Real estate agent reinvents herself as tech diva
People in Real Estate: Nicole Truszkowski
By Mary Umberger, Tuesday, February 22, 2011.
Editor’s note: Inman News is profiling a series of tech-savvy agents who are using mobile technologies to bring their office to the field, keep in touch with clients, and push forward the transaction process. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us how you or a real estate colleague excels in tech mobility.
In 2010, after owning what she describes as a “fairly traditional” real estate brokerage in Stockton, Calif., for 15 years, Nicole Truszkowski decided to reinvent herself.
She chose to become a technology and social media diva.
She figured she might as well. The recession had whacked the luxury-home niche that was her specialty at the brokerage she owned, so she decided to relocate to California’s Monterey Coast — her “favorite place in the world” — and affiliate with Sotheby’s International Realty in Carmel.
Sensing a relative dearth of tech-savvy agents who cater to international buyers in her new market, she leapt into Facebook, Twitter, blogging, texting, online lead-management, and an avalanche of apps that she said make her job easier — yet nonetheless absorb hours of her workday.
“I’m doing everything that anyone would tell you to do if you’re starting a business — that this is how it should be done,” she said. “I use all my technology and apps to manage it, to work it. But it’s incredibly intensive.”
These days, Truszkowski said, “I live and die by mobile technology.”
She regards herself as her own lab rat.
In Stockton, “I was very successful as an old-fashioned Realtor, in terms of print ads and other stuff,” Truszkowski said. “I had a website but I didn’t maximize it and I didn’t create a strong Internet presence.
“But I had kept up with technology, and I had all that knowledge, so I said, ‘Let’s put it to the test’ ” in Carmel, she said. “I consider myself a test study.”
One measure of success: Five months after launching her website, EstatesofCarmel.com, it scores high in keyword searches, she said.
“In the short time that I’ve done it, I’ve gotten and generated numerous leads from my website and blogging,” she said. “I’ve been working with clients who have come solely from the website, but it will be a better test study of absorption in another 12 months.”
Carmel is a luxury second-home market, she said, and seems to encompass two extremes: buyers, many of them coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, who insist on a tech-driven homebuying process. And many sellers who — well, not to be unkind — haven’t a clue.
“The majority of the people who come here (to buy) now are from out of the area,” she said. “It’s important that you capture the international market. The people who are buying from another country or another state are pretty tech-savvy, pretty experienced and sophisticated buyers.
“I’ve sold properties here to people I’ve never met in person,” she said. “They’ve seen homes through live-streaming virtual tours, through online photography, through my website. Literally, they had never seen the property themselves, though they had a friend, a local person, come to see it, and then they bought it.” The entire closing process, she said, was handled virtually.
On the other hand, she said, she finds many sellers in the Carmel area to be older, and are either inexperienced with Web technology or uninterested in it.
“They would never read my blog, so I’m not going to attract those locals with the brand I’m creating,” she said. So she still engages in some traditional print marketing and what she calls “good old networking.”
“In the case of this (older) community,” she said, “the tech stuff isn’t going to work 100 percent.”
And that “tech stuff,” she said, is time-intensive. Her workday begins, unless she’s booked with clients, with a two-hour perusal of RSS feeds of blogs, Twitter postings, industry news and other content she follows regularly.
“I need to do that for my blogs, for my social media, and stuff that I need to stay current with the market,” she said. “It’s a ton of work.”
She’s convinced that her blogging must have constant replenishment, so although she writes 10 to 15 posts a month herself, she pays a “ghost blogger” to create 10 a month.
Among her most relied-upon tools for managing her businesses — she also still owns the Stockton brokerage, Professional Realty Inc., 146 miles away — is a cloud-based content management system. She manages her website and WordPress blog through it; more important, perhaps, is how she uses it for contact management with clients.
Whenever someone registers at her website, the system sends her a text and keeps track of what they looked at on her site. She said that contact is invaluable for cultivating new clients.
“Every minute I turn on my cell phone, I know if somebody has been there and what they’re doing — the time, the IP address,” she said.
“If it’s a brand-new contact, it’s just going to go into the system,” she said. “I don’t ring them back immediately — that would be kind of invasive. I will check in later and leave them a message, thanking them.”
Though she has found many uses for her iPad, she’s been slightly disappointed in it in one respect, she said.
“I was so excited when the iPad came out,” Truszkowski said. “I thought it would replace my laptop, to a certain extent, but it’s just not the same speed level. If I pull up my website, which is a fairly intricate site, or if I want to do property searches, it’s slow for me.”
