founders also went to graduate school at Stanford. I had the pleasure of speaking with Sami at length at Brad Inman’s Real Estate Connect in New York this month.

Here’s some more information about the service and their philosophies.

Trulia is essentially a vertical application of a Google search.

I heard about Trulia last fall through word of mouth and have followed their popularity in California. I added a post about Trulia [Matrix] a few months ago. The concept was straightforward and the site seemed to place tremendous emphasis on simplicity. Their data feeds are from public web sites, not MLS systems since that information is proprietary.

New York seemed to be ripe for this type of service as a compliment to what already exists in the public domain because it culls together a variety of information into one web page. When Trulia decided to launch in New York, they came to my firm Miller Samuel as well as Property Shark to provide additional content for users. The result of this mash-up is a lot of data useful to potential homebuyers interspersed within the listing information being searched.

Trulia is not a real estate broker and in fact, has sought out cooperation with the brokerage community. They have positioned themselves as a way for brokers to leverage the exposure of the listings already placed out on the web, and not as competition. They make their money from online advertising.

Among my favorite features are being able to create an RSS feed so the user can see new listings that meet their search criteria as the become available. I also like being able to save custom searches and their listing stats are particularly useful. Rarely do new web service sites come along that I get excited about.



NYC Mayor Gets “Dramatic” Over Housing

January 23, 2006 | 12:10 am | |
Source: Fox News

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday said the real estate market was slowing “dramatically” and only a “miracle” could stop soaring mortgage rates from eating into housing prices [Reuters].

The real estate market is slowing down dramatically and we’re going to have a problem down the road,” Bloomberg said.

“If people who want to sell their houses have to wait a longer time before someone comes along and buys it, it would be a miracle if prices didn’t start to go down,” he said.

The Reuters story referred to the report [pdf] I prepare for Prudential Douglas Elliman so perhaps he was referring to the sharp drop in the number of sales we saw in the fourth quarter. He said that if people have to wait longer to sell their properties, then price levels will weaken.

From a macro perspective, it seems like he is going out on a limb in his characterization [Inman], especially given his business experiences with the sensitivity of the financial markets. A statement like this could cause many in the real estate market pause and wonder what else does he see? He refers to “soaring” mortgage rates but the Fed is signaling it is near the end of its “measured increase” strategy on short term rates and long term rates have been falling since November.

From a political perspective, the city is running a large surplus ($3B) coming in part from the taxes paid by the housing sector and one could speculate he is positioning himself in the next fiscal year to lower the expectations of those who would like to spend it.

Now that the MTA transit union fell 7 votes short of ratification [NY Post] of the agreement hammered out by the union leaders and the city, it will be more difficult to take a hard fiscal stance with that kind of surplus.

Other local and state governments seem to be wary of housing’s impact as well: Housing Slowdown: Impact on State Government [Calculated Risk]

Experts say funding depends on strong real estate market [SF Chron]
Late taxes hint at housing’s toll [OC Register]



Shameless Self-promotion Redux: Blogging Hits Real Estate

January 20, 2006 | 12:06 pm | |

Les Christie talks about blogging in real estate in his article Blog if you love real estate: Bloggers are changing the equation when it comes to buying a house or condo [CNN]

Blogging has hit the real-estate industry…and it just may upend a marketplace known for inefficiency and restricted information.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blogs covering real estate and they shine unfiltered lights on their subjects, reporting market gossip, innuendo, facts, opinion, virtually anything.

Brad Inman perhaps says it best: “Blogs are telling it like it is at the street level,” said Brad Inman of Inman News, a large real-estate news service. Inman said real-estate blogging began in the Bay area, took hold in New York and has now spread nationally.

Among the sites CNN singles out are Gothamist, Curbed and yours truly Matrix.

If you are not sure what web snark is, check out the Curbed link to the CNN story. I love Curbed’s in your face approach (and of course the Gothamist for the depth of its content).

“It’s not just local real-estate or neighborhood conditions that the bloggosphere highlights. Some, like real-estate research provider Jonathan Miller’s Matrix.millersamuel.com take on different national issues.

“I come across information every day about the industry and my blog site is an opportunity to get my take out there,” said Miller, who offers practical advice and info for readers on subjects such as how real-estate deals are made, changes in government backed loan programs, and the direction of mortgage rates, to mention a few.””



