Technology

Evernote – part 2 – How I Organize and My 10 Best Uses

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Last week I wrote about Evernote Basics - what it is and some samples for how to use it.  Today I'll dig a little deeper and share how I use it personally - both how I organize my digital notes and what purposes I use it for.  But before I dig into the details, I want to take a step back and talk conceptually about notes and filing.

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Digital vs Paper

There really isn't much difference between digital and paper notes.  Forget digital for a minute, and think about paper notes:

If you write something down, or print a web page, or have a photo, that paper item actually exists.  You can hold it, feel it, read it, share it, and eventually - put it somewhere.  Your ability to access the information on that piece of paper is only as good as your ability to remember where you put it.  If you put a minute's effort into filing it into a well-labeled file folder hanging in a drawer in a filing cabinet, odds are you'll be able to find it when you need it.  If you throw the note onto the kitchen counter, along with piles of other notes & junk mail, odds are you won't remember exactly what happened to it a few months from now.

Digital notes are very similar to paper notes.  Each note is an individual piece of information that you might want to access again later.  You can be very meticulous about filing them, or you can be less rigid.

Digital notes are also very different to paper notes.  Each note can have an unlimited amount of information on it, including whole web pages, links to other notes, pictures, audio clips, and any other file (word document, pdf file, spreadsheet, etc.).  In addition, the notes are search-able, so even if you just throw your notes into a big pile on the Evernote kitchen counter, you'll most likely still be able to find the note you're looking for.  I have some notes which only contain a subject line - just a short phrase to remind me of something I need to do, and I have other notes which are several megabytes and contain several attachments - one of these notes might be an entire file folder if I had to print it all out!

Storage, Use, and Growth

My first boss was an organization maniac.  He would preach that we take lots of notes, because nobody had a good enough memory.  He taught us that if you have 5 pieces of paper on the same topic, that topic needed its own folder.  If (or when) a topic's folder got too big (maybe 50 pieces of paper), you needed to break it out into more, smaller folders - either chronologically or by subtopic.

This process leads to a slow but steady accumulation of files, with an ever-evolving organization system based on how many notes you have about various topics.  You don't go out on day 1 and pre-name hundreds of files, drawers, and cabinets with what you *think* you're going to need to file; you slowly add a file here and there as you have the need for them.

image (my file cabinet, 3 years ago.)

I use this exact same system for Evernote.  I started with one notebook, adding a few notes each day.  That quickly became several notebooks representing various topics.  Eventually I wanted to group related topics together, so I gave them a Notebook Stack.  This is the Evernote equivalent of moving related file folders into the same drawer in the file cabinet.  Over time my file tree has consistently grown; I currently have 1,993 notes in 72 notebooks and 9 notebook stacks.  Looking at them today, I have only 1 notebook with more than 100 notes, and I have a dozen or so with less than 10 notes.  Just last week I created a new notebook stack, when I felt like one stack was getting really big and it contained notebooks representing 2 different topic genres, so it was easy to break it out into 2.

I don't use tags - they tend to confuse me.  Each note only needs to reside in one place - the right notebook.  Tags feel sloppy and haphazard.  But that's just me.  Google "organizing Evernote" and you'll find more people who preach tags than those who don't.  It's all about making organization work for you.  I've been using Evernote for 2 years, I have almost two thousand notes, and I can find any of them in about 2 seconds from any of my computers or phones - it simply works!

My 10 Best Uses for Evernote

1.  Kids' School Work.  the kids bring home mountains of paperwork from school, and my wife wants to save all of it!   I scan or snap a photo of each page, then put it into an Evernote notebook.  now it's stored forever, without any boxes of old crap to keep in the attic!

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2. Client Files.  each client/project gets a notebook, and EVERYTHING goes into it. I now have all my info & notes, neatly together, wherever I am.  For organization & clutter sake, and because Evernote has a limit of 250 notebooks (although they'll allow thousands of tags), once the client closes I move their notes into a combined notebook - I still have everything available, but I have fewer notebooks to sift through.

3. To Do List. I've used dozens of task managers over the years, but I keep coming back to Evernote.  It's fast & easy to jot down a to-do item as I think of it, it's with me all the time on all my devices, and it's easy to add notes, screen clips, emails, etc. to my to-do notes.  I have one notebook for my tasks that are due immediately - today or tomorrow, and another notebook for tasks due in the future.

4. Web Research.  I have taken screen clips of tons of things over the last couple of years - maps, computer comparisons, cell phone plans, state parks and hiking information, hotel information and confirmation, online shopping receipts, etc. etc.  Anything that shows up on my computer screen that I want to keep a picture of - done.

5. Special Foods.  My oldest son is on a restricted diet, so I've taken pictures of some of his foods with my cell phone & shared them to Evernote.  Then, when my wife asks me to stop at the store on the way home to pick up some ________ , I get the right kind!  I've also taken pics of the vitamins he takes, so when my wife calls from Sprouts to ask which specific brand is his, I can tell her.  (Bonus husband points for me!)

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6. Bookmarks.  Evernote has a browser add-in which allows you to highlight any part of a web page and keep that selection as a new note, with the web page's URL attached to it.  (or, don't highlight anything and Evernote captures the whole page.)  I use this to add bookmarks with one mouse click, and my bookmarks are now available to me from any browser on any computer.

7. Names.  I like to jot down a quick note of people's names, especially when I meet a group of new people.  It helps me remember the names better, and it gives me a quick reference guide to review on the way to an event where I'm likely to see those people again.

8. Journal.  A couple days a week I do a voice recording on my way home, (using Hi-Q MP3 android app to record in mp-3 format), as a way to journal what's going on - mostly notes about the kids, but I also journal about work, triathlon training, and whatever other thoughts I have.  It's become a great record of the last couple of years.  I can also add text and photos to my journal notebook - sometimes I just take a picture of the kids with my cell phone & share it to my Evernote Journal Notebook - done.

9. Blogging.  Combining the Web Research and Journal functions gives me a great blogging resource.  I store ideas for future posts, web articles & research, and rough drafts.  In fact, this post was composed entirely in Evernote.  I wrote some of it from my desktop, then I added some notes from my phone during my son's soccer practice, then I used my laptop, before finishing it from my desktop.

10. Paperless.  I expanded on my Kids' School Work concept and started scanning &/or photo'ing all my admin files:  records and receipts for the cars, medical receipts, notes & receipts from household items, etc.  Once my records are in Evernote, I'm able to shred or trash the paper document.  I also take pictures of the box or the model/serial number when I buy new things (dishwasher, SLR camera, etc.), so I'll have the information I'll need in a few years for a repair or replacement part.  Right now I'm 99% paperless, and I'm more organized, with more information that's easier to find, then I've ever been.  1,993 Evernote notes and counting.

Remember my filing cabinet from 3 years ago?  Here's my filing cabinet today.

