Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Advancing Your Brand Through Diversity

As the U.S. continues to diversify, the real estate industry becomes increasingly fragmented and specialized. However, just like the country where you can have a Native American, Asian American, African-American, Hispanic American, or any other combination of ethnicity followed by "American," any well-run firm would benefit to have a diverse staff to operate well in a diverse community. Diversification is a natural progression and not an option, particularly where it prevails.

Here in San Francisco, California where Anglo (or Euro-Americans?) represent a slight minority, and the rest of the population represent the proverbial melting pot of ethnicity (the diversity that makes this area an exciting microcosm of cultures, languages, traditions and international flavors), companies embracing diversification tend to thrive, while those that don't, with the exception of bigger companies with a history, are either adapting or will disappear under the weight of the economic changes that continue to affect our industry.

For instance, those firms that have adapted typically have teams of one ethnic group or another, e.g., one office in the geographic area popular among Asians have a contingent of agents that not only speak the language but share the culture and are effective at serving that community, thus creating alternative income flows to the firm as a result. They accomplish this by specifically targeting both the public as well as the agents they need to attend to that public. Some companies embracing this mindset in the heyday of the first-time buyer, no money down frenzy established groups deliberately catering to buyers that were targeted by the language or the ethnicity, rightly or not. The idea of diversification isn’t to single out a community for questionable purposes, but rather to cater to the existing needs of the same.

As a former manager in a firm in the San Francisco bay area I witnessed how the company’s culture would spill over to the clients they attracted and served, albeit in a hap-hazardous fashion as opposed to a planned strategy. However, a company must establish a clear objective in undertaking any strategy to reach a specific niche, and what it is prepared to do to make inroads therein.

For starters, a company with such a marketing plan would do well to determine the size, customs, nature and shopping trends of the target group; not unlike the demographic studies done by any major franchise organization prior to undertaking a new location. Alas many real estate companies leave most of these sorts of investigative steps to random samplings, if done at all. A good broker/manager or company leader reviews where business is coming from and goes about creating paradigm shifts either in the recruitment or in the outreach, e.g., marketing, promotions, etc., for such endeavors.

One company where I witnessed this type of insight was a firm that catered to the Latino community in their midst by hiring predominantly Latino agent, in spite of the owner of the company being of Asian decent! Another firm that was located in a predominantly Asian community focused its marketing campaigns in that community by placing strategic billboards in the language of choice and attracting that populace to the firm. Another firm run by a middle-eastern gentleman attracted his client base through television advertising catering to “his” community through targeted ads in the language of choice.

This is a smart approach, albeit, as I pointed out earlier, hap-hazardous. A firm looking to stay viable in a changing economy needs to create an environment where such creative outreach isn’t left to whim or accident or worse, to the imagination of a well meaning agent or group of agents in the office. I recall a major franchise attempting to do something along these lines early on. They went about it in a way that seemed to be right – they even bought a magazine in the target market’s language! However, without a guiding principle, or someone who understood the niche well enough, this quickly went down a predictable path. The company shut down the magazine and all but abandoned their drive to attract the community they targeted.

This diversification isn’t solely about producing marketing pieces in the native language – something that can backfire due to poorly translated concepts if not wording. Rather it is about developing a complete strategy and creating the right venue to accomplishing this – from marketing materials to appropriate dissemination points, e.g., radio, print, fliers, to telecommunications and websites and having the right, trained personnel, including a leader, to complement that effort.

If done properly a company will reap a greater benefit from this type of diversification and keep greater control of a changing market and the niche it is creating or attracting. And it isn’t about leaving any one agent or group of agents to their own devices because this leads to losing control of the very vehicle that is being developed.

Presently there are numerous companies following this trend. However, many of them are doing so through the efforts of an agent or two, who, with some insights have stumbled upon virgin, and potentially lucrative territory. Lets face it, many non-traditional markets lack of information and leadership that is prevalent elsewhere, so it isn’t too difficult to see that one well heeled agent can capture a greater share of a given market. A company could do much more if they created the right approach with the right resources – and it isn’t about investing a great sum of money, after all, look around and see how many banks; title companies, home warranty companies, and other service providers now provide gratis many marketing materials in different languages. What it does require is someone to take the lead to create the right blend of resources, facilities and opportunities to attract the (untapped or under served) group(s) you see, through your investigations, as a viable source of your future business. Oh, and remember to bring on the right people to help you serve them properly – in their language where ever possible.

