Archive for September, 2007

 

Need to develop a logo for my real estate blog

Sep 27, 2007 by Steve Belt in General

Phoenix at NightThe banner image for the Phoenix Area Real Estate Blog is a photo that I took of the Grand Canyon.  It’s a nice photo, and I like it a lot.  But it really isn’t anything Phoenix Related.  I need to fix that.  I’m contemplating a night shot from the roof of my office that would include Camelback Mountain, Squaw Peak, and the 101 Freeway.  A long exposure would get some cool headlights going by on the freeway.  I just need that perfect night when the clouds are just right to really set it off. 

The photo would be similar to this photo (which I also took), which includes Camelback, but not Squaw Peak.  That’s my idea anyway.  If you’ve got a better idea for a photo that says Phoenix and Scottsdale, let me know.

Phoenix LogoAnother thing I’d like to create is an avatar or icon for the blog that isn’t just my face.  I mean, I absolutely love my face (all sarcasm included), but I’d prefer something again that’s a little more Phoenix-y.  The cactus has been done to death, so I’m kinda thinking a bit more in the vein of the Phoenix Logo, possibly merged in with a housing logo…still thinking on that too, but any advice here would also be appreciated.

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Interbike 2007

Sep 26, 2007 by Steve Belt in Blogging, Cycling, Mountain Bike

Pivot Mach 5If you are at all interested in what’s going on at Interbike this year, the guys at Speedgoat have got a spectacular blog running this year.  I’m subscribed to their blog, and have been blown away with all of the great industry info they’ve been publishing.  I think I’m most interested in more news about the new Pivot, which is a new bike built by Chris Cocalis formerly of Titus.  Since I ride a Titus Racer-X, custom designed by Chris himself, what he’s doing with the Pivot has definitely caught my attention.

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Copyright notices on my feed

Sep 26, 2007 by Steve Belt in General

I’m testing the addition of copyright notices on my feed.  If you are subscribing to my feed, you’ll notice a new copyright notice at the end of the post. This should be considered “normal”.  By adding this copyright notice, I can determine if anyone was to steal my feed, since it links to my site and Google and WordPress do a fantastic job of alerting me when about incoming links.

To enable this copyright notice, I’m using the Feed Footer plug-in by Sherief Mursyidi.  Assuming this works, I’ll add this plug-in to the Phoenix Area Real Estate Blog as well.

Opened the box on my PS3

Sep 20, 2007 by Steve Belt in General

Sony PS3I think it was early December when I was in Best Buy and they set out about a dozen PS3’s.  PS3’s were very rare, and while I didn’t really have any personal interest in one, I figured I could make a few dollars hocking one on craigslist or ebay.

When I get it to the office, and find out I could make at best $50 more than I paid for it, which was around $500, I figured that in the end it wasn’t really worth my time to try to resell it.  I decided instead that I’d wait for a compelling game, which was surely around the corner….so the darned thing sat in the garage, in its unopened box until yesterday.

I waited and waited for a game to be released that I felt I wanted to play enough to get me to open it, and finally that game was released:  Heavenly Sword.  I picked up Heavenly Sword, which has been fairly well hyped on TV, and decided this would be the game.  Still not sure if the game was good enough to go through the bother, but I’d waited long enough.

The good news, is that to hook up the PS3 would force me to do some re-cabling of my media room, a project that is long overdo.  My Meridian 861 processor has a component video switching card, but I’d never used it, as I’d never felt compelled to bother with the extra cabling.  Instead, I’d down converted my Xbox 360 to SVideo and run that through my Meridian 598DP, then out that via HDMI to the projector.  The cable box was being output in component video direct to the project, but all along really should have gone to the 861 along with component outputs from the Xbox, so that the 861 could do the video switching it was capable of.

So now needing to hook up the PS3, and definitely sure this new game had to be seen in Hi-Def, I finally did the re-cabling through the 861.

And boy was the re-cabling worth it.  That new game on the PS3, as seen on my projector, is a thing of beauty.  There are cut shots galore with full motion capture-style CGI videos that are definitely the best ever seen before.  The game play itself was alright (not great), but the “video” is killer.

I haven’t fired up the Xbox since re-cabling, but I’m sure I’ll be pleased with the results, and kicking myself for having not done it ages ago.  At least the Xbox is now ready to be the proper recipient of Halo 3 next week.

