Of Blogs And Bricks

imsis012-005Lately, blogging advice from successful real estate bloggers has been a hot topic here on the Tomato.

Hearing it from Realtors that are in the trenches, actually generating business from blogging, strengthens the confidence of those on the outside looking in.  Nearly all my topics these days come from clients’ concerns regarding the effort it takes to make it work.  Admittedly, I am not a Realtor, but rather a marketing consultant for real estate professionals.  So the support that I have receive from the real estate blogging community means the world to me, encouraging my effort.  But, I realize I can’t do it alone, here on the Tomato.

Bringing in voices from the (battle)field makes for greater testimony than the armchair journalist. One of our brazen blogging comrades from the front lines is Elizabeth Weintraub.

Her voice is heard on a national platform called About.com, where she pens her daily offering: homebuying.about.com.  She debuted on the Tomato last month with sound advice in her article: Top 10 List: What Sellers & Buyers Expect From a Real Estate Agent.

Today she brings her experience as a real estate blogging success story in an essay about how she does it; how she stays focused to develop the content that her audience craves.

Of Bricks And Blogs

By Elizabeth Weintraub

Having a sense of humor is important to blog writing — almost as important as sharing it. For example, although The Jerk is one of my favorite movies, I would not start a blog by writing “I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi.” Why? I wrote that on a job application once and HR tore up my resume. It offends some people. Besides, I was born in St. Paul. Now I live in Sacramento. I sometimes hear non-natives refer to it as Sac-O-Tomatoes. Which might have something to do with this blog site, but that’s all I can tell you about it.

For many, tomato is a non-PC word in town, which makes it a juicy name for this site. What I can say is (with a nasal Chicagoan accent) The Big Tomato, Mr. Brandywine himself, kindly asked me to submit a piece on writing the way that I do it. I know enough about writing to know that I don’t know jack-squat. I’m in awe of the many Web and blog writers who have extraordinary talent. My talent is different in that I specialize in writing simple words about complex topics.

Unlike many bloggers, I get paid to write a blog.
I write for The New York Times-owned About site at homebuying.about.com.

When I was first hired, I secretly panicked that I might not find enough real estate-related topics to write about; yet every week, I ended up with more ideas than I had time to write. What made it especially tough is that I sell real estate full-time. My blogs need to be informational and quickly composed. Some weeks it’s a challenge to balance the two. If you’re also selling full-time and trying to keep up with a blog, maybe you’ll pick up a tip or two that will help you. Here is my advice for struggling real estate bloggers:

Write About What You Are Asked

If your clients are asking a question, it’s a good bet other people have asked the same question or have thought about asking it. You can write about it. Especially if nobody else is. Little or no competition for a keyword / topic is one way to fast-forward your position in search engines.

For example, a seller asked if she should remove her pets before an open house, and when I couldn’t find anything online that said what I wanted it to say, I decided to write a piece myself and then blog about it.  Selling A House Where Pets Live became a popular content piece, and my blog led to calls for personal interviews. Who’d a thunk it?

Write a Rant That’s Not a Rant

When you feel like exploding, blog it. I don’t blog the things that tick me off because readers don’t want to hear me yell. Shoot, I don’t want to hear myself yell. But sometimes I need the release. So, I figure out an indirect angle to blog and slip in my gripe. A good example of that technique I used in Why Was Your Offer Rejected? I had a rant but it’s not blatant. And I had a laugh, too. But not in a Ricky Gervais kind of way. Besides, it’s a legitimate buyer question.

Moreover, writing the blog prompted me to approach the rude agent who instigated it, and tell him how he might be sabotaging his efforts. He appreciated the direct advice, changed his approach and we ended up doing a different deal together.

Write About Bricks

Instead of writing about a neighborhood, pick a house that has a brick foundation. Zero in on one side of the foundation. Narrow the vision from a wall of bricks to one brick. Now write about it.

I think it was an English teacher at South High in 1969 who taught me to write about bricks. It’s about looking at the big picture and narrowing focus: Instead of writing about a neighborhood, pick a house within the neighborhood that has a brick foundation. Zero in one side of the brick foundation. Narrow the vision from a wall of bricks to one brick. Then write about it.

If you need inspiration, read Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine. This is a full novel that takes place in the space of a single escalator ride, sort of in the author’s head. Just for fun, after reading that book, I wrote pages and pages about shoelaces. I had to. But that just confirms your suspicions that I’m a bit wacky. I blame it on the 1960s. You, on the other hand, will probably come away from reading Baker’s book with a more normal feeling and controllable impulses. It will help you to write a better blog. I promise.

I recently wrote a simple blog about lockboxes.  Just lockboxes. How they work and safety features. Then, because I had finished a list of home showing tips, one of which encouraged sellers to obtain buyer feedback, I turned that concept into a blog, and by extension, another piece of content for my Web site.

Another spin-off from that piece was Winter Home Showing Tips.  So go back and reread your old blogs, and you might find hidden gems lurking inside those blogs, just begging you to write about them.

Write About What You Know & What You Don’t Know

That might sound a bit contrary, but it’s not. Writing about topics you know well will easily roll off your fingertips. I’ve been holding open houses so long I can practically write about them in my sleep, for I surely dream about them. But I find that writing about stuff I need to research is personally empowering, if not dream-altering. Readers are thirsty for knowledge.

When I read about a government sub-committee forming to study “exotic” mortgages, I figured it was time to write about Option ARM loans. Few of my buyers chose Option ARMs.  For that topic, I went to the pros. I read everything I could find. I asked for editing and input from mortgage brokers. When one loan rep said, “You know more about Option ARMs than my banks,” I knew I had a good blog. And I never dream about them.

Write From Your Gut (But Don’t Throw Up on Anybody)

Let your personality shine through. You have a personal and engaging voice, so use it. And if people don’t like you, you’re writing for the wrong crowd. Readers like to feel connected to the writer, but that doesn’t mean they want to read a diary. OK, some do, but those are the people who snatch National Enquirer at the grocery store checkout counter, quickly thumb through its pages and then stuff it back on the display without paying for it. You have an opinion. It’s valid because it’s yours, assuming it’s well informed. Because you are a professional, readers want to see it. Express it.

If you think the market is tanking, tell your readers the truth. They will respect you for it and come back again and again to read what else you have to say. Sometimes your challenges will become your inspiration.

Write About Your Passion & Freely Share Knowledge

If you’re writing a blog about real estate, then real estate should be your passion. If it’s not, you might be in the wrong profession. If it pains you to find a topic to blog, you’re probably not interested in the business. You can be a writer with limited writing skills on which you can work to improve, but you can’t be a successful real estate blogger if you don’t adore the business and everything connected to it. Real estate is something that gets into your blood and becomes part of you. You can’t do an adequate job part-time or half-heartedly.

When I read bloggers such as Greg Swann, Ardell DellaLoggia, Kris Berg, Barbara Corcoran and Teresa Boardman, to name a few, it’s crystal clear they are passionately in love with what they do.

I admire the dedication and drive. Moreover, if you are dedicated, you will share your knowledge. A professional stager once balked at sharing her staging secrets in my blog because she was concerned that once home sellers read it, they would not hire her. It worried her to give away valuable information without payment. Which is bizarre because I don’t know of anybody who can steal my knowledge of 30-some years and put it to work from reading one blog or 50 blogs. I write to educate and help others, tTo motivate and inspire. If I thought somebody could perform a Vulcan mind probe just from reading my blogs, then it would be time for me to get into another profession.

Elizabeth Weintraub is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in downtown Sacramento and blogs at homebuying.about.com. You can contact her at elizabeth(at)elizabethweintraub.com.