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Blogging to Win!

So Real Estate Tomato is having a contest to win free admission to the REBlogWorld conference in Las Vegas next month.  All I have to do is write a blog post about why I deserve to win.

As my brain is conditioned to associate everything with popular culture, I immediately thought of a line from the movie Unforgiven:

Little Bill: “I don’t deserve to die like this…”
William Muny: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

It’s hard for me to feel entitled to be the big winner. Sure I want to go, and I know I have as much to learn about blogging as anyone else in real estate. And I can more easily convince my boss to send me if I show him how I’ve already saved him $300.

But deserve to win?  This contest will be judged by experienced bloggers, and their review of my work is completely subjective.  My opinion on what I deserve hardly matters.

Sure, there are contests where a winner can be objectively identified as deserving. Michael Phelps deserves to win a race because he has the fastest time.  But soccer is my bag, baby, and anyone who knows soccer knows the better team, the team who arguably deserves to win, often does not. It’s all about who scored more goals, and goals frequently come against the run of play.

So ultimately, I have failed to meet the contest’s criteria, as I am unable to come up with a single reason why I “deserve” to win.  But I know I will flourish at an event like this. I love blogging, but am still so green at it that my learning curve will be almost vertical at every session. So if the contest judges measure deserve in those terms, I’m most certainly your winner.


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San Francisco, August 2009

Lately the blogosphere has been full of “What I learned at Inman” posts. Gadgets and widgets, who’s gone and who’s still standing. But for me, it was a real awakening  to the power of the social networking and media storm.

Where social networking was almost nonexistent at my first Inman Conference (New York  2005), now Connect  caters aggressively to this space. “Beer with Bloggers” evolved into a full Blogger’s Connect program, and now social media events run nonstop before, during and after the conference.

I avoided social networking sites when they first appeared.  Admittedly, I was influenced by the mainstream media’s sensationalism and my own age; the former maintained a steady flow of stories on people getting fired when the boss found their MySpace page, while the latter convinced me it was all a passing fad.  Facebook  and Twitter would fade away like parachute pants and soccer mullets.

Rich Bailey circa 1988

circa 1988

But had I been paying attention the last ten years, I would have known new ways of doing business would emerge as real estate professionals coped with market shifts. Some ideas would crash and burn. Others would lead the charge into new eras. It was becoming clear that the more prominent social networking sites had staying power, and were getting a firm hold in the real estate industry as a medium for new strategies.

So somewhat reluctantly, I signed up for the Blogger’s Connect in New York City last January.  Full of new perspectives, I came back to Minneapolis determined to figure it all out, and equally determined to avoid making a fool of myself. Thus far, I am confident I have done neither.

I entered the space as a “lurker”.  I got a Twitter account, choosing a pseudonym for a low profile.  I set up google reader and tweet grid, and started following the relevant blogs and posts much more closely.  Simply put, I was amazed at what I had been missing.  Not a moment too soon to start paying attention.

So, what did this mean at Inman San Francisco 2009? I discovered something remarkable. Even my lurker status, which had produced less than 100 tweets and only the occasional blog comment since January, had granted me entrance into this wonderful world of fantastic people, people I had wrongly assumed would never give a rookie like me the time of day. Some highlights:

  • Gahlord Dewald and I talked in great detail about the power of social media and our mutual love for cross-country skiing. He suggested I take up biathalons. Am I actually looking forward to a Minnesota winter now?
  • I mistook Inman contributor and blogger Joseph Ferrara for industry consultant and speaker Matthew Ferrara; apparently I don’t need Twitter to make a fool of myself. To his credit, Joseph never even blinked when I was thanking him for Matthew’s great Social Networking session at LeadingRE last March. Maybe the next time I see Matthew, I’ll tell him how much I enjoy his Inman News articles.
  • Rob Hahn welcomed me to a party as if we had known one another for years; our only connection prior to Inman was my one comment (and not even a very compelling one) on Michael Wurzer’s blog.  (Thanks for a great party at Fluid!)
  • Sarah Bandy told me all about her reality show, and that she is one of our clients. Thanks, Sarah, and good luck on your quest to hit $1 million!
  • Jim Cronin introduced me to the Irish car bomb.  Yummy.
  • Jay Thompson sat down with me at Starbucks, just to chat for a few minutes. Jay is Real Estate blogging royalty, yet remarkably humble and approachable.
  • And too many more to list…

So what does this all mean? What exactly is it that I am taking from Inman RE Connect this year? We’ve all read the posts about the cool new applications, the renewed sense of optimism, the feeling that those of us still standing as the smoke clears are ready to embrace the next challenge.

