Real Estate Blogging: The One Big Mistake People Make

 

I can't believe I put up that post...

I know, my posts of late have been full of sturm und drang, and lots of big time industry happenings and futurism type of Nostradamus stuff. Yes, we live in interesting times… which can get tiring. Even for me. So in the way of self-diversion, I thought I’d write about a topic I haven’t touched in quite some time: blogging.

I did a really fun phone interview recently with a broker out of Jacksonville and a writer for Florida REALTOR magazine on the topic, and I hope the full article is all kinds of fun and useful. But there was one thing I told him that I thought would be fun and interesting to discuss.

What one thing could a typical real estate blogger change to dramatically improve her chance of success?

Read on, intrepid lector.

On Writing

Back in 2008, I wrote this:

A bad blog is not an asset — it’s a liability. Someone who may have been your ideal client might look at your utterly crappy website or horrid blog and conclude that you are a major league idiot, even if you happen to be the most knowledgeable real estate professional in history. They don’t know you; if all they get to see of you is a terrible blog, then as far as they’re concerned, you’re a terrible agent. Period. End of story.

It would be a major step forward for such an agent to suspend blogging. Indefinitely. And try to scrub the Interwebs of all clues as to the existence of such a blog once upon a time.

So if you’re a bad writer, then you would be doing yourself a favor (as well as the rest of the industry) by stopping your blogging activities and doing something else that would show off your scintillating personality. Maybe that’s audio. Maybe that’s video. But if you can’t write, please, please do not blog.

Here we are lo these many years later, and the Interwebz is still filled with terrible blogs written by real estate agents and brokers. But it seems to me that most people who have real trouble writing have moved on to other ways of “creating content”. And yet, we still have thousands of competent real estate agents, who do know how to write, who nonetheless churn out content that is fit only as an antidote to insomnia.

Why is that? Why is it that otherwise well-written blogposts just… fail to resonate and keep even me (a real estate junkie) interested? Take a look at this post as example (and I’m sorry for picking on you, but it’s for a good cause):

What Will Two Hundred Thousand Buy Today?

Well quite a bit actually, and right now if a person has great credit and a down payment they can buy a dream home for two hundred thousand dollars. The State of Texas has always had more affordable housing, even in the luxury end of industry, but if you take that same amount and try to buy a home in Chicago, New York, or Hawaii, and you will not receive very much for your money. Currently a studio apartment on East 54th street in New York is going for $319,000.00, and that does not include the $568.00 monthly maintenance fees.

Right now a home shopper in the Metro area can find three bedroom two and one half bathroom homes that are new construction from the $121,000.00 range and up. Dual income households can easily afford the monthly mortgage payments, and up keep costs. One problem is that those typical thirty year mortgages are harder and harder to come by today. Most home loan lenders want bigger down payments, and a fifteen-year term. They are still gun shy from the fall out of all those sub-prime loans that were approved in the 2000s.

If you had to suppress a yawn, I wouldn’t blame you. It’s so boring that I can’t finish the post. Yet, it’s well-written. There are no obvious misspellings or terrible grammar errors. There are paragraphs that express an idea. The sentences are structured properly. So why is it so damn uninteresting?

Well, you might say it’s because the blogpost is basically a thinly veiled advertising attempt. It’s just trying to drum up business by telling potential buyers that they can get a lot for their money in the great state of Texas.

Okay, so how about one of the popular topics that “hyperlocal blogs” do in an effort to position the author as a “local expert”? The staple of realtor blogging, the Market Report! Here’s one I found via Google-fu:

No. of Homes CURRENTLY ON THE MARKET: 18 Homes

(This time last year there were 34 homes available for sale in Riata Ranch.)

Current Price Range: . . . . . . .$129,900 to $274,990

Average Days on the Market: 85 Days

The market has improved for 2011 for each of the categories above.

 

No. of Homes CURRENTLY IN PENDING: 5 Homes

Price Range: $129,900 to $175,590

Average Days on the Market:.. 122 Days

Argghh… no more! I can’t take it anymore. I’ll tell you everything you want to know, just please stop the pain!

Then you have the various realtors blogging about new restaurants and local stores and so on and so forth. Here’s an egregious example out of Nevada:

Saturday I tuned into KNCO shopping show and bought some of the great restaurant coupons.  What a great way to try some different restaurants and have a fun evening or lunch and save at the same time.  The first restaurant we have tried was the 5Mile House, what a great meal.  We ate in the gardens and the setting was beautiful, service was very good and the food wonderful, try the steak!  If you have eaten there and have a favorite let me know.

