Seth Siegler, co-founder of Simplistate, a Charleston, S.C.-area virtual real estate brokerage; owner and founder of Robot Workshop, a real estate tech company specializing in lead generation; and a real estate blogger, is speaking at Real Estate Connect NYC 2011 in January.

He responded to a set of questions posed by Inman News:

What is the most important business lesson you’ve learned in the past year?

It’s not possible to be thinking too big.

What inspired you to pursue your current career path?

I was frustrated by the unwillingness to shed overhead and the antiquated technology at the traditional brokerage that I used to work for. I felt that if a progressive brokerage were to launch in our market, we would be toast.

By hashing out a plan that would minimize initial investment (and potential financial wreckage upon a possible total failure), my business partner and I set out to become that progressive brokerage in the marketplace. We launched Simplistate.

Once the wheels got turning, the model took on other forms and we rolled with it. I later opened Robot Workshop to provide agents and brokerages with easier ways to do the things that we initially found hard and expensive.

Share a personal experience or anecdote about buying, selling, owning or renting a home.

I recently showed a home that made no mention of a pet cat. When I opened the back door to show the porch, a creepy, one-eyed, dirty cat ran into the house and hid under a bed. I didn’t see any litter boxes or food dishes so I decided that this cat didn’t belong.

I tried to scare it out from under the bed with a broom but it wasn’t going out with a fight. The one-eyed cat fought the broom ferociously. Forty-five minutes later, I annoyed him enough to make him agree that he’d be better off outside. The buyer went home 20 minutes into the battle. Days later I learned that the cat did belong to the seller and it was allowed inside. I never heard from the buyer again.

What’s the coolest technology you’ve discovered this year, and how are you using it?

I’ve been using an iPad on showings and listing presentations. On showings, it’s an absolute must-have for real estate agents. The ability to show vivid color photos, look up listings that you pass along the way, e-mail info on the spot, etc., is priceless.

What is your advice for real estate industry professionals to thrive in this market?

Brand yourself and go hyperlocal. There will never be a substitute for a local expert. Blog hyperlocally and have a modern-looking website with modern IDX (Internet Data Exchange) search. There is also enormous opportunity in quality pay-per-click-based lead generation.

What is your favorite non-work-related hobby?

My life has revolved around sailboat racing for as long as I can remember. I race all year long, all around the country (and even in other countries from time to time). I also do some kiteboarding (not enough, though) and skateboarding.

Who is your hero, and why?

I have two business heroes. Sir Richard Branson is the first one. Nobody in business has ever followed their gut, against the mainstream, more than Richard Branson. He does it his way and brings a lighthearted vibe to each one of his businesses.

His concepts look ridiculous to most during their prelaunch phase, but more often than not Branson ends up with another smashing success, further funding his dream lifestyle on his private island.

My second hero is Blake Mycoskie of Toms Shoes. Blake has built a business empire that not only provides him with the means to spend most of his life on exotic pleasure travel, but also provides hundreds of thousands of shoes to needy children around the world. That’s a true win-win.

What do you view as the biggest problem facing the real estate industry today, and how would you fix it?

How to choose just one … For brokers, the biggest problem is finding something to offer agents that they don’t already have on their own. Justifying any commission split at all is becoming difficult these days.

A problem in the industry overall is that transactional expenses are way, way too high for sellers. The largest chunk of those expenses is typically the real estate commission. Think about how easy it is for investors to buy and sell a stock. If expenses were far lower, investors could afford to buy and sell houses more often.

Having more sales volume could be a win-win for the real estate industry, homebuyers and sellers, and investors. Real estate agents would have to be willing to work for lower commissions with the trade-off of doing more volume. It will take daring entrepreneurs to start the shift.

What do you hope to learn at the Real Estate Connect conference?

I hope to learn something that blows my mind!

Tell us something we don’t already know about you.

I rarely wear matching socks.

Seth Siegler will participate in the "How to Deliver a High-Touch Customer Experience Without Breaking the Bank" session during the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City, which runs from Jan. 12-14, 2011.

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