Is quick information good information?

Bogue Sound SunsetOne of the big things in real estate these days is instant availability to your clients. Many agents carry smart phones so they can always see their email.

We have been told that clients will move on and seek another agent unless they hear back within 15 minutes of sending an email.

This of course is just the logical extension of the Google search. If you do not find what you want in the first five search results, you move on.

I am a big fan of Google. I have written a couple of posts, Google’s clever daily intelligence and The glue for the modern world.

One of the post laughs a little about the kind of information that you can find with Google and the other talks seriously about how Google somehow replaces much of the information that used to be passed on by family and close neighbors.

While it might be nice to get a quick reply from a smart phone that I will get back to you shortly, I would certainly rather get a real contact from someone.

We have gotten to the point that people prefer quick over accurate, and anonymous over professional.

I have not decided why people have become so jaded that they are not interested in talking to professionals about a subject. Most people place the greatest importance on getting their information quickly. They seem relatively uninterested in making certain that they are getting good information.

As a Realtor®, I have gotten more training and access to useful information than I ever have previously in my sales career. Yet I get the feeling that most people are afraid of the information or power that Realtors® have. We seem to be only slightly above used car salesmen even though we go through a rigorous licensing procedure and take additional training each year.

People believed every word that I said as an Apple sales person. Unfortunately I knew almost nothing because of Apple’s North Korean style secrecy. Still people depended on my best guess as to whether or not to place million dollar computer orders.

My theory on sales does not have anything in it about magically tricking people into buying something that they do not want. Sales is all about finding out what someone wants and helping them find it.

When most people take the time to seek out a dedicated real estate professional, they add a local expert who can fill many of the cracks where the Internet just does not provide complete information.

I often get questions on online forums. I go to great pains to respond accurately to people’s questions. I do it not because people are likely to turn around and buy property from me but because by getting good information on the table, I can hopefully make people see that the quality of the information is more important than the speed of the answer.

We have become a society that does not want to wait. We would rather jump to whatever conclusion we can instead of taking the time to dig deeper and get real answers.

Google is part of my daily life, but I have no intention of trying to beat Google to the punch or supply Google type information. If you do a Google search for “Cape Carteret, NC,” you will come up with a Google map and lots of links.

You might be able to find what you want in those links. If you search for “Local expert Cape Carteret, NC,” I come up number six in the search. If you send me a note, I will likely be able to give you better information than you might get from a Google search. At the most you will wait a few hours.

Even Google has figured that out since they let us create more useful maps using their tools. You can compare my Cape Carteret map to the one you got in the Google search.

It depends on what you want with your Google search. If finding the right place to live the next twenty years is what you want, just maybe you should take the time to evaluate your sources instead of taking whatever Google throws at you.

If you are looking for the location of an ATM machine, Google is probably the right tool.

A friend and I are rolling out a local Internet resource which we expect will create another level of information at a more local level. We hope by involving lots of people we can get good information which is locally based and refreshed on a regular basis. We have the prototype up at .

We will see whether it makes a difference in the long run.

False expertise from lack of experience

Sometimes I get into places on the Interet where I am not sure I know why that I am there. There is no map out there as to where you should focus your time. I like to try a lot of things since this is a very new world for almost everyone. New tools, sites, and ways of relating to each other pop up all the time.

Bogue Inlet Pier SunriseI do everything from share things on Google reader to trying new things like Squidoo and having a rarely visited spot on MySpace. I have several blogs and photos at Flickr and Picasa Web Albums.

I have accounts at Digg and I even use Linkedin.

One thing that I am very passionate about is my photographs. I recently posted one on Spock. It got deleted.

I have tried to figure out how a sunrise of pier taken on the beach was offensive. Maybe I do not understand the whole concept of Spock. That is a distinct possibility.

My only other guess is that some expert decided the photo looked altered. That brings up an interesting point which has had some discussion on the Internet recently with the disclosure that someone using Photoshop placed a herd of antelope under a train bridge to make a point about the lack of environmental harm from a new rail line.

It is very easy to alter photos. The challenge is present photo which looks as close to the original scene as possible. That is the commitment that I make with every photo that I share, and I share a bunch including a number that have been on television recently. Sometimes you might make a mistake getting it exactly like your eyes saw it, but most people doing this try really hard to stick to the scene. Cameras are machines and aren’t perfect. Also my eyes might not see things exactly like your eyes.

I have taken literally thousands of sunrise and sunset pictures. I am sure the total is approaching 30,000. I have a site with ones I took over the years in Roanoke, Va. I have a few there where I played with some artistic results so I know the difference.

