Barring the unforeseen we’ll close the sale of our house on August 27. When we sold our first house 14 years ago we used a realtor. This time around we used the web. Here were the three pillars of our online marketing strategy:
A website. I made it with WordPress and packed it with lots of information. In addition to photos, I included floor plans (made by an architect who considered buying the house for himself), an article about our European wood boiler, a page about the historic flag that belongs to our house, and a page about the neighborhood.
Zillow. It’s a great marketing tool, but also a great research tool. I was able to compare our listing to other listings, then tweak ours to differentiate it in the best possible ways. And when I wondered, for example, how significant a factor our barn might be, I was able to search Zillow to find out. Of 150 homes for sale in Keene, only 5 included the word “barn” in their descriptions.
Facebook. We’re moving from a big house to an apartment, so a lot of stuff has to go. Luann organized a series of in-home sales for which she staged the living room, the dining room, and an upstairs bedroom. She artfully arranged and decorated these rooms and put a price tag on everything in them. Facebook was the bast way to advertise these sales. And of course everyone who came got a tour of the house.
The in-house sales began in the spring. On June 25 we listed on Zillow. On July 26 we got an offer that we wound up accepting. There are too many variables in this equation to draw sweeping conclusions. And too few data points: we’ve only owned two homes. But for me the biggest difference between a realtor sale and an owner sale is that realtors don’t want you around for showings. This now seems crazy to me. We love our home, we’re proud to show it, you can’t outsource that love and pride.
We’re selling our house and unloading a ton of stuff. After many yard sales and many Craigslist postings, there’s still plenty to get rid of. In our town there’s a strong tradition of curbside giveaway. You just put stuff out on the treelawn and it vanishes. This animated GIF documents that process over a period of three days. (You can click it to enlarge the view.)
The kickboxing bag only lasted a few minutes. The kitty litter bins took a few days but eventually they went too. Fun!
Travelers leaving from the San Francisco airport on morning flights know the drill: you stay over the night before at a motel on El Camino Real in San Bruno. Last week I booked the Super 8 which turns out to be perfectly serviceable. As a bonus, it’s right next door to Don Pico’s Mexican Bistro and Cevicheria which is unlike anything else you’ll find on motel row:
The back bar in the new dining room is a 1925 mahogany Brunswick from the Cliff House in San Francisco; the large bullfight mural is an original painting by Roberto Leroy Smith; large mirrors came from Harry Denton’s; the chandeliers are of Austrian crystal, from the World Trade Center at the San Francisco Ferry Building; the trophy fish are from Bing Crosby’s private collection; the large elephant, floral, and deer paintings are from the movie Citizen Kane with Orson Welles; the sombreros are 1920s antiques from a Mexican hat collection acquired from Universal Studios; and the stylized modern art paintings are by California painter Rudy Hess. – http://www.donpicosbistro.com/history/
It was too late for dinner but I sat at the mahogany bar, had a drink and a snack, and talked with Angel, the bartender. He’s a veteran of San Francisco’s culture war. Born and raised in the Mission District, he was driven out seven years ago. At most he could afford a studio apartment and that was no place to raise a young child.
Angel didn’t express the anger that you can now see bubbling to the surface when you walk the streets of San Francisco. Just the sadness of the dispossessed. We talked about many things. At one point he answered a text on his iPhone and it suddenly hit me. That’s the same iPhone that San Francisco’s tech elite carry.
For most things you can buy, there’s almost no limit to what you can spend. A tech billionaire in San Francisco can own a home or a car that costs hundreds of times what Angel can pay for a home or a car. But while it’s possible to buy a gold-plated and diamond-encrusted iPhone, I’ve never seen one. The tech that’s at the heart of San Francisco’s crisis of inequality is a commodity, not a luxury good. It’s a great equalizer. Everybody has a smartphone, everybody has access to the services it provides. But if you’re Angel, you can’t use that phone in the neighborhood you grew up in.
