Hire Me, I Spent 50K to Dominate Irrelevant Keyword Searches!

“List with me because I dominate page 1 of Google for Scottsdale Real Estate, as well as Neighborhoods X, Y and Z!”

A familiar refrain.

Firmly entrenched in the Internet Age of Real Estate marketing, it would be reasonable for a consumer to expect his chosen agent to propagate every nook and cranny of the online world with the homes he has listed for sale. Actually, it should be a pre-requisite. If your home is not readily found by web surfing consumers, you might as well pull the sign from the yard and go stew in the cone of silence for the next six months. You may eventually find a suitor the old fashioned way, but demand falls off the map if your home does not frequent the same haunts as the consuming public. In other words, best case scenario is to expect a lower sales price and longer stint on the market if you are invisible to the online home shopper.

Your listing should appear on the major power player sites, such as Realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow, etc.  Your home should be visible on every competitor’s site via IDX listing (brokers have the ability to opt in or out of the IDX agreement, thus can choose whether to keep company listings close to the vest or allow their properties to be displayed in the search results on competing home search sites).  Your home should be marketed with scores of high quality digital pictures and/or virtual tours to stand out from the din.

What is not necessarily a “must” however is that your chosen listing agent dominate the first ten spots of Google for major home search terms.  Sacrilege, I know.

As one who partakes in the daily struggle for online supremacy, why would I acknowledge such a thing?  Because it simply doesn’t hold water to argue that I am all of that and a bag of Real Estate chips by my positioning at the top of the search engines for select key words.  It certainly helps me cultivate leads, but whether your ultimate buyer finds your home on my site or a competitor’s is of little consequence to you.  As long as the buyer finds you, who cares if your agent stands to double dip the commission or has to co-broke with a buyer’s agent?

Though I aspire to gain keyword dominance for a few juicy sequences that I covet, and guard those I have already conquered with a zeal seldom seen this side of the Spanish Inquisition, do not misinterpret search engine dominance for the be all and end all of internet marketing.  It is merely one arm of the octopus.  The one that gloms onto wayward buyers for the agent’s new business generation at that.

To a certain extent, a well-ranked website is the modern incarnation of the open house.  The odds of the buyer walking into my domain on a broad Scottsdale Real Estate keyword search and fitting your property are just as long as with its old school predecessor.  It’s great when it happens, but if website placement comprises the entirety of an online marketing campaign … good luck, Chuck.  Google placement is a valuable assistant to a productive agent, but it is not a home selling panacea.

While I may rank higher than some of my competitors, and lower than a few others, they all benefit my clients.  As each listing I take is displayed on all major search engine across the web, my properties are splashed across virtually every website that pertain to Scottsdale Real Estate.

In that regard, I guess you could say that my listings dominate the first 50 pages of Google. And really, my lead generation aspirations aside, what else matters?

How are you supposed to differentiate between prospective agents if website ranking is less important than you were led to believe? Assuming your candidates are equally adept at proliferating their listings across the web (a big assumption), you separate the wheat from the chaff the old fashioned way: knowledge, ability and experience. There are no shortcuts to the head of that line, whiz bang website or no.

And now, to reap the SEO benefits that will vault me to the top of the rankings, but do little to improve my ability to sell your home, I repeat today’s keyword phrase: Scottsdale Real Estate.

Page 1, here we come!

Selling a Home in Scottsdale? Keep the Agent Bonus in Your Shorts.

Thanks, but no thanks.  Therein lie my in-depth feelings regarding buyer agent bonus compensation.

It’s a tricky business, this whole trust-building endeavor.  From the initial consultation with a prospective client, to the signing of the closing documents and all stops in between, a certain rapport and mutual belief in the positive intentions of each party must be developed to produce the desired outcome: namely, the purchase of the most appropriate property at the most advantageous terms.  With ample opportunity for an agent to unintentionally spit the bit along the way, warding off the encroachment of countless variables that would undermine the health of the relationship is an undisclosed facet of the job.  And what, pray tell, is the swiftest and surest endangerment of one’s relationship with the client?  Money.  More specifically, the belief, whether founded or not, that the agent is twisting his fiduciary obligation by putting his financial interests before those of the client.  That’s a relationship killer.  Once any doubt creeps into the mind of the client as to the motivation of his representative, you might as well go ahead and split the sheets.

