Editor’s note: In this in-depth four-part series, Inman News tackles the exploding trend in real estate blogs. We chat with some of the most well-known and prolific bloggers in the real estate brokerage, mortgage and title insurance industries to see what makes these blogs tick.

Editor’s note: In this in-depth four-part series, Inman News tackles the exploding trend in real estate blogs. We chat with some of the most well-known and prolific bloggers in the real estate brokerage, mortgage and title insurance industries to see what makes these blogs tick. (Read Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.)

The best real estate bloggers can wade into a controversy or a mountain of statistics, then turn around and share their personal thoughts or make you laugh — sometimes all in the same day.

How do they do it? The authors of some of the most widely read real estate blogs on the Web agreed to share their insight on what makes a good Weblog.

Real estate professionals who are winning clients and raising their stature online say that these days, the technical obstacles to blogging are almost nonexistent.

“Some people are intimidated by it because they think it’s technical,” said Teresa Boardman, a St. Paul, Minn., real estate broker and blogger. “I would argue that it’s not technical, it’s about having content. Start writing now, put it in Microsoft Word if you have to, and figure out where it’s going to go later.”

While not everybody’s going to be the next sensation on Digg — a site where Web surfers rate news stories and blog posts — those with the discipline and passion to showcase their knowledge and insight into local markets can quickly gain a following in what’s still a surprisingly wide-open field, real estate bloggers say.

Todd Carpenter, a loan agent who is building a network of mortgage and real estate Web sites at Mariah.com, recently launched REMBEX, a search engine that indexes influential real estate-oriented blogs.

Carpenter put together the list of sites indexed by REMBEX using “blogrolls” — lists of recommended blogs — posted on popular real estate Weblogs. He was surprised when his list topped out at only 250 sites, although the number quickly grew to 300 after REMBEX launched. REMBEX, which relies on Google Co-op’s Custom Search Engine application, will only index sites already crawled by Google.

“My conclusion is that unless you are a real estate blogger in New York or Seattle, it will be very easy for a good blogger to dominate a market, even if they are brand new,” Carpenter wrote on his own blog, Lenderama. “There’s still time in most markets to be the first on the block. If you’re not blogging today, you should be.”

Getting started

There are no hard and fast rules for blogging, or easy shortcuts to getting noticed, say authors of Weblogs with national audiences, such as Jonathan Miller of Matrix and Greg Swann of BloodhoundBlog. But ask them what keeps their growing readership coming back, and you’ll hear variations on similar themes.

Miller, Swann and the authors of some of the smartest local real estate blogs from San Diego to Tampa say they shun boilerplate, general-interest material in favor of posts that draw on their specialized knowledge and insight into their market or area of expertise.

Readers follow these blogs — including Boardman’s St. Paul Real Estate Blog, The San Diego Home Blog, Tampa Florida Real Estate Blog and miOaklandCounty — for insight into local markets and the business of buying and selling real estate that’s hard to come by elsewhere. Their authors say that by putting their knowledge and personalities on display, potential clients are more likely to pick up the phone and call them.

The real estate professionals behind these blogs told Inman News:

  • A blog isn’t an instant lead-generation tool, but it can bring you business — more business than even your Web site.

  • You can pay someone to build you a blog, but you’ll still have to write it — even when you don’t feel like it.

  • You can write for your clients or you can write for your industry peers, but you might think twice about doing both in the same place.

  • If you’re bit by the blogging bug, don’t let it consume your life. 

Writing for an audience didn’t come naturally for the real estate bloggers who talked to Inman News. Most had to work to find the right mix of content and a “voice.”

Finding a voice — the language and tone to adopt with readers — “was a huge issue, when I started with Matrix,” said Miller of his most widely read Weblog, an analysis of trends in real estate and the economy that often involves serious number crunching. “The first week posting I was very snarky, like you see on Curbed — sort of smart-alecky.”

Although Miller is a fan of and contributor to the neighborhood and real estate blog, imitating its style didn’t work for him.

“I don’t know why I did that, I just thought that’s what you do,” Miller said of the superior tone adopted by some bloggers. Later, the New York-based appraiser said, “I went back and rewrote everything.”

Since founding Matrix in August 2005, Miller said he’s become less guarded about stating his positions.

“It took me six months to really get comfortable with my voice,” he said. “And in my mind, that’s the most important content attribute — not your font, or all the bells and whistles. People are coming to the site not for what it looks like, but what it says.”

Boardman, who writes the St. Paul Real Estate Blog, recommends first setting up a personal blog to get the feel of writing for an audience without the pressure of having a blog that’s linked to your business or livelihood.

“When I started in November of 2005, I wasn’t even sure if I could do it,” Boardman said. “So I started a personal blog to see if I could.”

Boardman’s blog platform is TypePad. She recommends seeking out software applications that are designed for small businesses, because they are cheaper and better than “special dumbed-down products for Realtors.”

