Thursday, July 28, 2011

4 E-mail Behaviors You Want to Avoid

You might be unintentionally sending the wrong messages on your e-mails by the way you send or respond to them. Forbes.com recently highlighted several bad e-mail behaviors that can be a turnoff to the recipient of your messages. Here are four e-mail offenses to watch for:
1. Don’t fake urgency with your subject line. You want to get the other person to read the e-mail so you might use phrases in the subject line, like “Urgent,” “Action Item,” or “Read Me,” or use the high priority flag marker to get attention. But your messages may soon become “the boy who cried wolf” if you constantly send e-mails that are marked important but truly lack critical importance. In other words, your messages are actually less likely to get read. Not to mention, you might also be sending the message that you consider your messages to always be more important than the person’s other messages, which can be a real turnoff to some.
2. Give the person time to respond. Don’t call or e-mail right away to make sure someone received your message. You’ll appear impatient. If you need an instant response to a message, the best move is to pick up the phone in the first place.
3. Don’t have an auto response for every message. Setting an auto response that goes out whenever you receive an e-mail can give you extra time to respond and reassure others that their message is important to you. But when setting an auto response to every e-mail you receive, others may start viewing you as condescending.
4. Start a new e-mail chain for messages. Pressing the “reply” button to an old e-mail chain to keep all correspondence in one place seems like a good idea but, according to the Forbes article, it can actually send the message that you are “lazy, disorganized, or have poor e-mail sorting habits.” Instead, when e-mailing a customer, start a new e-mail chain that reflects an appropriate subject line whenever a new issue is being discussed, the article suggests.
Read all 10 e-mail offenses at Forbes.com. 
Source: “10 E-mail Habits That Send the Wrong Message,” Forbes

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brokers Expect REOs to Trigger More Legal Disputes

Nearly 60 percent of real estate professionals say they believe REO-related disputes will increase over the next two years. What’s more, 76 percent said they believe it will be among the top three issues they will face in real estate, according to the National Association of REALTORS®‘ newly released 2011 Legal Scan: Legal Issues Facing Real-Estate Professional.
In the survey of real estate agents, brokers, attorneys, and educators, survey respondents said disclosure in these transactions remain a main culprit to problems, pointing to banks and listing brokers who sometimes fail to disclose known material defects about a property. 
Overall, according to the 2011 Legal Scan, the top three issues that cause the most disputes in a real estate transaction are dual agency, disclosure, and breach of fiduciary duty.
Short sales, in particular, are causing more disputes in some of these areas, the survey found. Short sales are more commonly being listed in “as-is” condition, which has “resulted in a decline of quality of seller disclosures,” the survey notes. Another disclosure problem reported is the failure of listing agents to report that the property is or will soon be in a short sale situation. 
Source: “Brokers Foresee an Increasing Number of Lawsuits Related to Short Sales,” Realty Times (July 26, 2011)

Monday, July 25, 2011

How safe do you feel on the job?

Nearly 34 percent of real estate professionals say they have felt unsafe on the job “occasionally,” according to an online survey of more than 450 real estate professionals conducted by Moby, a company that develops personal safety mobile applications.

Female agents reported feeling the most unsafe. Forty-two percent of women said they felt unsafe on the job at least occasionally compared with about 18 percent of men.

The top job safety concerns, according to the survey: Viewing vacant properties, hosting open houses and viewing REOs, short sales and foreclosures. Survey respondents also considered private showings and first meetings with clients as potentially unsafe.

Also among the survey’s findings:

• One of the most common safety precautions respondents reported taking is keeping others informed of their location, such as by sharing their itinerary (73.3 percent), checking in repeatedly (42.8 percent), and even attending appointments with a colleague, family member or friend (26.9 percent).

• Slightly more than 20 percent of survey respondents say they meet prospective clients at the office to photocopy their ID. About 13 percent of respondents, however, say they don’t take any precautions at all.

• The most common safety devices respondents say they carry while on the job were phones (95.5 percent). About 20 percent say they carried mace or pepper spray and 7.5 percent carried guns. About 2 percent of respondents reported taking dogs with them to showings for added security.

