While at Inman’s Bloggers Connect, I was able to meet a lot of people. It was my primary reason for going. But somehow, I never did get a chance to say hello to Mary Pope-Handy. Luckily, she was up for this interview! I originally intended to focus primarily on Project Blogger, but my questions led to another interesting topic as well. Read on.
I want to congratulate you on winning Active Rain’s (and Inman’s) Project Blogger contest. Would you please reflect back a little on the experience?
I’m glad to do that. It was a big committment, the experience had a large impact on me and in some ways, I’m still digesting a bit of it. It is SO neat that we were able to assign the $5000 prize to a great charity, CARE. I’m very thankful to Frances Flynn Thorsen, the managing editor of Real Town, for her mentorship, and also to Joeann Fossland (my real estate coach), for introducing me to Fran.
What originally motivated you to start blogging?
I’ve had good success with web marketing so keep developing that avenue for finding and retaining good clients. I started my main website, www.PopeHandy.com, in 1998 I believe. About 4 years ago, I think it was, I realized that if “one’s good, maybe two’re better”. I was meeting good people and closing sales off my first website so added a second one through Best Image/#1 Expert.*
*[At first I named it www.MaryPope-Handy.com but I kept reading we should get away from our names so changed it to www.WestValleyHomesOnline.com. That wasn’t a bad name – maybe I should have kept it – but then I began a branding strategy that revolved around the old moniker for our valley (now Silicon Valley). It was then known as The Valley of the Heart’s Delight back in the day…so I again changed the name of the site, and this time I’m leaving it alone! It’s now www.ValleyOfHeartsDelight.com. Despite my many initial changes to the site name, I also started meeting some nice clients and closing sales from my second website.]
And I started adding more online presence in other places – getting a featured homes subscription to Realtor.com (now my company has that so I was able to drop that personal subscription), adding a Realty Times subscription and writing market updates and sending out a newsletter from there, making sure I was listed on web directories. I was always scanning the web marketing horizon, adding this and that to my arsenal of web marketing efforts. (I’m still adding sites. I’m up to about a half dozen websites now.)
So naturally I heard about blogs, which is a natural outgrowth of web marketing. I like to write (I’ve co- authored a book on selling homes) and actually had started college as an English major with the intention of becoming a writer. The idea of blogging did not frighten me in the least. And in fact in made sense, because I think a lot of my clients who came to me from the web did so because of the unique content I was writing on my sites, and because when they looked at the “about Mary” pages on each site, they really got a sense of who I am, both professionally and personally.
Profile on PopeHandy.com (all on one page, not incl testimonials):
Anyway, I had the strong sense, from what my web-generated clients were telling me, that the “about Mary” page on the VHD site was really “sealing the deal” for some of them. Interesting, huh? They did care a lot about the credentials, but also wanted to know about me as a person.
And really, with blogging, that last part is absolutely key. With blogging, people really get a sense of who the blogger is. At least that is what I thought when I decided to get my toes wet with all this weblogging stuff. So I figured if people getting to know me online worked with a website, it probably should work with a blog.
So I like to write, what I write seems to attract clients, and I am closing business from writing, really. I prefer it to other ways of finding business. Blogging was a natural fit for me.
Hence my desire to blog.
Most real estate people who start blogs don’t last with them. I forget the statistic, but actually I’m also a dropout blogger. My first blog was really ValleyOfHeartsDelightBlog – was on Blogsource, and is now on Typepad but it’s mostly an “abandoned blog”. I realized that I needed focus and passion. I am going to revive that with more clarity/focus in the near future and put it on one of my websites – am in transition with that now. I love my town and last November realized that I could write about it almost endlessly, whereas I was pretty sure that I’d be bored if ALL I wrote about was real estate. To be sustainable, I think any blog needs to be a “labor of love”. So that approached has worked for me, and apparently for my readers.
The Haunted Real Estate Blog is totally for fun. I like to joke that “haunted real estate is not a niche market, because dead people don’t buy & sell – they just stay in possession.” I will probably eventually add something like Google ads so that at least it pays for itself. Right now I’m having problems with spam on the comments there, so am having to moderate all comments. I need a filter on it…. But it’s a fun thing for me, I love it. Since it’s just a hobby, I don’t take it too seriously or put too much effort into it. Seems to take on a life of its own and doesn’t need me to do a whole lot!
Live in Los Gatos is far more focused on your market. However, one thing I noticed is that when you speak on your “About” pages, your expression of your faith is volunteered prominently. I think it can be tough to balance religion with business. Is the Haunted House Blog a venue to vet some of your spirituality?
Live in Los Gatos is focused on the Town of Los Gatos – its lifestyle, parks, history, shops, events, and real estate (not just real estate). The “about” link takes the viewer to my VHD “about Mary” page that I referenced earlier on one of my sites.
