Innovation – The Key to Success in Selling Your Home – July 2014

As a 38 year old Entrepreneur, Business Owner, and Father of two Boyz- Anthony and Alex- I get to see the world not only through my eyes, but also through the kids’ eyes. Every new experience that my boyz have re-opens my eyes and offers a new perspective on life and business. Just recently Anthony had an experience that paralleled the ever changing business of Real Estate and how technology has evolved and keeps evolving in Real Estate Sales.

One Wednesday afternoon after school, Anthony called me from Susan’s phone in her classroom to ask me if he was going to karate that evening. I told him, that it was the next day and that I’d see him at home shortly. I didn’t think anything of the conversation, but when Susan told me ‘the story’ of the phone call that evening it got me thinking.

Susan told Anthony that he had to dial #8 to ‘dial out’ and then put in Dad’s number. Well Anthony picked up the phone and put it up to his ear. “Mom, what’s that?” Susan, perplexed said, “Anthony what is what?” Anthony said, “That noise coming from the phone.” Susan replied, “Anthony that is the dial tone.” Having been born in 2006 and not having a home phone, Anthony has never really known anything besides a cell phone and cell phones don’t have dial tones. A dial tone was new to Anthony. When our conversation was completed Susan saw Anthony looking at the phone, so she asked him what he was doing. Anthony said, “I’m looking for the off button Mom.” Susan again replied, “Anthony you just hang it up.” Every conversation that Anthony has ever had on a cell phone ends with him pressing ‘End’, not hanging up.

This made me realize how fast technology moves and what I take for granted in an ever changing technological world.

If Anthony doesn’t know what an actual phone is because technology is moving so fast this got me thinking about how technology relates to life and where we will be technology wise in the next 5-10 years. Before going forward, I’m going to take you back to when I was growing up in the 1980’s-90’s and compare technology of 15-20 years ago to today.

When I was growing up how we viewed TV was totally different than how it is today. I remember coming from black and white TVs and us having color TVs and thinking that was the coolest thing ever. Growing up in the ‘country’, we didn’t have cable and we had that old school TV antenna and the box that you would adjust to move your TV antenna. Our TV viewing consisted of channels 4, 5, 7, 9, and 20. And you could only watch cartoons at 3:30 and 4pm on weekdays. Saturday morning cartoons were an ‘event.’ TV’s were smaller in size but weighted about 150lbs. That might be an exaggeration, but you get my point.) … Today, in our home, Anthony and Alex can watch TV on a high def. big screen TV that is 4 times the size of the TV I had in my home growing up but 1/3rd of the weight. All we have is the basic package of TV channels on Directv, but we have over 800 (EIGHT HUNDRED) channels from which to choose. At any time during the day, the boys can find a cartoon show. I can find a sports or cooking or history show to watch and Susan can find her ID (murder mystery) to view. Recently we got the hopper thing with Directv where we can program up to 6 shows to watch. So not only do we not have to actually be there to watch the show, we can record it and watch it at our own leisure. This is a far cry from the 5 stations and having to ‘turn the antenna’ every time I went from watching channel 4 to watching channel 5. I can only imagine in 5-10 years where our TV viewing will go?!?!?! The 3-D TVs will be big for the next 5 years, and then that will be overtaken by some new invention. We’ll probably be able to watch live TV on a ‘video watch’ and will be able to watch it anywhere. I’m sure the technology is there for this now, just waiting for the price to become reasonable.
To piggyback on TV watching, remember how we watched movies in the 80’s???? I remember the big debate over VHS vs Beta. We were a VHS home. We’d go to a movie store and search for hours in the ‘VHS’ section of the store for a movie. And I remember thinking, man those Beta people are different. Well VHS won out, but within 10 years VHS was overtaken by DVDs. Then technology moved so fast that Blockbuster, the biggest movie rental corporation in the US closed a large majority of their stores and filed bankruptcy. The consumers, you and I, always looking for simpler ways to modify our lives now had movies delivered to our homes via Netflix. This killed Blockbuster. We now have Netflix and RedBox. RedBox is basically a vending machine for movies that has popped up in every corner store. I was at 7-Eleven in Urbana the other day and noticed a Redbox there. I’d almost guarantee you that this trend will evolve in the next 5-10 years and neither RedBox nor NetFlix will be around. Someone will invent the next big thing; heck on Directv, we can order movies directly through them and not have to leave our home.