Tough Prep Ride for the Tour Today

Sep 15, 2007 by Steve Belt in Mountain Bike

I need a beerWe went up to Pinetop this weekend, so of course I brought my mountain bike.  Without a truck of some sort, I needed to ride directly from our house.  Not a problem, but it did mean I wouldn’t be able to ride any new trail stretches, just places I’ve already ridden.

The basic ride plan was to ride the Country Club to Los Burros connector to Los Burros, loop around, and then come  back.  That’s roughtly 25 miles.  A snag developed before I even got going when I realized I’ve left my mtb shoes at home.  Determined to get a big ride in today I put on my hiking shoes and set out.

The weather at 8:15am was absolutely perfect.  Temp around 60, cloud cover, no wind, and dry conditions.  It just doesn’t get any better. 

The trip up the connector went well, and I arrived at Los Burros at 9:15am.  It’s pretty much all up hill to that point.  Once on Los Burros I was able to ride the trail in it’s best condition: dry.  No mud, no rain.  Riding went well on Los Burros, until I found a sign that said, “Short cut 2” and “Los Burros 6.5”.  On our list trip around Los Burros, I know we went down the short cut, which peeled 4.5 miles off the 14 mile loop.  That does explain how we did 14 miles in 90 minutes while slogging through the mud….we only did 10 miles. 

So I went the long way, still feeling pretty good.  But 2.5 or 3 miles later I just bonked.  My stomach started growling, and I was very low on energy.  Every incline had me wondering if I had enough to get back.  I started dreaming about Clif Bars.

I dug deep, and did make it back, but the 14 mile Los Burros loop took 2 hrs to complete, as I finished that section at 11:15am.  With 5 or 6 miles to get back to the house my saving grace was the classic, “it’s all down hill from here”.  Or at least, it’s mostly all down hill.

 Today’s ride has me seriously questioning the proper ride distance for the Tour of the White Mountains.  Today was less than 30 miles.  Can I really do 52 miles in 3 weeks?  How much will some breakfast, Gatorade, and energy bars contribute to success? 

A New Business Opportunity

Sep 12, 2007 by Steve Belt in Real Estate

Recently, Jan and I have been approached about joining a small group (3 others) that are strongly considering starting a new real estate brokerage here in town.  This group of 3 all work together at a fairly large national brokerage out of their Scottsdale office.  However, ownership for their current brokerage is in flux (the old owner was ousted by the national guys) and new ownership is not yet in place.  The longer this takes, the more disenchanted everyone gets.  Many have already fled, but a core group of perhaps 20 agents are still hanging on to see what happens.

NoName RealtyThis small group of 3 is considering seizing the opportunity to create something new (lets call it NoName Realty).  They believe they will be successful recruiting from the old firm and thus will be able to hit the ground running.  It all sounds like a golden opportunity on the surface, and they’ve approached us to see if we want in.  The reason they are considering adding us to the mix (who wants to divide the pie 4 ways, when 3 is enough?), is because we already have a real estate office.  It’s built, up and running, but with a very low agent population.  We could certainly absorb everyone they have and then a bunch more (I conservatively estimate our office could handle 50 agents).

The catch (at least from our end) would be, they’d really like us to become part of this new company, and thus we’d have to leave Realty Executives.  That alone is almost a deal breaker.  I work for the #1 brokerage in town.  I have the best broker support I know of, with what is widely believed the most experienced brokers in the world, having reviewed more contracts than anyone else on the planet.  And personally, I love being a part of it.

Still, I never want to close a door before it’s even opened.  So we had a sit down with the guy we know the best (we’ll call him Sam for now).  Sam shared the business model along with the earnings projections.  If the business could live up to the projections, and the anticipated costs were accurate, it was a compelling case.  But then I dug into the details a bit deeper and compared them with our Realty Executives satellite office. 

NoName Realty would be a franchise as a way of getting off the ground quickly and minimizing back office development costs.  The franchisor has back office support designed to make it easy for brokers as well as agents.  Unfortunately for me, it’s a significant step backward.  It’s certainly better than the average brokerage provides, but honestly not state of the art (ie, no blogs, no real time MLS access, and everything appears in the company’s name). 

I determined that the combination of Executive Edge for managing my marketing and a Superlative website was more effective than this franchise setup, although admittedly at a bit higher cost (though not tremendously higher).  The only negative is that I visit 3 websites to do what they have piled together under 1 website.  Still, that’s not compelling enough for me.  Add on my blogs, and I’m blowing away what they have.