Of Gold Jackets, Oil Changes and Branding

January 20, 2006 | 9:32 am | |

c21goldjacket

When I saw Brad Inman’s post Bring back the gold coats on Monday I got a real chuckle out of my memories of agents, not just Century 21 agents, but others as well, wearing different jackets as part of their brand. This practice was ended in 1996 but the concept [is being done overseas Entrepreneur.com.

I think its a bit of a stretch to relate this to web snark but it was an interesting take by Brad. I think the point was to back away from dull corporate style branding and mix it up a little. However, in the days of “jacket marketing” everyone generally did the same sort of branding back then. I didn’t think of the jackets as innovative or effective at the time. Was polyester ever innovative?

Even back then, all the agents I knew hated wearing them and I am sure it rubbed off a little bit on their customers. I know firsthand since I wore one for about 6 months in the early 1980s in the midwest. Yuck with a capital Y. Apparently there is no demand for them these days [eBay].

I was not going to post on this topic but I got a big laugh from a good friend of mine in the midwest whom I had forwarded Brad’s post to. He has been a top producing real estate broker for many, many years. He told me that at one point, as he was considering leaving for a new agency (that didn’t require jackets), he was issued a new gold jacket. When he decided to make the move, the first thing his soon to be former broker asked him to do was to return the new jacket despite many years as their top producer. So he went home, changed the oil in his car (with jacket on), rolled around on the driveway a bit and returned the jacket. Apparently they didn’t think it was as funny as my friend did.


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Its No Secret, But Now Its Official: Wall Street Bonus Money Sets Record

January 13, 2006 | 9:34 am | |

Many markets have a primary industry that influences their respective housing industry. In Redmond, its Microsoft; in Detroit, its the Big 3 [Detroit News] and in Manhattan, its financial services and their associated bonus income [NYT]. Wall Street accounts for roughly 6% of the city’s jobs and 20% of its personal income. Bonuses typically account for more than 50% of personal income in much of the sector. Its always played a significant roll in the real estate economy, good or bad.

When the New York State Comptroller announces the bonuses paid every year, its already old news. Most people know, or have a sense of knowing by the second or third week of December how much their bonus will be.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether this year would be different, that Wall Streeters would not invest, despite the record bonus money that would be paid out.

  • Would Wall Streeters use it to buy real estate?
  • Does the fact that the bonus money was more concentrated at the upper echelons mean that only upper end properties would be sold?

Early indicators point away from the naysayers, but the jury is still out. Most of the CEO’s of the Manhattan based real estate brokerage firms I have spoken with indicated that they saw a surge in sales activity starting immediately after Thanksgiving, a few weeks before the bonus amounts would be known. Our firm saw a significant up tick in the number of sales that we appraised in October and a surprising number of $20M+ purchases were made.

My first reaction was that this was simply pent-up demand from two consecutive quarters of fewer transactions than we saw in the first half of the year. I expected the the number of sales to drop off after the first of the year.

Wrong.

We are seeing an elevated level of sales activity across the board, not just at the high end. Its not clear if this is a short term blip or not. Long term mortgage rates have been trending down since mid-November [Bankrate], possibly setting the stage for a more favorable real estate mindset in the first few quarters of 2006.

However, don’t expect an official announcement about that.

[Webmaster’s note: I’ve been a little light on the number of posts I have presented over the past few days. Its all Inman’s fault. I have been attending the Inman conference this week and its really been refreshing. I enjoyed being there for no specific reason other than a lot of new ideas and products, great information and a whole lot of smart people (self excluded). I’ll be back on track Tuesday, after all, its a long weekend. jm]


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Bubble Talk Declines To A Soft Landing

January 5, 2006 | 12:01 am | |

For all the talk about a housing bubble this past summer, blog chatter continues to decline to the point it is approaching a soft landing.

Big Media’s use of “bubble speak” appears to be declining even faster and is switching to the use of “soft landing”, especially as the Fed has signalled it may be nearing its measured pace of federal funds increases. Wondering if we will see “soft landing” named blogs in response to this new change similar to the proliferation of “bubble blogs” last year.