We’ll probably be watching movies streamed to that ‘video watch’ that I mentioned above.

Video Games- remember when, in the 1980’s-90’s, video games were just coming on the scene? When I was probably 5-6, we had a TV that had like 5 video games built into it. My favorite was that tennis one where there were 2 lines on either side of the TV and the ball bounced back and forth. I remember playing this for hours. Then video games evolved into the Atari and Space Invaders. And the Video gaming system of my teenage years was Nintendo. We played Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt for hours. But my absolute FAVORITE was Tecmo Bowl. It was a football game where you could be your favorite team/player from that time (note: Bo Jackson was UNSTOPPABLE). Timmy Hill, Justin, Zack, and I would literally play this game all weekend on a sleepover. By the end of the weekend, we’d have blisters on our thumbs from the controller. Talk about technology changing rapidly, I don’t think any industry has evolved as much over the last 15 years than the video gaming industry. They now have more video gaming systems than I can keep track. I know both Anthony and Alex have DSIII’s that they can take with them anywhere and these systems can store more games in its memory than I could ever buy for the Nintendo. Maybe in 5-10 years the kids will actually be in the games. You never can tell with how fast technology moves.

Imagine how far computers have come since the late 1980’s. What started out as a slow acting machine like the Apple II and Commodore 64 that could only handle 1 or 2 functions and were basically glorified typewriters has turned into an evolving industry where everyone I know has 2-3 computers/Ipads/Tablets/desktops. The computer industry is so rapid moving that the capacity of the machines is such that if you aren’t upgrading every 2-3 years then your machine will not be up-to-date with the best available technology.

What about cell phones? Cell/mobile phone industry is rivaling the video game industry as it evolutionary pace is extraordinary. When I was growing up, they weren’t even invented yet. If you wanted to call someone you had to go to a landline. Heck, cordless phones were just coming around when I was young. I do remember as a teenager that ‘beepers’ were a big deal. A friend would ‘beep’ you and leave their number and then you would have to call them back. When I was about 16-17 years old they came out with car phones. I remember having one of the first ones. It was literally a brief-case sized phone that I put behind my seat when I was driving. Then cell phones evolved into who could have the smallest flip phone, and that lasted a few years. The most recent trend is almost combining the phone and the computer. Heck, I have a Samsung Note III now that is almost as big as an IPAD mini. I can do most everything that I need to do on my day-to-day business on my phone. The cell phone/mobile device industry is evolving as such a breakneck pace that I’m confident some breakthrough invention in the next decade will either eliminate the laptop or the cell phone, combining both to one device.

Evolution of technology is not exclusive to the electronics industry. There has been a revolution in the Real Estate Industry in the last 20 years. The agents that have not stayed ahead of the curve- the slow-acting, the agents that resist change- they are the ones that are either out of business or suffering from the evolution. I have heard stories of the ‘listing books,’ and the local Real Estate Board would hand deliver new listings each Thursday to every real estate office in town and that was the ONLY way that Realtors got the information of new listings. But this was ‘before my time’ as a Realtor so I’m just going to focus on what has happened since I received my Real Estate license at the very end of 2002.

When I started out as a Real Estate Agent we had ‘contract books’ of pre-printed contracts where we would go through and pull out the contract and any addendums that we would need to write an offer. And we would handwrite the pertinent information into the contract. Then we would drive to the ‘listing agents’ office to drop off the contract. –Talk about time consuming—then we went to faxing contracts back and forth. About 5 years ago everyone started emailing contracts back and forth. And right now, all our contracts and addendums that we would need are online and we can fill in on our computer. We are also in an evolution on signing contracts. Now we can get our clients to sign electronically and share via ESignature Programs with parties involved in the contract. In just 12 short years I’m on my 4th mode of writing, delivering, and signing contracts. I’ve always stayed on the cutting edge, because, each time it is more efficient for my clients. I just laugh when I receive contracts from agents that are ‘filled in manually’ and/or they fax contracts to me. These slow moving agents, just like the dinosaurs, will soon be extinct.

