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In The Trenches With Teresa Boardman

Time and again, we enjoy sharing our soapbox here on the Tomato.  However, having a real life REALTOR take the reins hasn't happened as frequently as it should.  The 'in the trenches' perspective is is not only relevant, but a necessary voice.  That voice today is of Teresa Boardman.  The advice and views she can share as someone who embraces the technological tools of the trade make for an interesting read.  We are excited to not only introduce Teresa, but also to announce that she will be a regular contributor here at the Tomato.  We look forward to her 'telling it like is.'

After spending a good deal of my professional life in the technology sector, when I became a REALTOR five years ago, it felt like I had entered a new world, and I guess that I had.  For many years I took all the software, technology, computers, and internet use that my company provided me with for granted, along with all the technical support and training.

It did not take me long to figure out that I had just become a small business owner responsible for my own email, web presence computer and everything else that used to be given to me.  It was  a surprise to me that many of the agents in my office did not use email.  Some agents used it but did not have computers at home and would check their email a couple of times a week when they could use the computers in the resource room.

I brought my lap top with me to my new office when I started.  As I walked down the hall past the other offices I would see agents working away without a computer at their desk and wondered what they did all day.  They also of course wondered what I was doing as I talked on the phone with my eyes glued to my computer screen.

When I asked one of the managers some questions about technology she explained that the agents had just gotten email last year, which was sometime in the beginning of 2001.  The first time I had ever used email on the job was in 1990, this helped me understand that I came from a different world.

Today we are using a lot more technology in our jobs.  Most agents have email, many have web sites, and a few of us even have blogs. Technology education in our industry is almost non-existent.  Technology courses most often consist of free seminars given by sales people from companies that have software products or web sites to sell to real estate professionals.

Even our e-pro course, for certification is taught by a company that sells domain names and other items.  Here in Minnesota it is just about impossible to get any technology related course approved for continuing education credits, which I find interesting because the future of our industry may become buying and selling real estate on the internet. Consumers demand more access to information, yet as an industry we give them little and complain when outside entities develop web sites that might drive consumers away from our web sites, or when they put our listings on their web sites and then sell the leads generated by those listings back to us.

Sales people call us trying to get us to buy our way to top search engine placement.  The only reason most of us don't sign up is because real estate agents don't like to spend money if they don't have to. They tell us that we need these services if we want internet leads, yet when I question them they don't seem to have a clue as which keywords consumers actually use when searching for a home or an agent.  One company even tried to get me to put software on my computer that will make my browser behave differently when certain key phrases are put in the search bar to demonstrate how well their product works.Posing

Our real estate companies roll out new products for us and give us our own web site, they recruit and woo us by exclaiming that they provide the best technology to their agents, including a web site of our very own for free.  Often these web sites are pages on a much larger site where agents are pictured with 50 to 100 of their competitors.  Maybe if I had the prettiest face they would click on me first, who knows.

I have tested several of these sites and have found that when I try to contact an agent via email, my email does not go to the agent, but to some kind of a service center.  The real estate company home search sites are the same way. A buyer might find a home on the web site listed by an agent, and send an email to inquire about the home.  That buyer can end up being a lead for another agent, or in the best case scenario the lead goes to the listing agent but is delayed as the email travels through the levels of electronic bureaucracy to get to the listing agent.  It is easy for real estate companies to fool themselves and their agents when it comes to internet lead generation.

What is my point? Some real estate companies and vendors take advantage of us, because we are not in general technical gurus.  I would like to ask all real estate professionals to be skeptical about technology. Often we are told that it is beyond us to understand technology and that we should rely on the professionals.  If you do decide to rely on the professionals at least ask your self some questions and do some testing.

Questions should include:
1.  Can I have a free 30 day trail?, if not how about a 30 day money back guarantee?
2.  Are there other very similar products on the market that will do the same thing? Do a little research online, is Top Producer really better than Agent Office?  Agent office is a lot less expensive.  If your client data base is just about email addresses and phone numbers wouldn't MS Outlook work best for you?  I know many agents who have expensive databases but can not actually use most of the features they are paying for and may not need to to run a successful business, yet they get scared into buying expensive data bases.
3.  Will I want to and be able to use the 100 wonderful features this product has to offer, or do I just need a basic version?
4.  Is today's instructor a sales person?  What is his or her background? How long have they been in business?
5.  Ask for a success story about someone who currently used the product or service.
6.  Ask for references from other real estate professionals who use the product or service.

When it comes to testing, if at all possible do not buy the product without testing it.  When it comes to web sites and online software I think tech support is extremely important, I like to see how hard it is to find the tech support contact person and then I try calling or emailing, posing as a current customer just to see how I will be treated.

I have also observed that products and services aimed at our industry are often the same or similar to products and services aimed at small businesses.  It can be cost effective to look outside the industry and try products that have been used successfully by small businesses for years.