I am often shooting right into the sun. Sometimes I get some unbelievable results. I never do anything other than crop, straighten, and sometimes adjust the lighting on the color to the way my eyes captured the scene. I often have lots of photos to help me do that.

If you have done a lot of shooting directly into bright sunlight, you know that it is a challenge to capture a scene without optical artifacts that are not in the scene. They end up in the pictures that you take with the camera, but your eye does not see them.

Very often the camera darkens a scene in order to handle the sunlight.

The biggest thing that I do to capture amazing sunsets is to use the optical zoom on my cameras. Very often a scene can look very ordinary from a distance but will be spectacular close up.

The picture in this post is unaltered. It is right out of iPhoto and stuck on the web with no modifications or touch ups.

This is the same picture that has been inserted into a webpage by Photoshop. My eyes cannot tell much difference.

I have taken the unusual step of posting the over 110 photos that I took that morning of March 31, 2007 including the ones that washed out. I think it is useful for people to see how the light changes depending on the camera angle and the direction.

Somewhere in the process I come out with some very nice photos. Sometimes I will take a photo and make sure the blue in it matches the blue in one like the one at the top of the page. In my mind, I have declared that the true blue that my eyes saw that day.

Now there might be other reasons that someone removed my photo from Spock, but other than it was over 400K, I cannot think of one.

So I have to think that a person with a false sense of expertise or who has been too lazy to ever get up and watch a few thousand sunrises voted my picture off.

It is a real picture. Check out the two series of over 110 photos taken with my Nikon DSLR and my Panasonic Luminix cameras.

Nikon Bogue Inlet Sunrise

Panasonic Bogue Inlet Sunrise

They are amazing photos.

They are not amazing from being run through Photoshop.

They are great photos because I was in the right place at the right time with the right light.

That is the integrity that I bring to the process.

Catching what drifts by us

Oysters on the beachIt occurred to me this morning that can getting our news and information these days can be a little like being an oyster on the beach.

There is the overwhelming amount of information out there. It is almost a Tsunami of content.

Sometimes it means you get covered with green slime.

You can use something like Google reader and the shared items of friends.

Blogs offer another alternative. Unfortunately like mine, they are all over the place.

You can try to find websites that are about areas that interest you. You can look into forums where people are known by their handles and their online expertise, but they have their own set of problems.

My best advice is to make sure you temper what you read with some of your own research and thought.

The problem is that doing that is easier said than done. It is hard to detach yourself and your interests from the bigger picture.

Sometimes the information we are hearing from all the sources is so overwhelming that people end up paralyzed. That is close to what has happened to the real estate market today.

There is so much negative press and discussion out there, that people are afraid to act or think in their own best interest. I have more people looking for property than I have seen in a long time, but last month Carteret County, NC MLS had a record low number of transactions. This February may be worse.

People seem to be waiting for a signal. I am not sure what the signal is, but I doubt we will know until we are well past it, and prices have started to rise.

As I mentioned in a post on my Reston blog, the huge price gains of the last few years have disappeared. We have more affordable housing at the coast than many urban areas.

I remember when people first start buying computers, you often heard the idea that it was better to wait until prices quit going down. It would have been a long wait.

Of course I didn’t wait. I got my first Apple II+ in August 1982. I ended up working for Apple for nearly twenty years.

Had I waited, I might never have had that opportunity.

Another example is the purchase of coastal property that my wife and I in September 2006. We bought near Cape Carteret, NC at not far from the top of the real estate market. I knew it was close to the top of the market, but we had been looking for three years so we bought, and I even went a step further.

I ended up being so impressed with the real estate firm that I decided to become a Realtor®.

Eighteen months later I have just received a reward from my firm, Bluewater GMAC Real Estate, as the “Up and Coming Star” for 2007.

While real estate is a challenging profession right now, I think it will be a good fit for my third career.

On top of that I have looked at about 250 homes since we bought ours. I still have not found one that I like more or one with the same features at a better price than ours in Bluewater Cove.

If we had waited to buy, I might not be in real estate. I certainly would not be ready for the good times when they eventually get here. There probably won’t be enough real estate agents when the market turns because many are quitting now.

I would have also missed some the great weather and beach living here in Carteret County.

I feel fortunate to have not let myself get caught in the green slime that drifts by these days.

Sometimes you just have to find your own current instead of staying on the beach and taking what drifts by you.

The tenuous lines to civilization

Keagy VillageWe work hard at subduing mother nature. This new shopping center off Keagy Road in Roanoke, Va. is a good example of leveling off mountain tops and filling in valleys.

While we can make the landscape look like whatever we want, Sunday’s storms and wind whipped fires in the Roanoke area proved that we are still pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Today is Tuesday and some people in the Roanoke area will be without power until Friday because of what the high winds did to trees in the area.

