Thursday, September 28, 2006

Looking for Syndication Feedback

Ok, i'm also looking for a different set of feedback. I'd like to know how Syndicating listings has impacted your business. Do you mention it in listing presentation? Does it help you list? Do consumers ask about advertising their listing in places like Google? I need some success stories. I also need to know what is right and what is wrong. Please submit your comments!


Looking For feedback on UltraStats

I'm looking for any of our users to comment on their experiences with Ultrastats. How have you used? What type of results were you able to generate from the information? How valuable are they to you?

I'm preparing a case study and I need a couple of members to include. Looking forward to any and all feedback.



Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Agent Handshake, it's legality and the MLS

As more and more people begin using Point2, we have a non-stop flow of questions that come in regarding Agent Handshake. Many MLSs are now telling their members that they can not use Agent Handshake. So I thought it important to post this information about the system, its legality and its relationship to the MLS.

a) Real estate brokers enter into listing agreements with real estate sellers to advertise their listings;
b) Members are bound by the Point2 Agent License Agreement (“License”);
c) The License contains a provision that states as follows:“Where User (Member) participates in or utilizes Agent Handshake, User grants the right to use, publish, promote or otherwise advertise User’s shared listings to other applicable Point2 Agent users. Further, User represents and warrants that they are authorized to make said grant of rights to other Point2 Agent users…”;
d) After agreeing to the License, Members can enter listing information about real estate into their Point2 Agent portal and subsequently choose to advertise those listings on other specific Point2 Agent Member portals;
e) Of that listing information in d), a separate, proprietary compilation of listing information about real estate may or may not be entered into the local MLS system.
f) Each jurisdiction (State/Province) has regulatory bodies relating to the “trade” of real estate. The regulations often relate to the advertising of Multiple Listing Service real estate listings. The regulations protect real estate consumers.

Questions about Agent Handshake arise with respect to different Real Estate Boards and Legislation and Multiple Listing Services. Generally, the questions tend to arise due to a lack of clarity with respect to:
a) How the Agent Handshake system operates among the members of the Point2 Agent Community (“Member(s)”)?
b) How the Agent Handshake system operates between Members and third parties?
c) How the Agent Handshake system operates between Members and MLS’s?

a) How the Agent Handshake system operates among Members?
The Agent Handshake system and how it relates to locate real estate professionals, is generally governed by the listing agreement between broker and seller, the License and applicable state legislation respecting the regulation of the trade of real estate.

Normally, these governing documents recognize that the listing information is owned by the broker. As the owner of the listing information, the broker is generally able to advertise this listing information in any medium or mechanism as desired (subject to certain requirements of state legislation). The Agent Handshake system is an applicable mechanism that the broker is legally entitled to advertise their listing information on.

b) How the Agent Handshake system operates between Members and third parties?
Simply put, it doesn’t.

Agent Handshake is a “closed system.” It does not accept any compilations of listing information from other systems. A Member must enter a separate, proprietary compilation of listing information in the Agent Handshake system. That compilation of listing information can only then be shared with other Members of Point2 Agent.

However, the Member also may choose to utilize Point2’s listing syndication services. This service lets Members advertising their compilation of listing information on recipient sites such as Google Base and

c) How the Agent Handshake system operates between Members and MLS’s?

Similar to b), it does not. The Listing entered into an MLS system is a different compilation of the listing than the one entered into the Agent Handshake system by Members. Therefore, two diffferent listing information compliations of the same real estate may exist in each respective system. These compilations are two different pieces of property, both owned by the Listing Broker.

The MLS system and how it relates to listing compilations created using their tools is generally governed by the listing agreement between broker and seller, the MLS licensing agreement and applicable state legislation respecting the regulation of the trade of real estate.

Agent Handshake and the MLS are two different systems. Listing information in each respective system are both governed by the listing agreement between broker and seller and applicable state legislation respect the trade of real estate. However, the listing compilations in each system are governed by the respective systems Agreement with the user and neither system’s Agreement have any impact on the other system.

Now, that is the long answer to the question: Why is my MLS telling me that I can not use Handshake? The short answer is that most MLSs mistakingly assume that listings in the Point2 system are being imported from the MLS. They are not MLS data, but are rather original content posted manually by our brokers and their representatives (agents). Thus the MLS has little or no jurisdiction over the use of that data in almost all cases.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Messaging and Clarity

So reflecting back on the title of this Blog, "Real Estate Alchemy", "... a power or process of transforming something common into something special." What makes a company or service special? I think clarity is one thing that makes a company special.

David Dalka wrote a brief summary of a speech Google's Michael Adelberg gave at Associated Cities' Geo Domain Conference. Michael's short statement that Dalka quotes has an impact. In Dalka's words, Michael state that it is his division's mandate to, "Organize the world's local information and make it useful."

That is an example of a very clear outward facing message. It creates clarity for the consumer audience and the mandate itself must create clarity within the Local Team itself. It surprises me that with all the growth Google has had and all the new tools and product offerings, their outward messages remain the same. They are a search company. "Use our stuff to search."