When it comes to blogs and blogging, Jim Cronin and I both use TypePad.  It was not developed for the real estate industry but has been around since 2003, which is a long time for a blogging platform. I am not sure why Jim chose it but I chose it after looking at business blogs, and business blogging plat forms.  (Jim's note: I flipped a coin; heads was WordPress, tails was TypePad.  I got tails.  True story)

Had I just looked at products aimed at the real estate industry I would not have been able to get up and running last year and still would not have all of the functions that other business bloggers take for granted.  I would never consider buying a product just because it is for the real estate industry.  The biggest and best real estate blogs were started this year, they are important but it is also important to look at some of the great blogs that were started a few years ago and are still going strong with a huge national readership.

It is a big world, don't limit your vision to real estate industry practices when it comes to technology, marketing or anything else for that matter.  Talk to your insurance agent, lender or financial advisor, maybe a local car dealership, look at the web sites that major retailers provide, and get ideas.  I find the technology in my dentists office fascinating.  He takes an x-ray of my mouth and it is digital and shows up on a computer screen almost immediately.  I can't think of a useful real estate application but it is filed away in my mind as technology that exists.

In an effort to help break you from your tunnel vision, I have compiled some links to sources outside of our industry that I like to read for blogging and marketing ideas:

Copywriting tips from Copyblogger 
Seth's Godin's Blog   
Make Money Online with ProBlogger Blog Tips 
BlogWrite for CEOs 
Micro Persuasion 
Duct Tape Marketing

Teresa is an experienced REALTOR in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Her blog StPaulRealEstateBlog  garners local and national attention with well over 100 unique visitors a day.  We are fortunate to have her on board.

Thank you, Teresa!

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Thanks for this article, it is so true...RE Tech vendors are not on top of their game, if they were we would be seeing more innovation in products. I will keep looking outside the box, outside links are great.

Here's a great case in point for you "can do it". Last night I was called by a realtor in another state asking me "who did my blog" for me, and asking how he could get one like it. Well I was flattered to think someone assumed it was "professionally done", and yes I have worked hard at it, but I do everything myself using the blogger beta platform. It's free and my 9 year old has a play blog it's so easy to use. (It's just one of many free blog platforms)

I couldn't convince him to give it a shot, so happily gave him three blogsite providers (including tomatoblogs of course) I knew of, and wished him luck. Really guys - so much is user friendly these days, just have a crack at a few things.

Teresa is right that some of the better appliciation stuff is outside of the real estate world. Just keep looking for what works for you. New agents from other fields are starting to have huge tech advantages over real estate agents with decades of experience. I have truthfully seen old pros using TYPEWRITERS this year.


Thanks for the plug. We may need to start giving referral rewards... how's 10% sound?

But seriously, you are right: all inclusive blogging platforms like WordPress and TypePad are completely within the realm of 'figuring out' by most.
The real challenges that come in to play are:
1. Technophobla
2. Time
3. Customization
4. Confidence
5. Path to success
6. Being convinced that they need it
Building a blog and actually having it be something that you are proud of and that others will recognize as valuable is akin to getting in good physical shape.
Sure, the concept and tasks are quite basic, but the success rate is much higher if you hire a personal trainer that will develop good work ethic, habits and technique. That's where I not only feel that we can provide a service at TomatoBlogs, but ultimately where the only real service of value lies. Soon, all these tools will (most already are) be completely FREE for all intents and purposes. It is the understanding of using the tools to actually work FOR you that is of value. What do you think?

I have had people offer me money to set up there blog for them and I do teach a hands on "how too" class, I am finding that there really are people who just can't. I am not exactly sure why, because it all comes so easy for me. I send people to the tomato man too, he is on my approved vendor list for technology because his work is right here and we can see that he understands how to blog.

Can someone tell me what a typerwriter is? :)

jim - congrats on adding teresa as a new contributor to the tomato. teresa is on our must read list and constantly publishes informative, educational and entertaining real estate information for both consumers and industry pro's. a pleasure to read indeed.



p.s. you're on our must read list too jim :) congrats on the tomato blogs.

There are relatively few real estate bloggers out there whom I consider "must-reads" - not only the author of today's excellent post but perhaps not coincidentally those who have already commented today.

Regarding setting up blogs for folks - I talked to somebody today who just does not have the time to set one up or manage one. He has the desire but not necessarily the time. Those are good "targets" for those who do have the time, expertise and desire to both help others and and possibly make a few dollars one the side. Time is one of the most valuable commodities.

Most of the sales calls for websites, search enging placement, neighborhood information, etc I just blank out. For any we do consider, though, whether it's a national company or the local chamber of commerce, we do our due diligence - where do the links go when someone clicks on them? whose ads appear when they're doing a search or reading a web page? are referrals/leads being sent to another list who pays the provider?

For the information, is "our" site just linking to a common body of information building the presence of someone else? Do we have duplicate content with hundreds of others, which will now get ignored by the search engines?

Check under the hood before you buy.

Why Typepad or WordPress? Are they really that much better than other free blogging platforms that are out there? I've used Blogger for quite some time and I've had a few issues with it recently. Thanks for the inspiring post. You did a great job Teresa!

TP and WP = Customization, trackbacks, plugins, widgets, design etc.
Plus that annoying top nav bar the blogger has, asking people to navigate away from your site with nop benefit to you... just seems unnecessary.

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