Source: INFORMATION, INC.

Friday, July 22, 2011

MARS update: Realtors exempt from rule

According to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), real estate licensees who work with short sales no longer have to comply with most of the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) rules, including the required disclosures, advance fee ban and recordkeeping requirements, providing they’re acting in their licensed capacity to obtain a short sale for clients.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made the ruling first. A copy of has been posted online.

NAR also created a Q&A based on the FTC’s decision. It’s posted on NAR’s website (password required), realtor.org.

The FTC’s ruling, however, included an opt-out provision for state attorney generals, allowing them to continue enforcing MARS rules for their state’s real estate licensees.

As a result of that provision, Florida Realtors immediately contacted Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office and asked what efforts are being undertaken. Bondi’s office verbally said there are no current efforts to enforce the MARS regulations against real estate licensees – a very positive development for Florida Realtors.

While Bondi retains the power to enforce MARS within Florida, Margy Grant, Florida Realtors vice president of law and policy, says that the recent FTC decision would still require the Attorney General to approach the FTC before filing a complaint. “And if that happened, the FTC would discourage any action against real estate brokers,” says Grant.

Change in oversight

A second issue monitored by NAR is the transfer of regulatory power in Washington. The FTC has transferred rulemaking of MARS regulations to the new Consumer Credit Bureau (CFPB.) While the CFPB hasn’t issued a similar ruling banning real estate licensees from MARS requirements, the FTC has told NAR that it will assist Realtors in securing the same ruling.

According to the new Q&A document released by NAR, the association “expects that both the CFPB and state attorneys general will follow the FTC’s lead. The CFPB is a new agency and NAR believes that the agency will defer to the FTC, the federal agency that created the MARS Rule.

“NAR will contact the CFPB as soon as the rule is transferred to the agency in order to seek further clarification,” NAR’s Q&A says. “In addition, NAR will work to have the FTC’s policy incorporated into the rule by the CFPB to make it absolutely clear that real estate professionals do not have to comply with the rule so long as they are acting within their licensed capacity and do not make any representations to their clients during the course of assisting a client in obtaining a short sale.”

The issue is confined to federal rules. “There is no private right of action under these regulations, so there is no danger that a consumer could bring a suit against a real estate broker,” says Grant.

Grant also reminds licensees to continue to exercise caution in all of their business activities.

“We encourage all Florida Realtors members to review NAR’s Q&A carefully,” she says. “Realtors should also keep other applicable legal requirements in mind, such as the Florida Foreclosure Prevention Act. Licensees should also make sure they’re not engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.”

Questions? Realtors should call Florida Realtors Legal Hotline at (407) 438-1409.

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Web video faces big obstacles in vaulting to 3-D

Net Element wants to be ready for the day when 3-D videos on the Web are as common as cute kittens on YouTube.

Richard Lappenbusch knows the online media company he leads is ahead of its time as staff dabble in 3-D video, waiting for consumer demand for 3-D-compatible computers to grow.

The young company is an innovator in the online video space, and Lappenbusch – a former Microsoft executive who was hired as president in February – says he can pull that off in Miami, though the city is far from a front-runner in technology or film.

“It is very early in this,” Lappenbusch said. “We want to stake a claim and experiment and really drive leadership in this area.”

That includes sticking 3-D cameras on Formula 1 cars for its Motorsport.com website, a video hub for racing fans. And letting independent filmmakers upload 3-D movies to its newly acquired, James Caan-endorsed OpenFilm.com, which has more than 8,000 videos submitted from Spielbergs-in-training.

Net Element also has departments ready to make deals in 3-D web advertising.

To further add to the 3-D fervor, Net Element is in the process of organizing a 3-D film festival in Miami this winter.

The hurdles are plenty for Net Element’s 3-D ambitions. Although a few computers now play 3-D movies – including the Sony Vaio 3D (retailing at $2,000) and the HP Envy 3D ($1,700) – the industry has not yet formulated standards for 3-D videos online with various technologies.

