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Opinion Editorials

Tools, Toys and Tricks… Have we forgotten anything?




I love the real estate industry for many reasons, but few come close to the right and ability to buy tons of toys and call them a business investments. From new laptops to GPS, we can use it all! We’ve got super cool webpages, twitter, digital cameras and more! We’ve even figured out how to qualify our Facebook time as business. We’ve adapted it all… but have we forgotten something?

I’ve read hundreds and probably thousands of real estate webpages/blogs and too many times have I found them all about the Realtor. Marketing to and about the consumer simply pays more.

dogontreeYou’ve seen it, the “Million Dollar Producer” tag lines that are on all the business cards and the sacred production awards that agents feel compelled to spill all over the newspaper. This information is put out there, as if selling millions is impressive to the consumer. Is it any wonder that the consumer thinks practitioners get paid too much?

In most areas of the country, it’s not a real struggle to sell millions of dollars in real estate. In the Northern Virginia area, the average home sale is about $400,000, so selling three of these will put you in the Million Dollar Producers club, but still leave your income at less than the national poverty level…that doesn’t leave much money for marketing and caring for the client.


How about those photos? I love the glamor shots, photos from 12 years ago or holding the phone to their ears. Talk about false advertising! The phone up to the ear? What are you saying to the consumer…that you’re so busy that you can’t take the phone from your ear long enough to get a photo? If that’s the case, than you’re too busy to help me with my phone purchase. Blueroof has done a good job at explaining the difference of good versus bad.

As far as bad housing advertising, this isn’t just a mistake, it’s a disservice to the client who has put their trust in you. Norm Fisher does one of the best jobs of capitalizing off of other agent’s mistakes. He has put together a VirtualTour of bad agents photos to see how he can do better.

Almost everything that’s done in marketing has some message that resonates with the consumer, and not usually is it what you might have intended. A group of college students have come up with interpretations for Real Estate Jargon, and it’s pretty funny. But, what I got more out of it, is that people really think that practitioners are trying to hide something in their marketing. We need to understand that people inherently do not trust sales people; regardless of the industry.

Here are a few hints from the 2007 National Associations of Realtors Profile of Buyer and Sellers.

86% of consumers started their search on-line

95% were looking for Property For Sale

smokingdr4% were looking for the Real Estate Agent

Consumers wanted an agent for the following services:

49% Wanted help finding the right home to purchaser (largest category)

13% Wanted help with negotiating the terms of the contract

11% Wanted help with negotiating the price

What did the consumer appreciate about their agent, once hired?

97% Thought Honesty and Integrity were important

36% Thought Proficiency with Technology was important

68% would use the Realtor again and only 5% wouldn’t use their agent again….


The Internet is absolutely important to the real estate practitioner, but we have to embrace it and it’s appropriate application to consumer interaction. What can we learn from these numbers? First, the largest majority of home buyers go on-line to start their real estate transaction and very few use print media. Of those that do go on-line, they are looking for the property and not YOU. Sorry to hurt your fragile ego, but don’t fear, there is more than enough back patting to go around in a real estate brokerage or local association – we love giving ourselves awards .

But really, when a consumer goes looking for real estate, they go to Zillow and because that’s where the homes are! It’s interesting that when we visit most static webpages, we find the “About Me” page as the “Home” page instead of an IDX link to homes. By the way, no one goes to your webpage to JUST look for your personal listings. Very few, if any do a google search on “homes for sale by <insert your brokerage / firm name here>.” The only people doing that are your competitors because they aren’t busy enough to keep them from fretting about you. So, why worry about what the competition is searching for online? If they had business, they wouldn’t have time to stalk you!

I think that one of the main reasons why we’re seeing social media applications working, is because of the next bracket of information. 49% percent of consumers wanted help finding the home, 13% negotiating terms and 11% negotiating price. A well maintained blog will allow the real estate agent to put information out there for the consumer to grab and realize that the writer has a clue and can be trusted to help them with aggregating the information. A poorly maintained blog tells the consumer that the agent doesn’t put a lot of effort in their own marketing venues and that may translate into their practice. I am amazed, as an instructor, how often I ask how many students have a blog and many don’t know or say that they rarely maintain it. I think it’s better to not have a marketing venue, than to have one that you only tend to half-heartedly.


girlscdsHaving technology and knowing what to do with it are two different things. I don’t think it’s surprising that the consumer wants transparency in the form of honesty and integrity. It maybe surprising that Technical Proficiency wasn’t rated higher. I theorize that it’s because the consumer simply expects us to have the tools to do the job and they realize that the job is still a person-oriented industry.