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It's also my briefcase.  The silver one on the right is my backup.  Not only is it easier to find what I need when I need it from wherever I am, but the next time I move is going to be a whole lot easier!  ;-)

Your Evernote-lovin’ Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

Evernote – part 1 – The Basics

I don’t know about you, but when I love a product, I tend to talk about it.  (sometimes a little too much!)  Evernote is one of those products.  I’ve talked it up enough that more than a few people have asked me what it is & how they should use it, which gives me a good reason to write a post about it.

Evernote Basics

What is Evernote?  Well, a screen clip from their website is a great place to start:


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That basically says it all.

Capture anything.

  • Sceen Clippings
  • Web Sites
  • Thoughts, notes, ideas
  • Voice notes
  • Photos
  • Emails
  • Digital files - pdf, doc, xls, etc.

Access anywhere.

Everything you put into Evernote is readily available on every device you own, as well as any computer (or any other device) with an internet connection.  It’s totally platform independent.

  • Windows PCs & laptops
  • Netbooks
  • Macs and MacBooks
  • Android phones
  • Android tablets
  • iPhones and iPod Touch
  • iPads
  • Blackberry phones
  • Blackberry PlayBook

This means anything you note, capture, or edit on any of these devices will be automatically sync’d up with all your other devices, ready to be retrieved or edited from wherever you are & whatever device you’re using.

Find things fast.

Evernote offers 3 completely different ways to organize your notes, each of which can be used with or without any of the others:

  • Categorize with notebooks
  • Label with tags
  • World class searching, including searching handwritten & typed text in photos and scanned files.

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(image courtesy of Jeffrey Beall)

Notebooks and Notebook Stacks.  Stacks are like file cabinet drawers (or stacks of file folders), and Notebooks are like file folders.  Each note can only be in one notebook, like each piece of paper can only be in one file folder.  You can have multiple notebooks in a stack.  People who are good with filing systems - paper or digital - will probably gravitate towards this system.

For example:

Suppose you had a Notebook Stack called Vacation, which contained Notebooks for San Diego, Colorado, Florida, and New York.

Information for your trip to San Diego would go in your San Diego notebook.

You could find all your San Diego notes by selecting the San Diego notebook, OR by selecting the Vacation notebook stack.  (in which case you would see your San Diego notes mixed in with your notes from Colorado, Florida, and New York.)

Tags. Tags are like labels.  Each note can have an unlimited number of tags.  In addition, Tags can be organized into a file-tree for those who want to organize groups of tags together – this makes it visually easier to find a tag or tag group on the screen.  People who prefer a little less structure, or those who are used to using labels extensively, will most likely gravitate towards tags.

a plain white undecorated gift label on a turquoise backdrop (ChristmasStockImages.com)

Example:

Information for your trip to San Diego would be tagged with San Diego and Vacation.  (and possibly Restaurants, Theme Parks, or Hotels.)

Search by Key Words.  Since Evernote's search capabilities are so good, some people just put their notes into a "big digital pile", but they can search for a particular word or phrase to find the note they want.

Example:

Information for your trip to San Diego is just put into Evernote.  You could find it by searching for San Diego, or San Diego Restaurant, or Sea World, or whatever makes sense for whatever you are looking for.

How to get started using Evernote

Because it can be a bit overwhelming to think about what goes into Evernote, or making a switch from where you are today to going paperless, or anything drastic like that, I recommend you start with 1 thing, and add other uses as you get comfortable with it.

Recipes.  My wife gave Evernote a try with her recipe collection.  Over the years she had accumulated magazine pages, email & website printouts, and lots of individual recipe-cards.  Years ago I built her a template she could use to type in a recipe & have it print out onto postcard.  The postcards were then kept in a cute little box in the kitchen.  This was ok when it worked, but it had several flaws:

  1. She would get behind & end up with a stack of printouts, then have to stay up late one night to type them all out.
  2. She would get a new computer, and if everything wasn't backed up perfectly, she would lose her digital copy.
  3. She would be at the store, or at her mom's house, and wouldn't have the ingredient list for a particular dish with her.

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Using Evernote has solved all 3 problems.

Now she can type them up, clip the web page directly into Evernote, or take a picture of a magazine page with her cell phone, and the recipe is stored – permanently and easily searchable-sharable-readable.

She tags the recipes as needed - chicken, main dish, dessert, appetizer, gfcf, etc., so she can quickly search for whatever type of dish she's looking for.

She also has them wherever she goes - home computer, smart phone, mom's computer, wherever there's an internet connection.

By doing this, she’s become more familiar with Evernote as an application – how to put stuff in, how to find it later, and how it all shows up wherever she needs it to be.  That makes it a lot easier to start using it for other things, too.

Other ideas include:

  • web research – Evernote is awesome here.  Screen clippings save exact images from your screen.  Web clippings copy web pages and include the url they were copied from.  And you can add as many notes about it as you need to.
  • plan a vacation – maps, hotel information, restaurants and entertainment ideas, flight info, contacts in the area.
  • client notes – housing likes and dislikes, neighborhood criteria, photos, notes about homes you’ve shown them, mls search results, alternative contact information, frequently reviewed emails, etc.
  • receipts – take a picture of a receipt with your phone, and Evernote will read the text for searching later.
  • hobbies – Evernote can become a collection of notes, projects, history, ideas.
  • blogging! – Jot down an idea (typed or voicenote) wherever it comes to you.  Write rough draft posts in.  Clip articles and images to be used later.
  • journal – an easy way to write up your daily thoughts throughout the day, from whichever device or wherever you are.
  • add more ideas as you get comfortable with it!

In part 2 I'll write about how I use Evernote - how I organize it and some specific ways I use it to be more efficient.

For those of you who want to know more about it – security, sharing notes, bandwidth limitations, free vs premium, etc., there’s been more written than you have time to read!  Start by reviewing the evernote website, then try one of the 61,400,000 results that returned in my Google search for Evernote.

Anyone out there already using Evernote?  Please chime in on anything I might have missed..


** Update 9/28/11 - Link Here to Evernote Part 2 - How I Organize and My 10 Best Uses.

Your thankful to have an external brain Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

7 Best Free Softwares

Lately I’ve come to realize that I’m reliant on free software, mostly cloud-based, which in most cases I didn’t even know existed a year ago!  These 7 applications are not just cool – they’ve made my life easier:

1. Evernote

The first thing I open when I turn on my computer (any of my computers), and the app I use most frequently on my phone.

Evernote is advertised as being your second brain, and that’s not far off from the truth!  It’s a place where you can store notes to yourself regarding any topic.  Add in some web pages, screen clips, pdf files, photos, or any other file-type.  Then make them extremely sortable, searchable, taggable, and easily shareable.  And make them all readily available from any computer – completely in sync.  It’s a WOW product, and yes – it’s free!