It is interesting how as we crowd ourselves together in smaller and smaller spaces that we become more dependent on someone else.

When we lived in the wilds of New Brunswick, we heated with wood, grew our own food, had a spring for our water, and could actually have done okay without the power grid for a week or two since we also had a small generator.

During the wind storm on Sunday, our cable modem connection went down. It was almost as isolating as being in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.

When a blizzard would hit in Canada, we still managed to get around because we were prepared for it. In a worst case scenario, I could put my snowshoes on and go visiting.

There is nothing one individual can do to prevent infrastructure disaster in today’s world. It is a little unnerving to be so dependent on so many other people.

The other challenge is the anonymity of your problem in a large community. I can remember the power going out for a week during an early September snowstorm on the coast of Nova Scotia. We were in small community.  People quickly started figuring out how to help each other.  One neighbor modified a chain saw so it would run our water pumps.  Another put a generator on a trailer and went around running people’s freezers for an hour or two.

Small communities quickly turn to helping each other. I wonder how many people in Roanoke are without power and cold while their neighbors are warm in well electrified homes.

I may just have to head back down to the coast, at least it is a small neighborhood, and I like to believe it would be easier to pull together in a disaster. One of the mayors of the area runs a small farm not far from me.  Somehow that is comforting.

Still we are lucky on the Southern Outer Banks, the worst we have had to deal with is fog.   I hope it stays that way at least until warm weather.

The anonymity of technology

Traffic in Cary, NCWhen I used to drive between college in Boston and my home in Mount Airy, NC in the late sixties and early seventies, I could tell where I was by the radio station.

You could pick up some local news and weather. Today real local radio stations are hard to find. We get our weather from looking at one of the gadgets in the car.

Radio in our case is XM, though it might not be much longer given how poorly the new antenna is performing.

Still technology, google maps, Accuweather long range forecasts, and satellite radio have created a cocoon for us as we travel.

When you throw in chain restaurants and pay at the pump, it is little wonder that it is hard to tell one place from another.

I can still remember one fateful evening on the way back to Boston in the old days. The belt driving the fan on my Jaguar XK-E broke on the Interstate highway. This was well before cell phones. I waited for the engine to cool and drove a mile or so a couple of times.

That got me to a local filling station which was still open on a Friday night. Unfortunately he didn’t have a fan belt to fit my car. He gave me a ride to the local hotel in Hagerstown and said he would pick me up in the morning.

Good to his word, he showed up the next morning, and we found out that the closest thing in town was a belt for a washing machine. I bought three, and he quickly installed one, and I was back on the road.

No Onstar, no cell phone, no triple AAA, and no advance computer registration at the hotel. Laptops had not been invented. Being wireless meant someone ripped your wires out. How did I manage to survive?

I wonder if the lack of interaction with the local world as we fly by in our technology aided cocoons has made for more or less understanding of our neighbors?

River and mind fog

River FogToday, December 29, the air temperatures on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast are so warm that fog is forming over some of the rivers.

Sometimes I think we live in a fog of technology. While the river fog will go away when the weather changes, I think we have to work at losing the technology fog.

Almost every home has a computer, and lots of people depend on email to do their jobs and to stay in touch with friends.

Most people, not including my wife, use a cell phone with a camera phone.

Wireless networks are everywhere, and few homes are without an all in one printer/scanner/copier.

Then there are the digital cameras and movie cameras. We have HD televisions with HDMI inputs so I suppose the next thing is a Blue Ray or HD DVD.

We were in Best Buy the other day and actually stopped for a couple of minutes to look at a comparison between Blue Ray and regular DVD. I will admit to the Blue Ray images being stunning.

What I can do with the technology that we already have in the home and that which is accessible on the web like geotagging and Google Earth is astonishing.

While I cannot yet send an image that rivals Blue Ray, I can send some very stunning images.

Someone sent me some fantastic images that are going around the web. While my images might not be quite in the same class, they aren’t bad. I think a lot of people can say that these days.

We have such good tools today, that anyone can be an expert, by capturing an image, balancing the color a little, and easily sending it by email or MMS.

Not only can you send it to someone, but likely they will be able to get it even if they are traveling. There is so much content, some of it very high quality, and delivered very quickly that we are in an information fog.

There are people who have trouble processing it all. And above all it is harder and harder to get information to stand out.
It is easy to lose track of what you want to focus on because there is so much information. Sometimes it is more than you want or need to know.

There are times you have to back away from the technology and what it delivers until you can see through the fog.