For all the nay sayers in regards to technology and to those who say that technology will replace the real estate agent, I say that it simply enhances us and proves our worth more! How many consumers will spend the time to really know how to use all these application for the their real estate benefit and to meet their ultimate goal of a successful transaction.

Social media is the next natural evolution of consumer interaction. It’s the marriage of the static internet that consumers were using and the inherent need for social interaction that is required by most to have a well rounded existence.

I think that 68% of consumers saying they would use the same agent again, is a great standard. Most liked their agent and that says volumes, the fact that only 5% would not use the same person again also says positive things for our industry. How many of you have been accused of a bad transaction, simply because it didn’t go your client’s way? How about when the home doesn’t sell because of the market or the high sales price? So, 5% isn’t that bad, but I do agree that we could do better.

The social media aspects have armed the practitioner with advantages that others do not have. Entering a client’s Facebook page or Twitter profile (you can follow me HERE) in with yours let’s you connect with the client much better than those agents who sweep in and spend the minimum 45 minutes to get a listing agreement signed and then calling back only when it’s time to renew that listing. Interacting with them will help put a personal connection that will help when you’re trying to deliver uncomfortable information or convince them of a decision that is in their best interest.

Keeping up with trends and techniques is vitally important, but not if you’ve placed more value and effort into having the best webpage over having the best connection with the consumer. If you’re ever in doubt, look at what you’re doing and ask what you would think if you saw the other guy doing it?




Matthew Rathbun is a Virginia Licensed Broker and Director of Professional Development for Coldwell Banker Elite, in Fredericksburg Virginia. He has opened and managed real estate firms, as well as coached and mentored agents and Brokers. As a Residential REALTOR®, Matthew was a high volume agent and past REALTOR® Rookie of the Year & Virginia Association Instructor of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter as "MattRathbun" and on Facebook. Matthew's blog is

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  1. Teresa Boardman

    March 17, 2008 at 6:13 am

    My marketing is certainly different than that of most of my peers. I tend to focus on real estate and not on my face. I am going to disagree with you on one thing here. No the homes can not be found on zillow. At least not homes for sale. When consumers look for homes on zillow and some of the other national sites they are seeing about 20% of what is available in our market. Nice sites but not the best for consumers looking for homes.

  2. Mike Farmer

    March 17, 2008 at 7:53 am

    Teresa, that is a very pertinent point. If buyers really want to see what is available they will go to local RE sites that have an IDX function and the capability of putting the homes in context with accurate area information.

  3. Mack in Atlanta

    March 17, 2008 at 8:14 am

    Teresa, I agree that zillow does not show all the homes that are available. They also give out flawed estimates of value in their zestimates. We as REALTORS must do a better job of educating the buyers that they can obtain more complete information about homes for sale by utilizing our sites.

  4. Matthew Rathbun

    March 17, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Teresa, MIke and Mack… I agree that is what is currently going on, but I think it’s going to improve itself over time. I am not endorsing Zillow, per se; but I think the concept is going to be more popular in the future IF NAR doesn’t fit I think and Jim Duncan has illustrated this, that Zillow and Truila area listening and reacting to the need for change faster than NAR.
    Thanks for pointing out the issue!

  5. Mariana Wagner

    March 17, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Thank you for offering all the great stats. I POUND this into the agents I train, on a daily basis .. NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOU… THEY JUST CARE ABOUT WHT YOU CAN DO FOR THEM.

  6. Sean Purcell

    March 17, 2008 at 1:30 pm


    Great post. Lots of good ideas and “lane markers”. I will print this and add it to the folder where I keep guidelines for every online piece of marketing I do. Would love to see you expand on the idea of
    Entering a client’s Facebook page or Twitter profile (you can follow me HERE) in with yours

    What would you look for, what would you do and how would you do it?

    Thanks for an informative post.

  7. Toronto realtor

    March 19, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I actually do like real estate business. I started a years ago with buying this small appartement in Toronto, then I sold it after a time and so it went all again.. After a certain period I was owning few properties and I was living on the rental income. Now I work as a realtor in Toronto and I encourage my clients, or anybody interested to invest in real estate. There are many creative players on the market that succeeded, but I always advise to get a professional, to do the research and other work for you. Investing in a real estate is a high-level commitment, but as a future buyer, try to collect solid informations, don’t get scared by initial hurdles.

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Opinion Editorials

Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.



Stressed man thinking over laptop about unemployment.

Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.

I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.

We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.

We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.

In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.

When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.

I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.

There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.

I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.

I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.

I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.

I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.



Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.



UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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