The Real Estate Dish: 20 Minutes with Tracey Velt, Editor in Chief at REAL Trends
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he spends 20 minutes with Tracey Velt, Editor in Chief at REAL Trends. Tracey is both the writer and editor of the REAL Trends real estate blog and the editor of LORE Magazine, another REAL Trends publication which provides personal insights and information about those who are involved in real estate. After years of interviewing expert real estate professionals and sharing their insighful stories, Tracey shares industry success secrets and upcoming trends.
Eric: Tracey, how did you get involved in the real estate business, and how long have you been working in this area?
Tracey: My first job out of college was as the assistant editor of a medical society magazine, and it was incredibly boring. I had nothing to do. I begged for projects. A friend of mine told me about a job in the communications department with Florida Realtors. So I started that position in 1991, and I moved up the ladder to Editor of Florida Realtor Magazine. Then in 2004, I decided to pursue a freelance writing and editing career. So far, the people in real estate are so interesting. Now, my job is not boring anymore.
Eric: What do you find the most interesting about real estate?
Tracey: With REAL Trends, I discovered a whole world that I didn’t know about before. That’s the world of mergers, acquisitions, and company valuations. At Florida Realtors, I really learned about the business from an agent perspective, but at REAL Trends I learned about it from a true business perspective. In addition, I just think that the people in real estate are incredible. You learn so much about them, not just from a professional standpoint, but from a personal standpoint. It’s never mundane, you’re always learning something new—something’s changing—and the people have such great insight.
Eric: You know a lot of peers in real estate, and you’ve met a lot of folks along the way. What would someone in real estate be most surprised to learn about you?
Tracey: Probably that I really love fashion, and I find it inspirational. I really consider a lot of the fine designers—their pieces are mini works of art to me. Another thing is that I’ve been writing and interviewing people for 25 years in the real estate industry, and people are always surprised to hear that I’ve been in the business for that long.
Eric: The REAL Trends blog has more than 16,000 subscribers, and you also are the Managing Editor of LORE Magazine. Can you tell us more about LORE? I don’t know a lot about that brand.
Tracey: Absolutely! LORE stands for “Lives of Real Estate,” and there are so many real estate professionals who are doing amazing things outside of their businesses. They’re involved in the community in inspirational ways. They have interesting hobbies and passions, and build charities and go on fantastic journeys, and LORE captures those stories.
Eric: So, it’s from more of a personal angle. How long has LORE been around?
Tracey: Well, in its current format, which is a digital publication, we have been around for—I think the last 6 years? They started LORE as a print publication before that, and we stopped for a couple of years in around 2003 to 2004. Before that, I think it had been around for at least another 10 years.
Eric: Obviously, you do a lot of writing. I personally find it hard to find time to do that. How do you find the time to continue writing and adding more value in the content you produce?
Tracey: One of my strengths is that I’m very disciplined. I work from a home office, so it’s easy to get distracted, but I get up early, I go for a run every morning and that helps me organize my day. So, when I get back from my run, I usually have a head start on a story—whether it’s organizing it, or I’ve written the lead in my head as I’ve been running—and I love what I do. I’m passionate about it, and that just makes it very easy for me to sit down and really work on writing.
Eric: So, you have your morning routine. It sounds like you are an athlete.
Tracey: I wouldn’t say “athlete.” I would say I’m a pleasure runner. I do it for stress relief, and it helps me think.
Eric: As a real estate industry vendor, I’ve always wondered how many pitches you guys get from people like us or from within the industry.
Tracey: For me personally, I probably get about 10 per day that are direct pitches. And then I get a ton of press releases and announcements. I know our tech team also gets a lot of different pitches than I do, and we share everything. So, we get quite a few.
Eric: How do you really decide if something is newsworthy enough that you want to cover?
Tracey: Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s a gut feeling. Most of the time, if it’s a relevant industry story, we will call the person who sent the pitch to suss out whether there’s a real story there or not. Or, if it’s a new product, I know our tech team will definitely test the product and see what they think of it. It also depends on what we find out through research. In talking to people, we hear a lot about different products or strategies that are working for them. It’s easier for us, when the pitches come in, to see if that’s a connection or not.
Eric: When someone is pitching you a story or an angle, what makes them prepared? What would, ideally, I want to come with to make sure you consider either my product or my service?
Tracey: Obviously, I want people to understand who our audience is. I get a lot of consumer-oriented pitches, and we’re not a consumer-oriented business. REAL Trends serves brokerages, real estate professionals, and affiliated industry professionals. So, the top thing would be to know who REAL Trends is, who the audience is, and then it’s just a matter of explaining what you have. Be very clear and direct about “Here are the three benefits,” “Here’s what I’m saying about it,” “Here’s how we can change the industry,” and being as specific as possible with that.
Eric: You mentioned your passion for fashion. And I also know you’re a great parent as well. How do you bring those other passions to life knowing how busy you are and all the writing you do?
Tracey: I used to have a fashion blog. I don’t have time to keep it up anymore. Mostly, I subscribe to a huge number of magazines, and I love to read online and watch the runway shows. And I’m a big ripper-outer of magazines. I save information for inspiration and keep it on file. The magazines also help me with ideas for... even if it’s a fashion magazine, there are ideas for editorials everywhere, and that helps me. For parenting, I used to help out with a parenting magazine to kind of keep my finger on the pulse of new and exciting happenings. I consult with them every once in a while as well, because they know I have a 10-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son. So they look for my experience with my 21-year-old, and what’s going on with my 10-year old—what she’s into.
Eric: If you had one parenting tip, what would that be?
