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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Developing Golden Gate Fields in Albany

Right down the street from my office, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso is looking to develop a 45-acre site on the North side of Golden Gate Fields into a proposed $200 million "lifestyle center".

The track, located in Albany and owned by Magna Entertainment, has been battling declining attendance and it looks like there's a battle shaping up to decide what will become of the space it now occupies.

In recent weeks, Caruso has presented preliminary plans for an upscale retail complex, with plazas, a farmers' market, outdoor dining overlooking the bay -- and perhaps a hotel, a five-level parking lot and as many as 200 apartments with concierge and maid service.

Some Albany residents are thrilled by what they've seen, saying they would love to be able to stay in town for shopping and entertainment.

Even though it's estimated that the Albany project would generate $2 million in new tax revenue annually for a city with a current general fund of $11 million, opponents fear the project will mar the waterfront with a commercial enterprise of questionable aesthetics.

"I know they are trying to create this small-town ambience with their architecture, which I think is totally fake," said Kathy Farley, an interior designer. "To me, it's like Disneyland."

"We're adamantly opposed. We're going to fight. We just can't roll over for this," said former Mayor Robert Cheasty.

I know the race track is beautiful and all, but if Caruso is willing to listen to residents in order to tailor his project to local aesthetics why not explore the possibilities.

"Tell me what you want, and we'll see what we can do," he told a small group of residents during a recent gathering in a supporter's home, where attendees munched on homemade brownies while Caruso and several consultants displayed renditions of the proposed mall on a portable screen.

Although I feel that I need some more information before coming down on one side or the other, my gut reaction tells me to support it. What do you think?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Crazy Delicious

Not much to report on from the world of East Bay real estate. I held two open houses this weekend in the pouring rain & I'll spare you any recaps. I'm still marketing a few nice East Bay properties. You can check out the VisualTours on the left sidebar. If those aren't for perfect for you, feel free to search the East Bay MLS for one that is.

The best part about this weekend was last night's instant classic on SNL, "Lazy Sunday" with Chris Parnell & Andy Samberg.

This one is up there with the More Cowbell clip and is the definition of a viral video.

Yo wheres the movie playing?
Upper West Side dude
Well lets hit up Yahoo maps to find the dopest route
I prefer Mapquest
Thats a good one too
Google Maps is the best
True dat


Speaking of crazy delicious, is acting crazy again. Once again I'm reminded on how useful the service is and how much I depend on it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Is It Almost Christmas Already?

One thing that I've noticed since moving to Berkeley is that the Holiday season really creeps up on you. When I lived in Wisconsin you knew that when it was 20 degrees outside with snow on the ground, Christmas was right around the corner. Out here, when its 55 & sunny, its hard to believe that Christmas is less than two weeks away.

Not that I'm complaining. I love driving around in December with my windows down. I'm just saying that if it wasn't for holiday parties, I might still be in September or October.

The local Title companies kicked things off last week with three parties in two days. Then the cookies arrived, which set the mood nicely.

Then this week our office Holiday party down at C'era Una Volta in Alameda kept the ball rolling & last night Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells came up big with a great party in the city where the Brat Packers showed up in force.

Mix a bunch of bloggers & a few drinks and the rumors start flying. The most intriguing one from last night centered around the Onion & Is satire attempting to go snark?

...And it keeps going. Tonight, Barry is having her Thanksgiving in December party. Keep your eyes peeled, I'm sure we'll be flickring it. (Update: Or maybe not)

Update: Looks like Chris broke the Onion rumor wide open. $5o per Feedburner sub. Breaks down to $25 per monetized eyeball.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Couple Excellent Posts

Dustin and Anna Luther from the Rain City Real Estate Guide posted a couple gems over the past few days that I figured that I'd point out.

The first one is 7 Reasons for Real Estate Agents to Blog. Awesome! They hit the nail square on the head. I've been meaning to write a similar post for weeks, but now it looks like I don't have to ;).

The short version: Fun, Expertise, Trust, Knowledge, Ranking, Cost, Potential.

(Hey Dustin, you should have worked a couple more vowels in there. FETKRCP isn't the catchiest meme.)

The second one is Linkation, Linkation, Linkation. Another great post full of useful information.

Keep up the great work. I'm looking forward to meeting you two in person someday.

Putting the Word Out

As part of the impending site re-design, I'm looking for real estate industry professionals who would like to contriute to MyEastBayAgent and help me evolve it into something truly special.

The people that I'm searching for are those who want to utilize new services and technologies in order to offer a different type of real estate service. The industry is changing and I want us to be on the forefront of that change.

I'm not limiting it to local professionals. The World Is Flat, and if you can demonstrate your willingness to contribute, I want to hear from you.

I've got some great ideas, but I'm looking to build bridges from my island.

Together Everyone Achieves More

flickr photo credit Thomas Hawk used under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

You're Killing Me Here

One hour? More like most of the day.

It's like the "We'll be back in fifteen minutes." line from Trey.