The syncing is amazing – I have the exact same notes available from my laptop, my desktop, my phone, my wife’s laptop, and any other computer with internet access.

I started slowly, using it as a place to store blogging ideas and other thoughts from around the web.  But I realized how good it was and I quickly started adding other uses.  Some of my uses include:

  • Client notes & conversation logs
  • Kids’ school projects – no more file cabinets filled with “stuff”!
  • Family medical records – another file drawer emptied.
  • Writing ideas & research
  • Action items
  • Vacation research, planning, and notes
  • Quicknotes for people’s names I can’t forget
  • Recipes
  • Dozens of others – I have approx. 900 notes scattered across 5 notebook “stacks”, 50 notebooks, and 5 tags.

Full disclosure – I used the free version for a few months before upgrading the the premium version ($45/yr), which offers more storage space, larger individual note size, and unlimited file-types can be uploaded.

2. Mint

I used Quicken to organize my bank accounts since the mid-90s – first by manually entering every single receipt, then over the last couple of years downloading our account activity directly from Wells Fargo into Quicken.

This year, on January 1st, I made the switch to Mint.com for tracking and reviewing my checking account, and I’m amazed by how good the program works.  (and it’s free!)

My banking activity is automatically populated into Mint – no more logging into wells.com to download my activity.  Each expense is placed into the appropriate category (you can use Mint’s default categories or you can create your own, which I did.)  I had to teach the program which category to use the first time an expense showed up, but after that it automatically puts the expense into the right category.  And the one click charting/reporting is easy to read yet powerful.

In summary, it’s free, it works well, it’s a faster way to keep track of something I was already doing, and it’s available from any computer (including my phone.)  Yep, that’s a winner.

3. Google Suite

I was the biggest Microsoft honk out there, so the switch to Google was not simple, nor was it quick.  I’ve been slowly migrating since 2008, but now I’m all-in.  I still have an Access database with all the MLS sales since 2000 in it, and I still have an Excel spreadsheet which pulls data from that database and then uses several pivot tables and pivot charts to sift through it all.  But other than that all the documents I work on regularly have been converted or replaced.

  • Gmail – easy to use, plays nice with others, easily taggable and searchable, and has the best spam filter I’ve ever seen.  I use Outlook as a way to backup my email locally, just in case.  But my gmail pulls all my other email addresses into one place.
  • Calendar – I’m able to see my calendar, along with my wife’s and my business partner’s, all in one place (and on my phone), with changes or new appointments showing up in real time.
  • Documents – word docs or spreadsheets, with almost all the functionality of MS Office.  But they’re easily accessed from any computer, and they’re shareable with others, to the point where multiple people can be editing the same spreadsheet at the same time.  And they’re easy to use from my phone!
  • Reader – my rss reader, where I can easily scan through the dozens of blogs I read.
  • Bookmarks – I bookmark my favorite websites using Google Bookmarks, so I have them available regardless of what computer I’m using.
  • Picasa – my favorite photo-editing software.  I still can’t believe this is free.
  • Picasa Web Albums – my favorite way to share photos.
  • Tasks, Blogger, Analytics, Fusion Tables, Alerts…  and more!
  • IGoogle – then I use IGoogle as my homepage, so I can see all of these items at a glance.

It’s free, replaces things I was already using (or in some cases adding functionality I didn’t have before), and available from any computer including my phone.  Another winner.

4. Syncback

It’s hard to get too excited about a backup service, but last month when Mozy raised their prices from $60/yr to $168/yr, I had to make a change!

Enter Syncback.  It’s free, and it works flawlessly.  I now backup my approx 150 gb of data to 2 different external drives, and Syncback manages everything.  Best of all, it uses a regular ‘ol file-tree system, so I can easily navigate my external drives to see &/or restore any file I need.  (not like some backup services which encrypt & zip the backup sets, so you’re left to hope everything is ok…)

5. Android

This might be a reach, because Android is an operating system and not a software application, but I can’t leave it off the list.

I bought an HTC Incredible phone a couple of months ago, and I am absolutely blown away by it – to the point I wish my computer could be just like my phone!  Over the last decade I’ve owned a Handspring Visor-phone, multiple Treos running both palm and windows os (the 600p, my first one, was my favorite), a Motorola Q, an older-generation Blackberry, a Blackberry Pearl, and a Blackberry Storm2.  And this Incredible is like something else entirely – it’s like comparing an NFL team with the local high school football talent – different league entirely.

When you’re ready for a new phone, you need to look at the HTC Evo 4G (Sprint) or HTC Thunderbolt 4G (Verizon) – both are bigger & better versions of my Incredible.  You won’t be disappointed.

6. Podcasting

I spend quite a bit of time in my car, and the radio gets awfully boring after awhile.

I added a free podcast player to my phone and subscribed to a few podcasts covering a few different topics – sports, history, comedy, fitness, general knowledge.

Now I listen to these podcasts more often than I listen to the radio.  My podcast player automatically searches the podcasts I’ve subscribed to for new episodes at night while I’m sleeping, then it downloads any new episodes and cues them up for me to listen to the next day.

It gives me more control over what I’m listening to, with the added bonus of being able to pause, rewind, and take it with me outside of the car.

Full disclosure – I used the free version of BeyondPod for a couple of weeks, then I splurged $7 to buy the full-featured version.

7. RedBox

The RedBox app for iPhone and Android is pretty slick.  You can search for a particular title, and the app will tell you which RedBox locations have that title available.  You can then select a location and rent the movie right then & there, from your phone.  Then, on the way home, you simply stop by the box and pick up your movie.

You can also tell the app which location(s) are your favorites.  Then you can ask the app to display which movies are available at your favorite locations.  Or, you can have it use your phone’s GPS to display which movies are available at locations near you, wherever you happen to be!

Remarkable.

What are your favorites?

Hopefully this list helps you discover a better way to do something you’re already doing.  What am I missing?  What apps do you use to make your life better / easier?

Your trying to work smarter Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

Truly Useful Technology – Beer Drinkers Rejoice!

I don’t know about you, but for me the word technology brings up images of computers, cell phones, and other electronic gadgetry.  But real technology is more useful than that.  Real technology expands our civilization (cars & roads), powers our lives (energy), and wins wars (name your weapon here).

Does this count as a truly useful technology?

.

The company claims stadiums can go from eight beer pourers for every two cashiers, to one beer pourer for every eight cashiers. 

It might not change the world, but it should at least cut down on the lines at the Arizona Cardinals games, which makes the world a little better!

(Hat tip to the 40tech blog)

Your suddenly thirsty Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

Search the MLS, part 3

Here are the Cliff Notes for part 1 and part 2 of this Pulitzer-winning series on why home shoppers who think they can search the MLS are mistaken:



There is no 1 MLS, there are only lots of city-wide, regional or statewide MLSs.