I don’t want a bonus to sell your listing.

If your listing fits my client’s criteria, and you are offering me fair compensation for services rendered, I will show the property.  If you are offering compensation that does not meet my minimum standards, I will show the property if my client agrees to make me whole. Mind you, that’s a terrible disincentive to buyers and buyer’s agents alike, but run your business however you see fit.  What I do not require is any kind of additional spiff over and above suitable compensation.  An extra percent if the transaction closes in the next 30 days, a co-broke that is double the normal range of compensation, a week aboard the listing agent’s yacht after the close of escrow … all such supposed motivators are liable to call my judgment into question.

Am I really pushing property “x” because it represents that best value proposition for the client, or am I mentally slathering SPF 15 over my epidermis in preparation of the promised week in the Bahamas?

I’m not real keen on trying to explain to my client why I am grossing 20k on a $200,000 transaction while we are sitting around the closing table.

So while I appreciate the extra incentive a listing agent and/or seller may try to stoke via a buyer’s agent bonus, it calls my credibility into question.  Matter of fact, I will typically apply any such bonus (if monetary value can be readily affixed) to my client’s closing costs.  I maintain my reputation and my client gets an unexpected perk.  In fact, I would be in breach of my personal ethics, if not my fiduciary obligation, if I didn’t carve out such extraneous allotments for my client’s benefit.  If I am being compensated fairly for my role in the transaction, it is my duty to corral any additional nickels that fall out of the seller’s pockets for the buyer.

Want to expedite your Scottsdale home sale?  Put the agent bonus back in your shorts. Repackage the offering as a reduced price or concession towards the buyer’s closing costs. Make the terms more appealing to my client and you will produce the desired result. The seller gets his fast sale, the buyer gets more attractive terms and both agents get happy, referral-prone clients. Everybody wins.

If I want to go play Dread Pirate Roberts in the Caymans, I’ll do it on my own dime.

Paradise Lost

“You mean, it’s ours? It’s really ours?”

They were so excited. Even after I handed them the keys, they were slow to believe that the modest Spanish bungalow was now in their adoptive custody. Over the course of four exasperating months, we must have seen and dismissed close to a hundred homes. This one needed too much work. That one had a poor kitchen layout. Yet another sat on the “t” of a subdivision’s entrance: bad feng shui, or so I was told. Before the market skies parted and yielded the seventeen hundred square foot, clay tile miracle that appeared to have met extinction in their price range, our flagging spirits were all but ready to pack it in. The May 5th, 2005 discovery saved them from another year of apartment living. A challenge, at best, with a ten year old daughter, let alone with a half-baked bun in the oven.

“Can we go in,” the wife asked in a small, cautious voice.

“Of course,” I responded. “It’s your house, Liz, you can do whatever you please.”

She ignored my extended hand and engulfed me in a fierce hug. Her husband clasped my shoulder in a vice grip which betrayed an adolescence spent laboring on the family farm in Iowa. His curt nod spoke volumes.

“You’re welcome, Mel,” I replied.

“Thank you both for hanging in there with me. I know it hasn’t been easy, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the patience and trust you’ve shown. It’s been a long, tough slog, but I think we got it right.”

“Yes, we did,” Mel said, breaking his silence for the first and only time that morning.

“We would like to have you and your wife over as soon as we get settled,” Liz added.

“I’d like that,” I told her.

I meant it, too. I like just about every client I take on, but felt a special kinship with this couple for reasons that surpassed the extended time spent in each other’s company. After bidding the happy couple farewell, I glanced in the rearview as I navigated my way down the tree-lined street. Instead of going inside, they remained rooted in place, holding hands and staring at their new home.

I received a phone call from Liz this morning. Turns out that Mel has been out of work for some time now, and they cannot afford to keep the house. Might have to move back to the Midwest and look for a position on the farm. See just what kind of life is left in those gnarled, old leather hands.

I hate this job sometimes.

