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Covering Real Estate: Tips for finding standout stories

Real estate business beat basics  big house with porches

You can find impressive stories just by keeping your eyes open. Photo: PropertySnaps

By Jonathan Lansner

So where do you go to get the real estate stories that make your coverage standout? And not just vs. the competition but in your own newsroom?

Here are a few places to consider visiting …

MODELS HOMES OR OPEN HOUSES

Numbers tell only a slice of the housing story – and often that statistical tale is in the rear-view mirror. But one of the hardest things in real estate – for the industry and reporters alike — is understanding what makes buyers buy — or not. Two places that house shoppers gather are the model homes of new builders and open houses for marketing of older homes. While you’re at the builders’ model homes, check out the products for new design twists or novel home amenities that can be story fodder, too.

AGENT MEETINGS

Real estate agents love to meet and share tales of what’s going on in their business. These gatherings can run from traditional meeting hall sessions, to less-formal coffee shop chats to tours of homes for sale in a neighborhood. It’s both a good way to hear the buzz and the meet-and-greet potential or actual sources in person. If you don’t mind public speaking, offer yourself as a “guest expert” to talk about the media’s role in the local real estate business. Of course, be prepared for the “Why aren’t you more friendly to real estate?” questions.

PLANNING COMMISSIONS

Most municipalities in some way govern the construction and/or remodeling of major structures – from new homes to office towers to retool a shopping center. Through whatever means – usually a local planning board – people or entities seeking to build must file paperwork detailing their projects. Often these are public documents creating stories ideas. These government filings may contain details of the project; pros and cons; and even local objections. Think out of the box, too. One hot topic debated at these commissions is where new cell towers or other radio towers will be constructed.

THE COURTHOUSE

Real estate is an intensely competitive business that often leads to litigation. Not every slice if litigation is newsworthy – and not every filing in a higher-profile case is worth your time. Still, you’d be well-served to find time to devote to visit your local courthouse – or know how to do it online — to see who is suing whom in your market. (Or make sure your best friend happens to be your newsroom’s courthouse reporter.) Seeks out the legal stories that define a current trend or have a solid element of drama.

EXHIBIT HALLS

The next time you go to a real estate trade show – and there are plenty of them – ignore all the panel discussions about “the future” and spend serious time with the vendors in the exhibit hall. After you ignore their giveaways, and politely inquire about a vendor’s product or service, hone in on what these vendors know about the real estate business in your community. Are sales up or down for products and services that support the real estate trade? What are real estate insiders telling the vendors about the health of the market?
Vendors can be great sources because they see the business from a whole different side.

Real Estate business beat basics  Worker on roof and church steeple

Your own newspaper or local neighborhood can be good places to find local stories. Photo: S and T Design

SOCIAL MEDIA

Numerous real estate professionals – often, sole proprietors or owners of small business – are intensely using blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the like as novel marketing and communication tools. Your ability to leverage social media as reporting tool to follow ground-level real estate news in your community can be invaluable.

ONLINE

Become expert at using online real estate databases such as Zillow or Trulia or Redfin, to name a few. These allow you to quickly explore what’s for sale and/or selling in your market. Many real estate sites – maybe even your own news organization’s website – allow registered users to get custom search results by email. Imagine automatically knowing when local mansions hit the market or are sold. Similarly, this can also be done with foreclosure tracking sites like RealtyTrac for Foreclosures.com

YOUR OWN NEWSPAPER

Please read your own newspaper, especially the local news section. Quite often what amounts to real estate stories appear, frequently as government stories. Is some city council debating the future of a big residential or commercial development? Find your angle. Property taxes to rise? Bet that there’s lots of opinions in the real estate business and among property owners! Is crime up or down, and where? Ask how this impacts house sales or apartment rents. Does a local sports team want a new facility? Reach out to see how it will hit local construction workers.

 

Jonathan Lansner is The Orange County Register‘s business columnist and real estate blogger. Since 1986, he has covered the Orange County economy — and its real estate scene — as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Register. The “Lansner on Real Estate” blog was launched in March 2006.

In 2014, Beats, Real estate | Econ development.

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