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From Tassie to Texas

Earlier this year, Deanne Lamprey, Principal of First National Real Estate Burnie, Tasmania, took the opportunity to attend the Prudential Conference in Texas. She gleaned valuable insight into the state of the US market, picked up some marketing tips and found that Australia is leading the real estate world in several areas. These are excerpts from the blog Deanne published about her experience.

5 March 2010
Qantas Club lounge in LA is very different to Australian Qantas Club – no internet connectivity, all charged even though we found a free wi-fi spot, but unable to connect. Nothing complimentary – all cash or vouchers! Paid with the VISA card and didn’t realise we had to tip! This is our first time to the States, so a lot to learn… how much to tip, when to tip. Even the straws are weird – just bigger than toothpicks!

Picked up the Los Angeles Times – a weird sized paper, tall and skinny… Business section reported-pending home sales drop 7.6%. In another story “30-year mortgage rates dip below 5% again”

I think we are all starting to feel the effects of the long plane flight with minimal sleep – our petals are starting to fall off! 50+ emails have come through on my phone since departing Australia yesterday, and a couple of voice messages… something to deal with after I get some sleep in a real bed.

Great to see the team back at the office had a productive day yesterday, one confirmed sale, two new listings (one of which was mine). The best thing about our Utopia system is the world still thinks I’m working regardless of where I am. Managed to update my Facebook status when I did have internet access so everyone can keep track of me.

Onward to Austin at 12:55pm today and arrive around 6:30pm. I think we will all have a quiet night so we will be rejuvenated and refreshed for the next few days. Conference doesn’t start until Sunday so we will have a free day tomorrow taking in the sights and may get a little shopping.

Arrived at the Hyatt Regency with a second wind after some shut-eye on the plane. Off for a bite to eat – at a place called “Aussies”. All Australian named meals (burgers and steaks) and Kangaroo wings! $9.00 jugs of beer, the interior decked out with surfboards and outside provided beach volleyball even with sand. Meals fantastic!

6 March 2010
Off sightseeing today… our long track down to Capitol Building. Not much shopping in the city centre – mainly business so a real central business district. I have seen only a couple of “For Lease” signs. Picked up a couple of real estate mags – one called the Real Estate Book (a very small full colour mag of 24 pages) which states it is updated daily with an online link (RealEstateBook.com). These can be found on most corners for free alongside the daily papers, which require a coin to retrieve them from the “bin”. The other mag was Apartment Finder (apartmentfinder.com) also free and quite thick and covered Austin and surrounding areas – this is a monthly edition. Their style of marketing is quite different to ours – very big head shots of the realtors – with their details mostly at the top of the advertising – and a lot of husband and wife teams. The text quite small, and very abbreviated, the agents’ details are far bigger than the brand name. Maybe this is the norm – I am yet to find out how real estate works in this part of the world.

I love the phrase “Integrated media sells homes!” I will use that back home. I am no marketing expert, but their ads seem very busy and to focus on the agent more so than the properties. Is this because there is so much competition or because the agents have big egos? Another observation is that they are really pushing the “opportunistic” marketing conditions. One ad said “5 Reasons to Buy Now

  1. Selection
  2. Low rates
  3. Market adjusted Prices
  4. Lifestyle enhancement
  5. The guidance of your real estate professional”

First Home buyers are also catered for. One ad states “$8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers” and has been extended to those that sign a contract by April 30 and who close by end of June. Another niche market seems to be “Distressed Sales”. One agency will provide a free list of foreclosure properties. Does negative advertising sell homes?

7 March 2010
We have just returned from our first day of the Prudential Conference – all I can say is how lucky the members in First National are! Our convention kit contains very little, and no giveaways. First National Convention is a dream by comparison!

The opening was great – national anthem sung live, another live performance, a fireworks display and then a speech was then made by Earl Lee, President, Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services Inc, who introduced the new CEO.

Visited the trade exhibition where we saw “green loans” on offer. Touch screen TVs were set up with participants answering a series of questions about the environment. With First National having already worked on energy efficiency, I was able to pass with flying colours.

Had a long conversation with the guys from the New York Times. I showed them my website and they were so impressed with the layout, ease of use etc. They were amazed when I explained to them that our listings are pushed directly to the major portals. Apparently in the US someone is employed to do that! Online is quite big for them – they spend heavily in developing online applications for phones so people can connect to the news online. They made the comment that Australia is more advanced with technology for real estate than the US.

