The Texas Real Estate Test

After many months of preparation, weeks of arranging paperwork and waiting for the day to arrive, it finally did.  I sat for the Texas Real Estate exam.  I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous.  I’ve put a lot of time and preparation into this, and it’s all come down to 2 1/2 hours on a monday morning.  Spoiler alert – I passed.  It’s hard to think that all the work I’ve been doing for the last 6 months has led up to this moment.  But it has, and it’s all been worthwhile.

If you found this post you were probably searching the web for info about the Texas Real Estate Exam.  I’m going to describe my experience, as best I can, so you can be as prepared as possible.  If you find this page helpful, please like my Facebook Real Estate page as a thank you.  Karma baby!

There aren’t a whole lot of photos in this post, mostly because I couldn’t take any pics at the testing center.  But there are a lot of words, so grab a coffee, and sit down for a long read.

Registering to take the test was a little tricky, because the instructions from TREC aren’t super clear, and are sort of hard to find on the web.  Here’s how it worked for me.

As soon as I finished my final class at the Champion School of Real Estate, I jumped on the TREC website, and filled out the Texas Real Estate salesperson paperwork, digitally.  I’ve heard from a couple of people around town that doing it digitally was faster than printing out the forms and sending them in.  Since I wanted my license as fast as possible, this was my obvious route.

But, I did have one small problem when I submitted my supporting school documents (transcripts).  TREC requires not ust the basic Real Estate classes, but also that you have some other college coursework.  Naturally I keep copies of my college transcripts around (both official ones that are unopened, as well as an open copy for my use).  So  I scanned them in as PDFs and emailed them in as the instructions said to do.  But the file was too large for their system to handle, and it bounced back to me.  Of course it took a week for me to find this out, delaying my application in the process.  GRRRR!  Note to TREC – if you are going to accept PDFs why not use an email system that can handle large attachments.  It’s not like Real Estate contracts aren’t 20 pages, they are sometimes.

To solve the problem I could have created a bunch of PDFs that were smaller in size, but I didn’t want to risk this also not working, so I jumped in the car, headed to downtown Austin, and submitted my transcripts in person at the TREC office.  Low tech solution to the problem.  When I was there I asked a couple of questions, and found out that the next step was for someone in the office to review my paperwork, and if everything was OK, I’d get an email with more instructions.

As they said, after a few days, I got an email from TREC stating that all my documents were in order and that I was approved to take the Texas real estate exam.   The email also instructed me to visit the PSI website and download the candidate information brochure (C.I.B.).  Alternatively I could call a number or visit the TREC website for more info.

But when I visited the PSI website, there was no C.I.B. to be found.

As a side note, one thing I’ve found with technology is making things super easy for everyone to use.  When sending out an email, even though you have spent hours crafting the perfect words, to express exactly what needs to be said, make sure that what you are saying actually gets some kind of action.  Sure, as the writer of a note, you may be super familiar with what needs to be done, but the reader might not be.  Make it easy for them using photos, hyperlinks, or bulleted instructions.  That’s the beauty of the web – you can easily format things to make what you need to get done, DONE!

After poking around the PSI website for a while, It turns out, I needed to create an account, wait for it to be approved, and then log in before I could get the  C.I.B with the much needed instructions.  I needed my TREC number (the one that starts with 9999), and once I discovered that, everything worked well.  Of course I didn’t figure that out on my own, I had to call PSI and talk with someone who carefully explained it to me.  It would have been much easier if the original email from TREC just said “Crate an account on the PSI website using this link, to be able to register for the test”.  Instead, I had to spend over an hour trying to figure it out on my own.

The Candidate Information brochure has a TON of information in it:  Sample test questions, what kind of things you can bring in to the test center (pretty much nothing), what kinds of ID are accepted, how to use the computer at the testing center, and more.  But what it doesn’t have is how to register for the test.  That’s done on the PSI website.  It would be helpful to add a paragraph there, too, just in case someone was looking (like me).

Real Estate Exam Prep Book
Click the book to see it on Amazon.com

So I went through the different menus and signed up for the Salesperson exam at one of the two Austin PSI testing centers.   I had to wait 2 weeks for the next available appointment.  There was nothing I could do about that,  So I waited and waited (and spent some time studying from this book), and finally the day arrived.