The Interest Rate Boogeyman: Today’s Buyer Must Think Like Tomorrow’s Seller

So you have 20% to put down for a single family home in Scottsdale AZ.  Your FICO scores are higher than Willie Nelson on Bob Marley Day in Montego Bay.  You have been gainfully employed in the same W2 position with the same company for years.  The American Express card with a $124 balance and the $112 payment on your 2002 Honda Accord make up the sum total of your earthly debt.  Congratulations, you are one of the few buyers in today’s market in a position to call your own shots.

Surely the right play is to go the conventional financing route, right?

No private mortgage insurance, the lowest possible rate, less red tape than government sponsored financing vehicles.

From a strictly cost-based approach, all signs point to a nice, vanilla 30 year fixed conventional loan at a microscopic rate as the biggest no-brainer in the history of money.

Of course, as we have learned all too well, there is more to your choice in financing than today’s consideration.  In fact, there is more to your choice in financing than even the total cost to you over the life of the loan.  While we may not know where the market and its attendant values are heading, one fact is indisputable:

Interest rates will rise.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.  Inflationary pressure makes it inevitable that rates will take off at some point.  All of the warning signs are there.  It will happen.  Rather than banging the tired gavel of “buy today, rates on the way up,” let’s steer the discussion in a less self-serving direction.

Q:  What is today’s buyer?

A:  Tomorrow’s seller.

If you are buying a home in 2010, you need to consider the market forces that may shape 2015 or 2020.  When we agents prognosticate, we tend to focus exclusively on home values.  This is a fool’s errand.  What we really should be thinking about is the buyer pool’s (in)ability to buy.

If interest rates manage to climb into the double digits in several years’ time, the difficulty of selling the property you are buying today may be compounded by a further contraction of able buyers.  How does one counteract the specter of such a looming boogeyman?  By going back to the future for familiar, but forgotten solutions to a similar problem.

What saved home sellers in the era of 18-20% interest in the ‘70s and ‘80s?  Owner financing and assumable loans.  For the purpose of this post, I wish to focus on the latter.

With the low to zero down conventional financing options in the market for my first decade in the business, it was a rarity to consummate a transaction with anything other than non-assumable financing.  Now that FHA loans have forcefully elbowed their way back into the marketplace, however, assumable financing has returned.  Most borrowers are not considering this aspect of the financing in the least, mind you.  They simply jump on whatever they can qualify for that provides the least cost and lowest rates.  I maintain that the assumable nature of a loan will be incredibly important moving forward.

While a new buyer would have to qualify for the loan to assume it, imagine how much wider your future buyer pool will be with such an option in place.  Your 30 year fixed at 4.75% may not look quite as good to you if you find yourself in a position in which you have to sell your home in the midst of 12% interest rates.  Not to sound the bell of an alarmist, but it’s not difficult to foresee a future in which many buyers who have migrated to the security of 30 year fixed conventional mortgages in the wake of the mess spawned by more creative financing find themselves imprisoned within those non-assumable safety nets.

Moving forward, your mortgage might not just be your mortgage.  It could potentially be your future buyer’s.  As such, when shopping for financing, there is more to consider than just the nuts and bolts of your own cost.  Your mortgage could eventually prove either an enticement or a hurdle to a sale.

Heady stuff.

I will close with that which should have served as a preface: I am not a mortgage professional.  DO NOT rely on my speculation in any manner when making a choice in financing.  The nuances and new rules/regulations in the financial world are changing so fast that even those who wade in those murky waters on a daily basis are having a hard time keeping their raft of sanity afloat.  For some, the internal debate is academic anyway, as there are qualification constraints on all financing types.  Only your lender, with a full view of your financial picture can provide competent advice as to which programs you may ultimately qualify for, and which is the best fit for you.  I do, however, want you to add this question to the typical inquiries about rates, fees, penalties, etc when speaking with your chosen loan officer:

“Is this loan assumable?”

I expect it will matter more than the attention it is currently being afforded in most Real Estate circles.

