Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dick in a box

SNL's hilarious viral christmas video breaks new ground in the convergence, and conversation-between television and online media. A brilliant, intentional boost to a lack luster season, NBC has seen the light and - instead of battling to protect their copywrited material, are seeding "unedited" content on you tube. Congratulations, the world just got a little bit better!

Monday, December 18, 2006

PMI Tax Deductible: 2007 News Flash

CNN reports that legislation has passed enabling borrowers who close their loans in 2007 and make less than $110k ($55k for individuals)to take mortgage insurance payments as a tax deduction.

Until now, only interest paid on a mortgage is deductible.

This legislation could be seen as an effort to support housing pricing,giving new support to high loan-to-value loans over 80% which previously required Mortgage Insurance as a non deductible cost.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Official Guide to Second Life: Real World Brands are Boring

Ilya Vedrasko posted a interesting slideshow presentation illustrating why (for now) to buck the corporate digerati trend of establishing a presence on Second Life.

No stranger to these topics, this guy from graduated from MIT and wrote his thesis on advertising in computer games.

Bret Treasure argues more specifically that real world brands on Second Life don't get nearly the traffic and attention as do virtual world businesses.

Both argue that its too late now (for another real life brand SL launch) to capture any traditional media buzz, and too early to actually provide ROI. Treasure further suggests the failure of traditional brands to capture in world attention has to do with their failure to clearly understand and embrace the fanciful spirit of the in-world experience. Bret writes:

The people in Second Life are having an immersive experience. One of those self-expression things. They are not in Second Life hankering for the real world.

This to me is his most provocative comment. Within SL, exploration and fluid experimentation of identity is at work. Individuals are navigating their own Avatars, some with likeness to their real-life selves, and others - probably most, with fantastic replacements. The real life self is, in most cases, protected and anonymous. One would probably approach things differently on SL, if your real life identity was known, and all your real life relationships were present.

That's probably why its harder for real life brands to be successful in Second Life. People in Second Life are not hankering for the real world, and corporate brands, almost by definition, don't want to experiment with their identity.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ameriquest Mortgage For Sale

The consolidation of the subprime industry continues, Ameriquest Mortgage is rumored now to be on sale.
This follows the announced sale of Option One, and argueably leaves only New Century Mortgage as the last remaining Orange County, CA based subprime leader standing.

The Wall Street Journal has a related article today about the consolidation of the subprime lending business.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

John Dugan: States to enforce consumer protection on Option ARMS and other non-traditional loans

John C. Dugan, the Comptroller of the currency, gave a speech Monday to the American Bankers Association expressing his concern about regulating mortgage lending standards, specifically regarding the new guidance that the Fed recently released on "exotic mortgages".
...with fewer home buyers in the market, competition among lenders appears to be intensifying, and, with some exceptions, that competition has extended to weaker underwriting standards. Frankly, that concerns me. We don’t want to see the lending decisions bankers make today result in excessive forecloseds – and reduced affordable housing credit – tomorrow.

And on Tuesday speaking to American's Community Bankers Dugan further urged States to adopt the Fed's principles. His concern lay in the fact that many mortgage originators are outside of federal regulation, and thus it falls to state regulators to enact and enforce such standards.

I have been encouraged by the recent statements by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) and the American Association of Residential Mortgage Regulators. These two organizations are working on a version of the nontraditional mortgage guidance that will focus on mortgage underwriting and consumer protection issues. We understand that state agencies then will be urged to adopt and apply this guidance to the entities they regulate. In so doing, it is vital that key principles of our nontraditional mortgage guidance not be watered down. ...

Fed Guide to Option ARM and Interest Only Loans

The Federal Reserve released today a Consumer Guide to Nontraditional Mortgages, specifically detailing the risks and benefits of the Option ARM and Interest Only Products.

The brochure stresses the importace of understanding key mortgage loan terms, it warns of the risks consumers may face, and counsels borrowers to be realistic about whether or not they can handle future payment increases.

Competitor Web Traffic Data?

