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In A Tough Market, Real Estate Pros Make Headway With Blogs

By Oscar Pedro Musibay

A Miami Beach broker of high-end homes has launched a blog that's become an educational forum for skittish buyers and owners in a soft real estate market.

Kevin Tomlinson, a broker in the Miami Beach office of Esslinger Wooten Maxwell, launched his blog in May to give buyers and prospective clients information that can't be squeezed into an advertisement. He populates www.southbeachrealestateblog.com with a variety of topics, from condo inventory statistics to a review of a Web site about Art Basel.

One of his last postings was titled "Why the Miami Beach Real Estate Market Isn't That Bad." The posting includes a bar graph that shows inventory in South Beach spiking from 600 homes in May 2005 to about 2,300 by October of this year. Sales remained below 200 during the time inventory was rocketing upward.

Tomlinson's posting stated that sales are off from the peak just prior to May 2005, but it shouldn't be alarming because units are selling if they are priced right - a familiar broker refrain. But he also throws in a little realism: "If you don't need to sell your condo, now is not the time to sell and you should take it off the market until some of the inventory gets absorbed."

Tomlinson said honesty is key because readers won't return to the blog if there is spin.

He also touches on gossip. He posted about the rumored contract the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez had on Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal's home days before the local and national news media reported it. Rodriguez walked away from the contract, but Tomlinson said the gossip gives his site added value.

Esslinger Wooten Maxwell COO Beth Butler launched the brokerage's blog in August - the first of its kind in the country - with the hope of increasing the number of Web site hits EWM gets. Butler said that by providing community information - from weekend happenings to what wine to buy - more people will find the company's site. The focus of the blog is on useful information, not the hard sell, she said.

She emphasized that she can get a wider variety of information about the market out through the blog, whereas the media is focused mostly on the downturn.

Blog readers want honest content

Seattle-based real estate associate Ardell Dellaloggia, a top real estate blogger who mentored Tomlinson through a Web contest, said that reality is what readers of blogs are seeking. It lays the foundation for an exchange that will build trust and draw more readers, she said.

Brokers and agents have the hardest time with transparency - the lifeblood of any blog - because they are trained to focus on the positive, she said.

"They put spin on everything: Here is the situation. How can we make it look better?" said Dellaloggia, who last year was voted top female real estate blogger by New York City-based Sellsius, a real estate blog. "Even with a house: This is what we've got. How do we make it work better?"

Dellaloggia's blogging work paid off last year, with all her leads coming through the blog. The breakthrough was in generating listings, as well as drawing buyers, which is very unusual. A third of her leads were for listings, with the balance coming from buyers.

She said her success was driven by the quality of the exchanges that are generated by blogs like Tomlinson's, which gets 250 unique visitors a day.

A Tomlinson posting in September about Regent Hotels & Resorts being replaced by the Spanish Vincci Hotels group as operator of an 80-unit condo-hotel on Ocean Drive in South Beach generated comments from a unit owner, the hotel's restaurateur and the hotel's owner.

Tomlinson's Sept. 15 comments started the ball rolling.

"If I were an owner of a unit, I would be pretty annoyed. That is one of the risks of buying a condo-hotel unit. It would be like the equivalent of buying a unit at the Ritz-Carlton and ending up with a Super 8 operator or, worse yet, a Nicky O!"

The next day, restaurateur Josh Woodward, operator of the hotel's Table 8, explained that Vincci is a well-respected Spanish brand that would generate higher occupancy and higher returns. He also agreed with Tomlinson that sales of the condo-hotel units would have been "a tough sell" with Vincci because the brand is not well known in the United States.

A unit owner posted soon after, charging that room rates had dropped 30 percent since the change in flag. Hotel owner Gene Grabarnick's response was to focus on the increase in occupancy and the expectation that room rates would follow the demand.

The Regent exchange would have been impossible without the blog because buyers rarely get access to such high-level people in their everyday lives. Part of the reason is because everyone is so busy. The benefit of the blog is that the dialogue is ongoing and people can comment and access the information at any time.

"I can create a rapport with people on their schedule, on their time," Tomlinson said.

omusibay@bizjournals.com | (954) 949-7567


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