Watching video on the web today is pretty much a seamless experience no matter what system is used. That standardization is what is necessary in the new 3-D online frontier, said consumer technology analyst Ross Rubin at NPD Group. So far no operating system creators have come forth to commit strongly to specific 3-D formats, he said.

“Without that kind of standardization, developers have to bet on certain brands or certain hardware configurations,” Rubin said.

That means when Net Element launches 3-D videos on Motorsport.com this fall, it’ll have to format them for multiple 3-D-viewing technologies: the cheaper plastic glasses and the electronic active-shutter glasses – as well as standard 2-D video. That extra formatting is costly. Gathering staff that can understand how to shoot and edit in 3-D is also expensive.

Reducing all those costs to scale, “that’s the big challenge to making this work,” Lappenbusch said.

Currently, shooting a movie or TV show in 3-D can add between 20 to 100 percent of the budget, according to an April Forrester Research report, “3-D Beyond TV.” To justify the price tag, the content must be compelling enough to draw large audiences.

“With OpenFilm, we started to see organic demand to post 3-D content,” Lappenbusch said. “We took that to the next stage: If people have demand here, they may have interest in viewership (on Motorsport.com).”

Consumer awareness of 3-D continues to rise, thanks to the marketing push from 3-D television-makers since last holiday season. But 3-D TVs – which retail for three times as much as 2D sets, according to NPD Group – can’t create the market alone. More influential are the cheaper, glasses-free devices like the Nintendo 3DS handheld system and Sprint’s smartphone with a 3-D camera, the Evo 3D.

The low, “single-digit percentage” of consumers who own a 3-D-capable computer are primarily gamers and tech enthusiasts, said NPD’s Rubin, who use them for a number of games being programmed to support 3-D.

Lappenbusch puts the sales of 3-D-supported computers at around 2 million.

“There are a lot of guys who play games and they seem to buy a lot of stuff,” Lappenbusch said. “For the rest of us, probably holiday season this year when you see non-gamers, non-techies really getting into it.”

Since 3-D on the web hasn’t taken off, Net Element at heart is a digital publisher. It owns ARlive.com, a site for independent musicians to network with producers and record labels, which will fold into the site Music1.com. Net Element is also building out LegalGuru.com, a video library for legal information and advice, and a mobile, location-based classifieds app for college students called Yapik.

The multiple-personality company has a surprising origin in electric cars. Net Element’s CEO is Russian-born Miami entrepreneur Mike Zoi, co-founder of Fort Lauderdale-based Ener1, a lithium-ion battery manufacturer for hybrid electric vehicles. He also controls investment companies Kazo Capital and EnerFund, which backed the 2004 Ener1 subsidiary Splinex. It produced software to create 3-D models, but closed in 2006, reemerging in 2008 as Net Element, focusing more on web publishing and technology innovation around online video experiences.

Net Element has been relatively dormant until this year. In December 2010 it acquired OpenFilm.com, whose founder, Demitry Kozko, married Zoi’s niece and got early funding through Zoi’s firms. In February 2011 it bought Motorsport.com – a natural for Zoi, an enthusiast who races at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Revenue last year was $78,000. The company boasts 75 employees, but only 17 are in Miami; most conduct research and development in Russia and Ukraine.

Lappenbusch – credited with helping to develop the MSNBC network – is charged with growing this technology company and its burgeoning web brands.

“Miami is a major portal, a corner if you will, of the Internet,” Lappenbusch said, referring to Terremark’s NAP of the Americas in Miami, an Internet pipeline connecting to the Caribbean as well as South and Central America. “A lot of the corners, like San Jose or New York, have a lot of Internet technology firms built around it.”

Graham Winick, film and event production manager for Miami Beach, says Miami might be lacking in the 3-D-talent department, but neighbors Orlando and Port St. Lucie have become a driving force for the state.

“Florida as a whole has been trying to take new leadership in new media, and Orlando is dominating,” Winick said, referring to programs at Full Sail University and the University of Central Florida. Game maker Electronic Arts has a facility near Orlando, and 3-D film studio, Digital Domain – which worked on such blockbusters as “Tron,” “Thor,” “Star Trek” and “Alice in Wonderland” – has a growing studio in Port St. Lucie.