One thing the C.I.B. says to do is arrive 30 minutes early to the test.  Even with Austin traffic, I was able to manage to arrive early.  I wasn’t the first one there, as a bunch of others were waiting outside the door of PSI, which was of course locked.  It’s no fun to wait outside in Texas during the summer, so I found a nearby tree, and hung out for 10 minutes playing on my iPhone, until the door was unlocked.  After a short while, the door opened, and I stashed my phone in the car and headed inside.

Once inside the PSI testing center, it wasn’t very exciting.  There was a table a bunch of chairs lined up against the wall, a door to a bathroom, and not much else.  One by one, the proctor called us up to the front desk where we handed over our ID, had our photo taken, and then were asked what test we were taking.  Very official.  After the short check in, I was told to go through the door, and enter the testing area  a room with a bunch of old cubicles against the wall.  Each one with a computer.

How hard is the texas real estate exam?

There isn’t much you need to take the test.  Just yourself and 2 forms of identification.  I used my Driver’s license, and my passport.  They supply scratch paper, pencils and even a simple calculator (anything more is forbidden).  Obviously no phones are allowed, nor notes, or anything else that could be used for cheating.  Ladies are asked to leave their purses in the car.  You can’t even bring in a Starbucks, so if you can’t go for more than 90 minutes without a latte, start preparing now.

I was instructed to sit at station #5, where there was an older PC, a keyboard with some funny keys on it, and a mouse.  There was also a set of disposable earplugs if I wanted to use them.  There are lots of cameras inside the testing room, watching for funnybusiness, too.  So don’t try anything ’cause you will get caught.

The test taking experience wasn’t anything spectacular.  First there is a little tutorial on how to take the test using the keyboard or mouse.  You can mark questions for review, go back and forward through the questions, and even change your answers.  Then there are 10 or so “practice questions” based on common US trivia (what do the stars on the flag represent).  Then the test starts.  It’s super quiet in there.  But every now and then I heard a cricket chirping.

Is the Texas Real Estate License Exam difficult?

The test itself is broken into two parts – The National Section, and the Texas specific section.  Really,  you have two separate tests at one time.  This wasn’t really explained during any of my prep classes or even in the C.I.B.  You have to take one immediately after the other, and once you finish the first, there is no going back to change or correct any answers.  For me, I was given the Texas portion first.

In the Texas specific section of the real estate exam, I didn’t have any math questions.  I did have a lot of ethics questions, and a ton of contracts questions, especially questions about amendments to the standard TREC forms.  Lots of questions about short sales, and foreclosure stuff, and even some stuff on water and sewer lines on unimproved property.

There were also a lot of questions about Agency.  Specifically are the differences in powers between an agent and a broker, and what happens during some dual agency type agreements.  There was also a few questions about real estate assistants, and what they can and can’t legally do.

The national part was much longer.  This section had a lot of questions that I expected, but it was still pretty hard.  I had spent a lot of time taking sample questions I found online, as well as going back and reviewing all the real estate questions at the end of the chapters of all my textbooks.  I think that really helped.

On the national exam, there are a lot more questions about the agency relationship between salespeople and clients, Principals, fiduciary agreements, and stuff.  Plus there are some questions about national regulations like 1978 lead based paint (say it out loud, it sort of rhymes).  Also in this test, there were some math questions   a few about calculating finances stuff, and a few regarding land area (so be sure to know those calculations).  I’m really good at math, so I know I got those answers right.

I didn’t need all the time required to finish both parts.  So I went back, carefully checked each answer, and clicked the finish button.  Actually I had to confirm 3 times that I wanted to end the test, just in case I did it accidentally, I guess.

Before I got my instant results, there was a short, mandatory survey about my experience.  They asked a bunch of questions about how easy it was to take the test, how nice the testing center was, and how helpful the staff is.  I answered them honestly, and hope someone from PSI finds this post for more details.

Finally, after completing the post test survey, I got my results.

I passed!

I was super excited!  And couldn’t rush out of there fast enough.  I collected my ID, and a couple of printouts confirming my success!  Then I got back to my car and grabbed my phone so I could call my wife.

As for the next steps, the page I got from the PSI testing center in Austin says that TREC will notify me within 10 days, and since I’ve had my fingerprints done, passed all my classes and had them approved, paid my fees, and completed all my paperwork, I don’t expect there to be anything else preventing me from beginning to buy and sell houses in Austin.

If you are about to take the test, or already did, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

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Getting a Texas Real Estate License

I’m 90% of the way done with getting my license to practice Real Estate in Texas.