Nonetheless, it’s good for listing presentations, she said.
“I do all my presentations virtually and I e-mail that in advance to my client,” she said. “I put it on my iPad and when we’re at the meeting it’s all there. I can pull up my website and a lot of the Internet stuff that I do — it’s slick and it’s awesome.
“I also use it when I show property,” she said. “All the homes that are going to be on tour, I (e-mail) them to myself. The client can look at the pictures as we’re driving.”
The iPad also breaks down barriers with those older clients and others who may be technophobic, she said.
“They love it,” she said. “It’s very touchy-feely, very easy for them to use. You don’t have to be plugged into anything — you’re in their backyard or at their kitchen table.”
But the critical tool, she said, is her phone.
“I’m addicted to my iPhone,” she said. “I can conduct my business from my iPhone, I can do pretty much anything. I literally have my computer with my phone.”
Truszkowski is a creature of apps. Ask her about her favorites, and the list rolls on and on. (See the accompanying list, below.)
She uses the Evernote app as a way to share information, which is particularly useful with her support staff and vendors spread literally across the country, she said. It’s synched with her phone, laptop, iPad and three desktops, she said.
“In my Evernote file, I have a file for my ghost bloggers — I put in content and they know what I want used. I have an assistant in another city, and everything she does is in her file,” she said.
She manages social media contacts with an app by Gist, a company that has been purchased by BlackBerry parent Research In Motion (RIM). “It stores records of each contact for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and RSS feeds,” she said.
The AroundMe app identifies nearby services and amenities — banks, hospitals, etc. — that clients might ask about during showings, and Truszkowski said she finds it particularly helpful if she’s in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
The TitleNow app allows users to download property profiles, transfer histories, and comparable-sales reports.
And SnagIt is “a new one I’m trying right now,” she said. “It’s a screen capture you can incorporate into your blogs.”
Though she does relatively little hard-copy traditional marketing, she’s found that one old standby has retained favor.
“I do a really nice, magnetic calendar because people have told me they love it,” she said. “It has my contact information on it. Who would think that, when there’s a calendar on our iPhone?”
Among the tools Nicole Truszkowski said she uses regularly:
Apps (list provided by Nicole Truszkowski):
eKey: Allows iPhone to open and close real estate lock boxes, read lockbox activity, and track inventory of lockboxes.
ChicagoAgent-CA: Chicago Title app for calculating buyer, seller and lending fees; comparing rent vs. buy costs, PITI ratios, and lending formulas; also available on laptop and iPad.
TitleNow: Download property profiles, transfer histories, comparable sales reports (also on iPad, laptop).
Property I.D.: Order natural-hazard disclosure reports; also on iPad and laptop.
Dragon: Dictate a message and send it out as text or e-mail; on iPad and iPhone.
mSecure: Store e-mail account information, combinations, birthdays, bank accounts, and credit-card information in one location; on iPad and in iTunes.
Realtor.com app: See all nearby homes for sale, open houses, rentals; it maps directions to properties and shows photos; (on iPad and iPhone).
Zillow app: Lists homes for sale on a map; iPhone, iPad.
Trulia app: Lists homes for sale, open houses, rentals and sold properties; iPad and iPhone.
Evernote: Cloud-based app for storing notes, photos and voice messages. “This application syncs with my iPhone, iPad, laptop and three desktop computers,” Truszkowski said. “Via Evernote, I can share selected files with my support team.”
Dropbox: Cloud-based app for storing files, PDF documents, photos; syncs with her iPad, iPhone, laptop, and three desktop computers.
LinkedIn app: Keeps contacts for Truszkowski’s 615-person professional network; laptop, desktop, iPhone and iPad.
Facebook app: For updating her personal Facebook profile, EstatesofCarmel fan page, and following social networks and staying current on the fan pages she follows; for iPhone, iPad, laptop and desktop.
Twitter app: For managing her EstatesofCarmel Twitter page; iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop.
WordPress app: Post directly to her website; iPhone, iPad, laptop and desktop.
Gist: For managing social media contacts, it tracks/ranks social media activity of all contacts in her database; iPhone, iPad, laptop and desktop.
Google Earth: Previews a property when clients have questions about an area she’s unfamiliar with; iPhone, iPad, desktop, laptop.
AroundMe: Answers questions about proximity of businesses and services; iPhone, iPad.
