Pete Rose had 2,756 more career base-hits than I have blog posts, although I have more than twice as many blog posts as Babe Ruth had homeruns…
So who really knows what meaning a number has!
But at the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I think 1,500 is a big number. And today, I’d like to re-trace the steps to this humble website’s beginning, and talk about all the bumps we hit along the way…
A lot changes in ten years.
I still can’t break 80 on the golf course, but everything else, it would seem, has changed…
Go back ten years and think about what the organized real estate industry was like. Personally, I felt it was a bit too organized, in that there was nothing unique, special, or different, anywhere you looked.
In 2005, there was no Zoocasa or Zolo.
In 2005, there was no Realosophy, or Condos.ca, or BuzzBuzzHomes, or UrbanToronto.
In 2005, we didn’t get real estate opinions like we do today on FML Listings or The Mash.
And of course, there was no Toronto Realty Blog.
In 2005, every Realtor in Toronto had the exact same website, which offered absolutely nothing to the consumer, other than that Realtor’s cheesy real estate photo. Everything else about those websites was the same.
It always bothered me, but I was young, relatively new in the industry (I started in 2004), and I didn’t have the money, nor the clout, to try and shake things up.
I too paid $40 per month for a pre-fab website through a company (who I’ll leave out of this, since I think they’re still in business), that probably provided websites to 75% of all Realtors in Toronto. It was a template website where you could swap blue for red, or Bosley for Royal LePage, or a photo of the CN Tower for a photo of the Financial District.
Somewhere along the line, in between realizing that I was never going to get business from these stupid websites, and feeling disdain and resentment for how cookie-cutter our industry had become, I decided that I wanted to do something different. I wanted to pull a George Costanza, and just do the exact opposite of what anybody else would do.
In the summer of 2006, I went to Tibet to climb to base camp at Mount Everest with my brother and my father, and it really gave me an opportunity to think about what I wanted to do with my career. Between the razor-thin air up there, and the three weeks without a distraction from work (wow, have times ever changed…), I decided that when I came back to Toronto, I was going to do what I wanted to do – not what was expected of Realtors as they fit neatly into the salesperson mould.
That fall (or perhaps it was the next spring), I was heading out to play a round of golf with one of my friends, and he suggested that I start a “blog” on Toronto real estate. In 2006, blogs were really just the ranting and raving of celebrity-obsessed weirdo’s from their mother’s basements, but they were starting to move into the mainstream a bit more, and gain a bit more credibility. You were starting to see good writers blogging, and intelligent subject matter prevailing over underground rhetoric.
My friend and I dug deeper into the idea, and eventually started looking for somebody to help us build the website.
Would you believe that Toronto Realty Blog started with a $500 fee to a random dude we found on Craigslist?
My buddy “interviewed” five or six people, and chose one, whom we met at Starbucks at Wellesley and Yonge in early 2007.
For $500, he was going to build us a WordPress blog, with a very simple interface, and set up the webhosting. He would also “train” me on how to use it, which after doing so, probably made him feel he had under-charged.
During our first meeting, I remember suggesting that I would blog twice per day, and both my friend, and the web developer laughed. They said, “Twice a week is fine. That’s how often most people blog.”
Again, I thought back to that notion of, “doing the opposite of what others would do,” and I decided that I didn’t care if most people blogged twice a week – I would do it every day.
I also recall my first few blogs being 700-800 words, and both my buddy and our “web developer” said those were way too long, and that blogs should be 200-300 words. Again, I felt I wanted to be different, and at the risk of boring and/or losing people with posts that were too long, I started to aim for 1,000 words, and it wasn’t long before my blogs began to average 1500 words or more. Today, they’re rarely under 1,800.
When I started Toronto Realty Blog in June of 2007, even though I had virtually no audience, I was blogging five times per week. I was also updating the blog mid-day if something came across my desk that was worth sharing.
It took a few months before my first “comment” was registered, and I was fascinated by this person, named “McBloggert.”
A week later, I found out it was just my buddy, and I felt silly that I never put two and two together.
My mother started to comment as well, under the handle, “Earth Mother,” but within six months, I was starting to see the odd comment appear from people who were not friends and family. It was amazing. It was as though this blog might actually work as intended.