Sometimes the process feels exceptionally slow, but other times it seems to go really fast.  Doing the classes was the fast part, even the ones I wrote about at ACC which took so long compared to waiting for my time slot to take the TREC Real Estate Exam.

I’ve jumped through all the hoops except for one – the final test.  I’m not worried about it.  I’ve read all the required textbooks, studied hard, and have been reviewing sample questions for an hour a day for the last week.  I still have a couple more days to prepare, too.

This time has also allowed me to finalize my application with TREC.  For those of you who don’t know, TREC stands for the Texas Real Estate Commission, and they oversee the licensing process in Texas.  I’ve done everything needed on the Texas Real Estate website to get a Salesperson license:

  • Taken the classes
  • Completed the application on-line
  • Gotten fingerprinted
  • Obtained Sponsorships – more on this coming soon
  • And I’ve even begun training at my new brokerage.

Now it’s just a matter of showing up for the test, taking it, and doing my best.  I know there are 110 questions on the TREC Salesperson test, and that I have 150 minutes to complete them all.  Of these 110 questions, they are divided into two sections.  A national section with 80 questions, and a Texas section with 30 questions.  I have to get 70% correct to pass.

In addition, I’ve learned that the test is divided into sub-sections, each focusing on the different principles and practices:

  • Property Ownership
  • Land Use Controls and Regulations
  • Valuation and Market Analysis
  • Financing
  • Laws of Agency
  • Mandated Disclosures
  • Contracts
  • Transfer of Property
  • Practices of Real Estate
  • Real Estate Calculations
  • Specialty Areas (Property Management, Commercial Property, Subdivisions)
  • Commission Duties and Powers
  • Licensing
  • Standards of Conduct
  • Agency/Brokerage
  • Contracts
  • Special Topics (Homestead, Seller Disclosure, Foreclosures, etc…

But getting back to the topic of getting a license, there are a lot of steps to follow, and they have to be done in a specific order.  Why?  Because buying a house is a big deal.  I’ve had tons of training to guide you through the process.  And soon I’ll be recognized by the state of Texas to act on your behalf to buy and sell property.  I’ve passed a background check, submitted my coursework and had it approved by the governing body, paid my fees and dues, and demonstrated competency in all aspects of every possible transaction.

I personally think there it is important to have a current education.  The government is always creating new laws and rules to protect both buyers and sellers, and it’s hard to keep up with all the requirements.  I’ve been using the most up to date textbooks, and taken classes from professors who actively practice real estate in Austin.  I’ve learned all the laws, and will make sure every transaction goes smoothly, and legally.  Plus, unlike many agents in the Austin area who were licensed before the internet era, I know how to also use technology to get the job done.

If you can’t tell, I’m super excited to be your agent.  If you have a house to sell, please give me a call, and let’s schedule a time for me to come over to chat.  I’ll even show you my new license (as soon as I get it).

 

 

My Champion School of Real Estate experience

If you are one of my regular readers, you know I’ve been taking two on-line Real Estate classes at Austin City College.

While that has been a great educational experience, for me, it has been taking just a little too long to get the pre-requisites completed for my Real Estate license.  Yes there are some significant requirements to be an agent in Texas, and rightfully so, but I’ve learned the process can go much faster, and cost less if you do a little bit of research.

I’m really glad I took the two classes at ACC – the 120 hour Real Estate Principles class, and the Law of Agency class.  I’m especially glad that I did it on-line.  I’ve never had an online class before, and this was a great way to learn how to learn without being in a classroom.

One thing about distance learning classes, the kind where you stay at home and use your computer to take classes on the internet.  You need to be really motivated, and have a lot of internal drive to set aside the time to read, study, and do the assignments.  It’s not for everybody.  I’m a self-starter, and like to see things through to the end, so for me, it was a natural fit.  But I can see that it isn’t for everybody.

Those first two classes took a full semester – almost 3 1/2 months to complete.  That’s great if you have lots of other projects going on and need to fit studying into your calendar.  But there is a faster and more efficient way.

For me, I want to get my license NOW!

I’ve written about the different Real Estate Schools in Austin, and after doing a bit of research decided to take my last two classes at the Champion School of Real Estate.

I’ve just finished my fist class – the potentially boring Law of Contracts requirement, and it was super easy, super fast, and fun.