Consumers can’t search the MLS for their region directly because that database is private and for subscribers only. (i.e. Realtors, appraisers, etc.)

Instead, consumers can view a data feed from the private MLSs. This is shown on thousands of public websites like Trulia and Zillow, Realtor.com and the like.

For a variety of reasons, the housing data consumers on public real estate websites is often imperfect, incomplete, out of date or inaccurate.

Now that you’re all caught up, we’ll move on. But note that consumers can get as close as humanly possible to searching the private database called the Arizona Regional MLS by using our "Search Phoenix Homes" button, up above.



Finding the Seller’s Realtor is Difficult.


A very few sites make it easy to find & contact the seller’s Realtor. Trulia.com does this and so does Homes.com


margy court on trulia DOT com (click any graphic to enlarge it)


Several websites list the brokerage who represents the seller but not the individual agent. Realtor.com and MLSonline.com are two of these.


Margy court on Realtor DOT com revised



Most sites offer no opportunity to locate and contact the seller’s Realtor. In fact, many websites try to purposely misdirect consumers into contacting a Realtor connected with the displaying website. Among these: ZipRealty, Redfin.com, AZmoves.com (which is the Greater Phoenix Coldwell Banker website) and a whole ton of others.


margy court on zillow


Finding the seller’s Realtor on a typical home for sale is difficult enough. Communicating with Realtors who list bank owned homes is next to impossible, mostly because they’re so over-busy.


Our colleague Kris Berg San Diego Castles Realty posted a really funny cartoon about how difficult it is to get in touch with the agents who list bank owned real estate.


If you’re a buyer trying to reach the seller’s Realtor on a bank owned foreclosure (REO) home, you should also try winning the lottery. Or accurately predicting the end of Lost.


Tomorrow. . . is there a benefit in finding and working with the seller’s Realtor? In other words, is all that beating your head against the wall worthwhile?

Search the MLS, part 2

For those who didn’t read my previous post about the myth of “searching the MLS” here’s the Cliff Notes version:
There is no 1 MLS, there are only lots of city-wide, regional or statewide MLSs.

Consumers can’t view the MLS for their region directly because it’s private and for subscribers only. (i.e. Realtors, appraisers, etc.)

Instead, public real estate websites like Trulia, Zillow and dozens thousands of others display homes for sale which they get from a data feed provided by one or more private MLSs.

There are two very important things consumers should keep in mind when they try to search the MLS are house hunting on public real estate websites. (1) Data integrity isn’t what it could be. (2) As a consumer, finding the agent who represents the seller is often difficult.

Today I’ll cover data integrity; come back in several days for info on finding the seller’s Realtor and why you maybe don’t really want to bother.

Data integrity on public real estate websites: spotty


Sometimes data shown on public websites like Trulia, Realtor.com, Zillow, Dwellicious, etc., is a little bit ‘off’.  There are a few causes.

Some real estate websites are slow to update their data from the MLS data feed. Sometimes the websites didn't pull the entire data feed available to them, resulting in homes that are for sale but not shown on the website you're visiting. Sometimes bad data is just a case of Garbage In, Garbage Out: if the seller’s Realtor makes a typo while entering the homes into the private MLS, that typo carries through to every site that grabs the MLS data feed.


Zillow is the ultimate mashup of data and suffers the consequences of most mashups: too many cooks in the kitchen makes for bad soup. Zillow pulls a data feed from the ARMLS (Arizona Regional MLS), the county tax assessor's office, local Realtors who answer consumer questions in Zillow's chat section, and a variety of sponsors (read, paid advertisers) like mortgage officers and credit repair scammers agencies, etc. Trying to cram all that data into one pretty website results in data problems. Zillow admits that it's 'zestimates' are very imperfect. For Maricopa county properties (most of the Greater Phoenix area is in this county) are 10% too high or 10% too low in nearly 6 out of 10 cases. As Chris has said in the past, Zillow is like the kid who gets 6 out of 10 math problems wrong on a test. That's not a grade you want to hang on the fridge.


Many (most?) times the bad data found on public real estate websites is caused by layout & design issues, or maybe software incompatibility issues between the MLS data feed and the database of the receiving website.

For example, Realtor.com and Trulia.com both display one of our current listings for sale: 2835 W Margy Court in Phoenix. Both sites received the exact same data feed from the private ARMLS (Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service) site.

Realtor.com has great information on this home but the presentation a bit ugly.

margy court on realtor DOT com

margy court on realtor DOT com continued (click to enlarge)

But Realtor.com does provide a handy-dandy “Refreshed at” time so online shoppers know that the Realtor.com site updated their data feed from the local, private MLS only 9 minutes ago (note, I’m unable to verify that). That’s some fresh info!

Trulia on the other hand, has less than perfect information but it’s displayed prettily.

margy court on trulia DOT com

Trulia says the neighborhood is “Alhambra” but it’s actually named Harbor Cove. Trulia also lists the sales price and date of the last time the home was sold, but they get that data wrong.

Two public real estate sites gathered the same data about this house from the private ARMLS data feed, but the resulting data displayed for consumers is different.

We’re all in this together. . . or are we?


Finally, sometimes the problem of real estate data that’s a little “off” is caused by pesky geographic differences. We’re a Big Country after all.

Realtor.com has a data field called “Parking Features” and that field shows “Electric Door Opener” for our listing. True, the house does have an electric garage door opener. But that’s such a common thing in newer Phoenix homes that few Phoenicians would think of it as a “feature”. More like “duh, expected.”

I’m pretty sure there are parts of the country where electric garage door openers aren’t standard. But Realtor.com is a national website, so they display some data that makes sense to Chicagoans (for example) but not to Phoenicians.



Search the MLS – a better way.


Consumers demand accurate data when they search the MLS shop for real estate online. But if the public real estate websites all have little, varied problems delivering that accuracy, what’s a consumer to do?

I can only speak for the Greater Phoenix area where I work. Here, there’s a better way and it’s found on many Realtor’s websites. Scroll back up to the top of this page on this website. See the big button that says Search Phoenix Homes? Click it. Search till your fingers go numb and your vision goes fuzzy. You’re as close as a consumer can get to the private MLS data.

Let’s compare the private MLS data to the consumer data available through our Search Phoenix Homes button. The search I’m using is for:


  • single family homes


  • 2 bedrooms (not more, not less)


  • located in ZIP code 85016


  • priced between $100,000 and $125,000


Private MLS view seen by Realtors, appraisers, etc.


2-1 in 85016 from 100k to 125k FROM MLS (click to enlarge so you don’t go blind)

The Phoenix Agent’s Search Phoenix Homes view available to consumers searching for the exact same thing:

2-1 in 85016 from 100k to 125k (click = enlarge)

 

If you click the pics above, you'll see that the consumers are seeing exactly the same data I can see as a Realtor in the private, members-only MLS. Yes, it is true that our search – like every other search - is displaying a data feed. But. . .