Too much information can take away your decision making ability. Maybe I am old school, but once in a while you have to go with a gut feeling and not let yourself get overwhelmed with instantaneous high tech data.  Once in a while, all this high tech stuff lets you turn something not so appealing into something not exactly as good as it looks.

Maybe it helps to go back to a basic computer that does not overwhelm you with its possibilities. I am trying that with a new Zonbu computer.

Invisible digital ink

Crab Pot Tree ValleyEmail is what I live by in my real estate business.  Most of my clients contact me by email before I actually meet them.

It works fine for the real estate world, but a package of letters returned to me by a friend got me to thinking if we are someday going to regret all the email.

The letter were written in the early seventies to a college friend when I first moved to Canada.  It is interesting to look at them and glance through my thoughts.  They tell a lot about me and what was important to me then.

I only have one friend to whom I still write letters.  Even those letters are typed on a computer.  Most of my communications with friends are instant messages or emails.  We often do instant messages instead of phone calls.  While they are quick and easy, they have little permanence.  Without a lot of work, when the computer is gone the messages are gone.

I used to try to keep CD and then DVD backups of my email.  Unfortunately the volume of mail has grown faster than the storage medium.  Of course I use IMAP for much of my email so it hangs around for a few years, but still eventually it will go.

I have a lot of information on the web in my blogs.  I guess they have some degree of permanence as long as I pay the bills.  I have actually done backups of the information and even backed up a couple of my important websites.

Yet in spite of that I feel that we are on the edge of losing a lot of information.  Maybe there is so much of it that there isn’t enough storage space to store it all.

Even if you could store who would take the time to read through an average person’s email?  Maybe a relative, but they would have to have more time than brains.

Maybe this new age of email and instant messaging means that whatever doesn’t make it into a book will have to be learned over.

Then again maybe technology will rescue us with a way to digest all our emails and dig out some great thoughts that might have been lost to the world without some machine help.

Our own paper handcuffs

Fall SunsetI have seen some true innovation over the years.

I can still remember when the only way you interacted with a bank was through a teller.

Gas was pumped by someone who came to your car and cleaned your windshield while your tank was filling.

You talked to an operator to make some long distance calls. The only way to make a call while traveling way to find a pay telephone booth.

When I started farming, I jumped within a year or two to putting up our hay with a round baler. It was a true innovation and allowed me to take care of two head of cattle with very little human help besides myself. The provincial department of agriculture told me the haying method that I was using was doomed to failure.

Personal computers when they first came out made huge changes in the way we did things. Typewriters almost died off, and everyone and his brother could do desktop publishing, but as we all know the paperless office never happened. In fact the reverse happened.

Somewhere along the way, computers made it so easy to generate paper that we are now close to drowning in it.

As a Realtor®, I am amazed by how much paper it takes to buy and sell houses. We continue to add sheets of paper to everything we do. In fact our main offer to purchase contract went from five to seven pages just this summer.

While more and more paper is being required, our communications between people have become less and less paper dependent. Very few people write letters anymore.  You cannot go back and refer to what someone said in a letter.  You are lucky if they sent you an email.

While some people seem to like communicating by email, others have come over to the world of instant messaging, and then there are those who always have a cell phone glued to their ears and cannot seem to communicate any other way.

Somewhere along the way when the world should have moved to digital signatures and secure encrypted PDFs, we got stuck on faxes which are easy to hate. In spite of all our advances, faxes are dependent on mechanical paper feeds which have made little progress when it comes to handling sheets of paper. Scanning and/or faxing are not exactly my favorite way of doing things.

While an ATM almost never fails, if you try to do a twelve page fax, you are almost guaranteed to have to resend a page or two. Often when we switch to scans by email, we end up stressing the human at the other end of the email chain. It is not unusal they are challenged at downloading or printing even simple PDFs.

This leaves the real estate business with not only some of the latest technology but also some of the oldest.  We still get forms by mail.

While real estate is one of the few business where blogging has become effective, digital pictures omnipresent, and centralized online databases a part of everyday business, it is also one of the last places where bricks and mortar places of business still are important along with those faxes and printed documents.

I have watched a number of real estate people try to move to the world of smart phones which guarantee instant communication and the ability to keep everything synchronized and in one place. Based on the people I have watched, they do not work very well. I see people whose phones are beeping all the time from the overload of mail and phone calls.

While Apple’s iPhone promises that everything you need will be in one spot, that is a tall order in a business where multiple government agencies along with county, state, and national professional organizations want a record of what you are doing from the time you first meet a client until they sign their HUD statement.

My experience has shown that a paper file folder seems to be the only effective place for keeping everything from faxes to my notes. In fact the paper file folders seems to be the cornerstone of the real estate business.