8 March 2010
First session on the Monday was with David Nour, author of Relationship Economics and The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital. He shared his insights on the art and science of building business through social networking. He spoke on the social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and a few more and emphasised if used correctly, they can open incredible opportunities for business building and strengthening relationships with our clients. The top five social media sites are:

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. Linked In
  4. Youtube
  5. Slideshare.net

A selection of workshops were next on the agenda. I chose to sit in on “Poke, Buzz and Tweet: Social networking that Pays. E-mail marketing and automated telephone systems move over, there’s a new way to build client loyalty and gain business. With more than 1 in 5 people accessing Facebook alone in a given month, social networking has become a serious marketing medium. The old adage, ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ has gone digital.”

This session was about viral e-marketing tools such as blogging, social networking, podcasting and YouTube which are undeniably hot right now in the US, and we have had access to for some time but are becoming more popular in Australia amongst real estate agents. 2.0 tools are all the rage in the US at the moment. Tip: once a day update your status on Facebook. Write on three peoples’ walls daily.

For the second session I thought the topic “Great Recruiters Use Proven Tools” was a good idea – we don’t always get it right when recruiting new salespeople. Unfortunately no relevance to me whatsoever.

Funny talking to people and when they ask where are you from? and I reply with Australia (dare not mention Tasmania, I would have confused them more) they have assumed that I have relocated here! When they realise I am only visiting they reply with “I have heard Australia is a great place, must visit some time!”

9 March 2010
Peter Sheahan from Australia spoke on Day Two of the Convention and seemed to be received very well. “The real money gets made in the cracks, and the opportunity for mind-blowing success is all around us,” Peter said. Our challenges, he pointed out, are that we are conditioned by our experience, blinded by our business model and conned by the media to believe that there are no new ideas and that we are susceptible to the current economic times. He spoke about turning opportunity into profit.

More workshop sessions in the afternoon. The first workshop I went to was “Build your business with an armchair and a laptop”. This is a very diluted version of our Utopia system… the US is so far behind in their technology compared to ours. The final session was named “The Need for Feeds: RSS feeds and blog marketing skills”. This session was great and simplified the use of blogs and the need for blogs now to have a mix of not only text but video and audio which helps with SEO and the all important Google rankings. This is a fantastic tool to drive more and more clients to our website, blogging gives our web visitors a voice!

Overall the convention gave me an insight into how difficult the US market has been. There were workshops to become well versed in how to handle a “short sale” and dealing with foreclosures. The current market seems to be geared towards the first home buyer market, investors and foreclosure investors (foreclosure rehabbers).

The news on real estate has been steadily improving, pointing to a historic buying opportunity for consumers and a better year in residential real estate. Home prices seem to be bottoming. The freefall seems to be over but the market has a lot of questions to be answered before they get clear on what’s happening.

Our taxi driver on the way to Austin Airport says the government is scamming the rate payers by increasing prices on properties and feels that Austin is very overpriced. The higher the price, the more taxes the government received. A lot of people came into Austin from other overpriced areas looking for bargains, purchased thinking they would make money if sold the property in a couple of weeks/months to find that they are now stuck with them.

On the news recently Hawaii and a few other states announced that they could not afford to pay their tax refunds so they are holding on to them for the time being. Another sign that the US economy is still very volatile.

10 March 2010
Driving around the streets of LA, Hollywood, Beverley Hills and surrounds the architecture is very different to ours, a lot of apartments. A couple of buying opportunities if you are looking for a penthouse close to the LAX airport – between $2m and $5m. Overlooking the marina – $25m! Not a lot of for sale or lease signs around the streets. Another thing I noticed is that they don’t really mention auctions. It seems that auctions that are done are the foreclosures and some commercial properties.

I think the economy is still quite in disarray over here, but I don’t think the Americans want to know about that – kind of like the sleeping giant and they are definitely still in denial. I just read that half of Kansas City public schools are to close at the end of the school year in a bid to erase a $50 million budget shortfall. A job loss of 700 – including 285 teachers.

In my short time here it seems that Australia is much more advanced in technology, and to some extent, real estate practices – which surprised me. I didn’t pick up anything mind blowing – just reminded me of things that were in the back of my mind that I have to do and will move closer to the top of the list.

The average minimum real estate office here would have about 50 people and they also have branch offices. A lot of realtors work from home. Agents all run their business within a business and are responsible for everything – even down to P & L losses. The broker/manager is responsible for providing the infrastructure e.g. office equipment, reception, company website, premises etc. Each salesperson to become accredited to use each set of Prudential’s tools e.g. e-marketing accredited, listing accredited and so on.

Their four new products for this year will be:
* Prudential media centre which produces e-cards, e-mags, and presentations for print or online
* Prudential.mobi
* Online rental payment calculator which matches properties with loan payments that equal your rental payments
* Prudential will also launch that capability to share listings to the social networking sites.

First National members have already access to Fusion and Utopia, which will cover two of these products, and they are far superior to what we saw at the convention – Aussies win!

You can read more of Deanne’s observations in her blog at http://burnierealestateblog.com.au/category/travel/

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