In case you’re wondering, the above is not an excerpt. That’s the whole post. No pictures were offered, so I had no way of evaluating whether the setting was indeed beautiful. I’ve seen far lengthier, far more useful, and far better written restaurant reviews on Yelp.

But Rob, that post had a comment! Someone was thanking the writer for the tip!

True, true. But turns out, the commenter is another realtor in the area. I suppose if the purpose of doing hyperlocal blogs is to let other real estate agents in your neck of the woods know about a great new dining establishment, this is the way to go. If the purpose is to get consumers to notice you, it’s a total fail.

I apologize if I caused any pain, discomfort, or embarrassment to the proprietors of the above blogs. But it’s out of love, both for you and for others. I just see no point in continuing to waste valuable time on those kinds of blogs — time you can spend on more useful dollar-generating activities, like hanging out at Starbucks.

The one big mistake that real estate people make when blogging is that they remove themselves from the blog. They try so hard to sound professional, try so hard to turn their blogs into some sort of a business branding machine, or a lead generation tool. Maybe they’ve been told by blog coaches or read something in a book that said business blogging is a MUST, so they trudge off to the computer to churn out “content” to establish a “local expert” cred or to get Google juice.

Naturally, they come off sounding dry, boring, salesy-in-a-not-so-good-way, and so on. The end result is boredom piled on top of ennui.

Enough of the Problems, What About a Solution?

One must tear down, in order to rebuild. Shiva the Destroyer cometh before Brahma the Creator can do his work.

To improve every single one of the above blogposts is simple. It isn’t easy, maybe, but it is simple. Here it is: Offer Opinions.

That’s pretty much it.

The blog platform truly excels at what one might call opinion journalism. It’s the basis for pretty much 99% of the political blogosphere, and even the very large consumer blogs (Engadget, Gawker, etc.) are basically people offering their opinions on a variety of topics. Blogs are not particularly good at breaking news; news organizations are good at doing that.

As a matter of fact, there are now hyperlocal media companies throughout this great land of ours doing actual local reporting on actual news and breaking them. My former town of Millburn, NJ has one of the better ones: the Millburn Patch. They report on things like zoning board meetings. Because the Patch employs people, actually pays them U.S. Dollars, to go sit in on zoning board meetings and report on the proceedings. Unless you’re some sort of strange freak, sitting in on zoning board meetings for fun isn’t going to be on your agenda items for the day.

What readers want from your blog is your opinion. If you are an otherwise competent writer, then offering your frank, biased, and entirely personal opinion will dramatically improve the readability of your blog. At this time, I will take artistic liberty and butcher the posts above.

The post about what $200K will buy you might read like this:

Well quite a bit actually, and right now if a person has great credit and a down payment they can buy a dream home for two hundred thousand dollars. Now, my dream home happens to cost a lot more than $200K, but seeing as how banks aren’t lending much even after we bailed ‘em out with our tax dollars, I’ll adjust my dreams if that’s what it takes. I mean, most home loan lenders these days want bigger down payments, and a fifteen-year term. The traditional thirty year mortgage? If you can get ‘em, I say grab ‘em, because the banks are still gun shy from the fall out of all those sub-prime loans that were approved in the 2000s. Makes a man wonder why we spent a trillion dollars to make sure those bank vice presidents got a paycheck.

But in any event, our great State of Texas has always had more affordable housing, thanks to smart growth policies of Gov. Rick Perry and the legislature. I don’t always agree with Perry on everything, but I gotta hand it to the man: he did the right thing in terms of the economy. We have job growth here, and a friendly business environment, and it’s much easier for builders to build here in Texas than say New York City. That would explain why a studio apartment on East 54th street in New York is going for $319,000.00, and that does not include the $568.00 monthly maintenance fees. Laughable. $320K to live in something the size of my walk-in closet?

Or more to the point, $320K to live in something the size of your walk-in closet after you spend $200K here in Houston and get not just the walk-in closet/NYC studio, but three bedrooms, a huge living room, a full kitchen, and two bathrooms? It’s a no brainer. Maybe I should be sending emails to those poor New Yawkers.

Maybe you hate it. Maybe you disagree with everything the post says. But wouldn’t you agree it’s at least more interesting to read? By injecting personal opinion, the blog becomes more interesting. Some might nod their heads in agreement, saying, “Yeah, why the hell did we bail out those banksters?” while others might be fuming that you praised that godawful Rethuglican Rick Perry. Either way, you get some sort of reaction out of the reader… which is quite a bit better than somnolescence.