  • our display/graphic layout is an exact duplicate of the private MLS,


  • every home that’s in the private MLS is on our website, and


  • the data is updated in real-time.


  • True, you’ll still see garbage-in, garbage-out typos because I’m not the punctuation police. Yet.


 

Eagle-eyed readers spotted the one difference between the two search display results. On the far right hand side of each graphic above, the private MLS that Realtors can view shows the seller’s Realtor; the consumer side shown by The Phoenix Agents’ Search Phoenix Homes doesn’t.

In part 3 of this series, I’ll look into whether or not consumers can find the seller's Realtor while surfing online. And in part 4, I'll talk about whether buyers who work with the seller's Realtor save any money doing so.

Why you can’t search “the” MLS


  • MLSonline.com

  • MLS.com

  • MLSlistings.com

  • TheMLS.com

  • Realtor.com

  • RealEstate.com


None of those are “the” MLS, or Multiple Listing Service. Listen up peeps, there are two giant misconceptions out there about consumers’ ability to search the MLS. (and see also our own Kelley Koehler on searching "the MLS")

Consumers can’t search “the” MLS because there is no single, national MLS*. And if there was, consumers probably couldn’t view it directly.*

What consumers think of as “the MLS” is a bunch of local or regional private, subscribers-only databases.  Here in the Greater Phoenix area we use the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, or ARMLS. Realtors, brokers and appraisers are the biggest dues-paying subscribers. Consumers cannot access this database directly.

So what are – the consumer - you looking at when you “search the MLS”? Almost always, consumers see a data feed taken from one or more local/regional MLSs.


  • Trulia.com , Yahoo.com, Zillow.com, Roost.com, Dwellicious.com


  • RealEstate.com, Realtor.com


  • Homes.com , PhoenixHomes.com , HomeListings.com , HomeGain.com


  • HouseHunt.com , NewHomesSection.com, NewHomeSource.com


  • AZcentral.com, AZhomesForSale.com, AZlandSale.com


  • PhoenixPowerSearch.com, ArizonaPropertyForSale.com


All of those sites display for consumers the data feed they accept from one or more local/regional MLSs. These sites accept the data – bits and bytes, 1’s and 0’s – and display it on their own website alongside banner ads, pop-up ads, pay-per-click ads, and anything else they choose to display.

I’m not going to cover the arguments about whether or not there should be a single, national MLS, and whether or not consumers should be able to view it directly. Why? Because we designed this blog for consumers, not for Realtors and brokers.

Instead, in my next post I’ll explain the 2 factors consumers must be aware of when searching the MLS searching for homes online. Meanwhile, consumers can get as close as possible to searching the MLS by using our handy "Search Phoenix Homes" button. Scroll up, click and search till your eyesight goes all blurry.

Your formerly a school teacher Realtor,

Heather Barr

*There is no “the” MLS, yet. There’s a push afoot in the industry to create a national Multiple Listing Service which would display every house for sale, anywhere in the US. There’s also a movement within the industry to make that national MLS – if it ever comes to be -- visible to consumers directly. As far as I can tell, these two movements have been around for awhile now; we’ll keep you posted if anything ever comes of them.

ThePhoenixAgents.com gets a facelift!

Our first post was 3 years ago this month, and we’ve noticed the inevitable sagging here and there as we've aged.

If you read our blog in your internet browser, you’ve probably watched the changes over the last week or so – columns moving around, new information being added (and then removed, and then added again!)

If you read our blog in a feedreader, would you mind doing us the favor of clicking through to see it in person?  We’d love to hear your feedback, especially regarding anything that isn’t working right.

Simple.  Easy.  Intuitive.  (at least that’s what we were going for.)

We took an informal survey amongst ourselves and a few close friends, asking “What do you notice when you open our blog?”  The results were not pretty – top 3 answers were:

1. It looks like the internet threw-up on your sidebar!

2. It’s too confusing.  I usually get overwhelmed and close my browser right away.

3. You have a blog?

We tried to make more information available to you in an easier-to-digest format.  How’d we do?

ps – Part II of this re-design will be the announcement of our new Market Opinion service (The Phoenix Agents’ Viewpoint) – live as of today for current subscribers and open to new subscribers later this week!  Stay tuned…

Your hopes his programmer’s headache will go away one day Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

Small change may affect RSS readers

Attention Feed-reader Readers!  If you’ve been reading ThePhoenixAgents.com blog in your feedreader, please keep your eyes open for tomorrow’s change..

feedburner

We’re making a small change “under the hood” here at ThePhoenixAgents.com, and will be directing ALL subscription feeds through Feedburner.  We think we’ve prepared our site for the change, so it should go off without a hitch – in the background and without affecting anybody, but just in case…

If you DO NOT SEE a post tomorrow (Tuesday 11/3) titled “BUYERS OVERCOME ADVERSITY”, it means your subscription didn’t get forwarded.  Please take a minute to re-subscribe, either by clicking on the Subscribe button on our site, or through your feedreader directly.

Thank you,

Chris Butterworth & Heather Barr

Your Phoenix Agents at Thompson’s Realty

Facebook makes you smarter?

I came across an article this morning where researchers determined Facebook, Sudoku, and video games involving strategy can increase your working memory and actually make you smarter, while Twitter’s and YouTube’s steady stream of overflowing, pre-processed information can have the opposite effect.

albert-einstein

Interesting, but I’m filing it in the “if it’s on the internet it has to be true” category…

Your getting smarter everyday Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

Upvise – another BlackBerry tool

I’ve written before about trying to use my BlackBerry to the fullest extent possible.  It just so happened that the shift to mobile computing coincided with my fight against spam, and I ended up moving away from Microsoft Outlook completely at the end of April.

There has only been one piece missing from the puzzle – something Outlook did very well but I wasn’t able to replace:  Notes.

Sometimes when I have a flash of brainstorm while I’m out & about, the fastest way to capture a thought is to jot down a couple of sentences in a BlackBerry Memo.  Heck, I’ve even typed a whole blog post on my BB.  But if I can’t sync the memo with an application on my computer (or online somewhere), I have to re-type the note later.

Yesterday I discovered Upvise, an online application with lots of bells & whistles, but most importantly it offers a BlackBerry Memo Sync!  It also offers things like Shopping Lists, and the ability to real-time sync multiple BlackBerries to one list (so 2 people can grocery shop at different stores & check off items as they go, for instance.)  Oh yeah, and it’s a FREE service.

Just thought I’d share..

Your getting ready to upgrade his BlackBerry, but that’s another story, Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

How wired is your realtor?

Technology is changing everything, and real estate is no exception.  Blogs, IDX, homes-for-sale websites, GPS, instant-messaging, texting, social media, smart-phones, virtual tours, satellite images, AAAGGGHHH!!  (it can make your head explode if you stop and think too much about it.)