Hope these hiccups are for a good reason.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Switch Hitting Power in Oakland

Man, I can't wait until spring. The Oakland A's finally added some (switch hitting) right handed power by trading for Milton Bradley and are still in the running for the big hurt, Frank Thomas.

This off-season is showing that the new ownership is serious about winning and is willing to open up the pocketbook a bit to give us the pieces to make a run in 2006.

I just hope that the residents of the East Bay show their appreciation and show up at the coliseum to cheer the A's on. Sure the building sucks, but we have a top-notch team with a great approach to the game.

In keeping with tradition, here's my homemade Memeorandum-style entry on the subject:

Mychael Urban /
A's get Bradley, Perez in deal with LA
OAKLAND -- The A's on Tuesday announced they've traded top outfield prospect Andre Ethier to the Dodgers in exchange for Bradley and infielder Antonio Perez.
Discussion: AthleticsNation (1, 2 & 3), Phishhook

flickr photo credit: tspauld used under a Creative Commons license.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Brat Pack San Fransocial Unconference 2.0

Sometimes it's hard to put into words exactly what's going on in our little 'tech bubble' social circle. Since I operate in radically different social/professional/unprofessional circles, I'm constantly finding myself trying to adapt to the group that I'm currently with. The most challenging though is trying to explain to my non-techie friends and colleagues the tremendous events occuring within the San Fransocial scene.

I'm still relatively new to the whole scene and I swear I'm getting it more and more everyday, but Tara Hunt of HorsePigCow just wrote an excellent post framing what's going on without explaining it. Once again she nails it on the head.
Sumpin's stirring, but I don't want to hone or define it too much. I want to watch it grow organically and look forward to all of the beauty that comes of it. And really, as it grows and morphs in all directions is where, I believe, we'll see some real magic happen.

It is growing, and it's growing in all sorts of unexpected ways. Us Brat Packers hit 'the circuit', we San Fransocialize, we help organize and participate in unconferences where an amazingly diverse group of people come together in an attempt to make the world a better place; but we also don't forget to poke fun at ourselves and have a good time while we're at it. It's also not a closed circle. Anyone who shares the same ideals is welcome to join us.

In the words of the legendary Bay Area band (but who's works aren't downloadable on the archive anymore, or I'd link to their version) the Grateful Dead.

Let it
grow. <-Sound Tribe Sector 9 (Still available for download on the archive)
flickr photocredit msrogue used under a Creative Commons license

The Latest East Bay Market Data

The increase in inventory in the East Bay has settled down and the residential real estate market appears to be healthy going into the holidays. There are 3,976 active listings that we counted in our East Bay MLS, which is down 11% from the high of 4,441 listings on November 8th.

The Pending/Active for ratio for Berkeley is coming in at 0.867 this week with 83 active listings. The P/A ratio for Oakland is 0.595 with 719 active listings.

The average DOM for active listings in Berkeley is now 43 days and in Oakland it's 40 days.

It will be interesting to see how much of the lower inventory levels are related to seasonal cycles since most people, if given the choice, will usually wait until after the holidays to put their homes on the market.

If you notice on the left hand sidebar, I've accumulated quite a few listings & most of them are still active. Heading into the weekend, I just wanted to shine the spotlight on them again. If you're looking in the North Oakland/South Berkeley area, I've got plenty of inventory. Check out the VisualTours & call me with any questions.

I'll be personally holding 1237 Carrison St in Berkeley open again tomorrow. If you're going to be in the neighborhood, stop by and say hi.

Friday, December 09, 2005

10 out of 10 Realtors Approve

Want to know how to get REALTORS in your office to attend your blogging class?

Crack open the package of Christmas cookies from Mom and attendance will increase 300% guaranteed.

Thanks for the package Mother. (Everyone's really impressed)

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Million Dollar Challenge

Steve Pavlina writes an excellent personal development blog & recently he came up with another great idea. He's created an experiment to attempt to use the power of intention to manifest $1 million for each person who chooses to participate. It's totally free to join. All you need to do is to decide to put forth this intention:

In an easy and relaxed manner, in a healthy and positive way, in its own perfect time, for the highest good of all, I intend $1,000,000 to come into my life and into the lives of everyone who holds this intention.

I decided to sign on a few days ago, but didn't really think of it again until today. Then I went back earlier today and re-read the post and decided to follow one of his suggestions which was to change my screensaver so that the intention scrolls across my screen when I leave my computer alone for a few minutes.

Although it's a lot more prevalent in my mind now, I can't say that I've manifested anything yet. In fact in unmanifested myself from $9 and some change on a frozen pizza run that I made earlier this evening.

But seriously though... I'm looking forward to participating and hope you'll join us.

Here are the Current Results.

For the full story on the experiment, check out the original blog post, and the Version 2.0 post <--(It's even buzzword compliant)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Brainjamming in the Bay Area

It seems like so long ago, but this past Saturday was the second Brainjams gathering/ un-conference. Once again it was a great event where I got to meet plenty of new people, while also reconnecting with friends that I've made in the past couple months.