Yet I found most compelling the sociocultural shift that has taken place within the industry in just a few short years. Real Estate has always been about people, a business of relationships. But we’ve witnessed the emergence of a giant subculture that is pushing how the industry redefines itself while overcoming hard times and a questionable public image, all via media that provide instant communication and transparancy. On a personal level, never before have I felt so much a part of a community in the middle of this shift, part of a family dedicated to improving and enhancing the industry where we all ply our trade and wares. It didn’t matter that I had done so little to be included in this family up until now, only that I was on board for the ride.

So what am I taking from Connect?    Lots of new friends, for starters. That, and the loss of my fear of looking foolish. It’s inevitable I will, no matter how hard I try to avoid it. I trust my new friends will forgive me.

Rich Bailey is the Director of Business Development at WolfNet Technologies

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We were, arguably, every buyer agent’s dream.  Month-to-month lease in our apartment.  Prequalified for a mortgage. Laser-beamers on location, looking in a specific neighborhood with a radius of less than 3 miles. Had our eyes on the market for the last 15 months, and knew the value of what we wanted. In no hurry, and willing to be patient, but ready to pounce if the right home came along.

That was where my wife and I were when we officially entered the housing market in the fall of 2006. We even had an agent from a local company who we trusted, named Colin.  Colin was a referral from a good friend and someone I had known for years. Did it matter he had previously been a bartender at our favorite local pub?

I was on top of our search for a new home, getting email updates from our Colin’s web site on new listings nearly every day. Recently he added a mapping feature to his property search, much better than searching by zip code.  I set my map in the exact location where I wanted to buy, set my price range, bedrooms, bathrooms, garage stalls, and so on. Soon I developed an intimate understanding of the housing market in this area, especially when my agent answered any questions we had. He wasn’t pushy, just available, which was what we wanted.

Soon we started scheduling showings for our favorite listings, and that’s when we really needed Colin.   He pointed out things that I would have missed as a first-time buyer.  “Yep, cable’s already wired to the upstairs.” “Copper pipes, that’s good.” “You’ll need to install egress windows if you want to finish this basement, but at least it’s nice and dry down here.”

Of course, my wife and I did our Sunday driving without him.  We cruised back our chosen neighborhood, picking up flyers from yard signs, even stopping at open houses. “Are you working with an agent?” We confidently replied, “Yes.”  One house had great curb appeal until we saw the list price, far too high for that neighborhood, we thought. Onward.

We continued our leisurely search until just before Thanksgiving. Then one night we toured a home we can only describe as “unique”. Split level, lots of space, some great features (and some rather unusual ones, too) and a great location. We called it the Brady house, resembling as it did the house on The Brady Bunch. But just a little more than we wanted to spend.

Colin indicated the house had offers on the table. “What does that mean?” I asked? “It means,” he replied, “that if you really love it, you should write up an offer soon, probably tomorrow.”

That moment hit us like a Pamplona bull.  Before it had been so easy.  No pressure, we were just browsing. Now we had to make a decision, and actually compete with other buyers placing hidden offers.  My wife and I ran through a gauntlet of questions.  Can we afford it?  Can we live with that goofy stove contraption in the kitchen or the ugly carpet in the basement? How hard will it be to sell such a “unique” home? Instantly, our home quest went from Sunday drives to making hurried choices that would impact our lives for the next twenty years.

Colin understood. He assured us we shouldn’t feel pressured, but we needed to act if we wanted the house. “Ok,” I said. “Let’s schedule another showing and see it again. If it’s for us, we’ll make an offer.”

Arriving at work early the following morning, I opened an email from Colin’s web site announcing new and updated listings that matched my search. Just like most other days since I started looking, except on this day one of the houses stood out.  It was the one with the great curb appeal, the one we liked but felt had been priced too high. Not anymore.  I called Colin. “Can we see this house before we go look at the other one?” I asked.

Colin said he would check with the listing agent, and called me back 10 minutes later.  “Meet you there at 10.”  I arrived to see his familiar white Volkswagen parked in front and remembered how my wife and I felt the first time we saw the house.  Colin got the key from the lockbox and we walked in the door.

I was home.

Just like that, my entire being was filled with warmth that can only be described as a homecoming. The house was perfect.  It was an older home, more spacious than the bungalows that dominated this area, but very well-kept and not in need of any major improvements. We toured it all, and nothing changed.  It was ours.

We next went to the other house we had seen earlier, and suddenly looked at it with a more critical eye.  The whirlpool tub is nice, but it’s old, and would be expensive to fix or replace if it broke. And are those water stains in the closet behind it? Sure feels cold in here; are these windows double insulated like the house we just saw?  Look at the burn marks in the carpet near the fireplace. And so on and so on.

The next morning, Colin and I toured the dream home with my wife. She had an identical reaction, and that sealed it. We went straight to Colin’s office and wrote up an offer.  The next day, we were out for a hike when Colin called to tell us the seller had submitted a counter-offer. 