Here is a great video putting things into perspective.  (If you’ve got 5 minutes…)

How do we PhoenixAgents approach technology?

Our goal is to use technology to make us better & more efficient, enabling us to do what we do well even better, and to share our knowledge & expertise, faster and with a wider audience.  We try NOT to use technology just because it’s hip or cool, nor do we think technology can replace a good old fashioned “live” conversation with a real person.

Fortunately we’re techie enough to embrace change, and we’ve been able to make great use of new opportunities along the way.

Your thankful his head finally stopped spinning from that video Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

The Credit Crisis, in Video

Found this amusing little video this morning, courtesy of a company called XPLANE. They're very much like Common Craft, who I love.


Clocking in at a little under 4 minutes, it explains the recent US financial meltdown simply, easily and with cute little stick figures and audio.  I think it must have been created last fall sometime, just as the first giant government bailout was announced.


Enjoy. Or not, depending on your political leanings and general anger level.



Nothing To Be Afraid of Here

I’m a rookie Tweeter. TweetDeck is my new crush slash time suck.


Follow me on Twitter, I’m @NorthPhxAgent.


My Twittering has led me to a lot of new blogs and websites. Sometimes… no. Often, I’m afraid to click on a particularly compelling-looking link or visual on a site I don’t know.


Will clicking give me a virus? Or a Trojan horse? Or some nifty new spyware? Bots, worms, spiders. A girl can turn into a hot mess of indecision just reading her new friends’ status updates.


Thinking about all this made me realize that we don’t toot our own horn here at The Phoenix Agents at Thompson’s Realty nearly enough. Warning, horn toot coming up.


There is nothing you can click on our blog that will give you anything icky.


Click to your heart’s content. Visit every nook and cranny of our site, free from fear of spiders, bots, spyware, viruses and most of all, no spam email. Ever. We promise.


There was that one time that Chris’ former blog was hacked so that it displayed a message that promised computer doom if you clicked. But even that was just an onscreen scare tactic, not an actual virus.

Making Gmail Work Better - Notes from the Tech Desk

More and more people are making the switch to Gmail as a full-time, business and personal, email program.  (There are plenty of reasons to use Gmail, but that’s a topic for another post!)  Instead I thought I’d share a few of the tricks I’ve learned which help make Gmail work better/smarter/safer.



gmail logo.bmp

The first three have been written about extensively, and you’re probably already familiar with them.  The last three might be new for you..

^ Labels. These can be used like folders in Outlook, although they’re much more powerful, because you can assign multiple labels to each email.


I use a few labels to help keep my inbox clean, labeling incoming emails with Action, Read, Respond, etc.  This helps me keep my focus on the task at hand when I’m trying to respond to emails or follow-up on a requested task.


I use client-specific labels to keep track of everything related to a particular client within easy reach, such as that one email without a subject line or a client’s name, from the title officer’s former assistant – the one that I would never be able to find by searching & sifting through all my emails..  Now it’s a snap.


I also have some labels for personal topics and a Save This label.


^ Filters. Gmail uses filters to automatically route your new messages to the appropriate label/folder/view.  You can set up a filter based on any of the fields within the email, or by any searchable text.  For example, maybe you want any email from your broker to be labeled Read This, or any email from a client to be labeled with Take Action.  This can help keep your inbox clean & your focus on the task at hand, yet these emails will be waiting for you when you’re ready to read/respond/act on them.


^ Search. Google’s bread & butter.  Also a reason you don’t need hundreds of labels.  You can search for any text anywhere within the email, or you can limit your search with qualifiers like “from: client xyz” or “to: client @gmail. com”.  You can also search by date or by time frame.


Since search is so easy, you probably don’t need a specific label for emails that will be easy to find later, such as an email list or social media site.  Emails from “BobsAutoDiscussionGroup @BODG. com” or from “notification @Facebookmail. com” can be easily tracked down!


^ Backup. As much as I love Google, I’ve agreed to their Terms of Service, so I’m pretty sure I’ve given up my right to recourse if they lose my email or have an adverse effect on my business.  Therefore, I’m going to continue to backup my own email.


Here is a little application I run which downloads my email, including the labels, attachments, from, to, cc, and bcc fields, to my hard drive.  This gives me a local version and a version in Google’s cloud, which should be adequate backup – although I then include these as part of my regular backup set..


http://www.gmail-backup.com


^ Offline. Google gears now synchronizes your gmail with a local version, completely in the background.  From gmail, go to Settings, Labs, and click to Enable the Offline Gmail.  Gears will download all your email, then all your attachments, and then keep everything current for you.


Anytime you don’t have an internet connection handy, you can still see all your emails, read, label, and even respond to them.  Obviously you can’t send an email without an internet connection, but the next time you’re online Gmail will sync and send your emails for you!


^ Signature & Default Fonts. I had some frustration initially over not having the ability to set a default font.  Here’s a work around I’ve been using.  (note – this works for the Google Chrome browser; there are similar solutions available for Explorer, Firefox, and Safari, but you’ll have to search to find the right link.)


First, go to this website, which lets you create a signature, and then creates a bookmark you can store in your bookmark-bar.  Build your signature so that the first line is the default font/color you want to use.


http://projets.geekfg.net/?/1-how+to+insert+html+signature+in+gmail.htm


Next, when you Compose a New Email, click the Signature bookmark, and your email will have your signature in it.  Now start typing at the beginning of the signature, and you’ll be using your preferred font!


I hope this helps you make the most of your gmail.  Let me know if you have a great tip to share!



Your gmail-lovin’ Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

Pearls of Wisdom - my renewed love affair with my Blackberry Pearl

After using a Palm organizer for a few years, and then a Treo smartphone (the big bulky kind with the fat stubby antenna) for 4 years, I finally down-sized to a Blackberry Pearl last year, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED it!  I spent the next few months in awe at how small it was (same size as Cheryl's regular cell phone), yet it could do 99% of what my Treo could.

0906-2

Eventually the shine wore off, and I've found myself looking around at other phones.  Some have full qwerty keyboards, others have better cameras, and a few others have sexy touch-screens & lots of apps.  And these don't even count the new "android" phones about to hit the market - phones built by Google and expected to rival iPhones in form and function!  But since my phone excels for business (phone, email, text), I was reluctant to jump ship.  Instead I spent some time playing with it and "tricking it out."

Here's what I've done:

Memory Card ($25).  Doing anything fun, or extending your business use, is going to require memory.  I had a 2gb micro sd card, but I just upgraded that.  An 8gb micro sd card (with an sd adapter so you can plug it directly into a computer) is only $25, maybe less if you shop around.

Movies & Videos w/ any dvd converter pro (free demo or paid version).  Last year I downloaded an application which allowed me to copy dvd movies onto the kids' mp3 player.  Doing this for myself, I can now watch Wedding Crashers, 300, or an episode of Entourage on my BB.

