Category: Computer & Internet

SEO CEO and foreclosure scam artist behind bars

Traffic Power, the search engine optimization company, had already earned a notorious reputation of employing “black hat” methods, and had been banned by Yahoo, Google and several other search engines. Now as this KVBC.com story reveals that the CEO of Traffic Power, Matt Marlon is accused being a foreclosure scam con artist. Reportedly some sixty homeowners believed that Marlon could help them from foreclosure. Although he never paid off the mortgage or purchase the homes, would get the real owners out of the houses on some pretext or the other and then rent the houses to tenants and then pocket the money, never assisting the homeowners.

At least sixty valley homeowners thought Marlon could help them. He offered to save them from foreclosure. “He would locate victims by doing a search of the public records on the Recorder’s Office (website) for notice of default that are recorded then contact the victims saying he was interested in purchasing your home,” Ellsworth explains.

“He’d come to the house with a notary in tow,” Ellsworth continues. “He’d give them documents saying he’d take care of everything. Take care of the payment, take care of paying off the mortgage and I’ll pay you some cash too. He’d have them sign a contract of sale.”

Despite how official the forms signed by the homeowners might look, Marlon didn’t really buy the house and he didn’t pay off the mortgage. “After he would get the rightful owners out of the house under false pretenses, he would put renters in the houses in many cases. And those people… my investigators talked to one renter who felt they were leasing to own,” Ellsworth said.

And he wasn’t just hurting homeowners. He actually scammed the Recorder’s Office. Anytime property is transferred from one buyer to another, there is a transfer tax of $2.50 per $500 of value. Investigators say Marlon never paid that tax. He used fake stock certificates to show the sales were exempt from the transfer tax.

Traffic Power Sucks

Matt Cutts confirms Google penalty

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What Google giveth…..

360Digest

I’ve been busy, so I missed all the talk about the new Google Street View Maps and the uses they may have in real estate search. That, combined with Google Base, and I suppose they’re poised to make big inroads as the portal to local real estate search.

Now, all they have to do is eliminate all the competing real estate websites, like Yahoo has done, and they’ll corner the market.

All your base are belong to us….

Yahoo, which has penalized agent websites in the past year, has basically banned many if not all real estate website providers. Oh, they’ve left one good one here and there to throw you off the scent, but mostly what’s left are crappy template sites, a few 15-year old Web 1.0 sites, and bigger national pay portals that are not necessarily locally relevant.

It’s been discussed that Yahoo did this to penalize those sites that engage in link-farm spam, but it’s much larger than that. It’s company wide, in some cases, as 100’s of sites from the same website developer, have been eliminated or banned.

Says Terry Light on Search Engine Idiot:

In the smackdown against linkspam, Yahoo acted first, directly penalizing members of linkspam networks coordinated by a few choice real estate website developers. They took action in late 2004, October 2005, and April 2006. Real estate agent websites disappeared wholesale from the top tier of Yahoo Search.

Yet while Yahoo is the second largest search engine on the web, they aren’t Google. Agents who had optimized their sites well generated most of their traffic from Google. Sure, Yahoo’s penalty was annoying, but it wasn’t a major disaster.

Then, in April and May of 2007, Google acted against agent-to-agent network linkspam for the first time. Some experts estimate that between 70 to 200 top-ranked web sites from at least two real estate website developers were penalized. Others believe the number was higher.

It was an IP wide/network wide penalty by domain manually on Yahoo towards Advanced Access, now owned by Dominion.

Says Sandy Teller of SizzlingStudios:

Looks like Google has joined Yahoo in the war against real estate link farms (the Google real estate shakedown), as Yahoo blacklisted a ton of real estate web sites about a year ago including most of advancedaccess.com sites. And there’s no way to get back into Yahoo organic. I actually spoke with someone from Yahoo on Friday and he confirmed that the only way back in is Sponsored Listings (pay-per-click).

Most of us have blog rolls in the sidebar of our blogs, and many of us happily “exchange links” with other real estate bloggers. We even make “wikis” and separate pages full of local, regional information and links. Some of the link love begets itself and we get a link in return.

Will this soon be considered a “link farm” by Yahoo and Google?

Search Engine Disclaimer: “We reserve the right to screw with results and ensure that our high dollar advertisers appear in top placements in organic searches.”

Condemned to Google Hell from Forbes

Google removes credit for reciprocal link accumulation on real estate websites from Real Estate Webmasters

Hand Coding from Matt Cutts

Why does Google lie to SEO’s?