1988 Called.  It Wants Its Sign Riders Back.

1988 Called. It Wants Its Sign Riders Back.

There is nothing the Real Estate industry loves more than a good cliche.  The more hackneyed the slogan, the more likely we are to roll it into our marketing campaigns.  Take the expressions which appear on an old industry stalwart, the sign rider, with frightening regularity.  Intended to separate a listed house from the herd, many of the verbal gutterballs instead relegate their hapless charges to the back of the pack.  You’ve seen the repeat offenders and mocked not only their stunning lack of originality, but more to the point, their inability to inspire … well … anything within your consumptive little heart.

If you will humor the presumption, I’d bet my license that my attendant impressions from the following gambits jive with those of today’s buyer to the tee.

“I’m Beautiful Inside” is henceforth redubbed “Coyote Ugly from the Street,” or “Look Past My Goiter and Love Me For Me.”

“Very Special!” is not outwardly off-putting, but it carries a stunning lack of associative context.  While I happen to be very special to my mother, the man on the street just might cut my throat for the eight bucks in my wallet.  If one can’t think of anything in particular that is worthwhile about the property, “Very Special” seems to fit the vanilla bill.

The insecure younger sister to the first member of our list, “I’m Gorgeous!” is a tired refrain from a house who doth protest too much.  When was the last time that the person who regaled you for hours on end with tales of a jet-setting fashion model’s life was a true American beauty?  It just doesn’t happen.  Such a lovely has learned that his/her stunning visage requires no hyperbolic self-aggrandizement. This house, on the other hand, is the eight foot sasquatch with bad skin who won’t shut up about herself.

“Terms” – While agents generally know this to mean there may be some kind of owner financing available, this one is just patently confusing to the general public.  Of course there are terms.  Whether you are selling a home or Pet Rock, all transferences of ownership come with terms.  Such as, “You pay X, I give you house.”

“Voted First On Tour!” – Congratulations, you beat out two other houses for the distinct honor.  Seriously, if the agent’s colleagues were so taken with the home, where is the procession of buyers?  My first reaction to such a proclamation is to surmise that the home has hung around the market long enough to make it into a tour lineup.  Must be overpriced.

“Pool” – What else needs to be said?  Some might argue that isolating any one feature of the home is pointless without the rest of the details, but I say who cares how many bedrooms, bathrooms, square feet, etc this home has?  It has “Pool.”

“Extra Special!” – Oh snap!  Take that “Very Special!”

“Pride of Ownership!” – For every abortion of a house out there, there is a proud homeowner.  Shoot, that same owner is likely just as proud of his forty year old kid who still lives in the basement.  Forgive me if I don’t lean too heavily on the hubris of persons unknown.

“Original Owner” – The decor has remained hermetically sealed within this time capsule since 1958.  Forensic anthropologists will break down the door in the year 2200 to study the long-term effects of asbestos on shag carpeting.

“Won’t Last!” – Wanna bet?

“Look Here >>>” – I love this one.  I mean, I absolutely love this one.  If you somehow managed to notice the evidently insufficient “For Sale” sign, you are prompted to look at it.  By a rider whose visibility requires you are already looking at it.  A paradoxical delight.

“Neighborhood Specialist” – Silly me.  Here I thought the idea was to promote the house.

I ridicule the use of trite slogans on Real Estate sign riders only because I have been there, done that.  I am not exempt from this carnival of pie-throwing derision.  At some point along my professional arc, I have tried just about every silly rider there is to get the attention of passersby.  Through trial and error, I have come to realize the only one that is consistently effective is a website address.  Rather than trying to sell a home in one to three words, it’s best to utilize that space to send prospective buyers somewhere they can get all of the property details.  Properly designed, said website will catch your fly in a sticky web of additional buyer tools and resources.  The idea is to keep them coming back for more, with your home top of mind all the while.  Don’t tell a buyer how beautiful you are inside as they pass by, direct them to a resource which shows them in painstaking detail.  Don’t distill the core value of the home all the way down to “Pool.”  Funnel them to a place where the pool, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, upgraded kitchen, hardwood floors, new A/C and half acre lot share equal billing. This is how you best leverage a rider to trade up to its penultimate incarnation: “SOLD!”

Or you can continue to try to reel them in with your “Carpet Allowance!”

Your choice.


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