There are numerous example of how effective this strategy is throughout the country. Some companies have grown to become larger firms just following a simple approach – find a need and fill it, oh, and you don’t have to speak the language, but having the right key people who do is the way to go

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware applies to Realtors too, if only to Beware

Time and again buyers are reminded that when buying a house a prudent thing to do is exercise due diligence in investigating the target house entirely, from neighborhood conditions to possible natural hazards, and as of late, the area’s crime statistics. However, how often do Realtors heed such advice when working areas and homes unfamiliar to them? A recent story of an upcoming trial of a suspected rapist shows why, in addition to “Caveat Emptor,” Realtors, or anyone in service or sales may do well to remember “Praemonitus, praemunitus,” or being forewarned is forearmed

On any given day the average real estate agent is involved with numerous task that pits them face to face with potential buyers or sellers, who, for all intents and purpose, are essentially strangers. As a result of such goings on many otherwise cautious people let their guard down as demonstrated by the case of a woman real estate agent (name withheld), who in early 2008 was allegedly raped and nearly killed by what appeared to be a potential client looking to buy a house.

The unsuspecting agent was the victim of Shawn David Yates, 36, of Corona, who posing as a would be buyer, identifying himself as "Ron Jones" arranged to see a house on Silvestre Court, in Riverside County, at 10 a.m. on March 7, 2008. Without a care, the agent went about showing the house as she’s probably done dozens of times before. However, this time the result was much more than an offer she couldn’t refuse, it was an offer that nearly cost her her life. Yates allegedly ordered the woman to the ground while pointing what appeared to be a gun at her. He bound her wrists and ankles and held the gun to her head while he raped her. Yates proceeded to beat her on the head with the gun. He threatened to kill her, and perhaps would have were it not for the agent’s astuteness, who decided to fight back, "…I'm not going to let him kill me without fighting. I'm going to go down on my terms, not his," she recalls thinking.

Stories like these point out the importance of applying a buddy system and of doing the right things prior to going out to meet any person, regardless of how you came to know of them. Due to the use of the Internet sites where anonymity is paramount, these situations can develop a lot easier. The use of “social networks” makes agents more accessible to the buying and selling community, particularly when you see how much detail is put on these. I venture to say that it also makes them more vulnerable.

The case of this crime and this criminal have thrust into the limelight the importance of exercising common sense in dealing with people in general, especially for those whose daily routine puts them in similar situations. No one is saying that we need to be ultra sensitive to the possibilities of being victimized this way. However, many a time in the routine of selling a house any agent faces such possibility, particularly at the onset. If nothing else, there should be a safety measure incorporated into the agent’s activities. For instance, the agent who is independent rarely confides in anyone I’m going here or there, but rather “books” an appointment to meet someone at the house without so much as a clue who that someone may be.

Incidents like this are not uncommon, there have been others less alarming, e.g., someone showing a house and removing personal effects – common where lock-boxes are used to facilitate showings. Others, such as open house, are prone to having too many people overwhelm an agent, particularly when the house has too many rooms or too many floors to physically man or supervise when more than two people show up at any given moment.

Again, real estate agents being a trusting sort, have accepted some of these situations as “normal” but simple techniques could minimize the risks, if not eliminate them altogether. One way is partnering with another agent; another is to show by appointment (at the office first), to people who have been “screened” by pre-approving their credit and financial position – something that automatically makes that prospect more viable as a possible buyer, and, records their particulars where people will know about them should the need arise.

The case of Yates, who faces seven felonies, including attempted murder, kidnapping and three counts of rape stemming from the 2008 attack, was readily solved because fortunately the real estate agent survived, and the perpetrator left a blood trail leading to his nearby home where police quickly found incriminating evidence and arrested him – leading to his trial.

If nothing else, this case should serve as a wake up call to anyone in any service business, not just Realtor, to exercise caution just like the exhortations to buyers when buying a house, “Caveat Emptor” only for Realtors it should be “Praemonitus, praemunitus”; forewarned is forearmed.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Where Have All The Gurus Gone?

There was a time when getting a real estate license was a formal affair where you would go to licensing school, participate in a classroom setting, took a series of exams, studied -- really studied, then prepared for the dreaded state exam, with all the horror stories of how hard it was to pass it!

And yet, looking back at this from where we are today, facing the inordinate challenges brought on by calamitous lending practices of late, and the mounting foreclosures, pondering the question "...is it time to get a 9 to 5 job?" because the business isn't working the way it is supposed to, we put things in a different perspective.

Some even consider doing something more creative like getting a coach, mentor, or guru to beat them over the head with, "do this," "do that," "do it this way," "don't do it that way," "buy this special high intensity training," etc.
I thought Mike F., Floyd W., Roger B., Joe S., or even Tom H. had strategies to make this business simple, fun and easy (or even "exciting"). Well, if that is the case, what happened? Where have all the gurus and their instantaneous success strategies gone? Obviously, it isn't working if...