The other big sell is the financials.  Realty Executives is essentially a 100% commission company.  They pioneered the concept.  RE/MAX is the other big player in the 100% model, having copied the concept well, and probably done a better job in brand marketing.  However, a couple of years ago, the balloon must have gotten too expensive, and RE/MAX is now a 95% company.  At any rate, the way a 100% company works, is they charge a fairly significant monthly office fee.  An agent pays the monthly fee, and then all of the commission earned goes to the agent.  Each of my commission checks has just 2 very small deductions:  $50 for E/O insurance and $25 for advertising.  That’s relative peanuts. 

In basic numbers, a Realty Executive agent with Gross Commission Income (GCI) of $60K per year will net about the same as if they were at a traditional office with an 80/20% split.  Once GCI goes above $60K, the Realty Executive agent will always net more than a traditional agent with a split.  To compete with this, traditional firms typically share in the cost of marketing and/or providing leads to the agents.  It’s the leads that typically are what retain agents.  Agents with a poor marketing plan tend to rely on the brokerage feeding them leads.  But those leads always come with a very high commission split.  Sam reports he gets only 39% of the gross commission for his brokerage supplied leads. 

Successful agents are easily making more then $60K per year.  Realty Executives understands it’s the destination for the successful REALTOR.  We have the best of the best, and as a consequence we have a very good reputation.  This is another of the many reasons I would have a very hard time wanting to leave.

As a satellite owner, I can recruit agents to work in my office.  I am free to set any monthly fee or commission split I would like between myself and the agents.  Regardless of this arrangement, I have a set monthly fee I pay to the broker for each agent.  The franchise agreement for NoName Realty also has a monthly fee per agent, along with a 1% of GCI franchise fee.  As I did the numbers, being a part of NoName Realty would save around $150/month over the Realty Executive model for a $75K GCI agent.  Higher producing agents would save less.  And superstar agents would cost the brokerage more at NoName Realty than being at Reatly Executives.

DecisionsSo, the choice is whether it makes sense to save $150/month per agent to be at NoName Realty, or stick with the Realty Executive satellite office model.  Honestly, it’s a no brainer. 

So now I have toughest part of all of this.  Trying to convince my friend Sam he should join our satellite, and bring along his gang.  Everyone he brings will make more money if he does.  We’ll have to work out a bunch of commission split agreements, and possibly develop a marketing coalition to develop a stream of office produced leads, but the end result will be more net revenue for everyone.

First Addition to the Blogroll

Sep 11, 2007 by Steve Belt in Blogging

I owe a number of excellent blogging tips to Dave Smith and his all too useful blog.  To that end, Dave’s blog is the first addition to my blogroll.

The Server Seems More Stable

Sep 10, 2007 by Steve Belt in Blogging

Since launching 101bell.com, I’ve been plagued by a frustrating problem with outages.  The server wouldn’t be down, but the outside world wouldn’t be able to get to the website.  Then I launched the Phoenix Area Real Estate Blog, and the problem didn’t get worse, but the impact of the problem became more concerning for me.

What was frustrating, is that outages always seemed to occur on Saturday or Sunday, and there didn’t seem to be a cause.  Last Saturday it again seemed to go “down” (again, the server was up and running, it just didn’t seem to respond), and I became determined to figure out what was wrong.  Working from home, I logged into 101bell.net (which is a Windows Server), and from there logged into the server for 101bell.com.   101bell.com’s server is named azul, and it’s a Linux server. 

Debian ProjectI use the latest Debian release, which made installation a snap, and has made finding new software as well as updating existing software on the server equally easy.  Easy for a Linux box, that is.  It still takes some “skills”.  And whatever was causing this outage seemed most likely to be a configuration issue with Azul.

So I looked closely at the basic network configuration.  Azul has 2 network cards.  One that sees the outside world (aka the internet) and one that sees the local network (intranet).  I noticed that one of Azul’s DNS servers was 101bell.net.  Although not a horrible setting, it’s not what I wanted as my T1 provider has perfectly good DNS servers that I’d prefer to use.  I also noticed that when I did a traceroute to trace the IP traffic from Azul to an internet server (like google.com), that the route always went through 101bell.net. 

That was certainly not right.  Why was Azul not using the other network port and going directly out to the internet?  Finally, I looked at my /etc/network/interfaces file and closely examined the configuration there.  And sure enough, there it was as the first route to try:  101bell.net as a gateway.  So I removed this entry from /etc/network/interfaces, and whala! the server really seems to be responding better now.