Real Estate School ReviewsThe instructor has tons of experience, is very knowledgeable on the subject, and has a great sense of humor.

The best thing was the cost – It was actually less than taking the same classes at ACC – especially when you consider parking, and books and supplies (all of which are given to you at Champion school).

There was only one weird thing – As you know I’m pretty tech saavy.  I don’t really use a notebook or pens much anymore.  Instead I like to keep my office paper free, and note-take on a laptop.  For years I’ve used the iWork suite of products – Pages, Numbers, Keynote,&  iPhoto because they work seamlessly with my clients and across the web, and they allow me, somebody who is designed challenged to make good looking graphs, flyers, and pictures.

I have tons of notes in Pages, organized into folders, cross-referenced, and linked to presentations, and spreadsheets.  I can do it from my Macbook Pro, my iMac Desktop, and even my iPad, and iPhone.  And all the docs sync and update whenever I make a change.  I always have access to whatever I need for research, and marketing.

Plus I had just finished taking TWO on-line classes, where EVERYTHING was done using a computer.

So I was a bit confused when I walked in with my trusty Macbook Pro, and they wouldn’t let me take notes on my computer!

They said something about it being a TREC regulation that no recording devices could be used in the classroom.

No recording devices?  It’s not like I’m bringing in a video camera, tape recorder or  attempting to take photos.  I just want to type up my notes as I go.  Every school these days allows laptops.  From kids in 3rd grade to medical school at Stanford.  They are commonplace, and everywhere.

Apparently not at the Champion School of Real Estate.

Thankfully I had some of my favorite Papermate Medium Blue Pens and some Post-it Flag Highlighter Pen in my satchel, and I was able to take notes directly in the textbook given to me as part of the class.

I highly recommend the Champion school of Real Estate – they have schools all over Texas.  I never took classes at the other campuses, but the North Austin one is really great.

Champions school of Real Estate
Champions school of Real Estate

 

Dan Pink

“There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

I’m always on the lookout for great ideas about helping others, success, and improving motivation. Every week I get an email from TED.com showcasing some of their featured talks. If you have never checked out TED.com, you should. They collect the best and brightest minds in technology, science, education, and research, and film these passionate people talking about their area of expertise.

One of my absolute favorite videos is by NYT bestselling author Dan Pink.  I’ll let you read about him on his website.

In his TED video, he talks about outsourcing most work, and freeing yourself up to do what you do best.  Plus he backs it up with research that shows that the fundamental reward system in today’s workplace is broken and doesn’t correlate to the majority of cognitive work done today.

Don’t believe me – take 15 minutes and listen for yourself.

From his TED talk in July 2009.

 

Writing for Yahoo Voices

The Real Estate Field has some great catchphrases: “Location, Location, Location” “Fixer-uper” and “Luxury Home”.

In the on-line world “Content is King” are words to remember when writing.

One of the big reasons I’ve changed careers in mid life is because I don’t see myself as a 60 year old wedding photographer.  But also because I’ve learned so much about blogging, digital media, web design, and social networking, and don’t see it being used effectively in the Real Estate profession.

With so many different places to write for on-line why did I choose Yahoo Voices?  I’ve written for Slate.com a little bit before, as well as been published in Real Simple Magazine, and of course been featured on multiple professional blogs.  But that was all as a wedding photographer.  Each of those sources can be a great way to drive visitors to my business and website.  But some are better than others.  For a high-ranking successful website, I’ve learned you need three great things

  1. Great Original Content
  2. Regular Updates
  3. High-quality back-links

It may seem like you only have control over the first two – you can start a blog, and update it regularly with original content.  That takes care of number one and number two, but what about the third thing – getting people to link to my website.  There are lots of tricks and techniques like using Twitter, and Facebook and being active in social media.  I’ve found these work great, but if you really want to stand out above the crowd, you need to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

There are lots of websites that need people to write for them – one of the very best is Yahoo Voices.  According to Alexa, the best and most respected website for ranking other websites, Yahoo is #4 (at least at the time of this article).  This makes Yahoo the leading website for accepting user generated content that isn’t a social website.  Sure Google and Facebook fight it out all the time for the top spot, and Youtube is #3 (but who has time to make and edit all those videos).  That puts Yahoo firmly in the number 4 spot – above Wikipedia, Twitter, Blogger, Linked-in, and a ton of foreign websites.