Custom Ringtones w/ Audacity (free).  Audacity lets you grab any part of a song (just the chorus, or the guitar riff, for example) and turn it into a ring tone.  You can then assign different sound-bytes to different callers.

Blackberry iPod w/ Blackberry Media Sync (free).  Send your iTunes' playlists to your BB with a couple of mouseclicks.  I now use my Pearl as my iPod, with the added functionality of a built-in speaker if I don't have my headphones with me!

Blackberry Radio w/ Pandora (free).  Sign up for a pandora account, then download the pandora app to your BB.  You now have a smart-radio; you get a chance to give each song that plays a thumbs up or thumbs down, and Pandora will customize a radio station to suit your tastes.

Tethering. Use your BB as your laptop modem to access the internet when you're out and about.  Verizon charges $30/month for this feature.  Or you can call Verizon and have them activate the service only on the days you need it.  They'll prorate the charge ($1 per day), but they'll only let you do this once or twice per billing cycle.

Google Sync (free).  I moved to Gmail a couple of months ago, mostly as a way to deal with spam.  Once there, I didn't like having to use Outlook for some things and Gmail for others, so I moved my contacts, calendar, and tasks to Google.  Now my email, contacts, calendar, and tasks sync automatically without me having to do anything!  I haven't opened Outlook or my Blackberry Desktop Manager in over a month - this is faster, easier, and just as accurate!

Voice-activated Google, and Google Maps with "you are here" w/ Google Mobile Apps (free).  One-click access to your own personalized Google Apps Suite, along with the ability to voice-command a google search (or google maps search).  In addition, when I open Google Maps it displays a little blue dot showing me where I am, a nice feature when I'm driving around an unfamiliar part of town.

Big Sound w/ little capsule speakers ($50).  These speakers are tiny and amazingly loud.  They can be used individually, or together for a bigger stereo sound.  And best of all, they contain a rechargeable battery & plug into your usb port to charge.  It takes about 30 minutes to charge them for about 4 hours of sound.

0906-4

0906-5

0906-6

Alarm Clock w/ BBSmart Alarms Pro (<$10).  A heavy-duty timer and alarm clock with an unlimited number of alarms and the ability to use songs (and custom-built ring tones) as alarms.

Blackberry App World.  one-click access from your BB to hundreds of other apps (some free, some not), allowing you to customize your BB to your liking.  This is where I found the Pandora app.  (and the FaceBook app, too!)

New Battery ($30).  Part of my desire for a new phone was because my battery had gotten old and my talk-time on a full charge was less than an hour.  One new battery later and my BB is like new; I can get through most of the day on my initial charge again.

Super Cool Sticker.  Well, super cool to a 5-year old.  I took J to Ridemakerz for his 5th BDay, and when he decked his dragster out with flames stickers, he put one on my phone.  I'm pretty sure it makes by BB a little faster..

0906-3

What else? OK Blackberry fans - what are you doing with your BB that I haven't mentioned?  I'd love to hear your tips!

Your happy to have new love for an old phone Realtor,

Chris Butterworth
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iTunes wins

a post from the tech-review department.

First of all, anyone who knows me knows I'm not a big Apple/Mac guy.  My general opinion is they're overpriced, use "security by obscurity", and can't do anything more than a Windows machine.  (although I'll concede they look & feel awesome, and I like their commercials.)  I'm only saying this so you know I'm not biased; in fact, I'm probably biased against itunes.

The Challenge

I wanted the music I've accumulated over the last decade or two organized into a single folder of mp3 files, giving me ultimate portability and changeability from one device to the next.  I also wanted to be able to burn mp3-cd's to play in my car.

I have a medium-sized collection of songs & audio books, mixed and matched in all different formats and downloaded/ripped/burned using all different types of applications - itunes, windows media player, nero, and yes, even the old napster..

The Methods

First I tried to use a music-file-converter application to convert the wma and aac files into mp3 format.  I downloaded an application from the internet and tried their free sample version before buying it, but it didn't work, and I gave up.

Instead, each song not already in mp3 format would have to be burned to an audio cd, and then re-imported (ripped) back into the computer as an mp3 file.  Obviously the process would not be quick & painless.

The Results

Windows Media Player.  WMA could not do anything with songs originally downloaded from itunes, so it was at a disadvantage.  I burned a couple CDs from itunes' songs to see how WMA would handle them.  Overall, WMA struggled with keeping the artist/album/title information accurate.

Zune.  Zune also could not open the itunes' proprietary format, so I was forced to use itunes to burn these songs to audio cd.  I then used Zune to import them as mp3's.  At first I declared Zune an apple-beater, as everything was working perfectly.  After adding a couple hundred mp3 files to my Zune library, I decided to make an mp3-cd to play in my car's mp3 player.  Unfortunately, almost half the songs came through with unreadable artist/album/title info.  Too bad.

Itunes.  This software was able to burn, rip, organize, label, make mp3-cd's - everything.  My music has never been more under control, and as much as I hate to say it, I'll probably buy another ipod as my next mp3 player.

The process was long and frustrating, but the final outcome wasn't even close.  Itunes out-performed Windows Media Player and Microsoft's Zune in my real-world challenge.

Your joining 'em since he can't beat 'em Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

 

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Where to Find Homes Online

Did you know that consumers can’t view the MLS? You’re probably thinking “She’s loony. I was looking at the MLS online just the other day.”


Umm, no. You weren’t looking at “The MLS.”


First, a definition. The MLS  (a.k.a. Multiple Listing Service) is a privately-owned local or regional database where all participating Realtors list their properties for sale. In other words, the MLS is like a giant online bulletin board for Realtors only. Each city, town or region has their own MLS. There are probably tens of thousands of MLSs nationwide.


Metro Phoenix (which includes all of Maricopa County and some of Pinal County) uses the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, or ARMLS. It’s pronounced “arm-less”, the thought of which always makes me giggle a little. Given the sorry state of professionalism exhibited by some Realtors, I’ve petitioned to call it “witless” or “brainless”, but that’s beside the point.


So what were you – the real estate consumer – looking at online if not The MLS?


You were looking at a for-profit website that grabs a data feed from one or more MLSs. Then the website designers re-jigger the MLS data and show it to their online visitors next to lots of shiny graphics and cool mapping tools.


Realtors don’t control the data once the other sites’ tech geeks grab the data feed. Here’s where I’m going to pause a moment and ask you to remember the childhood game of Telephone.


In Telephone, a bunch of kids stand in a long line. Then the first kid in line whispers a sentence (such as “I like peanut butter and jelly”) into the ear of the kid next to him, and the message whips downline to the kid on the very end of the row. End Of Row Kid says aloud what he heard (“I might pee under the telly”). Hilarity ensues.