One of the first “features” I had on TRB was something I called, “Listing of the Week,” where I would pick a property up for sale, and review it, whether good or bad.
At the time, I thought nothing of it. My “blog” wasn’t a traditional real estate website, and thus I thought I didn’t have to adhere to the traditional rules and regulations.
I was wrong. Boy, was I ever wrong.
I reviewed a property at Yonge/Eglinton, and absolutely panned it. The sellers of the property found my blog, complained to their agent, and that agent did everything in his power to ruin me.
I wasn’t happy, of course, as I felt that the industry should be more open to opinion – good or bad, and I wasn’t pleased on how that agent never called me personally to discuss. So I wrote a rant about it.
Here’s that blog, from March of 2008:
It’s amazing to look back and see how immature, and naive I was.
But I had the only real estate “blog” in the city of Toronto! Nobody else was doing what I was doing, so I felt the traditional rules shouldn’t apply to me. I wanted to to what FML Listings or TheMash started to do years later.
Alas, I stopped doing “Listing of the Week” in March of 2008, since people had started following my blog by then and I could no longer fly under the radar (I was amazed that the owner of this house actually found my blog – meaning Google had finally “found me”), although I never removed those posts – something that would catch up with me years later.
Fast-forward two years, to 2010.
My blog was making waves, and I had a following online, and in the real estate community.
But not everybody was a fan of what I was doing.
I wrote a post that got me in serious trouble with somebody I never thought I’d get in trouble with: my manager.
Here’s that blog from January of 2010:
This is the blog, that, in my opinion, opened the floodgates of change in the Toronto real estate industry.
My manager, at our Monday morning meeting, took a printed-out, highlighted copy of this blog, and read captions aloud to the office. I sat there, like a moron, being tarred and feathered like it was 1880.
People in my office gasped when they head what my manager read. “Who would WRITE this?” asked one agent, of course, in her late-60’s, who likely still took polaroids of houses…
These people had never heard opinion before. They had never heard anybody refuse to tow the company line, and speak out against real estate practices, or give real advice to clients, rather than just try and sell them anything!
At the risk of sounding too brash, let me say that in 2010, I was not where I am today. I’m the #2 agent in my company of 280 agents, at age 34. I’m in the top 180 of 40,000 Toronto Realtors, but in 2010, I was not. This business is about who you are, and what you sell. So while I was a rising star in 2010, I wasn’t there yet. And my manager decided to tear me a new ahole in front of 80 of my peers.
Over the course of the next week, I received calls from five or six brokers, who had read my blog post, and wanted me to join their firm.
I also received several emails from very successful, established, brand-name Toronto agents, who wanted to meet for coffee or lunch to “pick my brain” about the future of real estate online.
I received calls from media members who wanted to know if TREB was going to “take my license away” for speaking my mind, as if they had that ability.
In time, my manager would later apologize.
And in more time, every brokerage in the city altered the way they do business to reflect the growing trend in online marketing, and providing useful information to consumers, rather than canned, glowing rhetoric.
Agents throughout Toronto began to switch website-providers, and seek to (gasp!) avoid template websites, and (double-gasp!) provide original content that consumers might find useful.
In April of 2012, one of those “Listings of the Week” would come back to haunt me.
I was in New York City with my wife, then fiancée, trying to enjoy a few days away from work.
I got an “urgent” page to call a well-know, west-end agent, but she did not return my call.
I then listened to a voicemail, which was one of the most hateful sixty seconds of speak I think I’ve ever been on the receiving end of.
One of her clients had Googled her own property’s address, and found a blog post I wrote in 2007 which was part of that “Listings of the Week” feature that had been stopped four years earlier.
Those posts were still floating around in cyberspace, and what I had written was incredibly inflammatory.
I have since deleted that post (I have 72 others that are saved in the back-end of my website…), but I believe during the course of a 1,200 word roast of the property, I might have said something like:
“While some houses are so wildly outdated and awful that you might remark ‘It seems as though the Golden Girls lived here,’ this is a house where you might think the Golden Girls lived here, died here, and remained here somewhere in the home, which explains a LOT.”