1. Agents are leaving the business
2. Licensees are resorting to work two jobs just to make ends meet
3. Dreamers keep thinking this is just a phase and the sun will come out
tomorrow (without doing much to change anything)
4. Folks are looking for an economic cushion while they figure out a better way to do this business, and
5. Some are venturing into enterprises such as, multi-level marketing

Where have all the gurus gone? What happened to the promises of "million dollar" production?

Someone out there is making money on the downside -- it is a given. I just finished re-reading a book by Robert G. Hagstrom, Jr. ("The Warren Buffett Way") on, whom else, Warren Buffet, you know, the billionaire investment "Sage of Omaha".

Well, he says that the shrewd investor invests in the down cycle, and avoids economic indicators, forecasters, so-called experts, analysts, and the likes. Hmm, doesn't that sound like he's saying, he avoids the gurus?

So what makes him so successful (and rich, the richest man on the planet by some accounts)? How does he do it? For starters, he isn't selling real estate! Moreover, he's buying. But what exactly does he buy?

In addition to real estate, which he buys indirectly (when he buys majority stakes -- stocks -- of companies, e.g., Washington Post, Coca Cola, Time-Warner, Sees Candies, etc.), he's buying IT -- the company, the people, the brand, the real estate, etc.

Warren Buffett buys what he, himself, through careful and methodical analysis, determines is the appreciable and potential value of under valued, under performing companies (in spite of the analysts advice to the contrary), and he succeeds because of this.

Now if we are to take this as a basis for someone whose advice we might want to follow, what lessons can we extract from this advice? Might we consider Warren Buffett a good guru to follow in our real estate endeavors? Let's see.

· Is he rich? Yes.
· Does he know how to make money? Yes.
· Is he happy? (By his own account), Yes.
· Does he know what he's doing? Yes.

And believe it or not, in spite of his enormous success he admits to making mistakes along the way. Imagine that!

Well-meaning as many of the real estate gurus may appear to be, too many of them are only in it for the money! There's nothing wrong with that. Who of us wouldn't want to have a successful business that thrives on someone buying what we're selling (even if what we're selling is "common sense")? Imagine if you could package (and sell) this:

1. Teaching sales scripts
2. Reminding people to practice drill and rehearse sales strategies
3. Extolling the benefits of knocking on doors daily
4. Detailing how to create a simplistic business plan
5. Showing how others create marketing pieces to copy from
6. Reminding people to specialize in a given market
7. Promoting the work by referral principle
8. Selling sales tapes/CDs., etc.

Sound familiar? How many of us haven't bought that bit of that common sense? I know I have participated in dozens of such nonsensical presentations by well-intentioned presenters who might have sold something at some time but now devote their livelihood to selling Realtors “common sense”.

So what, if anything can we take from this? Simply put, yes, it is important to learn from someone who knows more than we do. However, it isn't necessary to pay $2,000 or more (per event), as a couple of these gurus charge only to get common sense or some pseudo "coaching" designed to get you thinking or working effectively.

If you're smart, and obviously you have to be in order to have gotten your license, or explore the possibilities, then you're also smart enough to know how to find useful information through the many forums available (including this one). Heck, if you're even applying a little common sense, you'll save some money and pick up training materials or books or tapes or whatever from your public library or from the REALTORS resources -- FREE!

I for one am not downplaying the importance of education or training. However, I don't believe that many trainer's good intentions are worth as much as some of them want to charge, and believe me, some of them know how much the top agents make (millions?) and therefore figure, I want a little of that too!

Wherever the gurus are, God Bless them. For the rest of us, let's get practical -- we're all business people, let's make our business work with an effective plan, with a consistent work ethic, with a positive approach, with a good crew, and with the end in mind.

Along the way, if we do want to visit a guru, let's go to the library and check out their book first before making an investment.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Loqqad | Estamos para servirle -- aqui o all (en los EEUU, San Francisco, CA para ser exactos)

Loqqad | Estamos para servirle -- aqui o all (en los EEUU, San Francisco, CA para ser exactos)

Speculations on speculator suppression | first tuesday journal online

Speculations on speculator suppression | first tuesday journal online

Latinos Were The Hardest Hit in the Real Estate Meltdown.