SeoMoz produced the results today of a study where several top SEO related websites shared internal traffic metrics, and then compared their internal data against public and commerical tools currently in use, (such as Alexa) to estimate the website traffic of a competitor's website.

The results are wild. Back to back against the actual data, every tool was inconsistant and incaccurate.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Fed on Exotic Mortgages: Mixed Readings?

Federal Financial Regulatory Agencies issued on Thursday Final Guidance on Nontraditional Mortgage Product Risks.

Dow Jones reports that it expects these results to be benign.

On the other side of the fence, Marketwatch came out today with a scathing Regulators Crack Down on Exotic Mortgages,a me too of Business Week's lurid Nightmare Mortgages, but reading the Fed's report as a "Crack-Down".

Home ATM Machine

The proclaimed death of the "home ATM machine" is the latest media zeitgeist.

The New York Times today called it the home ATM machine.

And today the Rocky Mountain News refers to as ATM Machines.

Also today CNN reports that ATM machines people had in their homes in term of their home equity won't be refilling quite as rapidly.

Countless others me-too's can be found in a google query.

And the creative our industry is serving amidst this gloom and doom:


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Jajah: Cheap VOIP on your mobile

Somehow I have avoided using VOIP services such as Skype. The idea of installing software, using a mic and headset on your computer, it all seemed awkward. You see, I love my mobile. I love to walk around when I talk, can I can't ever stay in one place.

Enter today Jajah Mobile. These VOIP innovators are now developing a software plug in for mobile phones, and released it already for J2ME (Java) based and Sybmian phones. You can go to their website and see if it works yet for your phone.

Downloading the software enables you to use Jajah to bypass your carrier long distance, and enjoy free or highly discounted VOIP calling rates.

What's next? It's rumored that Jajah is developing a system to let you access its service directly from an IVR menu that you call the old fashioed way, freeing VOIP completely from the desktop.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

God, Google and

These guys downtown here in NYC continue to interest me. Not really because they sell mortgage leads on an exchange, but because of this interesting concept of "attention economy" they are developing, which basically says

1. Your attention is an asset, which you (should) own.
2. Your data relative to what you are currently and historically paying attention to on the internet is valuable to marketers.
3. In a market of the future, you can voluntarily release your attention data to marketers in return for some form of compensation.

So, I attached an "Attention Recorder" Firefox plug-in back in March. This plug-in allows me to save my own clickstream data, and have it stored with authorized third parties, such as Root. See above screenshot of my "Vault".

I am with them on 1 and 2. Looking at my Vault data on and off for the past 6 months, I'm not so sure anyone would want or be willing to pawn it off to marketers. It is a brutal reflection of what actually takes up my time and my attention every day, listing and organizing each search query I make, every site I visit, and how much time I spend there.

The reflection is so acurate and powerful, I'm not sure why one would make it public, let alone allow it to be used commercially.

To me, the attention asset only becomes palatable as an object to share or sell if one were able to modify, filter or otherwise dress up its content. As in reality, sharing the appropriate pieces with the appropriate audience.

My raw clickstream - only God, Google and knows.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Internet mortgage leads go local

Consumers are divided.

The internet remains the ideal venue for product research and due diligence when it comes to comparison shopping for mortgage loans or similar financial services.

Marketers know this. The lead generators wrap up the dominant meme of consumer online loan research, the brilliant "when banks compete you win" slogan of Lending Tree which conflates consumer due diligence with their business model of selling consumer data multiple times over.

LendingTree, Getsmart, Quinstreet, LowerMyBills, Nextag have been consistent top 10 online buyers of advertising, with 2 of these 5 appearing on the top 10 list of July 2006 published by Nielson/Netratings.

Pummeled with the mortgage sales pitch

Consumers have developed innate defenses to block out the endless pulse of spam emails, flash poster ads, and meaningless text link ads. Don't get me wrong, the marketing works. Consumers respond, as the lead aggregetor value proposition satisfies their need to research and compare mortgage rates. But these are tentative, almost anonymous responses. Phone #s are left intentionally inaccurate, "spam" email address used when responding.