And what about 3-D online? Winick says digital distribution has growing importance to filmmakers and studios trying to get buzz to grow past opening weekend.

“If they want to be the distribution mechanism, they certainly can be anywhere in the world,” Winick said. “If you want to create the film production model and finance model here, I think there’s a lot more that has to happen.”

Source: The Miami Herald. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

QR codes everywhere – even on grave markers

When Edouard Garneau died last August, his wife of 53 years ordered a bench-style tombstone.

“I go and talk with him,” said Faye Garneau, who admits she isn’t so sure she likes that her own name is already inscribed there, too.

That wasn’t all: Several months later, the monument maker added a high-tech innovation – a small, square image known as a quick response or QR code, affixed alongside the big letters spelling out Garneau.

The monument maker – a friend – was working on the code before Garneau died of cancer at age 78.

People scanning the code with their smartphones are taken to a website that includes Garneau’s obituary and a photo gallery highlighting the Seattle-area businessman. They learn he was a collision auto body repair expert, a world traveler and a loving uncle. In the future, more photos and stories from family and friends can be added.

“I think it’s a neat deal,” Faye Garneau said. “It kind of keeps people alive a little longer, down through the generations.”

‘Free to think creatively’

The Seattle-based tombstone company is one of many new adopters of quick response or QR codes that also include a Florida nature trail and a T-shirt maker.

New uses for the technology are popping up almost daily, said Shane Greenstein, a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who studies IT markets. That’s because “the bugs are worked out” from the code, which was created in Japan in the early 1990s, Greenstein said, adding that “there’s no licensing fee; there are no restrictions. Users are free to think creatively.” And, they are.

In Seattle, Quiring Monuments has made code-adorned “living headstones” for about two months. It has sold about 30 so far, General Manager Jon Reece said, adding he’s gotten “tons” of inquiries, often from people still very much alive: “They say, ‘I want my story to be told the way I want it to be told.’”

Quiring Monuments offers the QR code, website and website hosting free to people buying new monuments from the company, Reece said, noting the company will add it to existing grave markers for $65.

On Sanibel Island, Fla., the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge unveiled QR code signs last month along Wildlife Drive, on which nearly 800,000 visitors a year travel by car, foot or bicycle.

“It was nice and easy,” said 13-year-old Tom Garvey of Delran, N.J., who put his iPhone – an eighth-grade graduation gift – to use on the trail. The refuge’s iNature Trail sports 10 signs, each with two QR codes – one that pulls up videos and educational websites for adults, and another that’s tailored to children.

“We wanted to find that niche to get kids outdoors and excited about nature,” said refuge ranger Toni Westland. The videos feature snippets about ospreys, alligators and other creatures living along the mangrove forest-dotted estuaries of the 6,400-acre refuge.

Newspapers, including USA TODAY, use the codes to direct readers to such items as videos and photos.

A multitude of uses

Examples elsewhere include:

Boulder, Colo., acoustic rock band SoundRabbit sells or hands out T-shirts with codes that take smartphones to free music downloads, said Chris Anton, band member, shirt creator and website design company co-owner.

Lafayette, N.J.-based Fuzzy Nation, a designer and wholesaler of gifts for dog lovers, for the first time is putting QR codes on hangtags on its products sold at Macy’s department stores nationwide, said Fuzzy Nation owner Jennifer Liu. The scanned code helps people enter a contest that began July 11. It promotes pet adoption and will earn one shelter a $10,000 stipend.

Organizers of the Chevrolet Fireball Run Adventurally, Sept. 23-Oct. 1, say it will be the first national motoring event to use QR codes. For this year’s multistate run though the South, competition cars will sport decals with codes. And, driving teams will distribute missing-child posters with codes. The scanned codes aid people with crucial information to share with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said J. Sanchez, event executive producer.

