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Real Estate & Responsive Web Design

October 9, 2013

Author: Stephen Skinner, Vice President of Information Technology of Alain Pinel Realtors
As all top producing brokerages know, a huge share of online traffic these days is coming from mobile devices. Whether it is a young family looking at homes on their iPad while they watch TV or the on-the-go professional on their smart phone in front of a home – our clients have let us know that mobile is more important than ever. While we are constantly looking for solutions to provide the best experiences for our clients, responsive web design is undoubtedly a trend worth paying attention to.

Just what IS responsive web design?

The answer is really quite simple: responsive web design is a leading trend in web design intended to automatically provide an optimal viewing experience for any website on any device. With a focus on easy reading and a minimum of panning, zooming and scrolling, responsive web designs can be easily viewed on a watch, a phone, a tablet, a notebook or desktop computer.

Samsung Smart Watch

When mobile websites were first introduced a few years ago, site designs were often too large for the limited display size of smartphones and tablets. Because of this, early mobile websites required users to continually resize and reposition the webpage to fit on the screen. Responsive design automatically adjusts the size and layout of the website to match the size and the display of the device – eliminating the need for creating different websites for different platforms.

APR Responsive Design Agent Site

In this example, we see an APR Agent Website built with responsive design, as it might appear when viewed on a smartphone, with all of the layout, navigation and links automatically adjusted to fit on the smartphone screen. This creates a seamless experience for a client no matter what device they are on. Responsive design is one of several ongoing trends in web design that aim to make websites more useful on the wide variety of mobile and desktop devices that are now part of our daily life, at work and at play.

When it comes to our clients – there is no doubt we want to provide them the easiest, most enjoyable, and consistent experience no matter how their interacting with us online. Responsive web design is another tool helping to make that a reality.

About Author:

Stephen Skinner is Vice President of Information Technology at Alain Pinel Realtors and is responsible for overall technology strategy and implementation throughout the APR organization. Since becoming APRs VP of Information Technology in 2007, Skinner’s accomplishments have included the introduction of new consumer and agent tools such as advanced map-based property search and new agent websites.  

Industry Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

Who Owns This Photo?

October 3, 2013

Author: Dan Mirsky, Director of Marketing at Alain Pinel Realtors.

It goes without saying that images are vital to real estate marketing. When it comes to property photos, we upload them to our brokerage site, send them to the MLS, syndicate them to numerous other industry sites, and use them in our advertisements – both online and in print.
However, who actually has permission to use a photograph and where? Who does the copyright belong to? The owner of the house, the photographer, the brokerage, the agent, the MLS? Unfortunately, the answer is not always clear and, like most intellectual property, the laws are a bit murky.

Legal advice aside, here are some questions you might want to consider when using property photos in your marketing materials:

  • Has the seller consented to having their house photographed?
  • In your contract with your photographer, have you agreed to how the photograph can be used and distributed?
  • Does your relationship with your brokerage or MLS grant them certain distribution rights? Do they align with your agreement with your photographer?
  • Do you have permission to use photos in print, online and in social media?
  • Does your photographer give you permission to alter the photos in any way? Can you crop them? Instagram them?

Another tricky situation is with advertising SOLD properties. While you may ask the listing agent to use one of their photos, getting permission from both the photographer who took the photo and the seller is something many don’t consider – and failure to get consent can land you in hot water. Recently, we were contacted by a photographer who saw his photos being used on one of our agent’s “Just Sold” postcards. While we were able to resolve that particular issue amicably, some photographers might not be as understanding.
Moral of the story: If you do not own the rights or have permission to use a photo – you shouldn’t be using it in your advertising. Only by consulting all parties involved can you protect yourself.
For more information about using non-property photos in your marketing, see this post: Beautiful Images Ugly Copyright Violations and Fee.

About Author:

Dan Mirsky began his career with Alain Pinel Realtors (APR) in 2003 and brings over 10 years of marketing, advertising and communications experience to the company. In his current role as the firm’s Director of Marketing, he is responsible for defining the corporate marketing strategy and communicating that message across multiple channels – both internal and external.