Probably the biggest change in the real estate industry is how information is disseminated to the public and how well informed consumers are now compared to how they were in 2002. ‘Back in the day’ consumers would only have access to the information that you sent to them. I would wake up early, check new listings for buyers, and if any fit their criteria I would either call them to tell’em about the new house, or I would print off and fax the listing to their work. With some clients I was able to actually email them the ‘print-off’ of the new listing. Right about this time the internet was changing and home buyers wanted to start doing their own searches. This was before Redfin.com, Zillow.com, Realtor.com (who own about 85% of the market share for home searches), and each company, each brokerage, each agent would try to drive traffic to their website to search for homes. There is a technical term for this, it is called an IDX search. I was one of the first agents locally to offer an IDX search on my website in 2007. An IDX search allows consumers to use map searches and to also categorize and prioritize their search criteria. I paid good money to add this functionality to my website, but when it became obvious to me just a few short years later in 2009/2010 that there were now national websites, like the Redfins, etc., with national budgets, and expert coders that their searchers were far superior than what I could offer, I stopped having searches as a feature on my website. This is still a fast moving and evolving industry so the agents that have ‘home searches’, or ‘FREE list of homes’ on their websites aren’t as behind the times as the ones still handwriting contracts, but are definitely behind the curve.

These agents, I guarantee you, are suffering because they are focusing on the wrong aspects of technology and had better change soon or their clients will go elsewhere.

As a piggyback to the consumers having more knowledge via the Internet, the way homes are presented for sale now has dramatically changed too. I credit the HGTV, Home Improvement shows like ‘Flip this House’, ‘Love it? Or List It’, ‘Property Brothers’, and ‘Millionaire Agent’ just to name a few. When I started, the agent would take 1 exterior picture of the home and put up a For Sale sign. We would tell our clients to spruce up their homes and keep it clean. Then when the market was exploding in 2005-2007 and more consumers started searching for homes on the Internet, the ‘Virtual Tours’ were all the rage. The problem with these were that if the house was properly presented inside or the agent used a ‘normal’ camera then the tour was poorly done. The Virtual Tour has died out the last few years. Buyers are becoming more saavy and, frankly, pickier when searching for homes so the seller that doesn’t make their home stand-out or the agent that doesn’t use the latest in technology isn’t going to be selling many homes.

During the last 3 years I have been innovating and fine-tuning this listing process, and it has started with changing the mindset of my sellers.

Having a business background and an MBA in Finance I am always studying finances, investing, business acquisitions and how the successful companies are thriving. A few strategies that businesses use as they are preparing for sale is they tighten their balance sheet, the businesses do what they can to improve the Net Profits, dispose of under-utilized assets, and invest in technology. This improves the value, or better-stated, the Perceived-Value of the company and thus the stock price and ultimately the sales price. So by teaching my clients to take a Value-Driven instead of a Price-Driven approach when preparing their home for sale they are spending weeks and sometimes months positioning their home correctly. In the last 18 months I have had 3 of the highest priced homes sold in their respective neighborhoods. The Eccards in ‘The Terraces’ in Myersville, the McCauleys in New Market West, and the Sacchettis in the Villas at Westwinds. Additionally, helping numerous clients sell their home faster than market average, thus putting additional profits in their pockets. Josh and Katie, who I recently sold their home in Ijamsville, had this to say: “We felt like we were Eric’s only client! He was always available to us and always willing to make time for us. It genuinely seemed like nothing was more important to him than helping us sell our home at a price we were happy with. He consistently demonstrated expertise in all areas (listing, pricing, staging, sales-strategy, the market overall, negotiations, inspections and home-repair professionals, and closing) – we trusted him completely to guide us through the sale of our home. Based on our experience with Eric, we will most definitely recommend him to family and friends.”

So what is a Value-Driven Approach and why aren’t all agents doing it?

Properly presenting your home as an Asset that someone else would want to pay top dollar for is not easy. I’ve had sellers spend up to 6 months getting their house up to my standards to sell for top dollar. A lot of the leg work is done before I even list a home, and that is why other agents don’t do it….. They just want to ‘get the listing signed’ and ‘get your home online’. I spend, on average 40-60 hours with sellers and with my team before I list a home to get your home properly positioned to sell. On top of the time, I invest a substantial amount of money in each listing, helping you get your home ready. You have met the core of my team that are with me on every listing, Stacy and Sharon at Limelight Staged Homes and Annie Walters, my professional photographer, at Sendsible Solutions. They accompany me on every sale and are part of what you get with my services. But what if you have missing shingles, peeling paint around the front door, carpet that needs to be stretched, paint touched up, missing siding, a hole in your drywall, a leak in your garbage disposal, a reversed polarity outlet??????? These are just a few of the possible hundreds of items that buyers might nit-pick and thus buy another house.