I know there are other Real Estate communities, like Active Rain, so why don’t I spend time there?  I have an Active Rain Account, and it is a great place to network with other Real Estate professionals.  As great as the Active Rain community is for learning about the Real Estate biz, it’s is pretty industry specific, and limited.  For a larger audience, you need to think bigger, and outside the box.

Yahoo Voices isn’t a new kid on the block.  They have been around for years, and have an active, and vibrant on-line community that most people don’t know about.  But they have some heavy SEO hitters among them, and if your writing gets recognized as good, you can be featured and get tons of new business very, very quickly.

I noticed they have a Real Estate section in Yahoo Voices, but as usual the writing is dry, boring, and super business-ey.  Rweal Estate writers don’t connect with their readers, it seems they only spew out boring facts and figures, or some other kind of boilerplate verbiage.

As a side note, I wrote this blog post, which is over 800 words on a sunny Sunday morning as I was sitting in front of the TV drinking my coffee with my dog at my side.  Total time, about 15 minutes.

You can sign up for free to Yahoo Voices, but you probably already have a Yahoo account.   If you do, you can simply fill out the on-line questionnaire, and be set up in 5 minutes or less.  I spent a little more time than this because I wanted to completely fill out my profile with all my likes – that makes me easier to find in searches.

Once you get set up you can browse available topics, or you can submit your own for publication.  Plus for every article you submit that gets accepted, you get paid!  Yes, they actually pay you for your work.  It’s not much, but like all things in life you get out what you put in to it.  My regular readers know that I love to write about luxury homes, modern architecture, and local neighborhoods and fun places to visit in Austin.  I contribute the exact same ideas, as it is exactly what they want for content.  I’m not writing reviews like on Yelp, but instead setting myself apart as a neighborhood expert in Austin.

In addition to writing, it helps to make connections and friends in the Yahoo Voices community.  Read their articles, comment on them, and they will reciprocate.  It’s a great you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours  – which helps everybody in the long run.

Check them out and sign up today to see what I’m talking about.  Be sure to visit my profile to read some of my articles, too.  You can find me under my pen name, Eric Estate on Yahoo Voices.

 

Finding great contractors in Austin

This article may turn out to be more of a rant, and if it does, please accept my apology in advance.  When my wife and I purchased our first house a little over three years ago we had some very specific requirements.  Things that a first time homebuyer looks for like an enclosed garage, a gas stove, a DISHWASHER (I laugh now at how much different home ownership life is from renting life).  We also had some very specific requirements for our neighborhood, too, because in real estate it’s all about location, location, location.

What wasn’t as important to us was some of the other features of the house.  Things like flooring, an ugly kitchen, or a un-landscaped yard.  The cosmetic things didn’t really matter to us, and it may be one of the reasons we got such a great deal on our house.  Our first house had been on the market for a while with no results.  The owner (who’s son also happened to be a Realtor)  took the property off the market after 6 months of no activity, and made a few cosmetic changes like new carpeting, and some new plantation shutters, and re-listed it.  Again it sat for a number of months with no activity.

The place still didn’t show well even after all the money put into it.  There was some kind of  horrible plaster texture on the walls.  The home had popcorn ceilings in every room, and there was this hideous wallpaper in the bathrooms and kitchen.  The touch-points of the house just weren’t great.  What do I mean by touch-points?    Touch-points to me are things that you put your hands on when viewing a house.  First impressions like the entrance and doorbell.  Interior items like doorknobs and closet doors.  Light Switches, and open windows.  But that’s another blog post.

I’m a pretty handy guy.  My father owned a hardware store, and I have been around tools my entire life.  I can change a door knob in 7 minutes flat.  I can paint a room, in a saturday afternoon – and that includes doing all the the trim in a crisp white.  I can also comfortably change a lightswitch or electrical outlet with out calling an electrician.  When my wife and I walked into this house we immediately knew that with a few changes this place would look incredible.  We had found our first house.

One of the very first things we began to do was to peel off the ugly wallpaper from every room.  Have you ever tried to take down wallpaper?  There’s two kinds.  The kind that comes off easily in big sheets and leaves a nice surface for priming and painting, and the other kind of wallpaper.  This is the stuff that seems to be super glued to the wallboard.  It comes off in little 1 inch strips, and leaves an ugly pock-marked wall, only after hours or days of wallpaper removal.