Recently there has been a bevy of reports about the continuing real estate and mortgage crisis. Many may conclude that the word “crisis” probably no longer applies, especially because of the rescue programs the government instituted to shore up the economy. But wait a minute, one thing rescuing the economy through aid to “Wall Street” – helping the largest banks, e.g., Bank of America, Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan, Chase, etc., it is quite another to impact “Main Street,” where you and I live, more so, if English, if it is spoken at all, is spoken as a second language, creating the breeding grounds for the resulting abuses against Latinos.

Latinos in California, represent about 36 percent of the population, and for the period between 2004 and 2008, at the height of the real estate buying frenzy, received nearly 30 percent of the originated ("higher-rate") home loans. However, Latinos also fell victim to foreclosures at a higher rate than most – nearly 47 percent of these households faced foreclosure!

According to a report from the Centers for Responsible Lending, 48.2 percent of the total homes in foreclosure in California from 2006 to 2009 were of Latino homeowners, and nearly 35 percent of these were concentrated in the state's Central Valley, the area between Sacramento and San Joaquin counties.

Obviously, there is a big problem here, and one that has no quick solution. The wave of foreclosures is forecasted to continue, and alas, with these findings confirming the inequities of the way houses were sold and the alarming concentration of the abuses of any one segment of the population, it is paramount that meaningful change take place to prevent a recurrence of such abuses.

Dealing with these ongoing trends in real estate, it is important to help Latinos understand where they stand, if they are to get out of their immediate predicament in the best fashion, particularly because they continue to be victimized only now through mortgage rescue schemes. It is important that anyone who wants to buy a house be better informed and, perhaps, required to take some primer on the way houses are bought and loans underwritten – in their native tongue, if need be, to avoid a recurrence of both the conditions leading to these types of events or facilitate such abuses.

Likewise, the real estate professional must be more than just a salesperson to an unsuspecting customer, s/he should be an advocate of fair dealings to all buyers, regardless of their heritage or surname, in this way, we all will benefit and find that the repeat and referral business we'll derive from doing so will be of a happier sort instead of the sorry one that foreclosure represents for all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The not so merry merry-go-round of real estate.

I was chatting with a would-be buyer for about the 200th time about the "why" or the "how come" of this or that, mostly having to do with the inordinate delays we've experienced with a "standard" home purchase. You see, his brother told him he could buy a house relatively simply two years after he declared bankruptcy, but of course, he didn't tell him all the hoops he'd have to jump through to get the right financing.

Well, as luck might have it, this last discussion lead to his throwing up his arms and saying, enough is enough. "I want to cancel the deal!" And so it went, another eight months worth of showing, driving up and down the area, making at least 25 bids on as many houses and working with several lenders to make this happen. In the end, what did I have to show for it? Absolutely nothing!

The most frustrating part, if we're looking at the financial side, is that it wound up costing quite a bit when you factor time and gas, and tolls and all the other sundry things that go into making the typical real estate deal happen these days.

Regrets, if any, are the challenges that we have to overcome on your average transaction these days. You see, the last escrow I had with these folks, and there were a total of four all together over that period of time, was going as well as might be expected with a "short sale", but when the FHA appraiser came to do their appraisal, they wound up doing a home inspection on top of that! When did appraisers become inspectors, I asked, and the curt answer was, that FHA required them to note anything that the house exhibited that was a health and safety issue. Of course, that makes perfect sense, but tell it to a buyer who now blames you for the five month delay, the extra fees it cost him for the appraisal, the loss of time off work to go and come, and on, and on...

You can see what I mean when I say, the not so merry merry-go-round of real estate. Oh, there's another call, "... you say you want to buy a house? and that you're a first time buyer? and that you have little or not money? and that you want the best..." Oh well, until we figure out how to sell without the real people, don't expect that you get paid for anything other than solving peoples housing problems -- right?

Go out and make it a great day, oh, and remember to smile!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Se Habla Español - Working With Latinos

As the debate on immigration reform heats up in the political arena, and the numbers of raids by ICE and reports of these in the news continue to give an alarming glimpses of a plight prevalent to and affecting a large segment of the Latino community, an obvious fact is sorely missing from most reports, and that is that Latinos, whether here legally or not, represent a huge economic force in all communities where they reside. After all, the money they earn allows them to pay rent, buy cars, put food on the table, support worthy causes, and a number of other things that make some industries show impressive profits, and a reason why many keep paying for promotions in the media catering to this group – in their native language, “Español”. Let’s consider what is important to work this market, because, as the saying goes, “…if you can’t beat them, join them…”

Evaluating how best to approach the Latino market starts no different than how one might approach any other market being served. The main difference is language. However, it is also important to note that not all Latinos who speak Spanish or have brown skin are of “Mexican” descent. This belief is a gross mistake made by many a well-meaning advertiser. The term “Latino” is a broad-brush stroke used to denote this group. Keep in mind though, that national pride plays into people’s psyche and is a deeply rooted and unforgiving concept, particularly if you make such errors in your marketing theme.

