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A View from Beantown USA

7 minute read

Earlier this month I traveled to America to open our office for our new venture Zooproperty.com (I will write about the experience of developing a new product shortly and more about this on Zoo’s launch as it is an interesting concept) in Boston, Massachusetts and whilst here I have taken in some of the sites of the city and had the opportunity to meet with some prominent business people in the real estate and general business community.

Boston Redsox Game at the Famous Fenway Park
Boston Redsox Game at the Famous Fenway Park

What immediately strikes you (it did me) about Boston is how similar the feel of the city is to my hometown of Melbourne. It is situated on a picturesque upside down river (The Charles River) and prides itself on its cultural diversity. It also has many parks and gardens set aside for the community and the architecture of some of the historical places is incredible.

It is also home to some of the most prestigious schools in the world (Berkley, Harvard and MIT just to name a few and there are many more) and this gives the city a buzz like no other. Business in Boston is truly celebrated, creativity is deeply encouraged so it gives you great confidence in your business (if you believe in your business model) going forward, even in these tough economic times.

MIT on Massachusetts Avenue
MIT on Massachusetts Avenue

Real Estate

As for real estate, one thing that stands out is that the majority of real estate agencies here are single person or couple agencies. The big lush prime location offices are few and far between and real estate selling is a combined effort (split commissions is the norm) however, there are a few companies like Redfin challenging this model.

Another thing that struck me about the United States is that the real estate agent website is almost a step back in time to the bad old days of frames, shoddy looking animations and poor user interfaces – the majority of agents have just neglected their own websites and worked through the boom times almost expecting that things will never change.

I see a huge opportunity with the USA markets as agents better understand that their own real estate website will probably be the only clear differentiators between one agent and another.

Newspapers & Real Estate

Newspapers in the USA almost carry no agent listings each week (a couple of pages) and this must frighten News Limited, Fairfax and other newsprint organisations. The Boston Globe has virtually no relationship with agents and this makes it hard for them to kickstart any new real estate campaigns in print. Fairfax and News Ltd thankfully do have relationships in both online and print and this obviously helps them – although News Ltd seems to be losing interest even in the traditional online model (more on that in another article).

Popular Newbury Street, Cafe, Shops
Popular Newbury Street, Cafe, Shops

Most agents have already dropped out of newspapers, so that leaves, yard signs (which are very quaint and basic here), leaflets and reputation/character for differentiating agents! So to me the agent website and quality copy (text, photos, plans, videos, mp3’s) is most important marketing tool an agent will have going forward.

Mini Magazines

Some other interesting things in real estate are the use of little magazines (little handbooks) promoting listings locally. They are like apartment guides, in full color and there are a number of them published for free monthly.

Historical Beacon Hill
Historical Beacon Hill

Some other non real estate differences between Australia and USA:

  • People walk on the street and in shopping centres on the same side of the footpath as they drive on the roads.
  • There is a lot of rubbish in the streets, I think it is one of the most unpatriotic things to do – is to rubbish your own country and people just drop garbage in the street???
  • In Australia you might get asked by a street person once a week for change, in the USA, at last 10 times a day if you walk as much as I do.
  • People are incredibly generous and kind (much like anywhere) here and they love Australians.
  • Food and groceries are cheaper, a good meal here in Boston might set you back $8 – $10 at a cafe, rent is cheaper, Internet access is cheaper, taxis are cheaper, petrol is way cheaper – the cost of living is cheaper here in USA than Australia, which baffles me!
  • Catch a train and each carriage has a conductor, you can pay on trains (a little extra $) or at station – costs more I guess but more people travel as they feel safer.
  • Wireless Internet is pretty much everywhere and for the most part free, it makes a huge difference as cafes/parks are filled with people on laptops and because food is cheap, it makes more sense to sit in a cafe and work than sit at home or in an office – I think the Labor government in NSW promised this – never happened though
  • People love having US flags and banners on their houses, I don’t know what to think of this, but when its tasteful it’s ok, when its overdone, it can be a little creepy.
  • There is one policeman at every single road work, some sort of union deal, but seems a little silly
  • Cars are big, you think some of our four wheel drives are big, you have seen nothing, believe me – some of these things are tanks!
  • People eat so much rubbish – and it is so cheap, trying to find healthy foods amongst the Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Kentucky etc is difficult!

I will be back and forth between the USA and Australia over the next few years marketing and promoting our Zoo Product. I am also working on creating some petty cool products for the Australian real estate market with some prominent companies so it is all very exciting for us moving forward.

Boston Common
Boston Common

US Representations

My company Agentpoint is also helping out a few other companies here in the USA giving them US representation/office and we are more than happy to help promote any Australian software innovation here in the USA – most significantly real estate software. So send me an email if you want to chat.

My creative head Ryan O’Grady is handling most things for me in Australia and has been behind some of the cooler things we are creating in this space, so its a lot of fun moving forward.

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11 Comments

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 9:16 am 0Likes

    Great post Peter.

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 9:34 am 0Likes

    Peter – was wondering where you went 🙂 Ryan is doing a fantastic job driving our e-business and I am keeping him very busy and more importantly he is still taking my calls. Great post from our US correspondent.

    What a name Beantown – Mr Bean – Whereyoubeen 🙂

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 10:35 am 0Likes

    Thanks Glenn and Robert, will call you over next few days for a catch up. I see all correspondence between yourself and Ryan and I see we have been releasing a lot of p[lug-ins over past few weeks.

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 10:42 am 0Likes

    Peter, yes indeed and they have been awesome releases. I could not be happier and fingers crossed for this afternoons meeting which will be most interesting. Really looking foward to the Zoo release which is even more exciting.

    Cheers

  • PaulD
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 12:11 pm 0Likes

    Pity the Red Sox are trailing the Yanks by 7 games in the AL East. Did you get to Fenway for a game ?

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 12:24 pm 0Likes

    Hi Paul, yes the Redsox are struggling a little, but they are still in for a Wildcard and in finals anything can happen. They are giving up a lot of runs at the moment. The first photo of the Redsox was taken from my seat with my brother. It was an awesome experience and an amazing stadium. Just as I imagined it would be.

  • PaulD
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 1:18 pm 0Likes

    You were lucky to get tickets. I think in the middle of June, they had sold out every home game sine May 2003. At 81 regular home games a season, that number was over 500 games in a row that they had sold out.

  • Kylie Emans
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 4:14 pm 0Likes

    Hi Peter, l loved your blog on USA real estate. I have spent a lot of time in the states and looked at the real estate industry there and I agree some of their advertising is from the dark ages, I can’t believe how they are all online but their marketing is so basic, they all need to hire graphic designers to make their sites more attractive and user friendly.

    They also get paid by the seller and the buyer and a lot more commission than the average commission here but they have to do a lot of conveyancing work in the transaction.

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 8:32 pm 0Likes

    Paul: My little brother Kieran coaches some pretty cool business people here and every now and then he stumbles across these tickets.

    Kylie: Yes, it is a massive opportunity for Australia companies, there is a little hurdle with MLS to overcome, but we believe this is a great market for the future as most suppliers here just work on volume of sales not quality.

  • Nick
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 4:19 pm 0Likes

    Just a little glitch, your link to RedFin is broken. 🙂

    Very interesting post though.
    I’ve been to Los Angeles a couple of times as well and I too noticed how dirty it was (gray sky).

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 2:24 am 0Likes

    Nick, thanks for that, fixed now.

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