A guide to penalites

How to file a reinclusion request by Matt Cutts

Tattle on your competition: How to report paid links

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Blogger banned by MyBlogLog. Much drama ensues.

MyBlogLog

I’m both appalled and titillated that my little tiny avatar follows me around while I surf. I used to be able to lurk and read blogs in obscurity, but no more, since I’ve joined MyBlogLog.

Shoemoney’s
Jeremy Schoemaker had posted about flaws in MyBlogLog’s service, and when he demonstrated how someone could easily pose as another MyBlogLog user when visiting other websites, he was banned from MyBlogLog.

Anyone who might want to could have used a tip Schoemaker published to pretend they were someone else.The Yahoo-owned blogging community service used unique and easily located user IDs that could be placed in a MyBlogLog cookie in a browser.

A couple of days later, Jeremy was reinstated and MyBlogLog apologized for the ban. Fun reading.

I’ve noticed that some bloggers who placed their widget on their site have removed it.

Another MyBlogLog exploit, this one more harmful

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God, I love a good Elvis metaphor in the morning…

Elvis

Marc Davison’s excellent article on Inman “Time for Elvis to pass the torch” caught my attention because how often can a writer include Elvis and real estate in one sentence? I got a contact high just scanning his commentary.

His article was about Inman’s Connect technology conference. He starts with relating a story about an old-timey broker calling him, but he just couldn’t drop the doobie and take the call.

“His point of view was irrelevant now. His words are bubble gum music and I’d just seen Hendrix. I turned my cell off, opened the window and let the wind cry Mary.”

He was hung over. His head throbbed. His body ached. “Conjure up the day after Woodstock.” So he opens up the newspaper.

“…. Page after page I searched for signs of the award-winning brands, innovators and progressive people I partied with for three days inside the Inmansphere. Something that would deliver me a new and exciting experience. With each turn of the page my post-conference high diminished. Midway through I imagined an announcement over the Starbucks speaker system: “Attention. Testing one, two, three. Hey man, don’t eat the brown acid. It’s bad! I repeat the brown acid is bad, man.”

I ignored the warning. My page turning pace increased as if I had lost something and was frantic to find it. Things like virtual tours, videos, mapping, digital signatures, online estimates, neighborhood data – ideas and services witnessed during the Worlds Fair of real estate. My bad trip included giant agent heads dwarfing tiny shots of homes that all looked exactly alike and carried the same message. One ad freaked me out completely: The Realtor in the picture claimed she “IS the changing face of real estate. She IS the eyes in my community. She IS the ears listening to my needs. She WILL sell my home.” With what? I thought. There IS no link to a Web site, there IS no e-mail address.

Was Connect real or did I hallucinate it? Didn’t I brush up against innovators? Had I not held meetings with the rock stars of our business? If so, how did I end up back here at home surrounded by personalities rather than a real estate reality that doesn’t include Redfin, Trulia, HomePoint, digital signatures, paperless processes, Neighborhood data, TMS, or an Oodle of LocaModa – services as opposed to individuals. It’s wrong, it’s antiquated and it’s whole-heartedly unfair to consumers.”

The Rock Stars of real estate? Man, them are pretty powerful words. They brought me back to earth. I was trippin’ but I crashed and came back from my own contact high.

So who is this Marc Davison who writes so eloquently, and the only other guy who can write about real estate and Elvis in the same article?

His point was that it was time to pass the torch from the traditional ways of doing real estate to this new way envisioned by the CEO’s, venture capitalists and technical writers.

“Two thousand Beatles appeared at Inman’s event last week. These people – the attendees, speakers, vendors and visionaries- are the most important people in this business.

It’s a new era now. The old real estate business, with its million-plus Elvises might be able to find some work in Vegas but as of now, the torch has been passed. There’s no going back”

So, I’ve been thinking about this more and more. Are real estate agents outdated and obsolete? Will they be replaced by the mash-ups and data sites and the do-it-yourself searches and the electronic signatures? Is it just a business of software writers and venture capitalists now?

Marc Davison is vice president of OnBoard, a real estate data provider based in New York. Davison previously served as vice president of VREO, a provider of electronic signature and Web site software for the real estate industry. OnBoard supplies data to companies such as Coldwell Banker and J.L. Scott.

So, I’m thinking…… if he’s one of the rock stars of real estate, are the agents just lounge singers?