Waiting for a Soft Landing [Washington Post]
…All this good news is, of course, bad for the news business. The sunny predictions suggest two familiar economic catchphrases: “soft landing” and “Goldilocks economy.” The Federal Reserve stops raising interest rates before it causes a recession; that’s the soft landing. Economic growth is then fast enough to keep unemployment low and not so fast as to trigger higher inflation; that’s the Goldilocks economy, not too hot or too cold….

A Soft Landing in the New Year [Barron’s]
… the economy was entering the early stage of a necessary adjustment process. Housing market indicators have shifted from being uniformly strong to showing a more mixed picture. This confirms that the housing sector has passed its peak, but leaves open the question of how much of a slowdown is likely and how it will impact consumer spending….

2006 economy looks solid [USA Today]
… it would take several major shocks, not just one, to send the global economy into a recession. For his part, he sees a soft landing for the housing market, rather than a plunge in home prices…

Real estate market is like a ‘balloon,’ says economist [Inman]
…The forecast, “Housing Market: A Slowdown, Not a Meltdown,” which is based on data from the California Association of Realtors trade group and the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, concludes that “the housing market is headed for a soft landing.”…

Home sales’ fall seen as sign of soft landing [AP]
…either way, analysts read two economic reports yesterday as indicating a soft landing for the housing sector, which has been flying high in some parts of the country, and a smoother ride for the labor market…

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Manhattan 4Q 2005 Chain Links

January 5, 2006 | 12:01 am | |

We released the data for the Manhattan Market Overview I author for Prudential Douglas Elliman for the 4th Quarter 2005. Here’s a summary of the media coverage. Otherwise, here’s a list of the articles that covered the study. It provides an interesting perspective on how each media outlet covers the same story:

[NY Times]
[WSJ]
[CNN/Money]
[Int’l Herald Tribune]
[Reuters]
[NY Daily News]
[NY Sun]
[The Real Deal]
[Inman News]
[NY Observer]
[Crains NY]
[NY Newsday]
[TheStreet.com]
[Honolulu Star-Bulletin]
[NY Post]

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Craigslist: Wildly Profitable Without Selling Out

December 5, 2005 | 12:02 am | |

Craig Newmark’s online firm, Craigslist, is beginning to charge $10 for real estate listings, beginning in New York [CNN/Money].

CNN reports that “Ten million Craigslist users click on an estimated 6.5 million classified postings each month at 190 local sites in 35 countries, generating three billion page views.” The web site is simple and efficient with virtually no high tech stuff, just good content.

They have been charging $75 in San Francisco, $25 in New York and Los Angeles for job listings and are now expanding that effort into 4 additional cities. They still don’t seem to care too much about money but they have remained so small and nimble that they are believed to be highly profitable despite their quirkiness.

There only threat is the Google Base service but Craig’s list has been part of a particularly damaging trend to newspapers by cutting into their classified advertising revenues.

Craig’s Golden Rule as shown on the CNN/Money web site:

Choose your mistakes carefully

Another new concept is a site set to launch in January called Sellsius. For $29.95 per year you can list any type of real estate property. See the press release [pdf] for more details.

Webmasters note: If you click on the company icon on the web site home page, you get an error so I guess they have invested all their efforts into the software. 😉

UPDATE: Sellsius, LLC sent me a nice note and informed me that their web site glitch was repaired (it was). I look forward to learning more about their product at the Inman conference in January.


Mortgage Survey: Higher Home Values = Higher Mortgage Knowledge (Sort Of)

November 23, 2005 | 10:20 am | |

Radian Guaranty, a mortgage insurer hired Harris Interactive to survey homeowners about the mortgage options at the time they purchased their homes. [Inman]. “Harris Interactive conducted the online study Oct. 25-27, 2005, among a nationwide cross section of 2,003 U.S. adults aged 18 or older, of whom 1,310 own their current residence.”

Here are the key results and its pretty ugly:

  • 52% were not at all or only somewhat knowledgeable about the mortgage options available to them

  • 66% own their home (Fannie Mae indicates 69%)

  • 47% have a mortgage (I assume this must be a factor of the 66%)

  • 49% of woman and 46% of men said they were knowledgeable about the options

  • 47% have a mortgage (I assume this must be a factor of the 66%)

Areas with higher housing prices in the Northeast and West had more informed borrowers:

  • 50% Northeast

  • 50% West

  • 46% South

  • 45% Midwest