“What do you think?” I asked Colin.

“It’s a reasonable counter, and I know you like the house, “he replied.

“Then we have a deal.” We closed 3 weeks later.

There were, of course, the usual hurdles in those 3 weeks.  The inspection revealed a few minor changes we requested from the owner, to which he agreed.  And the inevitable “Oh, by the way” moment at closing (in our case, the owner informed us we would never get a queen-sized box spring up the stairs, and he was right). But I cannot imagine having a more positive first-time home buying experience.

All because of good technology, and a great agent.

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Bat Battle in the Bathroom!

Why My Loved One Deserves a Bathroom Makeover

Never mind the cheap imitation plastic tile sheets, systematically falling apart. Disregard the awful wooden toilet seat resting on a dated, water-guzzling antique commode. Pay no attention to the old wooden window that would rot in weeks if we could only use the shower. And for that matter, ignore the shower that doesn’t work. I can summarize why my wife deserves a total bathroom makeover this Valentine’s Day in one word – Bats!

No not the Louisville Slugger kind. I’m talking about the mosquito eating, night flying, icon of your worst nightmare bats. Some have bats in their belfry; we have bats in our bathroom.

Just before Christmas, I came home late from work one Friday and headed straight to our dilapidated downstairs bathroom. Having just ridden the light rail with hundreds of Holidazzled tourists, I had urgent business. But I hesitated, as I could hear something… splashing. Yes, splashing sounds permeated through the door from the darkness within. What could be splashing in our bathroom?

I turned on the light, and carefully peeked around the bathroom door. To my shock, I saw a live bat swimming in our toilet. OK, so maybe it wasn’t swimming; frantically struggling was more like it. I guess bats can’t swim very well.

I’ve had encounters with bats before, in a run-down apartment on St. Paul’s West Side. But this was our home, our castle, and bats aren’t supposed to be here. And in our bathroom, where the most private and personal matters are handled. Such an intruder is most certainly not welcome. Now what?

I called Minneapolis 311, but apparently they don’t do bats. “Be careful,” she said “bats carry rabies.” Thanks, like that never occurred to me. Plan B was to try to save this pitiful creature, but at 10 degrees, surely it would freeze in minutes. I would also be required to handle it in mid-thrash, which I did not covet (remember, rabies!). I decided my only option was to send the bat to its maker. Tempted at first to flush it to Kingdom Come, I suddenly envisioned it coming back to spill on the cheap linoleum floor. Then I’d need a plumber as well as an exterminator. No dice! So I went with the simplest solution; I closed the lid, and covered it with a large pot from the kitchen, sealing the rodent in a watery tomb.

The invasion had been repelled, the enemy defeated. Next morning, my nemesis lay floating stiff in the bowl. I felt bad for the poor thing…for maybe 3 seconds.

How did he get into our bathroom? There could only be one explanation – the tile! Where my 102-year old house has settled, the cheap plastic tile has split, leaving a gaping crack. The previous owner had tiled over the fan vent to the outside, and this crack had to be the only way in.

So you see, it is imperative we remodel our bathroom. Forget about the ugliness, the non-functional and the corroded. We aren’t vain about décor, and have survived until now using only the shower upstairs. But another bat invasion is intolerable, and must be prevented. If it happened once, it could happen again.

Tub and shower do not work so well

Tub and shower do not work so well

Crack where Bat accessed the bathroom.

Crack where Bat accessed the bathroom.

The Bat, post mortem

The Bat, post mortem

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So I have resisted blogging and other forms of social networking until now. In hindsight, I was only showing my age. And no, I’m not trying to be like some technology obsessed Baby Boomer who has to convince everyone how hip and with the current technologies he is. I think that will always be a losing battle. I just want to make sure that whatever I post online is relevant, and interesting to others.

So immediately, I am posting something irrelevant and uninteresting, because now that I have a wordpress account, I feel naked without at least one blog post. So in the true spirit of the mantra “an irrelevant blog is better than no blog at all,” here it is. Hope you enjoy something with little social or intellectual value.

I will say that I intend the purpose of this blog will be to express some thoughts that either Tabitha or myself will have from time to time. I also intend to leverage it to post photos and tales from our many adventures we go on. We are planning a trip to Big Bend National Park at the end of the month.  I wanted to post our thoughts and photos as we are there, sort of an almost-real-time documentary of our trip.  But the campgrounds have no electricity, and wireless reception is sketchy at best.  So I’ll summarize the highlights, and will use the trip as blog fodder until the fishing season starts.

So I hope you’ll follow our thoughts and reflections as we charge ahead into the blogosphere; who knows where this will take us.


Rich and Tab at Gooseberry Falls, MN, June 2004

Rich and Tab at Gooseberry Falls, MN, June 2004

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