His attitude is similar to many other CEO’s of technical and software companies who supply a product to an industry, but this one just happens to be real estate. They seem to get confused about who actually does the work. Rather than seeing themselves as a useful business tool or partner, these guys lose sight of who their client is and what role they perform. Just like coke gives those with low self-esteem delusions of grandeur, the software designer’s high he gets from creating the business’s webpage or supplying some data somehow makes them think that they now are more powerful than the business they were hired to make the webpage for…..

So many CEO’s of these brave new software companies are frustrated that business, not just real estate, remain in what they consider the stone age. They get inpatient with the fact that many people still depend on print advertising as a major source of revenue. From reading interviews with these guys, I get the feeling that they’re frustrated with agents and brokers for continuing to advertise and for buyers and sellers continuing to read that damn newspaper!

“Don’t you see? We’re the wave of the future! We software designers, CEO’s, venture capitalists, technical writers and paperless signature processors, WE are the true rock stars of real estate and all you real estate salespeople are just the, uh…. groupies.” Or something. Not sure. Oh, maybe we’re just supposed to be their clients and pay them to create products they design to “disintermediate” us…. Again, not sure. Many things remain unsaid by these guys.

One thing I do know is that if agents and brokers quit doing what we do, then many guys like Marc Davison and his company OnBoard, could lose much of their client base. If traditional agents and brokers are forced out of the business, then who will be left to purchase his product?

Picture yourself in a boat on a river. With tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, A girl with kaleidoscope eyes…..

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Bill’s in the house…

Bill Gates has stepped down as chief software architect at Microsoft Corp. and will slowly transition out of the company’s day-to-day work by 2008. Gates said he “will transition out of a day-to-day role in the company to spend more time on his global health and education work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” officials at Redmond’s Microsoft said in a statement. He’ll remain as the company’s chairman and as adviser after June 2008. Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie has been named chief software architect and will “begin working side by side” with Gates on the Redmond company’s technical architecture “to ensure a smooth transition,” the company said.

This doesn’t have much to do with real estate, but it’s interesting that he waited until after the stock market had closed for the day to make his announcement. I wonder what effect, if any, this will have on the price of MS shares. There’s bound to be lots of chatter.

There’s still plenty of chatter and gossip about Bill’s house that he built a few years ago. When he makes his transition, will he begin to work at home? I wonder what will happen to that place once he’s gone. Will his kids keep it? Will it become a museum?

Photos of Bill’s house from the water.

Interview with Jim Cutler, the designer of Bill & Melinda’s house.

Like looking at waterfront mega-mansions? Slate’s interactive cyber-mansion tour

Bill Gate’s House Tidbits

Bill’s house from a satelite way up in the sky…..

Entertain the kids! Paper model toy of Bill’s house.

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Click to Close

Open House

The Real Estate Bloggers noted an interesting trend of buying real estate online, sight-unseen. They reference a New York Times article entitled “Some finding perils in online real estate”, about people being duped after buying homes on Ebay and the internet. The online sites have become perfect places for unscrupulous sellers who have bought dilapidated houses at, say, foreclosure auctions, to resell, or flip, them quickly for inflated prices.

The Walk-Through, the New York Times blog, also discusses the growing popularity of real estate auctions.

This comes with the announcement in yesterday’s News Tribune on their blog “Open House” that breaks the news that our area will be having an Ebay-type auction for condos. In today’s Seattle P.I., Deborah Bach covered the story of the Madison Lofts holding an auction . Potential buyers must register on the development’s Web site, Madison Lofts and attend informational meetings starting March 22, at which they will be able to see renderings of the building and receive a CD with an electronic “fly-through” tour of the development, slated for completion around the end of the year.

Redfin, of course, has tried to lure people into buying homes online, but so far, has had very limited success. Let’s see if the Madison Lofts auction can do better.

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Twilight of the Blogs?

Slate had an interesting article today, …..Twilight of the Blogs, a discussion of whether or not they’re “over” as a business. They’re not, of course, but writing about it was an excuse to discuss the cute Magazine Cover Indicator. That’s a term coined by Barry Ritholtz, a blogger and hedge-fund manager. He says that being plastered on the front of a national magazine is fatal for certain trends or fads.

New York Magazine isn’t a national magazine, but the article Blogs to Riches was on the cover and discusses the haves and have-nots of the blogging boom, breaking it down for us about the A, B & C lists and discusses the “network theory” in depth, a mathematical model of how information travels inside groups of loosely connected people, such as users of the Web.

I started this blog in 2004, but only posted infrequently, and used it to augment my main webpage SeattleDreamHomes.com. But in the last few months, the moon and stars have been aligned in such a way as to make me reconsider my past hesitance to join the fray. And Dustin over at RainCityGuide said just today “It seems like a no-brainer to me that agents should start blogging… “ So how could I not?