Yeah. I wish I had that one back…
Remember, this was way before anybody was “thinking outside the box” and giving way sold data, “advertising” other brokerages listings through the use of a Virtual Office Website, or reviewing properties in the back-end of a website.
In 2007, the rules and guidelines of REBBA barely mentioned the “Internet.” The word “blog” was as well known to 90% of Realtors as just about anything in Swahili.
But it was now 2012, and I had little excuse for something like that blog existing on the Internet, anywhere.
I didn’t end up at RECO, but I had to fight tooth and nail to save face. And I put myself on RECO’s “radar,” which is something that none of us want.
In January of 2013, I had one of the funniest experiences in TRB’s history.
I had written a blog post about “multiple representation” and how many agents in Toronto are absolutely shameless, and will lie, cheat, and steal their way to “victory.”
I told the story of one agent and several experiences that I, and agents in my company, had with her in the past.
I never named a name in that blog post. Not once.
However, that agent complained to RECO and to my brokerage that I had written a post about her!
It was amazing!
Think about it: I wrote this blog about an agent who always double-ends her own listings, who has been taken to RECO many times over questionable practices in multiple representation, and this agent read my blog, without me naming any names, and said, “Hey, wait a minute. That’s ME!”
I refused to take the blog post down for weeks, but eventually I gave in. I figured, “What’s the upside here?” as the blog was just one of more than a thousand I had published. I wish I could share that blog with you now.
In August of 2013, I started my “Pick5” feature, which was really just an opportunity to do something different, yet again, but also to show people how I view and evaluate properties, and what I like, and don’t like.
It was also an opportunity to connect with more people, all at once, and take advantage of technology.
Think about it: if I sit in a room with you, and just you, I can talk openly and freely about properties listed for sale, sold prices, and anything under the sun.
If I have a second person join us in that room, I can do the same.
But what if I want to get my message across to, say, fifteen people? Well, I suppose I can open the doors to a board room, and openly discuss real estate topics with everybody in that room.
So why can’t I use technology to my advantage?
Think about global corporations who use video-chats for meetings rather than flying across the world to meet in person. Or even using a “chat room” on the phone where dozens of employees can dial in to the same call.
Why can’t I have a section on my website where I can reach 5,000 people at once? It’s a lot easier than meeting with all 5,000 of them, one-at-a-time, but it seems that’s how organized real estate would have it.
This is a massive grey area, and I don’t think that CREA, RECO, and TREB are ready for the future of real estate, and where it’s going.
The issue of “unauthorized advertising” and “providing sale information illegally” are still hot-button issues, but so far I haven’t caught any flak over Pick5.
I got a fantastic write-up in the Toronto Star in September of 2013:
The article finished with a quote from Bruce Matthews, deputy registrar of regulatory compliance for RECO, who referred to my Pick5 videos and said, “they likely cross the line, password or not.”
I’m still waiting…
So here we are, in 2015, and I’ve never been more pleased with Toronto Realty Blog.
The readership is fantastic, and the regular commenters collectively offer more value than many of my own blog posts do!
I’m truly blessed to have such a loyal group of intelligent, insightful people sharing their views and opinions on a daily basis.
What’s next for TRB?
We’ll we’ve been working on a “Forum” for months now, trying to make it functional, visually appealing, and of course – trouble-shooting.
I think there are risks, but they’re out-weighed by the potential benefit of having thousands of regular blog readers being able to post their own topics, questions, and content. Why have one blogger on TRB when you can have many?
And last but not least, I’m working on a video series entitled, “What If The Whole World Worked The Same As The Toronto Real Estate Industry?” It’s a satirical look at the way we do business, and shines a light on some of the problems in the industry, but does so in a comical nature.
I’ll probably start posting one video every month, beginning in April. But my social media gurus might start promoting it next week. Stay tuned!
So that’s that, folks.
1,500 blog posts and counting, and coming up to the 8th Anniversary of TRB.
And if you read this entire post, then you’re a die-hard. I apologize for almost hitting 3,000 words, but if there was ever a time to do it – it’s in the 1,500th post.
Thank you to everybody for your loyal support, and continued contributions to TRB.