We were almost very lucky.  We had great results removing the wallpaper from every room except the guest bath.  It took weeks to get it all down in that small 80 square foot room.  Plus, when we were all done the walls were ruined.  The place was a mess.  But wait, there’s more.  The layout of the guest bathroom was very inefficient.  There was a wall, an oversized vanity, the toilet was too close to the tub, and someone had put in a floor to ceiling laundry cabinet that dominated the space.  The place barely had enough room to walk in.

Since this was a guest bath that we didn’t use very much, it fell to the bottom of our remodeling priority list.  We spent 3 years doing other projects around the house.  This month, we decided it was time to get the room finished.  Even though I’m pretty handy, there are some jobs I don’t do because they are either too big or I’m not good enough at them to get the final results I demand.  Stuff like relocating a toilet on a concrete slab, or re-tiling a complete shower stall, or drywalling a class-5 finish (museum quality smooth).

My wife and I came up with a few designs, and a bunch of inspiration, and began to contact some contractors in Austin.  Because I am taking my real estate classes, and still working as a full time photographer, I didn’t have time to manage the job.  I just wanted to pay someone to oversee the job, hire some subcontractors, and make it right.  We even had a decent budget which was higher than the average cost for a bathroom remodel.

Stage 1 – researching contractors.  After searching the web, reading lots of Yelp reviews, and talking with friends, I came up with a list of 3 contractors to contact to get some bids.  I called each of the three, and left messages.  Guess what.   After waiting 3 days none of them called me back.  I left a nice courtesy follow-up message (none picked up their phones), and still I got no response.  These were reputable contractors with great on-line reviews, and high praise from some of my neighbors who had them do work in their houses.  No response.  Grrrr!

So I did some more research and came up with another list of 10 different Austin contractors to call.  I spent the better part of a day making calls.  Of the 10, 6 picked up the phone.  Every one was interested, and wanted to come over to see what I had in mind and give me an estimate.  After checking my Google Calendar, I came up with a scheduled over 10 days for each of the 6 to come over and chat.  One was even a contractor who lives across the street from us.  I had met him several times before but never asked what he did (I figured he was in technology or something).

Stage two – the face to face interviews.  Of the 6 scheduled contractor appointments 2 never showed up.  No calls, no cancellation emails, nothing.  A total waste of my time (At least I got to do some extra studying).  The other four showed up on time, with clipboards and tape measures.  One of them was even the guy across the street – not too hard to cross a street to give a bid I guess.

Each meeting lasted about 30 minutes – I thought things went well, as we established a great rapport –  chatted about what I wanted, and talked about the house.    One of the guys asked about my budget, and I told him.  He seemed very interested as the number was probably higher than he expected.  At the end of each interview I asked if they were interested in doing the job to which they all replied yes.  I wrote down my email on their clipboard, and verified my telephone, and told me they would get me an estimate in the next few days.

Start stage 3 – the waiting for bids.  OK fine.  I patiently waited for the calls to come in.  After a few days nothing.  Then the weekend.  Nada.  Then a week.  Still no estimates.  I called each of the four guys, and spoke with a couple who said they were “working on it”.  I left messages with the others who didn’t answer their phones.  The guy across the street who came over never replied.  Neither did any of the others.

I made 13 calls, had 4 people come over, and got ZERO bids for my job.

This is no way to run a business.  I keep hearing how tough the economy is, and how people are looking for work.  Each of the four contractors who came over seemed really interested in my job.  But I never heard back from them.  I had an open checkbook, and was ready to start the construction right away.  No wait.  An easy and fast bathroom remodel job.

In the end, I wasted almost a month of time trying to hire someone.  I have given up on hiring someone, and started to mange the job myself.  I’ll end up spending less money overall, but am giving up my precious time to get the job done.  I’ve gone to the county office and gotten the required permits.  I did the demo work and found a guy on Craigslist to haul away the debris.  I hired a plubmer who came on time and got paid.  I hired a drywall guy who did a great job and got paid in cash.  Today the tile guys is coming, and guess what – he will be paid when the job is done today, too.

If you are a contractor  reading this – please tell me why?  Why are so many bad business people?  Why don’t you answer your phones.  Why don’t you give me a bid?  Why?