Blog Overkill: The danger of hyping

Are Blogs changing our culture?

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Redfin

Seattle aerial View



Redfin announced today that it just received a $1.25 million dollar cash infusion from Madrona Venture Group today.

In case you haven’t heard of them before, Redfin is a real estate agency with a website that has an interactive aerial search function.

It started out trying to hook up buyers with independant agents, but then moved to having their own in-house agents. Over time, it became almost hostile to other real estate agents and burned some bridges in the process. They now have one broker and one real estate agent to handle incoming leads from their website.

Founded by techies, they realized they had a nice search function, but were feeling around for ways to make money with it. Obviously, neither approach pulled in the dough that they wanted. They turned to finding a big name to bring on board, and then to getting some venture capital to keep the business up and running.

The problem is, do they have a sound business model?

At this point, they’re just another small real estate firm with an average sales record.

According to NWMLS records for 2005, last year Redfin had 24 home sales. Based on an average 6% commission (or 3% to the sales office), that is approximately $270,000 income for the year. It may have even been less, as they’ve been known to discount their listing fees. According to their website, they have 4 managers. They also have two real estate agents licensed by the State of Washington, for a total of 6 people. I’m assuming they also have additional staff, but just going on their listed 6 employees, at $270K a year, that’s about $45K a year income per person. That’s not counting overhead such as office rental, computers and such. That probably brings it down closer to $35K a year income per person. Wow. And now they’re talking about moving down into California. WHY? If they’re not making any money here in Seattle, why expand? If it won’t work here, who go down there?

How on earth did they talk Madrona Venture Group out of a million bucks? If their income was what I’ve surmised, then I’m guessing most of that $1.25 million is going to pay the new CEO’s salary.

Glenn Kelman, co-founder of Plumtree Software, has been hired as the chief executive officer, and Brian Marsh, a senior manager from Amazon’s community group, is the chief technology officer. Redfin founder David Eraker will continue to lead the company in business development and product strategy.

Glenn mentions in the Seattle Times 1/9/06 “when looking for a home, he used Redfin.com.” He may have seen the listing there, however, records indicate it was listed and sold with Windermere, not Redfin. I won’t mention the sales price (though it IS a matter of public record), but I will say that it sold for almost $30,000.00 more than asking price. You can draw your own conclusions about all this. But if Windermere was the listing and the sales agent, exactly how did Redfin make any money on this sale? I think the answer was, they didn’t. As this illustrates, just having a fancy website does not guarantee one will make money from it.

On an interesting side note, a press release from the company dated 1/9/06 states that “After more than a year as Seattle’s most popular site for residential real estate…..” I thought that this statement didn’t ring true, so I thought I’d try to check. Though I don’t have access to a specific number of hits, I can make some inferences using some web tools. For instance, using the Link Pop check on MarketLeap.com, Winderemere comes in at 133,076, Coldwell Banker Bain at 5747, www.SeattleDreamHomes.com at 4769, and Redfin at only 1770.

Using their Search Engine Saturation function, I found Windermere to be at 14,640, www.SeattleDreamHomes.com to be at 2,684, Coldwell Banker Bain to be at 1,378 and Redfin trailing at 393.

One can use the Alexa rating, but that it very limited in scope as it only tracks those that have the toolbar. They look at all of the traffic numbers and then put all the websites that are out there in order. So if you are #1 that would mean you had more traffic than any other site out there per the numbers Alexa collected (again limited data).

Here are a couple of examples:

Redfin has a ranking of 49,636

Windermere has a ranking of 3,343

So, this would mean Windermere is more than 10 times more popular than Redfin.

These numbers are really easy to manipulate as it tracks such a small amount of websurfers that one person could spend an hours on their site clicking on a bunch of pages and push themselves to a pretty high number. Worse you can use a bots to visit your site and boost the numbers. But, with that said, it is a way to get a very general idea of the traffic a site might be getting.

So is Redfin the “most popular site for residential real estate”? Hardly. Hyperbole and puffery is not new in the world of real estate!

Here’s a great interview with the new CEO of Redfin by John Cook. Be sure to click on the audio interview! John Cook’s Venture Blog

Updated Redfin News 5/31-6/2

PostBubble

Ubertor

David Brunelle

Lopolis

TechCrunch

The Future of Real Estate Marketing

Silicon Beat

More TechCrunch

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