Add to that, the practice of the credit bureaus of selling consumer contact information to mortgage lenders, each time a credit report is pulled. Known in the industry as the "Trigger" product, consumers who are in market get subsequently attacked via telemarketers and direct mail.

Using the Internet to enhance local relationships?

How about we look at the equation from the other direction; as if you were a traditional mortgage broker, who generated his business via in-person relationships and referrals.

You would fear the internet; the teasingly low rates advertised would cut into your margins, the consumer: previously empowered only with the yellow pages, now can pit against every lender in the country.

Small is the new big, local is the new national
The technology is there now to target local consumers with local solutions. Local internet consumers convert, knowing that an in-person meeting is even an option is a strong motivating element. In 2005 Seth Godin articulated the concept Small is the new big. Where old marketing addressed the needs of the median consumer, new marketing ideally reaches out to each consumer more individually, personally.

Consider California Mortgage comparisons like this.

Today we have geo-targeting, demographics, social networking, consumer generated content. Mix in a healthy dose of respect for the consumer's privacy and little guys have in their hands a big opportunity.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mortgage marketing, Lead Generation and Reg Z

SearchEngineWatch today published an article on SEM in regulated industries. Although it covered Pharma, Alcohol, etc. it did not go into Banking and Lending, specifically Mortgage Lending which is a world I live in every day - and also one very active in SEM.

Here are some introductory thoughts on SEM and Mortgage lending regulation:

You have been living under a rock if you have not seen the ubiquitous Get a $200,000 loan for $825! ads everywhere. Most of these ads are produced by lead generation companies such as Lowermybills, which currently are not agressively pursued by the regulators who closely watch all banks, mortgage banks and brokers. Who knows if this will last forever.

Truth in Lending and Regulation Z

Truth in Lending was enacted in 1968 (and simplified in 1980) as part of the Consumer Credit Protection Act. Congress was worried that customers could not accurately shop for credit due to the unregulated practices and lack of uniformity in advertising and disclosures. The Truth in Lending act required that all credit issuers who make 25 or more loans annually give certain uniform disclosures. The Federal Reserve Board issued Regulation Z to implement Truth in Lending.

What does it require in regards to SEM and advertising?

Reg Z requires lenders to disclose specific information under certain "trigger term" scenarios:

The trigger terms are:

1. the amount or percentage of any downpayment
2. the number of payments or period of repayment
3. the amount of any payment, and
4. the amount of any finance charge.

The use of any one of these terms requires the creditor to also disclose the following additional terms in the advertisement:

1. the amount or percentage of the downpayment
2. the terms of repayment, and
3. the annual percentage rate (APR), using that term.

Lenders and banks are under constant scrutiny and comply with this regulation by including the 3 required disclosures on the destination webpage.

Lead Vendors, being without consistent regulatory oversight, take a inconsistent approach. Lowermybills has extensive disclosures if you scroll to the bottom of its search landing page. and many others do not disclose.

Of course the whole idea of a lead vendor, advertising specific loan terms and appropriately disclosing is problematic.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg for my industry. The $200,000 loan for $850 a month ad is a disguised pitch for an Option ARM, a popular, controversial and powerful product.

BusinessWeek's Cover story Nightmare Mortgages calls for additional disclosure from mortgage lenders, holding the industry accountable for the numerous consumers who were never educated that the minimum payment option on their loan caused the additional principal to be tacked on to their loan balance.

But that was another discussion.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I googled on my phone for a trip to Mars and all I got was ads

Google is soft launching their mobile ads, I discovered today that my Adwords interface now has a new ad type called "mobile ads", see below

I know that Google has been doing this already in Japan, the coolest part about it is that you have the option do pay per call rather than pay per click (as most/many phones would not support this well, if at all).

Cool Stuff!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

And one more thing... the brouhaha at Apple

Big things are rumbling on the Apple Insider blog. According to this source, Apple will introduce iTunes Movies and "one more thing".

A later post Apple Cell Phone is ready to roll indicates that the much awaited iPhone - Apple's converence of its iPod with full cell phone functionality, is also nearing production.