During the morning sessions, we divided into two groups. The first was people with ideas who are looking for technical expertise to help them realize them; and the second group were the people who had the techical expertise and were looking to match them with ideas.

In the spirit of speed dating, we then held 5 minute-long one on one meetings with attendeee from the opposite group. When the bell rang, it was on to the next person. This format allowed us to meet a lot of new people while still giving each person a chance to tell their story, have a mini-brainstorming session, & exchange contact information.

After a nice catered lunch, Noah Kagan led a panel of college students who talked about their internet experiences. I recorded most of it and event organizer Chris Heuer turned it into a podcast.

We then divided the room into three sections where participants held breakout sessions on a variety of topics. A couple of topics that I attended were: Networks (Social, Economic, Physical and otherwise) & Translatiing Web 2.0y stuff to (non-geek) change agents (in order to "save the world")

For both of these afternoon sessions, I was an offical note-maker. The folks from Mindjet graciously donated copies of their MindManager software so that we could take notes in the form of mindmaps. This was basically my first time using the program and I was amazed how easily I was up and running.

After the afternoon session we gathered together for one last time where we recapped the day's events and then headed down to the afterparty to wind down.

Here's a list of links to wrap-ups: Alicia Preston, Kristie Wells, Brain Shields & also his piece on KRON4

Brainjams: The Blog

Flickr photoset of the event tagged brainjams3dec2005

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Monday, December 05, 2005

The 100th Post Blowout Spectacular

Who would have thought that blogging about my life as a tech-enabled Real Estate agent in the East Bay would have opened up so many opportunities. My Real Estate practice has blossomed in so many different ways and I keep expanding my personal network to include people who I would have never imagined meeting.

It just goes to show that you never know what the future is going to hold, especially if you decide to actively live your life and constantly seek out new people and opportunities. Just by reading a blog post a couple months ago, a chain of events was set into motion which has presented many opportunites that I never would have imagined if I had not decided to participate.

I never thought that I'd enjoy the process of creating as much as I do. I put off starting my own blog for at least six months because I was unsure of my writing abilities and whether or not I had anything meaningful to say.

I'm glad that I finally took the plunge. One year ago, I was at a Keller Williams training event called Quantum Leap and one of the things that I got out of the event was this saying.

Just Do It... then Do It Better.

And that's what I did. I don't get overly self-critical. It is what it is and I'm enjoying it immensely. The more involved I get, the more ideas I come up with and more people I meet that can help me implement those ideas. It's a wonderful cycle.

So now that MyEastBayAgent is 100, what's on the horizon?

If you know me personally, you know that I try my best to keep things light hearted and fun while at the same time getting things done. One of my recent favorite sayings has been that Real Estate has gotten in the way of my blossoming prolific blogging career.

In order to help solve this problem while still providing top notch real estate service, I'm happy to announce that the MyEastBayAgent team is expanding. Rayne Palmer is going to be formally joining forces with me and I'll be integrating her into the MyEastBayAgent team in the coming weeks. If you're a regular reader, you'll recognize her in from some of my previous posts.

Rayne is an experienced agent who has been practicing real estate in the East Bay for the past 20 years and provides a level of service that constantly impresses me. She's taught me a lot about the practical aspects of real estate during the past year and I hope that my unique perspective has rubbed off on her as well.

This move is going to help our practice evolve to where we're going to be able to present opportunities to our clients that aren't available anywhere through traditional means. I have a couple great opportunities that I'm actively researching and once again who knows what the future holds.

The other big thing on the horizon is an impending move to Wordpress. I've been really happy with Blogger for the most part, but the time has come to move on. I'm not looking forward to the process, but at least Dustin from the Rain City Real Estate Guide has offered his guidance. Remember Dustin, you offered ;).

Of course there's a lot of other things on the horizon. Some you'll be reading about in the coming days and weeks. Some that if I told you about, I'd have to kill you; or if I blogged about they would kill me. So hang tight, we're in this one for the long haul.

flickr photo credit: jwardell used under a Creative Commons license

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Getting Ready to Brainjam

This Saturday, I'll be at the Brainjam event at the SRI campus in Menlo Park. If you're a regular reader, you might have seen this post that I wrote about the first one that was held at the KRON studios in October. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions that I've ever made.

In case you're not familiar with the concept:
BrainJams' events are open to everyone, but are primarily intended for facilitating cross discipline knowledge sharing between technologists, business people, non-profits, artists, writers, journalists, government employees, elected officials and other individual's actively seeking to make the world a better place through the appropriate use of emerging technologies.

I headed down to the city earlier this afternoon to meet up with Chris Heuer, the event organizer, and we recorded a podcast. You can check it out here.

If this sounds even remotely interesting to you, I encourage you to join us. I guarantee you'll walk away with something useful.

Nate Koechley had a great post earlier this week summarizing the event.

Some other links:

Brainjams official site

Blogging About Brainjams post

A post from The Bay Area Is Talking from October's event.