In Crowdsourcing local data the right way I envisioned a different way for businesses to register with state governments. In this model, state governments invite and encourage businesses to be the authoritative sources for their own data, and to announce URLs at which that data is published in standard formats. Instead of plugging data into the state’s website, a business would transmit an URL. The state would sync the data at that URL, assign it a version number, and verify its copy (tethered to the URL) as an approved version. The state would also certify the URL as a source of additional data not required by the state but available from the business at that URL.
For businesses with calendars of public events, one kind of additional data would be those calendars. A while back I met with Steve Cook, deputy commissioner of Vermont’s department of tourism and marketing, to show him the Elm City “web of events” model. We discussed the central challenge: awakening event promoters to the possibility of using their own calendars as feeds that would flow directly into the statewide calendar. How do you light up those feeds? Steve got it. He pointed to another section of the building. “Those guys run the business registration site,” he said. “On the registration form, we already ask for the URL of a business’s home page. How hard would it be to also ask for a calendar URL if they have one?”
Exactly. And by asking for that URL, the state awakens the business to a possibility — authoritative self-publishing of data — that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred to it. This hasn’t yet happened in Vermont. But if Carl Malamud ever becomes Secretary of State in California I’ll bet it will happen there!
In How Google Map Hackers Can Destroy a Business at Will, Wired’s Kevin Poulsen sympathizes with local businesses trying to represent themselves online.
Maps are dotted with thousands of spam business listings for nonexistent locksmiths and plumbers. Legitimate businesses sometimes see their listings hijacked by competitors or cloned into a duplicate with a different phone number or website.
These attacks happen because Google Maps is, at its heart, a massive crowdsourcing project, a shared conception of the world that skilled practitioners can bend and reshape in small ways using tools like Google’s Mapmaker or Google Places for Business.
No, these attacks happen because Google Maps isn’t based on the right kind of crowdsourcing. The Wired story continues:
Google seeds its business listings from generally reliable commercial mailing list databases, including infoUSA and Axciom.
Let’s back up a step. Where does infoUSA get its data? From sources like new business filings and company websites, and follow-up calls to verify the data.
Those calls shouldn’t be necessary. The source of truth should be an individual business owner who signs a state registration form and publishes a website. Instead, intermediaries govern what the web knows about that business. If that data were crowdsourced in the right way, it would flow directly from the business owner.
Here’s how that could happen. A state’s process for business registration asks for a URL. If data available at that URL conforms to an agreed-upon format, it populates the registration form. If the registration is approved, the state endorses that URL as the source of truth for basic facts about the business.
Of course the business might provide more information than the state can verify. That’s OK. The state’s website might only record and assure the name and address of the business, plus the URL at which additional facts — not verifiable by the state — are provided by the business owner. Those facts would include the hours of operation. The business owner is the source of truth for those facts. Changes made at the source ripple through the system.
The problem isn’t that information about local businesses is crowdsourced. We’re just doing it wrong.
We’re having another monsoon. It feels big, and this radar snapshot confirms that it is:
It owns the whole east coast! And yet, when you zoom out…
Not such a big deal in the scheme of things.
As we clear out the house in order to move west, we’re processing a vast accumulation of things. This morning I hauled another dozen boxes of books from the attic, nearly all of which we’ll donate to the library. Why did I haul them up there in the first place? We brought them from our previous house, fourteen years ago. I could have spared myself a bunch of trips up and down the stairs by taking them directly to the library back then. But in 2000 we were only in the dawn of the era of dematerialization. You couldn’t count on being able to find a book online, search inside it, have a used copy shipped to you in a couple of days for a couple of dollars.
Now I am both shocked and liberated to realize how few things matter to me. I joke that all I really need is my laptop, my bicycle, and my guitar, but in truth there isn’t much more. For Luann, though, it’s very different. Her cabinets of wonders are essential to who she is and what she does. So they will have to be a logistical priority.
In the age of dematerialization, some things will matter more than ever. Things that aren’t data. Things that are unique. Things made by hand. Things that were touched by other people, in other places, at other times. RadioLab’s podcast about things is a beautiful collection of stories that will help you think about what matters and why, or what doesn’t and why not.