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Special APR Discount for Inman Conference

June 14, 2013

Did you know one of the BEST real estate events of the year is happening in San Francisco this year? Inman News presents both Agent Reboot and Real Estate Connect this July at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square.
The events kickoff with Agent Reboot on July 9th. This one-day boot camp, revamped with all new content for 2013, is a crash course in digital marketing to make your upcoming year your best. Get expert advice via case studies, mobile marketing techniques to attract the digital consumer, strategies to foster and build relationships on social media, tips to ensure your website is personalized and local and so much more.
Next up is the main event – the 3-day, information packed Real Estate Connect from July 10-12th. Real Estate Connect is where real deals are made, new partnerships are formed, new technologies are introduced, start-ups are launched and hard issues are debated openly. Connect SF will position you to take advantage of tomorrow. This year, APR’s own VP of Relocation and Business Development Michi Olson will be speaking.
Unsure whether to attend? Check out our post from last year highlighting some of the take-aways and tools.
Even better – this year we’ve partnered with Inman News to make it easier for you to attend both events – at a reduced price. You can save $300 if you REGISTER NOW. This special deal for local agents will give you tickets to both events for the exclusive price of $649.
Register NOW – and secure your spot in this incredible 4-day event.

Industry Insights Legal Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

Email Marketing: Know the Rules

April 4, 2013

With so much of a home-buyers experience taking place online, it’s no surprise that email marketing still plays a crucial part in any real estate professionals marketing strategy. While social media and direct mailings all play a role, email marketing is one of the fastest, relatively simple, and cost-effective ways you can drive customers to your website.
However, this is really only accomplished if you do it properly. If you do it wrong, not only will you likely annoy and deter clients from using your services, but you also much be breaking the law. Yes – not sending your emails properly can land you in some legal hot water AND financial trouble. In 2003, Congress passed the CAN-SPAM Act which regulates the rules of commercial email and the rights of consumers. Violations of the CAN-SPAM Act are subject to penalties up to $16,000 for each separate email in violation. 
So – how can you avoid it? Here are 7 tips you must be following if you’re using email for your business:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Many CRM systems allow you to change your “From” and “Reply-To” lines in your email. If you do this, it should still accurately reflect the business or person who initiated the message – including the originating domain name.
  2. Subjects lines should be straightforward. The subject line should accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. If you are sending a direct ad, identify it as such – there’s some flexibility in how you do this, but it must be done.
  4. Must include a valid physical postal address. Whether this is your office address, a PO box, or a private registered mailbox – you have to include a mailing address in your commercial emails.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. You must give a clear explanation of how a recipient can opt-out of your mailing list. This can be by clicking a link, sending you an email, or another method – but it has to be clear, visibly, and easy to understand. While you can ask them only to opt-out from certain subset of message types, “all commercial messages” must be an option.
  6. Honor opt-out requests in a time sensitive fashion. Opt-out mechanisms are only useful (and lawful) if they work – and in a timely manner. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. The opt-out mechanism has to be as simple as sending a reply email or visiting a single-step website. Once they opt-out you cannot sell or transfer their email address.
  7. Monitor any vendor or company you are using for email marketing. Even if you hire another company or vendor to handle your email marketing – you are not exempt from legal responsibility. Both the company / business who is promoted in the message and the company that sends the message can be held legally responsible.
These tips are fairly straightforward – and luckily for you, most email marketing platforms have these protections built in. However, it’s worth taking a look at your next newsletter or email blasts and see what the consumer sees. Run through this checklist and make sure you aren’t making a $16,000 mistake. Happy emailing!