Although I was never really ever able to explain why it worked most of the time, but not all of the time, it has now worked all of the time for the past 48 hours.  Google keeps track of unreachable links, and as of right now all links for all of the websites are up.  I also noticed that 101bell.net has fewer network errors in it’s logs.   So while my configuration still might not be perfect, it seems to be better.

Of course, I don’t expect anyone reading this to understand I’ve just written, but hopefully you’ll appreciate what a hassle hosting your own server can be.  There’s a lot of times when I think, “For $50/month Godaddy.com would be happy to host my server for me.”  One day I hope that my blogs will be so busy that I’ll need to move to Godaddy, just to keep up with the traffic.  But for now, I’m building up my experience the hard way, so that when and if I need to move to Godaddy, I’ll at least know what my requirements are, which I couldn’t even say 6 months ago.

The Season Begins: Fantasy Style

Sep 09, 2007 by Steve Belt in Fantasy Football

There was a teaser game on Thursday, but the real NFL season kicked off for the most part today.  This doesn’t have much meaning, as I’m not that much of a football fan these days.  Which is odd, considering I was a 4 year player in high school.  I think as I’ve gotten older, what bothers me the most is that there’s just 1 game a week, if you are interested in just 1 team.  And being somewhat of a Cardinals fan, after just a few weeks, you knew the season was basically over.  That and the Suns and DBacks are so good, with overlapping schedules, there isn’t much need to torture myself.

ESPN Fantasy FootballLast year, Robert had the great idea to start a fantasy football league.  I had played fantasy football for 3 years about 10 years ago, so I had some experience, and while it was all Robert’s idea, I ended up being the commissioner.  Which meant that I got to do all of the data entry in ESPN’s website and especially meant that I was able to have a significant say in the scoring rules.

After playing for 3 years, I had found that what I like is a balance between yardage and scoring.  I think players that score the most should be worth the most, but a player that gets a ton of yards, but doesn’t score should be worth something.  So our league is a performance style league, slanted toward scoring being the bigger factor in total points.

Last year we had just 6 fantasy owners, and I managed to win the league.  It was close, but I squeaked out wins when it mattered at the end.

This year, we’ve found 8 fantasy owners, with all 6 from last year returning, plus 2 new additions.  I drew the short straw and drafted 8th overall, but I feel I came away with a solid fantasy team anyway.  This week I drew Robert as my opponent and as I write this, I have a 10 point lead, with my 2 running backs yet to play.  I’m feeling fairly confident.

Can I repeat this year as champion?  I dunno.  I don’t have any true superstars (no Manning, no LT, etc.), but I do have a balanced team that should keep me in it week in and week out.  Injuries will be the key to success again this year, and with more owners, that means fewer decent players are available on waivers, so I’ll need to be lucky and avoid a key injury.  Still I like my chances.

Getting Ready For The Tour

Sep 09, 2007 by Steve Belt in Cycling

I had intended a nice long mountain bike ride today, until I went into the garage and realized my mountain bike was still over at Robert’s house after he took it up to Pinetop and back for me last weekend.  Unable to give up the notion of riding today, and unwilling to go over at 6:30am and potentially wake Robert up, I broke out my road bike.  It needed some dusting off (literally).

Orbea Road Bike
It took a few minutes to find a spare tube, inflate the tires, lube the chain, and generally feel like it was a good idea to ride I bike I hadn’t ridden in over a year.  In the end, I wasn’t on the road until after 7:30.

I decided to ride the ride I almost always ride on the weekend with my road bike.  Up to Cave Creek and back.  Google maps says the route was 43 miles.  If you haven’t used Google Maps lately, you should.  It’s become a sweet tool, and I think it’s now better than Mapquest.  Mapquest had some extra features for a while (like having multiple stops), but Google Maps is all the way there, and then some.  The feature I like the best is the ability to drag a section of the route around.  It’s hard to describe, so just go to Google Maps and play with it.

43 miles on a road bike isn’t supposed to be that hard…especially for someone planning to do 52 miles on a mountain bike in a month.  I finished the ride, but at the end, I was definitely spent.  What I learned today is that I’ve got a fair bit of work to do in just 30 days, if I want to complete the Tour of the White Mountains.  Lofty goals are a good thing, right?