What else is important besides political correctness on addressing folks in this group? The U.S. Latino market is comprised of natives from over 20 countries from Central and South America, the Caribbean and Spain, with a large percentage of Mexican descent. Any marketing to reach this diverse group, where customs differ, is more than just translating exiting materials or messages. It is more about conveying a sales message and theme apropos to the respective segments within the larger group, e.g., Mexican, Salvadorian, Cuban, etc., perhaps in Spanish. The question is how can you do this for such a divergent group? Any notion to reach all Latinos with a uniform message is misguided. The best you could hope for is being effective in percentages.

Although Latinos share a common language, albeit with certain differences in dialects and/or pronunciation, the diversity of their origins, the assimilation, the education level, and the social economic level all affect attempts to lump your marketing message into one global campaign. Making things a bit more interesting is the next generation of Latinos, where yet another factor surfaces, that of communicating a specifically targeted message predominantly in English interspersed with Spanish – “Spanglish,” if you will.

Advertisers and media companies will highlight the usual breakdowns found in “regular” markets, e.g., 18-35 year olds, upper middle class, level of education, etc., to explain their target markets, as in the media of choice, radio. However, there are varying degrees of receptivity among any such demographics. For instance, Mexican 18-35 year olds may be inclined to listen to a musical genre known as "tex-mex or Banda," Salvadorians in that age group may lean towards Reaggeton or Salsa. Thus, if you want to reach one group you may have to advertise in one type of station, and do something different for another group. No one type of media will work well for all Latinos, so choosing the target group carefully, evaluating its potential return on investment (ROI), is the place to start.

What are the best communication channels that will reach the highest segment of the Latino population? With the advent of the worldwide web, many are resorting to the Internet. However, Latinos as a percentage, represent a very small segment of Internet connected groups, opting instead to word of mouth advertising or television or radio, unless you’re talking about the next generation younger segment, who is mostly connected via wireless devices, e.g., I-phone, etc. Surprisingly, print advertising is among the least effective methods, yet popular still for the publisher, as there are plenty of weekly papers catering to the Latinos with news content, albeit a weak choice for a cornerstone to any effective marketing strategy. In order of importance and reach, and possibly cost, and perhaps effectiveness, we have:

Television (49% of U.S. Hispanics watch television)
Radio (The entire family may listen to one station and tune in, on average, 26 - 30 hours per week)
Print (Minority newspapers are an inseparable part of the local minority community.)
Event Marketing (including sponsorships) (Events create excitement, reinforce image, and allow you to hand-deliver your marketing message face-to-face or in a venue where this is permitted.)
Direct Response (including telephone marketing) (Latino households are 3.5 times more likely to respond to a direct mail solicitation than a non-Hispanic household; and telephone solicitations are still an effective way to reach this group, provided it is done in a professional manner and in their native language)
Seminars, Workshops & Presentations (Although this approach sometimes does not fare well, complemented with the other types of promotions, it is a highly effective method to capture client for future business development)

As is true in any marketing campaign, one can certainly spend much more money and diversify to their advertiser’s content. However, any prudent businessperson will do a bit more research to the select targets within the larger Latino population they want to reach, e.g., studying buying habits, income levels, brand loyalty, and other such matrix, and then conclude on the selected group, and choose the best media to reach it. Test marketing on a smaller scale is always appropriate and a prudent thing to do, in spite of what any of the representatives may try to tell you.

Obviously novice entrants will grovel along doing what well-meaning media executives may suggest, believing that they ought to know, they work in that venue. However, many such executives are little more than poorly trained order takers, and culturally relevant marketing is more than just running a promotion that was effective in another venue or language, expecting the same level of success. There are countless examples of failed best intentions. For instance, a classic is the “Nova” (one of GM’s model cars). The term means “Doesn’t Go” in any Spanish-speaking country, so to market something that “doesn’t go” even with the fanciest of pieces or promos isn’t going to change that – RESULTS, a promotional flop.

Marketing that gets results comes from a careful study of the Latino subgroup one is targeting (after careful research of the buying power of that group, of course), and establishing a promotional campaign that is sensitive to what is important to that group. Obviously, this will mean an investment, but at the end of the day, the ROI will certainly leave a nice positive number on your balance sheet with increasing numbers of loyal buyers, and with a little care, a repeating trend with their referrals.

Oh, and let’s not forget, the growing numbers in their up and coming offspring, even though they may have transformed the language, still, Se Habla Español.