Kansas City, Mo.-based mobile tech marketing firm Kickanotch sends code-imprinted frosted graham crackers to new clients as a “thank you” and to take them to a website offering more ideas for the codes, CEO Andy Lynn said.

Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., is using QR codes in its bulletins and posters to encourage sign-ups for special family and youth programs, said Steven Haney, church media director.

Real estate sales agent Marilyn Boudreaux did a double take when spying a code for the first time in the church’s bulletin: “I was like, wow – we are with the times.”

Her discovery occurred shortly after the worship service began. That made the QR code a temptation, Boudreaux said, “I wanted to pull out my phone, and scan it.”

Source: USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Laura Ruane

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Move Inc. Acquires SocialBios

Move Inc., the operator of Realtor.com, has acquired the social search platform SocialBios, which it hopes will help real estate professionals expand and more easily manage their connections on social networks.
Social Bios allows you to aggregate all of your disparate social networking profiles onto one page. You can use it to create an “About Us” page for your web site or Facebook fan page, for example, that highlights all of your social networks. You can also use it to simplify the discovery of your shared connections on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, and Google.
"Real estate is inherently a social business,” says Scott Boecker, chief product officer at Move Inc. “Today's search experience is highly interactive and instant with the explosion of mobile in real estate. ... This acquisition brings a new element of discovery and creativity to our online real estate marketplace as we evolve our web, mobile, and social search experiences."
Ernie Graham, general manager for Move's SocialBios platform, says that the two companies will be able to “create new ways to expedite higher quality connections between agents and consumers.”
Real estate professionals who are interested in claiming a SocialBios ID can visit http://socialbios.com.
Source: “Move Acquires SocialBios, Award-Winning Social Search Platform,” Move Inc.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Google+ gains fed by ‘scarcity’ of invites

Google+ is the topic du jour of the Internet savvy pondering the rise of the latest social network.

Now, at least one expert pegs Google’s social-networking members at north of 3 million. Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry reported Tuesday that Google+ has as many as 3.5 million sign-ups and is off to a “very strong start.”

Google spokeswoman Katie Watson declined to confirm the numbers, adding that as part of the limited test period it may open and close Google+ to new members at any time. That’s helped feed the frenzy, according to one longtime Google follower.

“They’ve created an artificial scarcity, and that’s generated demand,” says Danny Sullivan, editor of Searchengineland.com. “It’s a hot ticket; you want to get in. You want to check it out.”

Google needs to build a social presence fast if it’s to catch Facebook’s 750 million members. That’s because the social giant represents an advertising bonanza. Facebook is expected to bag 17.7 percent of the online display advertising market for 2011, according to researcher eMarketer, compared with estimates for Yahoo at 13.1 percent and Google at 9.3 percent.

What remains to be seen is whether Google+ growth is outpacing Facebook. Yet user engagement, rather than numbers, is the real benchmark, according to Sullivan.

“I think it will be a challenge to reach the kind of usage and market share that Facebook has when it comes to social networking,” Sullivan says.

While Sullivan says he’s “cautiously optimistic,” Global Equities Research’s Chowdhry is more go-go in estimates. The financial analyst notes Google+ “may leapfrog Facebook.” Chowdhry says that Google Voice sign-ups have also increased significantly over the past week, indicating a “move from FB to Google+” is starting. He’s not alone in rosy estimates.

Bill Gross, CEO of technology incubator Idealab, has predicted – on his Google+ page, no less – that Google will go from 1 to 100 million users “faster than any other service in history.” His reasoning: “The service is great. It is timely. People are engaging with it like crazy,” he posted last Monday at Google+. “The product is extremely well executed, and a lot of people are smitten.”

Last year, Facebook had 116.8 million active users, defined as those who log in at least once per month, according eMarketer. Gmail has 170 million active users worldwide, according to Chowdhry. This familiarity with Google’s products could be an advantage in picking up users of its social site.

“I’ve seen a lot of people express that they feel like they trust Google better,” Sullivan says.

