Friday, December 30, 2005

Turning the Tables on Dustin from Rain City Guide

Recently, Dustin Luther from Seattle's Rain City Guide has been running an awesome series of interviews with his favorite real estate bloggers.

I've really enjoyed reading the different interviews. It's amazing to see how diverse the responses have been. I've gotten tremendous value out of reading the series and I'd recommend checking it out. It just goes to show that there's no right or wrong way, just your way.

Anyways...After I finished my responses to Dustin's interview yesterday, I realized that he probably wouldn't be interviewing himself, so I turned the tables on him and asked him to answer the same set of questions and I'd be happy to post the answers.

So...without futher ado, I present to you this MyEastBayAgent exclusive: "Dustin interviewing Dustin." ;)

What inspired you to start blogging?

When Anna started her real estate career a few years ago, I was definitely drawn to helping her out and turning it into a family business. So we began by sending around some pretty impressive newsletters to everyone in her market area and we started to get some great feedback. The newsletters were a way for us to get in touch with some people who might be interested in her services while following my basic instinct of providing useful information to people. Our newsletters included market updates on locally sold homes, real estate term definitions, highlighted listings, and a note from Anna that described something local in each issue. We got some wonderful feedback and a few listings from this endeavor, but it had two major drawback. It was expensive and time-consuming! We'd typically spend at least 8 hours putting the newsletter together and another day printing everything out. And then there was the cost... color toner is very expensive and sending out a couple thousand newsletters via USPS is not cheap either. All in all, during the six months that we sent out monthly newsletters, I think we made as much money in additional listings as we spent on the newsletters. However, if we'd stuck with it, I imagine that we'd have done much better in the long run, but neither of us particularly enjoyed the process of putting the newsletters together, so we needed to find a better way to market Anna's business...

Being a product of the dot-com generation (too old for "Gen Y", too young for "Gen X"), I've been following internet technologies pretty closely ever since I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1999. I've had a blog of one kind or another all of my adult life! For example, on the way back machine you can find a July 2000 photo journal I kept from a family trip to Russia and another one from a family trip to Yellowstone National Park.

All of this background is just to say that it wasn't much of a leap for me to think that I should put the newsletters that are so expensive and time consuming to produce on the internet. Not only does the internet have potential to reach a ton more people, but the information we're providing will reach people who want it as oppose to just blanketing an area where 95% of the people probably throw our newsletter in the trash!

In doing some more research on the idea of posting the newsletters on the internet, I was completely surprised to find that there was not a good real estate blog in Seattle at the time. I thought that with Seattle being one of the major hubs of technology, some real estate agent would have picked up on the idea of blogging about local real estate issues. But I couldn't find any Seattle realtors who approached blogging as anything more than another place to post their listings. Without any competition, the market was really wide open so I jumped at the opportunity.
Are there any special topics or issues that you enjoy covering?
I definitely enjoy covering technology issues. I'm not sure what the real estate industry will look like in the next few years, but I do know that it will look very different than it does today. Part of my interest in real estate technology tools is quite practical in that someone is going to make a lot money in the near future, and I might as well tap into that source.

In addition, I find that covering innovative real estate tools not only gets a lot of hits to the site, but it has given me some great contacts within the industry and opened up a lot of doors that I did not know even existed before I started blogging!

What have you done to personalize your blog?
I'm always working on personalizing the blog. I'm of the opinion that a good blog layout is never completed.

I'm pretty lucky that my mom is a great photographer and I've tried to take advantage of this by continuously posting interesting photographs with my posts. Besides photos, the features that I think most personalizes my blog is my extensive use of RSS. To keep the site updated with fresh information, I use an RSS feed to display the latest $1M MLS listings (in King County), the latest Seattle MLS listings, Seattle events, and my tags. By using RSS feeds, my site is always updating itelf with new and interesting information. For example, every time a realtor lists a new home in King County that is valued at $1M or greater, my site gets updated! Every time I tag a webpage in with "raincityguide" a link to that page along with my comments on the page are automatically posted on Rain City Guide! The result is that there is a lot of good information on the site that requires little effort on my part.