I didn’t think about the reference to my being Catholic as “prominent”, but I guess you are right. It’s just a part of who I am. My faith matters to me a great deal.
When I first got into real estate in 1993, a more senior agent told me NOT to put my religion or background on anything. ” It will scare people away”, she advised. But that ran counter-intuitive to me. How do you NOT mention a BA in religious studies, an MA in systematic theology, 4 years of teaching high school religion, a year of youth ministry, and volunteer work as a hospital chaplain for a couple of years? So it did go onto my resume and now it’s online. It’s part of who I am. It would have scared her away, if she were a potential client. I’m sure of that. But I don’t have to appeal to everyone. I do have to be myself.
Yes, I realize that some people have had very bad experiences with religion, and certainly some people could look at my background and decide to not talk with me because of their background (or prejudice). My husband is actually concerned about www.HauntedRealEstate.com (a page on my VHD site) and HauntedRealEstateBlog along those lines. He is concerned that it will scare people off and cost me business. Half the population believes in ghosts – and they are very curious about the topic, it seems! The other half rolls its eyes and doesn’t say much. Anyway I figure it’s a little like target marketing – people are afraid to do it because they’ll loose some clients. I figure that’s a possibility, but by being who I really am (what is now popularly called “transparency”), I believe my conversion ratio is higher. When people step forward out of the shadows of anonymity, I have a pretty high rate of retaining them for clients. If I meet them from these web venues, chances are good they will actually be my clients. I figure it’s good. So whether it’s my profile, or talking about my weird hobby, it’s me. Transparency.
In terms of balancing business and religion, I have my academic and career history and my church affiliation on my website, but I don’t tend to talk about it with my clients. It’s there if they want to know more about me. If the client asks me about it (you’d be amazed at what people sometimes discuss while house hunting and spending lots of time in the car together), I’m happy to talk about my background or church and faith stuff. But I won’t be the one to either bring it up or to try hard to further that dialogue while we’re actively doing real estate together. As a person, I am pretty much an open book. But we’re there to either house-hunt or house sell.
I should add that my background has been a huge asset to my realty career at times too. In addition to my hospital chaplaincy, I did my MA thesis on Marriage, Divorce, Annulment and Divorce Ministry so spent a year studying the subject and interviewing people who were going through those painful (and healing) times. I mostly studied it in the context of my own Catholic Church, but also studied the Orthodox Church and its practice and several protestant churches and others. Often when people buy & sell homes, it IS stressful and overwhelming (as I said on my video!). Sometimes people are selling because of distressing and sad reasons: job loss, divorce, sickness, death. I had one client whose condo I helped to sell because he was dying and needed to “go home” to spend his last days. He was in terrible shape and one day had a seizure while we were going through the disclosures. I felt compassion for him and just wanted to help. Some agents would have had a hard time dealing with someone who was suffering so much. I had the background and experience to work with it. All of this to say, that the counseling skills I picked up while helping people in pain have been an asset to me in this work now.
But to get back to the question about the haunted real estate blog and spirituality…. Yes, there is a connection . Obviously I believe in life after death. As a student of theology, I have to ask how this fits into God’s plan, or what God set up for us? Why are their ghosts? They seem so lost most of the time! My mentor in the contest, Frances Flynn Thorsen, asked me to write a bit about haunted real estate for Real Town, and I did – and I discussed a little bit my theological take on why we have ghosts at all. (I put my religious comments at the very bottom, as a sort of PS under “author’s notes”)
That blog, though, on haunted RE is really not a spirituality venue. It does not address the underlying question of “why are they here”, though sometimes we do talk about or can talk about how to help them to cross over – and that IS actually a spiritual issue! We may bump into spirituality, but it’s not the goal of that blog. The goal is really just to share experiences.
Someday, I may write a book about ghosts and Christianity. I would like to do so. I’d also like to write about the ghosts in Los Gatos & Saratoga too.
(Sorry my answer is soooo long. See what I mean about liking to write?)
With nearly a year of blogging at Live in Los Gatos under your belt, how have you evolved as a blogger?
So many answers flood my mind with this. First of all, I now READ other blogs. That might seem obvious if you are a blogger – bloggers should read blogs, just like real estate practitioners should talk to other agents about what’s going on in the market. But as a newbie blogger, I was just working away in isolation. Fran put a stop to that! She had me read blogs and blogs, and really wanted me to read them in my own area. (I wrote 2 blog reviews for Real Town before the contest began as part of my “prep work” for Project Blogger.) Truthfully, there are not that many real estate blogs in Silicon Valley. But there are plenty of other types of blogs.
Secondly, I learned to keep notes about blog topics. I have a little spiral notebook and I’m always jotting ideas/angles down. And I take a lot of photos for use at some point.
I’ve gotten much better with the technical stuff too. A year ago I didn’t know a lot of bloggy words, like widget, blogroll, trackbacks, blogosphere, “google juice”. I have a ways to go with this still but I am definitely learning!