Source: USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Rachel Roubein, USA TODAY

Friday, July 15, 2011

3-D videos latest trend in home listings

Some Realtors adopt new technology to stand out from the crowd, and some adopt it later just to stay competitive. New 3-D video technology appeals to the former.

While 3-D televisions and smartphones have been out for over a year now, most owners tend to be somewhat upscale, making 3-D video listings ideal for luxury housing. Clients can, from the comfort of their family room sofa, take a home tour as if they’re inside the listing.

A Phoenix-area Realtor has already adopted the technology and says it almost feels as if they’re inside the home. Wendy Walker, a luxury real estate agent, developed a 3-D video of a $10 million listing in Paradise Valley.

“3-D is an opportunity for people around the world to view my listings in a true, natural setting,” says Walker.

She created the video working with a local film company, Jeff Cools Productions.

The downside to 3-D home listing videos? They can only be viewed on televisions or phones with 3-D play capabilities. This early in the game, Realtors might also want to post a traditional 2-D version nearby for shoppers who have not yet upgraded to the technology.

Source: Florida Realtors®

MARS short sale disclosure rules canceled for Realtors

In a move the National Association of Realtors® calls “a substantial victory for Realtors,” the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it will not enforce most of the provisions of the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) rule against real estate licensees.

As a result of the stay on enforcement, real estate licensees who provide short sale services will not have to make the disclosures required by MARS as far as the FTC is concerned. However, the FTC announcement also gave Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi the ability to overrule the FTC within the State of Florida.

Florida Realtors has contacted Bondi’s office, but an official answer isn’t expected before next week at the earliest. In the meantime, Florida Realtors Law and Policy department recommends that Realtors continue to use the MARS disclosures until further notice.

The FTC stay on MARS rules enforcement applies only to real estate licensees and defines them as ones who: 1) are licensed and in good standing under state licensing requirements; 2) comply with state laws governing the practices of real estate professionals; and 3) assist or attempt to assist consumers in obtaining short sales in the course of securing the sale of their homes.

The stay does not apply to real estate licensees who provide other types of mortgage assistance relief services, such as loan modifications. It also does not give real estate licensees permission to use any unfair or deceptive practices banned under MARS.

NAR has been working with the FTC for several months to minimize the potential impact on real estate professionals who help financially distressed clients obtain short sales.

The complete FTC decision is available online in PDF format.

Source: Florida Realtors®

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How Safe Do You Feel on the Job?

Nearly 34 percent of real estate professionals say they have felt unsafe on the job “occasionally,” according to an online survey of more than 450 real estate professionals conducted by Moby, a company that develops personal safety mobile applications.

Female agents reported feeling the most unsafe. Forty-two percent of women said they felt unsafe on the job at least occasionally compared with about 18 percent men.


The top job safety concerns, according to the survey: Viewing vacant properties, hosting open houses, and viewing REOs, short sales, and foreclosures. Survey respondents also rated private showings and first meetings with clients high as well.

Also among the survey’s findings:

--One of the most common safety precautions respondents reported taking is keeping others informed of their location, such as by sharing their itinerary (73.3 percent), checking in repeatedly (42.8 percent), and even attending appointments with a colleague, family member, or friend (26.9 percent).

--Slightly more than 20 percent of survey respondents say they meet prospective clients at the office to photocopy their ID. About 13 percent of respondents, however, say they don’t take any precautions at all.

--The most common safety devices respondents say they carry while on the job were phones (95.5 percent). About 20 percent say they carried mace or pepper spray and 7.5 percent carried guns. About 2 percent of respondents reported taking dogs with them to showings for added security.

Source: “Lessons Learned from Real Estate Dangers,” Inman News (July 11, 2011)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Facebook Launches Video Chat Feature

Video chatting is coming to Facebook through a deal with Skype, announced Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, at a news conference Wednesday.

Russell Haskins with Homes & Land Media told Inman News that he sees Facebook video chat feature a powerful tool for real estate professionals in landing new clients and reaching out to younger clients.


"I guarantee you people will be interviewing agents using this new tool, whether [agents] like it or not," Haskins told Inman News. "If you're not ready, they can click on another agent and call [that agent]. I think this is another [tool] separating tech-savvy agents versus those who are timid."