If you can eliminate the possible obstacle up front, doesn’t it make sense to go ahead and take care of any ‘listing liability’ that your home may have? As Josh and Katie referenced above I have a rolodex of contractors in my cell phone that I have been working with, in some cases for 12 years, that are ready to help my clients when I need them. I try to get all of the possible objections addressed before listing a home, and my contractors are readily available to help when I call. I’ve got painters, a drywall guy, a plumber, an electrician, a siding guy, a roofer, a landscaper, a carpet install guy, a carpet cleaner, a house cleaner, and an HVAC contractor to name a few that regularly do work for me. I’ve also got 2 septic companies, a Lab, a pest company, a hardwood guy and a tile guy that are not used as regularly, but still help me when called.

I try to eliminate as much objection up front, but sometimes I’ve got to get the contractor out to help with an issue that we have after we go under contract. I’ve had one particular contractor, Craig Doody, -whom I just call “Roofer Craig”- with CD Construction, out to 9 of my jobs just this year. He is an expert in roofing and siding and has helped me out of many jams. Just recently I had a client that had warped siding on their home and the buyers were ‘freaking out,’ but they didn’t bother to raise the objection until a week before settlement. Now Craig is great at what he does and is always booked 3-4 weeks in advance, but he and I have a great relationship. I don’t call in ‘favors’ often, but when I do, he knows that I really need him to come through. I had him come over after work at 7pm on a Thursday evening to look at the job. He even had his wife come with him on their ‘date-night’ (what a great wife to let Craig look at a job on their date nite. THANKS LISA!!!). He looked at the job and said it would be about a half day job and that he really didn’t have time to get it done by the next Thursday before settlement. I begged him to ‘fit me in’ and the next morning he called me to say he could be there Tuesday AM early, but that the local Roof Center did not have the siding in stock, that it was in Ellicott City. I wasn’t going to not have my sellers settle on time, as there were 3 other things contingent on getting to settlement that next Thursday (that’s another story), so I told Craig. “Dude, I’ll drive down and get the siding for you, just give me the address and I’ll go get it.” So I moved my schedule around on Monday so I could spend 4 hours becoming a ‘deliver guy’ for the new siding. I dropped the siding off at Craig’s house Monday afternoon and by Tuesday at noon the new siding was installed. And we settled on time on Thursday….. Happy Sellers…

Technology will only take a seller so far.

The above example was not all about technology and the advancement in technology, but this home was Scientifically Staged by Limelight and did have professional photos by Annie and that is what brought the buyer and ultimately the contract of sale. But, it also involved me and Craig bending over backwards to get this to the finish line. Technology will only take a seller so far. But when Sellers combine the best, most cutting edge technology breakthroughs and take a Value-Driven Approach along with an Agent-me- that will step to the plate, ‘get my hands dirty,’ and have a network to contractors that are willing to help, then results happen. Not always the highest price like the Eccards, McCauleys, and Sacchettis, and maybe not sold in record time, like the Gormans this past winter in Black Rock Estates, but I will be there, holding your hand and guiding you through the stressful process of selling your home and getting you to the finish line. The McCauleys say it better than I could, “Eric has been a fantastic agent to work with. He is energetic and enthusiastic, but he also makes time to fully answer questions and walk through concerns. Eric far exceeds what we expected from an agent. He takes care of signing documents by either e-signing or working around our schedules, even offering to come to our house day or night. He also arranges repairs and inspections, apprises us of the results as soon as he gets them, and requires minimum involvement from us. He continues to perform well even when he’s not feeling 100%. Eric’s communication is phenomenal. He responds to texts and emails almost always within minutes. He makes it clear what information he needs from us, and what questions we should be asking. We were involved with several other professionals during the home buying/selling process, and each and every one of them spoke highly of Eric. It’s clear to see why. It has been a real pleasure to work with Eric, and I would strongly recommend him to others buying or selling a house.”

Where will technology and the Real Estate industry be in 5 years? In 10 years? I have no clue, but what I can tell you is that if it is proven successful, then I will be quickly adapting it for my business and my clients. The beauty of technology and the real estate business is that it is always evolving and if you don’t evolve with it, the slow-reacting agent, just like the Atari will soon be EXTINCT. Those that can easily adapt and innovate, like teaching clients to take a Value-Driven Approach instead of the 1990’s Price-Driven Approach, and can combine the latest in technology, along with having a stable team of support in contractors and business partners will be the ones that thrive.