Business Planning Insights Industry Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

Jeff Barnett Asks What We Can Learn From YPNers

February 26, 2013

Jeff Barnett, Vice President and Regional Manager of Alain Pinel Realtors in Los Gatos, also serves the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) as the Liaison for Large Residential Firms Relations. In this capacity, he oversees a monthly NAR Power Broker Roundtable in RISMedia‘s magazine Real Estate. His latest focuses on the newest generation of real estate professionals and how they are shaping the future of the business  The Young Professionals Network, or YPN, launched by NAR’s REALTOR® Magazine in 2006 has been a driving force of this change. Here’s what a few of the leaders of this generation of real estate professionals had to say.
What’s important for people to understand is I look at Facebook and Twitter and other networking conduits for what they really are: a way to build relationships.” – Tamara Suminski
Social Media is the best way I’ve found to get myself out in front of people … Every day, I try to put my personality and my experience out there … I want people to see me online for who I am and what I know – including what I know about real estate. I’m just myself, and customers find me.” – Imran Poladi
I taught myself all the apps and the fun stuff, and now probably 50% of my business is done by cell phone. But you have to interact with clients and agents the way they prefer.” – Sarah Jacobson
I use a virtual assistant to confirm showings. My files and photos are in Dropbox. All of my contacts, offers, signatures, and communications are handled by phone or online unless someone else prefers it another way … This is just the way the business is going … one thing we all agree on is that service, professionalism and commitment come first no matter how you choose to do business.” – Erin Mendel
For the full article, visit “Building Real Estate Relationships in the New Generation: What the Rest of Us Learn from YPNers.

Industry Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

Presenting Effortlessly: Keynote Remote

January 10, 2013

When it comes to winning listings – presentation matters. There are countless stories about agents winning or losing listings based solely on their listing presentation – and in a tech-savvy marketing like the Bay Area you have to bring your A game. We know it’s not just a gimmick to use an iPad at a listing presentation, it works. With the ability to make dynamic presentations on an iPad, you can showcase your professionalism, while making a visually appealing experience. That’s why here at Alain Pinel Realtors, we introduced a comprehensive, APR-branded, and customizable iPad CMA tool for our agents back in 2011!

Did you know there is an app where you can control your keynote presentation from your iPhone? It’s fantastic and it’s called Keynote Remote. With Keynote remote, you no longer have to by physically touching the iPad as you present – you can just set it up in a stand or let your potential sellers hold it. You can walk around the room! At a price of $0.99, you can completely control what is being displayed on your iPad – from your iPhone. While the iPad is mobile, this brings your presentation to the next level.
One of the greatest features about the Keynote Remote is the ability for your “iPhone remote” to display notes about your slides. So – you can be looking at the slide and your notes on your iPhone – while the iPad just displays the slide. This is a great tool to use so that you don’t forget to mention important details as you go through your presentation. And with a little bit of tact – your audience won’t even know you have notes. If you’re already using an iPad in your listing presentation, and you own an iPhone, this is a must have app.

Industry Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

Which Social Networks Should I Be On?

November 19, 2012

One frequent question I get from REALTORS® is “Which social networks should I be on?” With so many out there, they often don’t know where to start or which to invest their time in. It seems that every couple of months a new “hot” social network is in the news – Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, etc. With so many options it is no surprise that agents are asking which networks they should be on. However, there isn’t a simple answer to this. Which network works from some people doesn’t work for others. Below are some things to think about when choosing which social media site to be on:
What are your goals?
This is always an important one to start with. Are you on it solely for business? If so, what business goals do you have? Is it to deepen relationships with past clients? Connect with potential future clients? Is it to make a name for yourself among others in the industry? Is it to connect with other REALTORS® and discuss industry related issues? Depending on what your goals are, different networks will have different appears. It’s also important to note that if done right, most networks can be used for any of these goals.
What is your audience?
This is closely related to your first question. If you know who your ideal audience is, you can also make guesses about where to connect with them. Professionals? Likely to be on LinkedIn. Very mobile? Try Instagram and Foursquare. Not quite sure? Well … Facebook has the most users.
Where are you most comfortable? What are your strengths?
This is possibly more important than either of the other two questions. The thing about social media is that being genuine is the most important aspect of it. Social networks are meant to build real connections. They’re meant to humanize the users. If you aren’t comfortable and not genuine, it will show – and people aren’t on these networks to connect with someone that doesn’t feel genuine. One thing that helps determine where you’re most comfortable, is identifying your strengths. If you don’t like to write, don’t start a blog. If you don’t have an eye for photography, Instagram isn’t for you. If you don’t want to keep up with a real-time network, Twitter isn’t for you. Are you an expert about local business? Maybe you should try Foursquare or Yelp and be an engaged member.
Learn the culture of the network you’re about to join. Ask yourself why other people are on the network. How are people engaging with them? Sure, LinkedIn is a great place to post your accomplishments and your resume – but where is the relationship building happening? It’s happening in the groups. Are people on Facebook sharing information just about their business? Or are they communicating a little bit more about themselves as a person. Are people using Twitter just to blast out messages? Or are they having interactions and dialogues about real-time events? Learning what makes each network engaging to its users is crucial in determining your success. The goal should be to figure out the culture of the network and then determine how you fit into it. Blasting just your listings in an attempt to accomplish your goals will not only make you stand out like a soar thumb, but also have the opposite effect of your goals.
Try out a network. Not what you want? That’s ok. You can try another. Getting to know the networks and what makes them unique will help you determine where you should be.
Don’t over-commit or overwhelm yourself.
You don’t have to be on every network. You don’t have to be on the latest and greatest network. Often, the latest networks rise and fall. Instead of trying to be everywhere, focus on doing one well. If you try to do too much, you’ll overwhelm yourself and end up doing them all poorly.
While there is no easy answer for which network to be on, hopefully putting some real thought into the ideas above will help guide you. Best of luck!