Clarity is something that we at Point2 have struggled with to improve. As a company expands its product offerings, it's difficult to have a succinct outward facing message that also explains the breadth of what the company does. And certainly, clarity itself is more important than breadth. But clear messages not only align internal teams, they help differentiate your company from others.

Whether you are a software development company or you are a Realtor, how are you creating clarity in your audience's mind? What do you do? When you say it, will I remeber it? Why are you different? Does what you do grab my attention? Are you solving a problem of mine? Are you solving my problem in a way that other people can't or in a way they aren't?

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Amazing Design Effort

I linked to this site in my post yesterday, but I really need to give it more props. Ginger Fawcett created her own website using Point2 Agent and it's one of the most outstanding efforts I've seen to date. It's important for us at Point2 because we are trying to build flexibility into our system that will allow for unlimited design options. Here is her site:

More impressive than the actual results is the effort that Ginger committed. She wrote in Realtalk,

"I originally spent several thousand dollars with two different designers trying to get a custom site. They failed me miserably. So I decided to buy a book, learn html and attempt setting things up in a "template" site with some serious customization ... It has taken me four months to design, learn html, edit, write, etc. Now I feel a bit like a mini expert on Point2 sites but I still have much to learn and much to tweak."

That's a commitment to excellence and I hope the effort pays off lots of new business. Outstanding work Ginger.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Get the New Feed

I've updated by to use Feedburner. Please get the new feed!"

(Your efforts are appreciated! I'm really going to blog more)


Software Product Strengths Not Always Apparent

I'm back from the black. Ok, this time I'll really commit to staying current :-(

I came across a review of Point2 Agent this morning posted by Joel Burslem. It immediately put me on the defensive. I was going to post a comment on his blog, then I was going to slam him here, but I grabbed a coffee, chilled and took some time to think about it. He tried our software, it told him to use a specific type of browser, he didn't use the browser choices and thus didn't recommend us. Really, our software should have just worked.

Here are the high/low points on the review:

  • He says some nice things about Point2 Homes. It's a work in progress and I hope people continue to track our success there.

  • Joel doesn't care for our claim to be "The Most Popular Real Estate Software in the World". As of this morning, we have just under 93,000 users. While adding 100-200/day, I'm not sure who beats us here, but if someone shows us we've overstepped our bounds, I'm sure we'd gladly adjust our slogin to "93,000 Realtors are using us, why aren't you?"

  • The real kicker however is that he tried to create an account and he received an error on login indicating he needs IE version 5.5 or higher to use Point2 Agent. Since we received zero points from him, I gather he didn't try to login with a version IE. IE 5.5 is very old now, updates are free and we are several versions past it now. Google Analytics tells us that 99.5% of all IE users are using version 5.5 or higher with 96.78 using version 6. Jay Thompson (one of our favorite members!) commented on the blog that he can successfully use Firefox with Point2 Agent. Indeed you can with the IE plugin. These 2 browsers cover 95.31% of all users visiting Point2.

Ok, so there's part of the justification behind our IE selection. We can make our system universally accessible, but it falls lower on massive list of projects, maintenance issues and feature requests that we receive. We conducted an informal poll of many of our users several months ago and found that while some prefer to use a browser like Firefox, almost everyone also had IE. Moreover, all were willing to use IE 5.5, 6.0 (and now 7) OR get the IE plugin for Firefox when they login to manage their Point2 account. So that's the other part of our justification.

I logged an issue to update that error warning this morning to give more details, be more friendly and provide work arounds links for other browsers.

As I stated above, our software should have just worked. So we will be working on compatibility. In my humble opinion, to recommend another product [until Point2 makes its software more accessible] is a little short sighted. We are nearly universal and while Joel was not tempted to dig deeper, our support team almost never hears accessibility issues from our 93,000 members.
I also have a couple of notes from comments that were made. I was concerned that a couple criticisms that came out, are actually some of our strengths.

Bill Nadraszky commented that all Point2 sites look the same. There is a key distinction here. Point2 provides a tool set but we do not offer custom design services. If you look at most Blogger blogs, you would see a lot of common themes. It's because the average users will only go so far and there tends to be common preferences. At this stage in our product lifecycle, Point2 Agent is becoming more of a platform and from a template based solution, is the most flexible in the industry. I've assembled some links and I think you would agree that these members all look like they are using custom websites. They are in fact using Point2, many with the help of professional designers. The limitation is not in the software, but in the desire of the member.

Lastly to the comments on search engine indexing. It's important to know that Point2 Agent is the best solution in the industry for gaining exposure in natural and vertical search. We are currently syndicating listings to 9 partners which means that when our members add a listing, they gain instant exposure.

While our sites index well for broad search terms, the ultimate rank our members achieve will depend on their own marketing. Broad search terms drive the majority of traffic, but nearly 40% of the traffic we track comes from the long tail of search. We generate a unique URL for each listing and optimize the page for natural search. Search or "lakeview Saskatoon homes for sale" and you will probably find 5-6 unique listings in that local neighborhood.