What are some of your favorite real estate Blogs?
Steve Leung in my area is an excellent blogger. His blog is www.1SiliconValley.com. It’s entirely about real estate and it focuses on the Sunnyvale/Cupertino market, which is just a hop, skip and a jump from Los Gatos, Saratoga, Almaden and Cambrian, where I focus my efforts. Steve writes really well, and as an MIT grad, he’s also a great numbers guy. I’m sure that engineers in our valley love what he does with the stats – I know I do. I can’t say enough good things about his blog.
Lenn Harley knows web marketing like no one’s business. Her blog features lots of numbers and beautiful maps that she’s had a graphic designer create for her (I love that idea and it’s on the list of things to implement at some point).
Teresa Boardman makes constant use of her camera to enhance her blog about the twin cities.
Out of all the advice, encouragement, and criticism you received during Project Blogger, Is there any one morsel of “help” that stands out among the others? Do you remember who it came from?
Not one salient thing, actually. There were tips here and there that I found helpful. But there was advice and criticism (not only on me, but on everyone) that was just plain dumb. Some of it was just practical. I didn’t ever think that my header should be a link that took the reader to the home page – instead it went to one of my websites. I got nailed for that and changed it within 5 minutes of reading the criticism. I don’t remember who mentioned that one. But the guy thought my linking was sneaky or something. It wasn’t meant to be at all – it was just my ignorance of the protocol. Week 3’s judging was by Caleb Mardini of Active Rain (but it was not given to us until AFTER we had finished the 14 weeks). Caleb said that I wrote a lot of great content, but it didn’t stand out that I’m a Realtor. I try to write a lot of community stuff, history stuff etc. and to weave real estate articles in at least once a week. But my blog’s target is not just people who are buying and selling right now. It’s also aimed at folks who want to live in Los Gatos (and get to know the community) and those who used to live in LG (and want to keep a pulse on the town). I thought Caleb’s criticism was fair, but it came 12 weeks too late to help me during the contest. I do include a few more real estate posts now than I used to.
I think I’ve blocked a lot of the judging out because it was such a constant assault. I know it was meant to help but it was not a lot of fun to constantly be under the microscope (I’m a big fan of public praise, private criticism – but I signed up for the scrutiny!) One week an agent would be praised for some aspect of his or her blog. Others in the contest would assume that we should implement that feature – only to be dinged for it by a later judge. Very frustrating. Anyway I’m sorry I can’t tell you more about that. I really still shake my head over how much of the judging was handled.
Many of the other contestants, both mentors and the apprentices, were a great source of encouragement to me in developing my blog. They still are. And I tried to encourage my competitors too – I wanted to see each of us do our best. It’s a lot like in the rest of real estate: your competitors are also your friends.
I made a lot of great friendships during Project Blogger. I learned so much. As Howard Brinton would say, it’s like drinking water from a firehose.
I’m still learning. Still engaged, though now not under a microscope.
The contest was insanely long and exhausting. If they do it again, it needs to be shorter (for about a thousand reasons). But I’m thrilled that I got to be a part of it. My colleagues in the contest were great. The judges were wonderful to give their time (and often their efforts weren’t appreciated because of the chaotic way the judging was run – they didn’t know what other judges had said before, so it was like 14 individual contests instead of one – plus the voting). Active Rain and Inman were fabulous for hosting this cutting edge contest. Others who didn’t have official roles were behind the scenes, reading our blogs, commenting, encouraging. There was a lot of that going on too.
I’m thankful to each and everyone who participated at every level. Every single one of them helped me to be a better blogger.
What advice would you offer for prospective bloggers who are sitting on the fence?
That’s a great question. First, I would ask them, “why do you want to blog?” Most r.e. bloggers give up fairly soon after starting – and some of them have signed up for very expensive subscriptions to blog hosting companies! If you are thinking of blogging, I would say this:
(1) You have to like to write. If you don’t enjoy writing, this will not be sustainable, just another chore to avoid. (It helps if you have decent grammar & vocab, but I’ve seen agents who “couldn’t write” get biz from the web anyway.)
(2) To be a realty blogger means being part of the community of real estate bloggers. You will also need to read blogs, comment on other blogs, and be involved. Why? It will make you a better blogger, in a nutshell. It will also be more fun. And again, that helps to make this sustainable.
(3) You need to be consistent. Don’t blog once or twice a month. Can you do this 2-3 times a week? Daily is better – at least at first.
(4) Be yourself. Don’t try to be like or sound like anyone else.
(5) Before investing in an expensive blogging platform, get started on a free one. Real Town and Active Rain are both good places to get your toes wet – at no cost!
(6) Take a lot of photos (do not just swipe pics on the internet!) and keep notes on ideas for things to blog about