Do you have any favorite posts?
Many of my favorite posts are from when I first started blogging about real estate issue... I didn't have many people reading my blog back then, so I've always thought that some of my early posts didn't get the exposure they deserved. Some post I enjoyed putting together include Not all Home Loans are Created Equal, Commuting in Seattle , and How does Mass Transit Affect Property Values. Of course, I also enjoyed posting about gHomes, which was the first stab (I'm aware of) at posting MLS information over Google Maps. My posts on innovative real estate search tools became so numerous that I decided to start keeping a single page to summarize things...

What are some of your favorite blogs (real estate or otherwise)?
To see my favorite real estate blogs, you only need to see the real estate bloggers that I interviewed . Just about everyone I wanted to interview answered my request for an interview with the exception of Hanan Levin of Grow-a-brain and he has a pretty good excuse in that he's on vacation in New Zealand! :)

Some of the other blogs that I enjoy reading include Geeking With Greg (there's some gold at the end of the personalization tunnel), Driving Myself Crazy (good friend whose taught me the importance of lists in blogging), John Cook's Venture Blog (always good for some Seattle start-up news) and Xooglers (I'm a sucker for google stories).

What tools/websites do you find most helpful in putting together your blog?
With a good bookmarking program (, a personalized newspaper (Google Reader), a great email program (gmail) and a very versatile publishing program (WordPress), I rarely need to venture out of my own real estate bubble to find interesting things to post about. Everything seems to come to me!

RSS is also a critical part of my my site (see question 3).

How does blogging fit into the overall marketing of your business?
Besides word-of-mouth references, blogging is the only way that we get new clients.

With that said, about three months after we started blogging, Anna became pregnant (how did that happen? :) ) and she decided that she didn't want to work full time for a while. The blog generated just enough leads that she was able to keep busy for a few hours each day (some days more, some days less) doing real estate related work, but there wasn't any stress on her to keep super busy. (Luckily I'm still holding down a full-time engineering job!).

Now that she's only a few weeks (days?) away from delivering, we've toned things down even more. Her business at this point is to recommend potential leads to an appropriate agent. So far, she's helped two different people find agents that were appropriate for them, and everyone (Anna, the buyers, and the agents) seemed very happy with the results. I'm looking forward to blogging more about this recommendation service that Anna can provide, because I think it would really benefit a lot of people... and in particular, people moving to Seattle who want a good agent, but don't have any local connection.

What plans do you have to improve your blog over this next year?
I've been working with another developer to build an MLS search that includes RSS feeds and an export to Google Earth that I'm pretty pleased with. I can't wait until I fixed a few more kinks so that I can feel comfortable making the search public. Beyond that, I know the the site will look different in the future, but I'll just have to wait to see what interests me before I'll know what changes I want to make!

What is the one tool or feature that you wish your site had?
Much better MLS search. I'd love a trulia-type search with MLS data that I could personalize to fit within the Rain City Guide format. I'm also thinking of adding a little avatar (or photo) to the beginning of each post that makes it more obvious who is posting. I'm starting to build up enough contributors that it might be confusing to people if I don't find a way to better identify the author of each post.

What do you think real estate blogging will look like 3 years from now?
There is going to be so many more junk real estate blogs out there... but that doesn't really concern me. I think that a few good blogs will stand out in each community, and I'd like to think that I'm creating one of those for Seattle. Interestingly, I happen to think that the most successful real estate blogs will actually be groups of real estate agents who decide to work together... For example, a group of 10 or 20 agents could work together to cover their individual areas of interest ("farming" area) so that each will become an expert within their community. By working together, they can all benefit from a much larger reading audience.

As more people turn to the internet for information on their community, I'd like to turn Rain City Guide into a community resource for Seattle that goes way beyond it's current scope. Interestingly, real estate agents have more incentive than most to become community experts, and yet so many of them are clueless in ways to market themselves on the internet as experts on their local community. It's really quite easy! Just blog! ;)

Thanks Dustin for being a good sport. I loved reading your responses and I'm sure others will too.

flickr photo credit: Jan Tik, used under a Creative Commons license.