What I do to every blog post

What I do to every Blog post
I’ve found blogging to be the most effective way of promoting my business.  Over the years, I’ve had many different blogs, and used a myriad of programs: Typepad, a custom RoR blog, and even iWeb back in the day.
My absolute favorite to use is a self Hosted WordPress blog.  I’ve used Dreamhost as my Web company for years.  It costs me about $6 bucks a month, and they even install the WordPress blogging software automatically for me, so all I have to do is write the posts.  Plus, I get unlimited email accounts,  so I can have people email me directly at eric@ericestate.com.  I don’t have to rely on any web tech to update my site, and I’m not at the mercy of an agency to get my web page up.
Once the blog is up and running (that’s the easy part), I try to write 3-6 posts a week.  Ideally I like to have a new blog post up every weekday before lunchtime.  Often, I’ll work on 2-3 posts at the same time – bouncing back and forth between open windows, adding text and comments to each one as I think of them.  In fact, every time I get an idea for a new post, I simply open a new WordPress post, and jot down the idea and any related thoughts I have.  Over time, I’ll develop that idea into a bona-fide post, fleshing out the idea, and publishing it when it’s ready.  Typically I have several dozen drafts going at any one time.
Usually I try to keep my posts pretty short, around 400 words or so.  This is because I don’t want to take up to much of your time.  If you like the post, hopefully you will read more, or even subscribe to my blog.  Once I finish writing the original content I proofread it, add a photo or two, preview it to check the links,  and hit publish.  If I have more than one post ready I’ll publish one immediately, then use use the advance publishing feature to schedule the other to be automatically posted the next day around 6 in the morning.
But once I hit the blue publish button, it’s not over.  There are a few additional steps I do to help spread the word, and promote the post on a few social media sites I frequent.  Specifically, I cut and paste the URL for the actual blog post (not just my website name), and share it on Twitter  a few times throughout the day.  I’m always on twitter, so that’s not too hard to do.
Also, I’ll share the post in the same way on Facebook and Google + but not at the same times.  I’ve learned that most people will check their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media feeds one after another, and I don’t want them seeing the same status update from me everywhere they look.  I hate it when people do that, it’s spammy, and too self promotional.
In summary, Here are a few quick tips that I keep in mind when I write and & publish.
Writing Posts
  • Include a photo, or video – something visual
  • Categorize appropriately
  • Add 2-5 Tags, making sure at least one is a most used tag
After publishing – I do these things to promote
  • share the link on Twitter
  • email anyone who I mention in the post, and tell them about it
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Google +

 

Simple Blog tips for Realtors – The long tail

Way back in 2004, Chris Anderson wrote an article for Wired Magazine. He later expanded the idea into a book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (I have a copy on my bookshelf).  The picture below is the basis for the idea:

Lets say you have a blog, and you have been writing fresh content for it for a while.  If you have Google Analytics installed (or some other visitor tracking software) you will begin to see a pattern emerge over time among your visitors.

Your most recent 20% of your content is visited by 80% of your visitors.  That’s the green part.  It’s the popular posts on your website, and it is what attracts the most visitors.  These are your fans, your community, and your closest circles and networks.

The yellow part of the graph is your other older 80% of posts, but it is just as important as the more current ones.  These are the posts and articles that attract new visitors to you.  This is the part that grows your business over time.  How?  Let me explain.

Marketing drives us to always have the newest, most up to date, and current  stuff.  But detailed sales analysis shows that older items sell equally as well.  Maybe not hot and heavy like the popular trendy items, but they do sell, and quite well according to retailers like Amazon and Netflix.  You are always promoting your latest post (I always do), but frequently forget to mention the older ones.

Here’s a great real world example:  This week the top movie is “The Devil Inside” bringing in an incredible $48 Million dollars in just a week and a half.  But I’ll bet your favorite movie is something else, possibly it wasn’t even a box office smash.  Mine is “Blade Runner“, a 1982 Ridley Scott film that grossed only six million dollars it’s opening weekend.  However, in the subsequent 30 years, Blade Runner has brought in an additional $26 Million dollars bringing the lifetime total to over $32 M.  I doubt The Devil Inside will garner those kind of numbers over 30 years, as it lives in the green zone.  Blade Runner, a much better film,  lives in the Yellow Area, and still is rented and viewed today, and will continue to make money for decades.

The same principles apply to your blog.  Most people will visit your site, and see the most recent 2-3 posts.  But Google indexes everything, and your older posts appear in the search results when the terms match.  You have no idea which posts will be searched for, so why not just do your thing, and let the results speak for themselves.  That’s what I do, and it works fantastic!  Just blog, on a regular basis, and you will get results.  It’s a proven fact.