YouTube app: Preview video and virtual tours of homes; iPhone, iPad, desktop, laptop.
iPhone camera: For quick photos and videos to post to a blog, Facebook and Twitter.
Flickr: Web-based program for photo management and sharing; iPhone, laptop, iPad.
Google Voice: All phone lines ring to one phone.
Google Apps: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Talk, Google Reader, Google Maps, etc.
Genius Scan: Scan documents and convert to PDFs.
Bump: Share contact info with multiple iPhones.
Laptop software apps, tech tools and resources (list provided by Nicole Truszkowski):
BOSS: A contact-rating management system for back-office management of her website, through 1ParkPlace, an Internet marketing services provider. It tracks all individuals and clients that register at her website and text-messages her when they’ve registered and each time they’re live on the site. The program ranks each visitor and lists hottest leads likely to convert to buyers or sellers. BOSS has a campaign-management system to stay in contact with Internet leads; it works like Google Analytics to track where all the activity is coming from to her website.
Cirrus Home Search, powered by 1Park Place: the home-search engine Truszkowski uses for her website.
IDX Central: Truszkowski’s website design team and provider of technical support for social media.
Top Producer 8i: Contact-management system, e-mail and listing presentations.
zipForms: Software program for real estate documents; can be e-mailed to clients and can collect electronic signatures; documents can be saved in Dropbox and Evernote.
GoToMeeting: Conduct meetings and presentations remotely.
Skype: Free phone and instant-message system over the Internet; laptop and iPhone.
Mozilla’s Firefox search engine for laptop.
HootSuite: Post/blog to all social media sites in one location.
SureClose: Web-based escrow data-management system to track and store documents.
ToolkitCMA: Web-based designed software program to create listing presentations with detailed comparative market analyses.
Scrib: Web-based program for importing documents for public and private use; documents can be embedded and shared on Twitter, Facebook or WordPress sites.
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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You were sure about the computation – the property you listed was priced fair, but there’s not one who wants to take it. Six months have passed, prices have gone further down, and the property you listed is now considered steep. Was it something you did or did not do that caused you to be in this dilemma?
Regardless how great you are in pricing, chances are you’re still going to find yourself in the middle of an overpriced listing. But there is a way to keep you away from this predicament and it involves taking practical steps during the listing agreement signing.
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One thing is the executive review. It should be done any time during the period of listing the property. This strategy involves your manager and a group of 3 or 4 real estate agents prior to it being up on the housing market. Every member of the executive review team gives a written assessment of the home including its strong points, weak points, and even the projected selling price. Each of this written evaluation goes to the listing agent to aid the seller in pricing the home appropriately.
You can have the executive review team return should you find it necessary to slash the original listing value after a month or so on the housing market. You must chat about what the current value must given considering the current condition of the market. The listing agent won’t give his/her say about the matter until the rest of the executive team leaves. This technique lets the listing agent fix the dilemma since he/she did not say anything about reducing the value.
Uncalculated probabilities – No matter how good it is in the seller’s market, the likelihood of more than 25 percent of the properties getting sold in any given month is, well – least likely. This means that 75 percent of properties on the list won’t be sold during the month they were listed. In the current housing market, several price ranges stay still for as much as 5 years. With that given, a mere 2 percent – and sometimes less – of the properties listed will catch a buyer in any given month – and that means the rest – which is 98 percent- will just sit on the market. If sellers are aware of these figures, they won’t be fooling themselves about the price their property and will learn how to price it realistically
Home sellers can be quite stubborn and stand by the fantasy land price they’ve tagged on their property. If they refuse to be realistic even after constant persuasion, make a deal that when you’ve already had 10 showings of their listing and still no prospect buyers, he/she will agree to slash the price. By the time you take the listing they should already have signed the price reductions.
One way to get instant comments from both buyers and agents regarding the value, the facilities, and how comparable the property is to other listed properties is through post-showing surveys. If there are a lot of comments from buyers regarding the price and how it is too high, it’s going to be trouble for sellers refute that they are indeed not priced appropriately.
One proven technique is to get a price cut whenever sellers note down a counteroffer at a reduced asking value. This way, buyers will be prompted to take action. Moreover, a lot of sellers get dejected when they get a ridiculously low bid. This will be a good moment to tell the sellers about considering the offer, and that it is better than being disheartened and not selling at all.
But there are times that you are going to be dealing with a seller that is too caught up on pricing his/her property unrealistically and there’s nothing you can do or say to make him/her realize that it is not appropriate for the current market condition. Sometimes, you just got to throw your hands up and walk away and let their properties out of the listing.