The point is, data gets mangled during the relay. It’s funny when 8 year old boys do it. It’s not funny when it’s housing data and you’re house shopping.  Too often, online consumers are looking at housing data that’s incorrect, incomplete, outdated or just plain wrong. Usually they don’t even know it.


What’s a consumer to do? Use a Realtor’s website to access the ARMLS data directly.


With a hat tip to our broker Jay Thompson, who first did this a couple weeks back, here’s a comparison of the amount of that data you can see on various national real estate websites.



Search Query: 3+ beds, 2+ baths, $0 to $75,000 in Phoenix


(as of May 2, 2009 at about 10:30 am local time)


























SiteNumber of Properties
ARMLS1,975
Realtor.com775
Trulia.com536
ZipRealty.com1,037
AZcentral.com856

Clearly, the ARMLS has the most listings. The only way to see all of the available property listings in the ARMLS is to visit a Realtor’s website that has all the available listings. Can I suggest ours?


All member Realtors have access to every property listed in the ARMLS. But I believe our customer service and market knowledge is simply better than others’.


Search on!


(want more info on this topic? See this 3-part series about "searching the MLS")

Spam update

Three weeks ago I received 92 spam-emails in a single day, and quite honestly that felt like a light day.  I wrote about the difference between spammers and true emailers, and said I was going to unsubscribe zealously from every spam I receive.

spam ball

image of SPAM beach ball from Hormell's SPAM website.

Yesterday, exactly three weeks later, I received only 15 spam emails.  So far the unsubscribe tactic is working.

I hadn't been unsubscribing from emails over the last couple of years for a number of reasons:
I didn't want to spend the time required to click around and do it.

I didn't want to open the spammers' emails and risk them thinking I actually read it.

I was nervous the link would take me to a virus-infecting website.

I didn't want the spammers to sell my email address to other spammers as an "active email account".

Hopefully I was wrong on all accounts, because 15 is a lot better than 92 (or 125 on some days).  I will continue to unsubscribe to every spam email I can.  I will also continue to practice non-spam emailing.  And of course I'll let you know if I have any updates worth sharing!

Your reducing spam from outlook's diet Realtor,

Chris Butterworth

Recipe for not spamming

Why are you spamming me?

Heather's post last week has had me thinking about spam.  (and not the oh-so delicious canned processed meat kind, either.)

SPAM® COSTUME

photo credit:  Hormel Foods via www.spam.com

Yesterday I ended up with 92 emails in my Junkmail folder.  I spent a little more time than normal skimming through them, trying to make sense of them all.  2 of them were false positives, which I moved back into my Inbox.  The rest were unsolicited commercial email (spam.)  Believe it or not, I have a few thoughts on the subject...

Where do they come from?  About half of them are addressed to me as ChrisB, rather than chrisb.  The only two places where I use capital letters in my name are 1.) this website, and 2.) the association of Realtors.  So I want to give a quick thank-you to the NAR, AAR, and WeMAR for passing my email address around to anyone who asks (and pays.)

What's the difference between spam and acceptable commercial emails?  (this is an important topic to me, because we send a monthly newsletter via email.)

the Time factor.  4 of the emails were very specific in saying they understand my time is valuable and they don't want to waste it.  Here's the thing:  once you write an email, it takes very little additional time to send it to multiple recipients.  Therefore email is inherently more time consuming for the recipient.

If you're asking me for 10 seconds to review your email, but you're also emailing 100,000 people, you're really asking for us to collectively give you 278 HOURS of our attention.  That's not a fair trade - we didn't ask for your product or email, and I doubt you spent 278 hours preparing your email.  So I don't believe you when you say you don't want to waste my time -  you're wasting everybody's time!

the Percentage factor.  Industry estimates for "mass email marketing" (spamming) expect success rates of a fraction of 1%, oftentimes less than one-tenth of one percent.  That means you need to send out 1,000 emails in order to have 1 person respond to you.  Therefore, 1,000 responses will require 1 million emails.  Anyone following these "laws of large numbers" is sending spam.

the Permission factor.  More than half of the spam emails I received yesterday told me that I had "opted in" to their list.  Believe me, I'm fairly savvy with this whole internet thing, and I did NOT opt in to your email list.  Just because I'm a member of the Board of Realtors, and my board reserves the right to share my information with "affiliates", does not mean that I opted in to your list.

There are some people & organizations I know of who send out thousands of emails each month, and one person who sends out over 1 million per week!  But these emails go to recipients who asked to receive them, and oftentimes look forward to receiving them.  I know from experience it takes a long time to build a list of people who trust you enough to "opt in", while it only takes a few minutes to buy a list of email addresses.  There's an even bigger difference in the results.

the Product factor.  I received emails yesterday from real estate brokerages asking me to switch companies, diet pills & programs who can help me lose weight, companies who want to enhance my sexual performance, vocational schools who assume I'm an out-of-work former Realtor, as-seen-on-tv products, people offering me quotes on insurance, cars, and loans, companies offering me various types of real estate leads, and people who want my help getting several million dollars out of their country.  (I'm sure there were others I can't remember.)

Here's the thing - if I'm in the market for your type of product, and your product, pricing, website, and testimonials are good, I'll find you.  If you have a new product that I might not have known about, and you feel the only way to let me in on your secret is to spam me (and millions of others), you need to find a better business plan.

the Offer factor.  This ties in very closely with the Percentage factor and the Product factor.  If your offer is so fantastic that you just have to send me (and millions of others) an unsolicited email, you should be getting an overwhelming response rate.  ABC product for XYZ price, plus a special bonus if I sign up today?  Come on - give us all a break and go away already.

the Reply factor.  Is the email coming from an individual person?  Even if it's from a company, there should be a human who can read your response.  If your reply or request to unsubscribe never gets read, or worse - bounces back to you as undeliverable, that's another sign of spam.

Most spammers follow the CAN-SPAM act by including an unsubscribe link.  (whether they actually unsubscribe you is another topic for another day.)  But following the act and not sending spam are apparently two different things.

My personal unsubscribe attack.  For the last couple of years I had pretty much given up on spam, using filters and my Junkmail folder as a best method for at least keeping it pretty much out of my way.  Yesterday I decided to be more aggressive at reducing the amount of spam received.  I have been unsubscribing to as many of the emails as I can.  I expect to either receive less spam over the next couple of weeks as these unsubscribes take effect, or far more spam as my email address is sold to other spammers as a "validated email address."  I'll update this post in a couple of weeks with the results.

And finally, my Recipe for not spamming.  Simple - just do the opposite of everything on this list, and you'll be ok.  Send emails to people who want to receive them.  Keep the time factor fair - remember that one-to-one it takes longer to write an email than to read one, but sending out large numbers tips the time factor the other way.  Send emails personally, and be willing & able to respond to every person who writes back.  Let it all simmer together, then sit back and enjoy.

Seems so easy, right?  duh.

Your tummy aches from digesting so much spam Realtor,

Chris Butterworth