Using Foursquare to open a real estate lockbox

OK I know there is already something like this for real estate boxes using IR technology, but check this out:

You can read more on their blog post, but they aren’t giving away any big secrets.  They don’t really need to.  Anyone with a soldering iron, a bit of Python programming and a cell phone could make this happen in an afternoon.  Be sure to  follow @istrategylabs on Twitter (I do).

So what is this exactly?  How do I check-in with my cell phone?  What is that.  It’s Foursquare.

If you haven’t heard of FourSquare it”s a location based game that you play using your mobile phone (iPhone, Android, or other smartphone).  Businesses and locations have check-ins, and users can only check in when they are actually, physcially at the location.  There is also the ability to add tips to each location – stuff like “this restaurant has the best Cobb salad”, or “mention the secret word for a 10% discount”.  Plus there are a few game-like aspects to Foursquare.  The person who has the most check-ins at a particular location becomes the Mayor, and some places offer special deals to the Mayor (like free ice-cream).  Users can also collect badges.  Stuff like – visit 3 Apple stores and get the Steve Jobs badge.

Imagine the possibilities of integrating Foursquare with Real Estate.  Let’s start from the perspective of an agent.  Imagine if every property was a check-in:

  • Use foursquare to unlock the front door (or open the lockbox)
  • track which agents showed your property
  • see nearby similar properties, or cool places to eat, or get gas, or …?
  • get tips on special locations (Realtors and visitors can add tips to properties when they check in)
  • Mayorship of a neighborhood – discover who truly is an expert on a certain neighborhood, they will have the most check-ins.
  • Track open house attendance

And from the buyer’s perspective

  • See all the listings in the area
  • Find open houses nearby
  • Earn badges for visiting open houses
  • Earn badges by visiting X listings by a certain agency
  • Find nearby services like gas stations, and supermarkets
  • learn who the Mayor of a neighborhood is (great person to talk to about the area)
  • Get Tips on special features on specific properties (Check out the garden in the back, or this house has a built in instant hot water heater).

Foursquare has been huge among lots of businesses, like Starbucks, and even niche groups like Food Trucks.  I predict that in 2012, Foursquare will hit Real Estate, and only help our industry.

NEST Energy Saving thermostat

Nest Thermostat on CBS Sunday Morning.

Did you watch the video?  Pretty cool ‘eh?  Did you see the part where you can control it from your iPhone?  I know.  I want one, too.

Nest Thermostat ScheduleThe idea is amazingly simple:  just use the Nest thermostat as you normally would.  Turn it up if you want it warmer, or down if you want it cooler, using the ring on the outside .  Inside, is a tiny computer that learns what you like.  It has a built in motion sensor, so it knows when you are home or away.    There’s even a lock feature to prevent others from teaching it.

You can find it on Amazon.com. Buy the Nest Thermostat

Nest iPad AppI think it even has some sort of built in Wi-Fi so you can control it from you iPhone or iPad.  You can check out the Nest app on the iTunes store.  Forget to turn off the A/C before your 2-week family vacation?  You can adjust it from your car.  Are you coming home late from a show with some friends and worried about a cold house?  Turn it up before you get home.  There are a ton of helpful tutorials on their blog, if you want to learn more about it before you buy one.

I’ve ordered one, but it hasn’t come yet (it’s on back order) so I can’t share my experiences with you.  As soon as it does, I’ll show you how it works.

Since the design isn’t for everyone, there are alternatives out there.

One is the Free Thermostat provided by Austin Energy. Not nearly as design-ey as the Nest, it too can save you up to 20% (according to Austin Energy).  Here’s how it works.  On really hot days in Austin everybody has their air condition on, full blast.  This puts a huge load on the system so Austin Energy, the utility company sends out a signal to the thermostat which cycles it off for a short time during peak hours.  This only happens during the months of July to September, and no more than 15 minutes every half hour.

Plus, it’s also programmable, so you can set specific temps for when you are home or away, with different settings for weekends, too.

Most thermostats are easily replaced with just a screw driver.  If you are a little bit handy, you can probably do the job yourself.  Just be aware, that most older thermostats have Mercury in them, and need to disposed of as Hazardous waste.  Don’t worry though, it’s safe to carefully handle old thermostats.  The mercury is contained in a little glass tube inside the thermostat, and is perfectly safe to work with as long as you don’t break the glass vial inside.