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The blogger brigade

Is your agent blogging? Sellers might want to consider the Internet savvy, who credit their sites with moving properties in a tough market.

February 10, 2008|Ann Brenoff | Times Staff Writer

Back in 2006, which in the real estate blogo- sphere is pretty much akin to the dawn of creation, Real Estate Undressed blogger Larry Cragun had this to say to the American home-buying public:

"There is a new wave growing. Agents that blog. We believe you will eventually only use an agent that blogs. Why? Because . . . if they blog about a community they must know it. . . . You also learn more about them as they blog."

Cragun's advice must have been heeded, since it seems that every agent and their brother now has a blog. And if anecdotal evidence is to be believed -- nobody actually tracks this -- agents who are still selling today are agents who blog.

Take Diane Cohn, who started Reno Realty Blog two years ago. An agent with Chase International, she's been selling real estate for just three years and last year closed 21 transactions totaling almost $13 million in a declining Reno market. This in a place where the median home price is about $285,000.

"About 75% of those clients came from the blog," she said. "The other 25% were previous clients or referrals from them." And she deals primarily with families looking for principal homes, not investors or second-home seekers.

Is her experience just a flash in the pan? It doesn't appear so.

There's also Teresa Boardman, a St. Paul, Minn., agent whose www.stpaulrealestateblog.com regularly makes everyone's short list of great agent blogs.

Boardman started blogging two years ago. She intentionally hyper-localizes her blog to her market and posts photos and jazzy graphics that she generates.

She says that in the current Twin Cities market, "if I didn't have this blog, I wouldn't be in business." Boardman, with Keller Williams Integrity Realty, adds: "Most of my business today comes from my blog."

Talking via cellphone from a New York City taxi as she was en route to speak to realty agents about successful blogging, she said most industry blogs are too mundane and offer generic buying and selling tips available anywhere. In her blog, she writes about architecture, local developments and life in the various St. Paul neighborhoods. "A blog needs a hook," she said.

Athol Kay, a Prudential agent in Bristol, Conn., has certainly found his. Kay has garnered national attention with his Bad MLS Photo of the Day. Although critics dismiss it as just a gimmick, Kay is quite passionate in his cause: to rid the world of bad real estate photos that ultimately cost unsuspecting sellers money.

"I try to keep it as light and fun as possible," but, he said, an agent's incompetency with a camera can cost a client.

"If the agent straight up stole a $5,000 deposit or something, that would be a clear illegal act," Kay said. "But butcher the photos and have the house languish on the market for months or force huge price reductions . . . that's just bad luck for the seller."

Kay, from New Zealand, has been blogging for about as long as he's been selling real estate in Connecticut -- since October 2006. His site, www.reagentinct.com/, gets about 1,200 unique visitors a week.

Another agent with a hook is Marlow Harris, whose 360 Digest blog is written from Seattle. Harris, a fanatical Elvis fan, freely admits that she has a "never-ending quest to put Elvis and real estate into the same post." And she does so with regular success.

How's it been for business? Howling like a hound dog, apparently. Although the popular 360 Digest is aimed at realty agents, her other blogs, Seattle Twist and Unusual Life, focus on potential clients.

Harris finds that a "soft connection" brings the most results. Her unusuallife.com features "unusual homes, amazing architecture and interesting people," and although she's not actually selling real estate there, she features people who might buy or sell at some point.

"I consider this a more gentle practice of real estate," she said, "a more Zen-like approach to a business that is sometimes harsh and brutish."

But unlike Kay's and Harris', many agent blogs seem to lack the pizazz and originality needed to thrust them into the national limelight.

Still, a blog can be a place for buyers and sellers to get to know an agent without having to step out from behind the curtain of anonymity. They can watch from afar and determine whether they "like" the agent and what he or she has to say. When they are comfortable and ready to make a move, they pick up the phone and generally don't need to be pushed into a transaction, agents say.

Cyber round-table

Although some blogs are marketing tools, others are a forum for the thorns in the realty industry's side -- which is where most of the cyber-fur flies.

The housing-bubble bloggers are, in general, people who predicted that the high prices of homes -- the bubble -- wouldn't last forever. Today, they offer a gloomy picture of how low the housing market may fall and do so with a certain glee over having been right.

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