I'm a huge iPod fan, and cell phone addict. I haven't been this excited about a gadget in a while!!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Nightmare Mortgages

Is the title of Businessweek's cover story.

Although a tad lurid, the article speaks to some of the hot buttons du jour of consumer finance

1. Softening (bursting) real estate bubble
2. Foreclosure
3. Rising cost of money

And some timeless ones

1. Dishonest lenders
2. Struggling, hard working americans

There is a lively debate in the readers comments section, worth reading. From my perspective, the irony hurts.

The option arm is a great product, which is easily sold in an unethical manner -- ie. where the customer is unclear that using the minimum payment will add principal to the loan balance.

With interest rates headed down again, the fixed rate is an easy choice - but the right one?

Consider it here:

OPTION ARM vs. FIXED Calculator

There are countless people who could benefit from this product, sold and used properly. Its appeal to the savvy will outlast the headlines.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The .mobi scam

The idea of a mobile web is one of the sexiest ideas to me. I imagine a supercharged IPOD like device that streams broadband, even when I'm hiking in Vermont.

But one of the biggest scams out there in my opinion is the .mobi TLD money grab. The one thing that isn't a part of my mobile web fantasy is the requirement of using a special TLD wherever I surf, with no guarantee that the .mobi site will mirror the content of the .com site. It's not just me. Tim Berners-Leeand many others agree.

To make matters worse, they have a 149 Page list of "Premium names" which they are holding off from the normal bidding landrush, and -- you guessed it -- holding an auctioning off.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

Summer is almost gone

I live in New York City, and Fall is this city's finest season. It stays nice usually through November, and the city is alive and fun. Eat at a sidewalk restaurant, walk through a park, discover a new street, even the subway is pleasant, compared to the intolerable sauna it becomes in the summer.

The end of Summer also means the return to online activity and commerce by the world. I for one, have been out of the country for the last few weeks, in the Czech Republic on the longest vacation of my life -- 2 weeks!

Here's a photo and here's to getting back to work in New York, and to the fall in New York.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The ageless refinance boom in trendy Apex, NC

Google Trends is a great tool for understanding the current search zeitgeist and how it breaks out geographically. However it is not without its peculiarities.

According to these screenshots, Apex, NC is far and away the center of in refinance and antiaging searches on the internet.

But Apex is just a small town in North Carolina. What is going on, Google?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Wrong websites assigned to Google Local business listings

Below, I am seeing this with many google local searches, where the website associated with a listing clearly doesn't match the listed business. I am interested in any theories as to how google associates these websites to the listed businesses.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Google serving maps in local searches

Searching for my own company with city and state American Home Mortgage now brings up a huge mapped listing at the top of the search engine results page.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Gomobo = Kozmo 2.0?

Here it is again, short messaging giving you... food. As if it were hard to get food in Manhattan, you can now text your order via Gomobo and they'll charge your credit card and place the order for you.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

mobi local mobile

The buzz over .mobi is just another indication of where we're headed. Even now, the concept of "cyberspace" (sounds so 1993), for most people is limited to sitting at desktop or laptop, staring at a screen. How will 2007, 2008 begin to look, as we begin to get Ipod that's always online (rumored to be in development by Microsoft)? Adsense served to mobile phones based on next generation Dodgeball GPS type platform? more than likely.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Kenneth Lay, Wikipedia and current events

Wikipedia is such a great analogy for our current take on "truth". As soon as The New York Times and other media outlets announced this morning of the untimely death of Kenneth Lay, conspiracy abounded, virus like - across the internet. Every blogger had a theory. Later that day Reuters
published an interesting article about how Lay's biography in Wikipedia was modified scores of times throughout the day, colaboratively limping its way to some sort of definitive conclusion.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Hand Crafted results at MSN

Many have speculated that hand jobs persist in the SERPS, now we have proof.

Apply now to get a position as an MSN Hand-Job practitioner.

Must be able to type fast! (exerpt):

If you are an expert at using at least 3 different search engines, well versed with American English/colloquial usage, and can type at > 149 words/minute as measured by the Simia-Lico method – come join us and delight users real-time!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mortgage Rates headed down

The first signs of a cooling inflation fears arrived today The New York Times reported.

