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19 March 2010

Week in Review: Things We Liked from the Week That Was

At last, spring has arrived! During the harsh winter months, you might have thought animals were the only creatures hibernating, but apparently home buyers and builders go into a similar deep sleep as well. Due to blizzards in the northeast and south, housing construction fell 5.9 percent in February. (But, happily, building permits were up an estimated 11.3 percent year-over-year.) As the ground begins to thaw and flowers show hints of a spring bloom, the home-selling scene is picking up, according to Ticonderoga Securities Analyst Stephen East. Since weather obviously plays a role, let’s hope the tornado and hurricane season are mild for the housing market’s sake!

The nice spring weather, unfortunately, will not help those borrowers having difficulty getting mortgagers, as there are several potential stumbling blocks even for those with good credit, including a limit on loans that are too big and small missteps in simple payments like cable or electric bills, among others. The talk on mortgages, however, is not all gloomy: mortgage fraud is declining, according to First American CoreLogic, and the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates at record lows. In other good news, home sales will rise about 6 percent this year thanks to increases in jobs, credit and affordable homes. Now that’s what I like to hear!

Arguably the most talked about news this week centered on the Federal Reserve’s plans to halt its mortgage-backed securities purchase program, in the midst of a much-discussed countdown to the looming end of the home-buyer tax credit. Bank of America responded to all the change by adding nearly 8,000 customers to the ranks of borrowers modifying mortgages under the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program. We are anxious to see how the market will respond!

On the foreclosure front… government lenders are making great strides to make short-sales simpler and quicker. These actions should help people in states with the biggest backlogs, namely Florida, Illinois and California. The efforts are also important as distressed homes are still accounting for more than a third of all sales nationwide. There of course are always opportunists who take advantage of these situations, like The Fama Group which made a $200,000 profit in twenty minutes (wow!) and those buyers looking for a nice vacation home in areas that are 40 percent discounted. On the other side of the coin are the Hagars, a Colorado couple who have an innovative “trash home” – a home literally made of old tires, cans, bottles and plastic plates – who can’t find a lender to refinance their home loan. Best of luck to you!

Of all the numbers reported recently, the most important for agents came from a study that found only 22 percent of consumers would use the same real estate agent again. For comparison, the number was 79 percent in 2004. Why the dramatic decrease? Sellers cited that houses took too long to sell and that they didn’t get the price they wanted. There are a couple of things we can do to increase consumer satisfaction, including spending more time educating buyers and sellers on the marketplace; increasing our responsiveness, especially via email; and going back to the basics by providing homeowners what they need most. Although there is value with virtual communication and in developing smart marketing and advertising campaigns, at the end of the day our job is to help consumers buy and sell a home. As an industry, we need to work together and share secrets to get us past even the 2004 numbers. I challenge us to make this happen by 2013. Think we can do it?

Now I want to talk about my exciting weekend and one of my new favorite conferences: South by Southwest. One presentation that stuck out was from Peter Shankman, founder and CEO of Help A Reporter Out (HARO), who spoke about self promotion. I learned that self promotion is getting what you want by giving everyone else what they want; the secret of self promotion is not promoting yourself, it’s having others want to do it for you; and transparency, relevance and brevity should be top of mind. Very interesting stuff! Anyone who has not been to the conference should consider attending next year and, for those of you who made it, share your favorite anecdotes below!

Now on to social media. More than three-fourths of small-business owners reported they either made a profit or broke even after promoting themselves or their products and services on social media platforms. This tells me that, if you do it well, social media either can’t hurt or has the potential to be very valuable. In related news, for those of you who still doubt the value of Facebook, keep in mind that this week the social networking site surpassed Google in terms of overall traffic. Looks like we need to continue to take advantage of Facebook.

On a related note, a new study by analytics firm Flurry found an estimated 60,000 apps were developed for Facebook in an 18-month period, compared to 140,000 apps developed for the App Store. To put this in perspective, 10.7 million U.S. consumers have an iPhone versus Facebook’s 120 million American users. Interesting where we’re placing our focus.

Lastly, anyone planning to create a sweepstakes in the coming months should check out Publishers Clearing House’s new service that lets any company launch a social media sweepstakes marketing campaign on its Web site, Facebook fan page, Twitter account or other social networking sites within minutes. The service, however, will not come with a giant check and balloons. At least, I don’t think…

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