Tracey: Pay attention to what your kids are telling you! Listen, because their actions say a lot, and their words say a lot. And trust them. If they're telling you something is wrong, really listen to what that is, and don’t dismiss it.
Eric: That’s sage advice, fantastic. I think you said you’ve been doing this for 25 years, both as a professional writer and editor. What are some of the top mistakes you've seen Realtors make within their own content?
Tracey: There are two big ones. One, of course, is just the grammatical errors. There are some apps, such as Grammarly, that can help a lot. People can run their copy through the app, and it will help them figure out some of the grammar errors. But the biggest one is, I’ve seen a lot of writing that doesn't say anything. People want specifics, they want examples, they want anecdotes. They want to know they’re connecting with you on some level. And the way to do that is—in your writing—personal experiences, and just who you are. And social media helps with that, but it’s not always about the tips.
Eric: When you mentioned digital—the new content you’re seeing today—is there anything you’ve seen that makes that more impressive or connects more with the reader?
Tracey: Absolutely! The community videos—I will look at those on my own. And my community, even though I’m not looking for a house or selling my house. I think the videos where they introduce a new business, visit a local landmark, or offer fun things to do in the community to really connect. I could list a couple of Realtors in my area who do it, and I would automatically think of them to sell.
Eric: That’s really a little bit different than advertising a listing—talking about their experience, talking about their performance. You’re really getting back to the fact that there’s something meaningful about the actual community. Let’s talk about something totally unrelated. Who is the most well-known person you’ve ever interviewed?
Tracey: I’ve interviewed a number of the real estate bigwigs, such as Spencer Rascoff, Alex Perillo, and Sherry Chris. The most well-known would probably be Jim Collins. He’s a leadership expert and author of Good to Great. That is actually in the next issue of LORE Magazine.
Eric: Very impressive! I know—doing some writing myself—it’s challenging to find and come up with fresh ideas and content. How do you stay engaged and be able to just generate new topics that are really meaningful to your real estate audience?
Tracey: For me, it’s about finding that connection and doing that through personal stories as much as possible—their “a-ha” moments, their life lessons, the details and specifics that make each story unique. Whether it’s a profile about a person or strategies about doing business in a particular way, there’s always some kind of connection that you can make with the person you’re interviewing. You can transfer that into your writing.
Eric: Would that be coaching that Realtors could use as well, to be more of in a storytelling game—less of the factoid game?
Tracey: Absolutely. It adds a special layer to it that other people aren’t doing. It’s a way to define yourself as a real “people person” rather than just a robot real estate professional who has the same mortgage information and facts about the market.
Eric: As you look at some of the more recent content that REAL Trends has gotten, has anything stuck out that represents that? That’s very engaging?
Tracey: When we do the interviews with our Top 1,000, they’ll always have some very interesting stories to tell. Same with the Top 500 brokerages. I can’t think of one specific one that I’ve done—oh, actually I can. Better Homes and Gardens recently teamed up with New Story, which is a crowd-funding charity to build houses for the less fortunate in El Salvador. I have an article coming up about that. The whole idea of meshing the culture of the charity with the culture of the business really has a huge impact, doing kind of the cause-based marketing. I think that type of partnership is really intriguing. I think that will really connect with our readers.
Eric: Cause-based marketing—are you seeing more of that, or is that something new?
Tracey: Absolutely! It may have been going on, but people were doing it personally and not relating it back to their business. It’s not about reaching the community just to get more business, it’s about helping the community through your business. I see quite a few brokerages—I know there are at least three here in Florida, who I’ve talked to recently—who have a cause-based marketing plan. They give back to charities through what they’re doing in the community or through giving money back through their commissions. I think that people like to do business like that because they know that they’re also helping others.
Eric: I also think it helps humanize the brokerage, and it humanizes the industry. Because I think that's what differentiates the brokerages—when they have stories that are pretty unique for the communities and also that are genuine. As you look forward to 2017, what industry-wide news should brokers and agents be prepared for, that will be coming from REAL Trends?
Tracey: Obviously, based on the election there will be changes. I think specifically, as regulation is concerned, I don’t know exactly what those (changes) will be, but I think there will be. I know, from a REAL Trends perspective, we’ve seen a slight slowdown in our mergers and acquisitions—nothing dramatic and probably nothing sustaining. However, where we've seen the rise is in the number of teams who want valuations of their team, either thinking of merging with another team or selling their team. That’s always interesting. So, I think that team concept will continue and expand, and brokers will have to adapt their systems and technology to meet the needs of those teams.
Eric: Are you seeing more of the teams within the franchise networks or the independents as well?
Tracey: I’ve seen it in both. I think that some of the franchise networks purposely have a plan for teams, and encourage the teams. But I’ve seen everything from—when I say “team,” it could just be two real estate professionals partnering, to a 25-person team—I’ve seen that in the independents as well. Teams have been around for a long time, and I think the technology is catching up to what teams need and what the brokerages need to keep tabs on what those team members are doing.
Eric: Since you’re an Editor-in-Chief, I’ve always wanted to ask this question: What are the two or three things that make a great Editor-in-Chief?
Tracey: Number one is being organized. You have to be very organized in your thought process. I think the attention to detail is another thing—understanding how your words function together, more than just the grammar, but how you’re organizing the article and how everything works together. I think a great Editor-in-Chief really spots the most interesting part of a story and expands on that. I’ve worked with freelancers who I’ve literally taken their last paragraph, and it’s been the lead because it really said everything. It was everything that needed to be said in the beginning, and it was at the end. So, it’s recognizing that—understanding when to be able to fix an article, and what needs to be fixed about it.
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