Learning how to create a listing folder with the various pieces of information that we pull from different computers along with the signed documents we get from clients is key to being successful in our business. Eventually that folder becomes a pending folder and a closed folder. It is often mirrored by folders that we real estate agents carry so we do not lose our minds.

The paper folder might hold a fax from the county environment services group on a septic permit, a computer print out of the tax value of the property, computer generated forms, a digital flood map, and notes that are scribbled while talking on a cell phone in a parking lot.

There is no phone smart enough to what a paper folder and a note pad can do. Those old fashion tools essentially put all the pieces together that are required to make a complex business transaction happen. The best way of taking notes is with a pen or a pencil and a pad.

Yet we are a business that seems to find a way to use every piece of technology that can be throw at us.

Yesterday I scheduled my first closing using TimeBridge. While it will not get rid of any paper, it might save a few phone calls and emails.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are better ways to do what we have to do, but there are so many legal requirements that I do not see a way out of these paper handcuffs.

The operating system lock

Fall on the coastSometimes our technology decisions keep us on a certain path that is hard to leave.

Most of the world uses Microsoft operating systems.

There are some significant minorities out there.

That would include those using Linux and Apple’s OS X along with those who don’t use technology at all.

So I wonder how does going down one operating system path impact the rest of your life.

I once penned a post, The liberal Mac and the conservative PC. In the post I guessed that people who bought PCs bought them for a specific task while Mac users purchased their computers for what they might do.

I think there are very few PC people who fall in love with their computers. There are a number of Mac users who find computing close to a religious experience.

I recently bought a PC for a specific use, to handle the real estate forms that I need in my career as a real estate agent.

I don’t feel any different from buying a PC except maybe I am very happy to have some a significant chunk of change.

Admittedly this isn’t my first PC, I have a Dell desktop that I bought three years ago, and on which I ran Linux off of one hard drive while running Windows XP on the main drive.

I don’t get too excited about computers since they are everywhere.

I do wonder if never having left your operating system is something akin to never having left your hometown or traveled overseas.

If you haven’t enjoyed the agony of viruses or the ecstasy of a Steve Jobs keynote is your life somehow incomplete?

Does that operating system lock prevent one from seeing the big picture. There are plenty of people who have used multiple operating systems, do we occupy a special space as the gurus who which path someone should follow?

Actually, I think a case could be made that operating systems are so similar today and so much happens in the world of Google, including their applications, that there is very little difference in the capabilities of computers or their users.


beachI have heard it said that your real character shows late at night when you are alone, and no one can see what you’re up to.

While that is probably true, the problem for the rest of us is that no one is there to see you, so we cannot figure out your character.

Maybe your character shows on a nearly deserted beach like this one near Emerald Isle, NC. At least someone might catch a glimpse of what you are doing.

Actually I think technology has made it much easier to see inside that protective coating which keeps most people from knowing who we really are. It has nothing to do with cameras or surveillance.

So how does technology reveal our character?

Sometimes it is as simple as technology providing anonymity through a nickname with instant messaging.

Most often it just provides distance or a buffer from real personal interaction.

What better to really tell someone off than in a voicemail or perhaps a cell phone call where the connection is so bad that they can’t even fight back?

Then of course there is the flaming email which is well known to all corporate dwellers.

In a sense people really do hide behind the technology. Technology lets the real person sneak out without fear of consequences that might come from a face to face confrontation.

The other day, I had someone go off the deep end in a phone call. They said things which they should have never let slip out of their mouths. I seriously doubt if the conservation would have been anything near that had it taken place in person or face to face.

What it did let me see is the real person who masquerades behind a facade of civility. I now know that the person is someone whom I probably rather avoid, especially in business dealings.

I recently had another illuminating moment with a business partner.   His real character wasn’t revealed by technology but the way he said something had almost the same effect.

He decided that he wanted to get out of a joint business deal with me. Instead telling me directly, he waited to dump it all on my wife while I was at work.  My wife had not been involved in setting up the deal, and actually wanted no part of it.  She had even recommended against it.

It is probably one of the more cowardly episodes that I have ever heard.  It is perhaps something that only a very small minded person would do especially since it almost knocked my wife into depression.

His actions showed a complete lack of real character. It was pretty obvious that his only consideration was his self. I actually cannot think of someone who has so grossly violated the code by which most men of honor operate.

I guess it goes to show that while technology can reveal a lack of character, those completely without character don’t need technology’s help in showing their lack of worth.

I have an interesting post on the concept of “Sour Grapes” at my Blogger site.  I wrote it after an Apple maniac decided my purchase of a Windows laptop was based on dissatisfaction with my former career at Apple.