About Author:
Andrew Violante is the Social Media and Communications Coordinator at Alain Pinel Realtors where he oversees social media strategy and implementation for the brokerage.

Photo Credit: “Social Media Explained” Douglas Wray, Instagram.


Industry Insights Legal Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

Beautiful Images, Ugly Copyright Violations (and Fees!)

November 7, 2012

In the past few months we’ve heard more and more reports of people being contacted by photographers and agencies claiming copyright violations and improper use of photos – sometimes even demanding compensation. Guess what? They’re probably right. Chances are you’ve illegally, and unintentionally, used a copyrighted image on the internet. In our digital age, where finding an image is as simple as Googling it – we often think we have the right to use them for whatever purpose we want – for a blog entry, to post to our website, to share on Facebook. The ease of access to photos is misleading; just finding a photo does not give you permission to reproduce it.
We often mistakenly think we’re covered if we:

  • link to the source
  • don’t claim the photo as our own
  • didn’t know it was copyrighted!
  • didn’t make money off it
  • if we have a disclaimer on our site
  • we immediately take it down if requested

None of these protect you. So then, what do we do if we want to use photos on our sites, etc? Here are some options:

  1. Use your own photos!
  2. Search for photos that are approved for use:
    Creative Commons licensed pictures – search for photos which are approved for free use (with some attribution and other restrictions)
    Flikr Creative Commons – some users allow use of their photos.
    Wikimedia Commons – offers free media files
  3. Buy rights to photos that are offered through stock photography sites, like
    –  Fotolia
    –  Veer
    –  Corbis Images
    –  Getty Images
  4. Get explicit permission from the photographer (sites like Flikr and other photography sites often allow you to contact the photographer directly) – it can’t hurt to ask.

While we’re not legal experts  – we do encourage everyone to stay on the side of caution. Assume photos are copyrighted unless proven otherwise. 

About Author:
Andrew Violante is the Social Media and Communications Coordinator at Alain Pinel Realtors where he oversees social media strategy and implementation for the brokerage. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Violante
Industry Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

Facebook Tip: Using Lists to Build Relationships

November 2, 2012

When I tell agents that I find I find most people are able to use their personal pages most effectively in building relationships, they get nervous. They have family and friends on their personal profiles and are nervous about being friends with clients. However; this is is misguided. As long as you are not directly advertising or marketing and not posting links to just your listings and open houses, you will be fine. Facebook isn’t a place for that anyway – it’s a place to deepen relationships. Personal profiles are exactly the place that you can really deepen your ties with past clients and acquaintances that are potential clients. Only on personal profiles can you really access the plethora of information that your clients are willingly sharing. It’s on personal profiles, not business pages, that the types of engagement and relationships are happening. But how do you keep it all separate?
That’s where Facebook Lists come in.
With lists, you’re able to sort any of the people you’ve friended. To make a custom list (they won’t know you put them on it if your’e creating a new list), hover over your friends on the left hand side and select “More.” Then select add list, pick a name, and begin sorting your existing friends. You can also click this link:

Think of potential lists, like “clients” or “potential clients.” The lists that Facebook have already provided you (with the exception of restricted, close friends, and acquaintances) will notify people if you add them. Make your own custom lists.
Here are some benefits of sorting your various friends:
1) Privacy Settings
Under your privacy settings, you can choose who can see various information posted to your personal profile. Most people select the default settings of “Public,” “Friends,” or “Friends of Friends;” however, if you choose custom, you are able to enable or disable specific people and lists from seeing certain types of information.
2) Publishing Posts
In addition to controlling who can see information already provided on your profile through the privacy settings, each time you post anything, you can control who is seeing it. By selecting the “Custom” setting while making a post, you can directly control who can see each post.

This means you can push out specific content to clients that you may not want all your family and friends to see. It also means you can post pictures from that trip that you want your friends to see, but maybe not clients.
3) Breaking Through Noise
Sometimes, it’s hard to actually figure out what’s going on with certain people on Facebook because there’s so much noise on your home newsfeed. However, by making a small list of potential clients, you can access just their updates. By building lists, on the left hand navigation, if you select the list, you will be taken to a newsfeed of just their content. Suddenly, it’s really easy to see which of your clients just got married, had a baby, or any other life event that they are willingly sharing on Facebook. they are publicizing this info on their profiles – and now you can use that info to build your relationship. Potential client gets engaged? Send them a gift basket – when it comes time to buy a house, they’ll remember. For more tips on breaking through the noise, see Inman’s Facebook Quick Tip: 4 Simple Steps To Connect With Clients.
For more information about Facebook lists, see Facebook’s page on Lists.
If you aren’t using lists, you’re missing a major opportunity to build meaningful relationships through Facebook.

About Author:
Andrew Violante is the Social Media and Communications Coordinator at Alain Pinel Realtors where he oversees social media strategy and implementation for the brokerage. 

Business Planning Insights Industry Insights Marketing and Technology Insights

5 Apps That Will Help You Right Now

October 31, 2012

We have all these device and yet most of us don’t get as much out of them as we could. Here’s 5 apps that you should check out now that can help make you more organized today – in your business and personal life:
1) Clear – With hundreds of to-do and list making apps our there, Clear rises above. It’s visually stunning and simplistic, sorting the tasks you add as a heat map based on their importance. You’re busy … this can help you out at home and on the job. Costs $1.99.
2) – With options on any platform and any device, is one of the most popular personal finance apps. It allows your to manage all your accounts from one central location. Manage your spending, budgets, and business expenses. Mint categorizes your transactions automatically and will make you look at your spending a new way. The app is safe and secure and supports almost all financial institutions. Free.
3) MiLog – If you’re a good Realtor®, chances are you’re on the road a lot – and often it’s business related. When it’s tax season, do you take the standard deduction? Or find yourself making random estimations? If so, you’re probably leaving money on the table – which none of us are fond of. This app automatically tracks your mileage through GPS. Break it down into individual trips or clients so you can better understand how you’re breaking up your miles.
4) Find My Phone / Where’s My DroidWe’ve all had that moment where we reach into our bag or our pocket and realize our phone is gone. It’s an awful feeling. These apps allow you to locate your phone using it’s GPS when you can’t find it. Think it got stolen? Find My Phone allows you to lock the phone, display a message on it, or completely wipe it clean. Why wouldn’t you have this installed?
5) Zite There’s a lot of news out there. There’s a lot of sources. With Zite, it gets to know you the more you use it. Select some topics and it scans the internet and aggregates the best and most interesting news stories for you. It’s visually appealing – like your own personal magazine. Stay on top of the topics and news you’re interested in. Free.
Found a great app? Let us know .