The mortgage crisis maybe far from over, but Americans still want to be a proud homeowner. In spite the mortgage meltdown, signs are surfacing and they tell that now may be a good chance for investors and homebuyers.
But first and foremost, the root of this mortgage mayhem.
Homeownership was once touted as the blessing that promised prosperity, self-determination, and liberty. But since then, getting into homeownership became the least freeing thing; it became a prison that still holds almost 11 million Americans captive.
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The recipe for this disaster? Ground low interest rates, discourtesy of Federal Reserve blunders and the manipulation of Chinese currency, gave way to a housing boom, the supreme real estate bubble, and then the disagreement.
But the good news is that’s old news. Pershing Square Capital’s fund operator and value investor Bill Ackman, who, through shorting housing-related bond insurer Municipal Bond Insurance Association in the end times of the housing boom, is demanding its resurgence.
According to the latest Fannie Mae survey, 66% of Americans still thinks that purchasing a home is a worthy investment. It is significantly lower compared to the 83% back in the boom days. The Conference Board also reported that the number of consumers looking to purchase a home in 6 months dropped to 1.7% last November from 2.2% prior.
So, is it a good time yet to purchase a house?
Economic data coming in do not attest to it, since the momentary increase from the tax credit of the homebuyers dies away. Prices of homes are dropping and so are the sales. It is a chore to get a loan and there’s hardly any construction activity going on. And today, mortgage rates are the only ones that go upward as the bond market prices in higher inflation and more solid growth in the economy.
This is a message that still rings a bell on people’s heads. Despite the entire dilemma surrounding the housing market, most Americans still go for homeownership.
The improvement of the economy and the creation of jobs will help on the resurrection of the housing market.
Why now is the time to buy?
- Prices of homes are by far the lowest in a generation.
- Fuss-free negotiating with forced sellers.
- Affordable financing
If you are a firm believer of the housing rebound, you know that the most apparent way to profit from it is purchase a home. Specifically if rates of interest soar, anxious buyers and low down rates spells atypical purchasing opportunity.
The kill may not be for good, but for the time being, construction activities for the atrocious homes of slight architectural distinction – which were brought up in Y2K – are down.
According to National Association of Realtors’ vice president Paul Bishop, the average-sized home being built today is smaller. He added that NAR’s survey shows the same thing as well. Homebuyers these days are inclined to acquire slightly smaller abodes than homebuyers of a few years back. NAR’s study is attested by the American Institute of Architects, which conducts every quarter a survey of design trends for homes. In 2005, AIA added this question in its survey: “Are the homes you are working on in your area getting bigger, smaller, about the same?” Every year since it was added, a higher percentage of architects agreed that homes were diminishing in size.
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Last year’s survey indicated that nearly 60% of the respondents agreed that homes were becoming smaller, whereas the rest said they were just the same. Practically none of the answers showed they were becoming larger.
Several reasons account for the McMansion trend, the main being so much cheap money was accessible. Second, monstrous homes were worth the risk because the approval for “bigger” was augmented. And it was not merely the consumers going for larger dwellings. Home developers were just as culpable.
Foremost Communities Inc. in Irvine California founder and president Steve Cameron noted that from year 2003 to 2006 – which were boom times for the housing market – builders excuse for land prices was to put up grotesque abodes. He added that home builders could justify compensating high costs for land by doing perfunctory for larger homes.
Also, within that 3-year period, mortgage money was very accessible, so homebuyers took the opportunity to have a huge home regardless whether they need it or not.
But these days, a lot of homebuyers are not eligible for big mortgages, so they’re just looking for what they really need.
Paul Bishop noted that the economics of building a McMansion have changed. Homebuyers are now sticking to economic realities; construction costs and land values in relation to what buyers are eager to pay at this moment are not in sync. Today, big homes means jumbo mortgage, and financing the purchase of that kind of home is difficult. The financial side of having a large home is quite alarming, to say the least.
AIA’s chief economist Kermit Baker, who also happens to be a senior research fellow at Harvard University, said that homeowners are aware that the days of appreciation are not resurging so they won’t be acquiring homes for the mere sake of investing. These days, homebuyers see homes as a usual consumer goods rather than assets.
So, does the sun set on bigger homes for good, or will the appreciation for McMansion-type of spaces resurge once the housing market gets back firmly on its feet?
Baker suggested that the shift to smaller spaces could be long term. Reasons that accounted for the increase in home size are going to be hard to see again.