Investors are looking for signs that Mr. Bernanke, like the veteran Alan Greenspan who preceded him at the Fed, can manage a tricky transition, achieving a "soft landing" from a period of strong economic growth and rising inflation to an era when underlying inflation slows without throwing the economy into a tailspin.

Lets see if that tailspin comes sooner and stronger than expected.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

CSCA baby

Man, I've been obsessed with CSCA short codes. First it is a travelling laundry detergent bus pleading with me to text them, then the HSBC around the corner from where I live is hosting a "beauty pageant" in the window of the bank, as part of their point of view marketing campaign, where you can text your opinion to a 5 digit sms short code and they will post it on their website. I want to be the guy that blows their ad budget on models and text messages. When's the launch party at Marquee??

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mosquito Ring Tones?

British company Compound Security developed the Mosquito a few years back, as a way to ward of teens from congregating in unwanted places.

The Mosquito device sends out a high pitched annoying noise that can only be heard by people under 25 years of age.

The developers never imagined that the repellent would be converted into an inaudible to teachers or parents.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Lead Traders the next Wall St. Sex symbol

That's the prediction from /Root chairman Lew Ranieri at invite-only demonstration today of the firm's new portal for mortgage lead buyers and sellers.

The firm hopes to make exchange for leads, and is backed by some significant venture capital.

Ranieri, who is credited with helping invent the market for mortgage backed securities, let a discussion about his background in developing market exchanges, and why he thinks there is a significant opportunity creating one for the lead generation industry.

But don't worry, you can keep on spammin' and jammin' - /Roots system quantifies quality only by seller or by lead attributes - and not by publisher.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Call Almighty

Did you notice all the 800# numbers appearing on pay per click ads? Who says the call is more expensive than online fulfillment? In my biz, it is cheaper.

Despite all the efforts to "automate" the loan sales process, we still live in a world where the phone needs to ring and customers want to speak to a salesperson.

Forrester has confirmed this again. No surprises here.

Lead alligators

Unfortunately for the consumer, the chief accomplishment of internet for mortgage lending has been its ability to disseminate personal information (leads) to multiple financial institutions.

With the direct to consumer mortgage business continuing to whither from its 2003 apex, this industry and its supporters are ailing.

Lowermybills, just announced via a letter to their lender network, that they increase the amount of times a lead can be sold to 5.

How that can be good for anyone except LMB, I'm not quite sure. In fact, word on the street has it that major mortgage lenders are pulling back from their lead buying. Who knows where their quest for profitability in uncertain markets will lead them next.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The next refinance boom?

With housing bubbles bursting everywhere, Bernanke hiking rates in hopes of the long hyped "soft landing", plummeting value of the US dollar, where are we headed? Financial gloom and doom theories for the future of the US housing market, stock market, currencies, abound. And all of this is good news in the long term for the mortgage business. The economy will be so hammered by late 2007 that the fed will actually decide to drop rates. Look for strong refinance activity in 2008, 2009.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

I vlog you vlog

I have to admit I'm addicted to stupid stuff like, and almost daily load up my ipod with junk to digest during all those extra momements when I'm caught waiting or driving or something. Maybe it was me but I think some of the other drivers on FDR drive Friday night didn't like it that I was watching my iPod and manuevering the rush hour traffic at the same time. In a different life I'd convince everyone to do it, I'd be the Andy Warhol of vlog superstardom. Somehow I am not cool enough yet to convince even my most close and desperate friends.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Conversion Funnel

This concept strikes me as just bad, oversimplistic. Since when do web users (certainly not I!), take a linear approach to answering their question, finding and buying a product, or whatever they may be currently doing? Shrug off the metrics geeks, and get creative.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Who can afford to buy a home?

Interesting article in RIS Media, entitled Scrimping for a Mortgage indicates that your neighbor is stretched far more than you may think.

According to a 2005 study by the Public Policy Institute of California, more than half of households in Monterey County pay more than 30% of their pre-tax income on housing. I bet if the same study were performed elsewhere, we'd find similar results.