Other real estate pros say they see the value in the video conferencing feature for using with oversea clients or clients relocating from other states too.

To use the video chat tool on Facebook, you’ll soon be able to just click a button on your Facebook chat list or a friend’s profile page to connect. (A plug-in download will be required to make and receive calls.) Facebook’s new video conferencing tool does not allow for group chats and is not available on mobile phones. It currently can be accessed at facebook.com/videocalling, until it officially rolls out in the next few weeks.

Facebook’s announcement follows on the heels of last week’s Google+'s limited debut, a challenger to Facebook. Google+ offers video chatting for up to 10 people through its Hangouts tool. (Read more about Google+)

Source: “Facebook Offers Video Chat in Arrangement With Skype,” The New York Times (July 7, 2011) and “Ready or Not, Here Comes Facebook Video Chat,” Inman News (July 6, 2011)

Social-media apps raise privacy concerns

Social-media apps – those ubiquitous little programs that allow you to do cool things with your computer and mobile devices – have introduced unprecedented risks now being discussed as part of the push for stronger federal privacy laws.

The problem: Anyone can introduce a social-media app that ties directly into Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other popular services designed primarily to sell advertising, says Craig Spiezle, executive director of the non-profit advocacy group Online Trust Alliance.

There is little stopping an application developer from “combining and appending” personal data extracted from multiple sources.

The goal: amass user profiles for advertisers. “Individually, these may appear to be like a few pixels of a photo, but when combined (they) can provide a comprehensive mosaic of a user,” says Spiezle.

You download a social-media app when you click a Facebook “like” button embedded on a friend’s blog, participate in an online poll, or try out a new wordplay game, says Michael Fertik, CEO of privacy services firm Reputation.com

Some 10,000 new websites integrate with Facebook every day, and Facebook members alone install some 20 million social-media apps every day, according to Facebook.

“We often don’t know we’re signing up for an app, and we have no clue how much information about us that app is collecting,” says Fertik.

Many consumers join a social network assuming information divulged there won’t go much beyond trusted family and friends. But the apps are walled off from each other. Most require setting up an account accessed by typing a valid e-mail address and password, says Kurt Baumgartner, senior researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

Many consumers fall into the habit of using the same e-mail account and password to access multiple apps. “It becomes more convenient to use the same username and password combination across personal, financial, e-mail and work accounts,” says Baumgartner. “But that can make you more insecure.”

Two new free consumer tools available at Unsubscribe.com and Reputation.com can help consumers manage social Web apps. Each assigns safety rankings to apps. And each guides users to regularly deactivate apps that aren’t in use.

“Most people have no idea how much stuff an app can access, and this access can be sold without you knowing it,” says James Siminoff, CEO of Unsubscribe.

Source: USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Don't Lose Your Client to Another Agent

Successfully moving a home off the sales market in today's tough environment requires a great deal of effort from real estate professionals. When a buyer is not found right away and the property simply sits on the market for some months, however, sellers tend to blame the agent -- and look for a replacement.

To keep owner-clients loyal and confident in their ability, top-producing agent and published author Pat Hiban says that being proactive goes a long way.


As such, practitioners need to fill their days prospecting, sponsoring open houses, calling contacts, and making new contacts rather than sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. That also entails accepting all networking invitations, including local community events. Every person in the room, Hiban reminds, is a potential buyer or seller.

Planning the entire week and ensuring that they are taking action each one of those days to promote their listing is also important.

Hiban believes that "activity breeds activity" and, thus, encourages agents stay busy even when the response is slow. Agents who do not get involved, Hiban stresses, do not stand a chance of succeeding.

As a final piece of advice, the author of the self-help guide "6 Steps to 7 Figures" advises real estate practitioners to not allow panic and negativity on the part of the seller infect them, too. Instead, Hiban says that staying focused and positive will help clients to do the same.

Source: "Five Tips to Make Sure Your Seller Doesn't Switch Agents," RISMedia (07/01/11)