“A business blog is a business blog,” she says. “I get irritated because Realtors get sold a lot of junk.”

After choosing a platform — other choices include Blogger, WordPress and SquareSpace — one of the first decisions a blogger faces is determining who their audience will be.

Some of the best-known real estate blogs cover the industry at the national level, particularly those that address changes technology is bringing to the industry. These blogs — such as Sellsius° Real Estate Blog, the Future of Real Estate Marketing and Transparent Real Estate — are aimed primarily at real estate professionals and entrepreneurs.

But if the goal of blogging is to win clients, you might be better off sharing your insights about your local market and knowledge about the process of buying and selling real estate. Not only are search engines more likely to find your site if you are writing detailed posts about your local market, but those who land on your blog will be impressed by your knowledge.

Search-engine parameters are thought to favor blogs over some static Web sites because of the constant addition of fresh content, and because of the links to their posts from other sites. Whether that’s true or not, bloggers have found they can count on “long tail searches” by consumers looking for very specific information to bring potential clients to their sites.

“When I first got into business, most of my marketing was pay-per-click,” said Lenny Gurvich, the author of Tampa Florida Real Estate Blog. “Now I do absolutely no pay-per-click.”

A former ski instructor with a degree in economics, Gurvich has been selling real estate for two years. The New Orleans native provides a mix of local market statistics and commentary on industry practices on a blog that a salesman from a marketing company sold to him.

“Pretty much all they did was set up a WordPress platform for me,” Gurvich said. “But they knew how to set it up to ping to Technorati and create categories. Looking back now, I could probably do it myself, but back then, it was worth having somebody help me start out.”

Gurvich says he’s grown his audience to 100 unique visitors a day, and uses Top Producer to send out regular e-mail “blasts” to about 700 readers.

“What I’ve found interesting about the blog from a search-engine perspective, is I can see the search terms people are typing that get them to my site,” Gurvich said. “People are getting more savvy — instead of ‘Tampa real estate,’ they’ll enter ‘Tampa channelside condos for sale.’ Much longer search terms — that’s what I’m getting much higher results on.”

Typing “Spinnaker Cove condos Tampa” into Google produces a blog post Gurvich wrote back in August as the second-highest result.

“I wrote that post months ago, about (that) particular waterfront condo building being a good value, and every month quite a few people find my blog” that way, he said. 

More recently, Gurvich created a post, “Why would someone sign a no-brokerage relationship,” to explain how somebody found their way to his site using that search phrase. Still, Gurvich warns against trying to post material that contains good keywords, but little else of substance. 

“You start throwing some junk content up there, you might get ranked high in search results, but when someone reads that they’re not going to take you seriously,” he said. Not long ago, Gurvich said, he got a referral from an agent in Nashville, Tenn., whose brother was looking to sell a home in the Tampa area.

“He told me I spent some time on your blog, and I could tell you know what you’re doing, so I decided to hand the referral to you,” Gurvich recalled.

Maureen Francis, a Birmingham, Mich.-based broker and the author of miOaklandCounty, claims she was “crappy” at real estate blogging when she started out two years ago on Blogger.

“I was putting out dry stats and not getting feedback,” Francis said. “There was no interaction.”

Then she was invited to join the ActiveRain Real Estate Network, an online community with more than 17,000 members, many of whom maintain blogs on the site.

“That’s where I got my groove back and learned how to connect with my local audience,” Francis said. “Now when I talk about industry stuff, I use my ActiveRain blog.”

Real estate blogs speak to “two masters” — industry professionals and potential clients — said broker Kris Berg, who writes the San Diego Home Blog with her husband, Steve.

“It has to have an industry interest, or it won’t be seen by Google and Technorati as an authority,” Berg said. Industry posts “get us up in the rankings … but it puts you in danger of losing your local audience. We’re always trying to balance speaking to the industry and seeing the blog as a lead generator, so we try to mix it up.”

Boardman says when she wants to write about industry issues, she’ll post on Real Estate Tomato, not her own site.

“I think that’s the number one mistake these Realtors who blog make, is they all write to each other,” Boardman said.

Boardman’s St. Paul Real Estate Blog draws heavily on her personal and professional experiences, and her longtime ties to the city. She’s interviewed seniors and posted about their needs for housing that goes beyond one-size-fits-all. She’s done a series on St. Paul architecture. The site features an annual virtual pumpkin carving contest, and Boardman’s weekly “Friday fun” posts deliver as promised.

Boardman carries a camera with her everywhere she goes, and has a library of images on CD she can draw from for her blog.

“I am constantly asked where does your content come from,” the five-year real estate veteran said. “I say it comes from my life. That’s what makes it easy. If I had to, I could crank out five blog posts a day. I can’t imagine running out of things to write about, but that’s the number one problem for other people.”