What about the old standby, the Market Report? What makes me really wonder is why the realtor-author in question, who wants to be a “local expert” offers no personal expert opinion on the stats. For example:

No. of Homes CURRENTLY ON THE MARKET: 18 Homes

Current Price Range: . . . . . . .$129,900 to $274,990

Average Days on the Market: 85 Days

This time last year there were 34 homes available for sale in Riata Ranch. Last month, there were 22 homes. I think what’s happening here is that homeowners are simply sitting on their homes given the current price points, unless they have to move for a job or something. What they’re not realizing is that prices aren’t likely to improve much, if at all. Why? Look, this is one man’s opinion, but I’ve been doing this real estate thing for 15 years, and what I’m seeing is that Houston might be unique.

We have job growth here from the oil and gas industries. Our state laws and regulations are much easier for new home builders. At that price range, I know there are six new developments going up in Katy, Sugar Land, and Pearland, and more may be on the way. And it isn’t as if mortgages have gotten easier to get in the last year or so.

The market has improved throughout 2011 for each of the categories above, if you’re a seller that is, but it isn’t going to last. If prices improve to the point where homeowners are going to start putting more inventory on the market, I think the new homebuilders will also break ground. And that competition will then bring prices down again.

Look, I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think so. My fifteen years of experience tells me so.

Why can’t we see more Market Reports like that? I’m really not that interested in the raw statistics. I can get that from a whole bunch of sites, presented in a much nicer way. Ever see Trulia.com?

You know what I can’t get from Trulia.com? The personal opinion of a particular real estate expert, explained and justified, laying out the reasons why that expert believes what he does.

Offer opinions. Offer your opinions. Yes, as a real estate licensee, you’re subject to various restrictions on your free speech rights. Deal with it, and know how to stay free of legal problems. But offer your otherwise unvarnished opinions. If you’re going to do a restaurant review, do a frikkin’ restaurant review. Take off your “I’m a REALTOR” hat and put on your “I’m a restaurant critic” hat and pretend like you’re Pete Wells of the New York Times.

Something to Consider When Opinionating

In light of the above, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t point out one concrete consequence of going down the road of opinionating via your real estate blog. Since you’re going to be offering your personal opinions on blogposts henceforth… you are going to have a really tough time keeping it up unless, well, you have opinions on a topic. That means practically speaking, you’re going to want to find topics you yourself find deeply interesting for some reason or another.

So honestly, if you’re bored by market stats, then don’t blog about market stats. Just link to someone else who provides market stats, and be done with it, if you feel like a real estate blog has to have market stats. Your broker, your local MLS, Trulia, Realtor.com, Zillow, etc. can all provide that; if not, you can always buy something like Altos Research. You don’t care about market stats and local conditions enough to have a consistent personal opinion on it, then don’t bother trying to blog about it. (Of course, if you don’t actually care about local market conditions, I wonder why you’d be in this business at all… but that’s another story.)

If you don’t find the ins and outs of mortgage financing interesting, then don’t struggle to put up a post on new FHA loan limits because you think that’s just something you need to do. Hell with that. It’s your blog. Write about things that actually interest you enough for you to have an opinion on every time you sit down at the computer.

Want a great example of a real estate blog written by someone whose personal interest in the topic and therefore personal opinion just shines through? Check out the transcendent writings of Kris Berg. Here’s a recent post excerpt that happens to be… a Market Report of sorts:

In Scripps Ranch, the average market time of detached home sold in December was 66 days. It was 61 days in November. Active detached listings, however, have been on the market for an average of 81 days. Give it time, of course, but at some point the market may be telling you something.

Now let’s take our places at the buyer side of the game board. We all want a smoking deal. If you don’t believe me, you weren’t looking for a parking space on Black Friday. But think about the holiday buying season. There were the occasional too-good-to-be-true sales – the sales involving “one in stock.” As a home buyer, you might encounter one of these offerings too, but be prepared for the pepper spray, because you won’t be the only one waving your checkbook in the air, and you will probably leave battered and empty handed.

Note that she preceded those paragraphs with a fun description of her playing Fruit Ninja. That’s fun. That’s interesting. That’s real estate blogging at its very best.

The unintended benefit of this kind of personally-invested blogging is that… well, you end up sort of enjoying it. And you end up writing posts not because you have to for business purposes, but because you want to for personal reasons. It becomes fun. That’s worth something in and of itself, no?

Now then, my faithful blogging legions, go forth and opinionate! And may your newfound freedom of expression in this particular medium bring you much joy… and some business to boot.

-rsh