Berg believes it’s fine for blogs to carry a balance of industry and consumer content. But she’s also a contributor to BloodhoundBlog, a site that boasts a dozen contributors from around the country, and a growing following among real estate professionals.

BloodhoundBlog

Collaborative Weblogs like BloodhoundBlog, Rain City Guide, Real Estate Tomato and ActiveRain offer readers the viewpoints of authors with specialized knowledge about different aspects of the real estate business — lending, appraisals, or title insurance, for example — or who have insight into a particular markets. 

Swann, a Phoenix-based broker who started BloodhoundBlog with his wife, Realtor and staging consultant Cathleen Collins, made two earlier stabs at blogs connected to the couple’s brokerage business, BloodhoundRealty.com LLC, dating back to 2003. Swann said he was never very inspired by the local bent of those blogs. After following the frank discussions of industry issues on Rain City Guide, Swann and Collins decided to take a different approach with BloodhoundBlog.

On BloodhoundBlog, he said, the couple “stopped worrying about local content and clients, and stopped using (blogging) as a way to troll for business.” Instead, the blog became a forum “to talk about what we were interested in real estate — things of more interest to (real estate) professionals than our client base.”

“We were very influenced by Dustin Luther,” Swann said of Rain City Guide’s founder. Because that blog was focused on Seattle, Swann and Collins saw room for another blog covering real estate industry issues at the national level.

Soon after BloodhoundBlog launched, “mega producer” Russell Shaw, approached the couple about contributing. After deciding they liked having other writers, the couple invited San Diego-based real estate investment broker Jeff Brown to contribute.

With writers offering their views on industry issues from multiple perspectives, “I realized we had the genesis of a really interesting blog,” Swann said. Today BloodhoundBlog boasts 12 contributors, including mortgage planner Dan Green in Chicago and Santa Clarita, Calif.-based real estate marketing executive Jeff Turner. Each contributor has a picture and bio, and the blog employs links that allow readers to call up only the posts of the author they’re interested in.

Swann said he would “love to have an appraiser,” and that he’s talking to an executive at a publicly traded real estate company about contributing to BloodhoundBlog, perhaps under a pseudonym.

“I’m interested in really good writing,” Swann said of his approach to rounding up new talent. “We approached people we knew who were doing great work already. They continue to maintain their own blogs. I think it makes a nice natural split for those people; if they want to talk about local issues, they can talk to folks in their own markets” on their own blogs.

“We will continue to add writers as we think it’s appropriate,” Swann said. “Were a little Realtor-heavy, and that will probably be the case forever. Realtors are the bulk of our audience, probably 70 percent.”

Swann, who wrote Macintosh software used in the publishing industry before becoming a broker, says he’s exploring whether BloodhoundBlog might turn into a third career.

“You can make a great living in real estate, but it’s probably not the last career you should have,” Swann said. For now, he said, he sees BloodhoundBlog as a place others can use to launch sidelines as real estate experts.

Shaw’s plans for a series of BloodhoundBlog podcasts on real estate sales techniques, for example, might make him a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, Swann said. Or if Berg wanted to write a book on real estate, her profile on BloodhoundBlog might help her land a deal, he surmises.

“Someone like Jeff Brown is made to order for HGTV,” Swann continued. “They came to me last September asking if I knew anyone” who could host a show.

For now, Swann said he’s not interested in selling advertising on the site.

“I’m not saying never, but not now,” he said. “There are people claiming you can make a six-figure income blogging, but I would rather maintain the independence.”

Although Swann was not entirely happy with his previous attempts at blogging for a local audience, that doesn’t mean he’s given up on the idea.

“I do think it’s a great idea for people looking to generate business,” Swann said. “With a Weblog, there can be a microscopic level of attention to events of local interests — city council votes, home remodels — not even at the city level, but at the neighborhood level, whatever your farm (market) is.”

Swann said he and Collins have “great plans” for another, more local blog on distinctive homes in the Phoenix area. In the meantime, BloodhoundBlog has built a national audience that, along with links from other sites, gives it a formidable presence in search-engine rankings.

BloodhoundBlog gets 800 to 1,000 unique visitors a day, Swann said, plus an unknown number of RSS subscribers (he doesn’t track them).

Swann remains the site’s most prolific poster and doesn’t mince words. He’s constantly scolding the mass media and Internet startups jockeying for position in the online real estate business — sometimes in the same breath.

In a post last summer, “Debunking Zillow.com,” Swann called a reporter for the Arizona Daily Republic “dippy” for suggesting consumers could use the site as a reality check on home prices.

BloodhoundBlog has recently begun awarding a regular “Cheez-Whiz prize” to Web 2.0 sites that, like recent winner HomeHugg, Swann finds “beyond stoopid.”

Tomorrow: We delve deeper into real estate blog content, discussing how some bloggers don’t shy from controversy or number crunching. Also, we dig into some blog technology bells and whistles.

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