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Inside caravans: Finding stories where real-estate agents get their scoops

real estate caravansThe gatherings could easily be passed up as fluff.

Every week, Realtors meet to pitch new listings over coffee and nosh, omelets, and Mexican buffets – in hopes on matching sellers with prospective buyers.

For reporters, especially those new to the residential beat (like me,) these wheeling-and-dealing sessions, known as Realtor caravans, can actually lead you to insight on the local market, introductions to key agents and even scoops.

I had my doubts about caravans (named so because Realtors tour new listings together) but was convinced of their value by my second one.

There, I met two guys promoting a new business that advanced commissions to cash-strapped real estate agents on deals sitting in escrow, where money is held by a third party until the transaction is complete.

Think payday lending but for real estate agents.

Turns out, the little-known sector is being scrutinized for the first time in California by the state’s Department of Corporations, which regulates groups including lenders, securities brokers and financial planners. In fact, the group had its first meeting on the topic the week my story ran, and the Department of Real Estate is now involved in the conversation.  You can read the story here.

If you want to give caravans a try, here’s how to get started:

1. Make a call: Contact someone from your local Realtors association and ask if their members host caravans around your city or town. The contact person will likely be a media rep or the president of the organization. The organization in my area, the San Diego Association of Realtors, has a very organized list with accompanying map and contacts for each caravan.

2. Ask permission: These functions are sometimes restricted to only real estate agents and immediate associates such as mortgage lenders and home inspectors. But groups are usually receptive to media going to their meetings.

3. If you’re denied access: Emphasize to organizers that you’ll be there to listen and learn, not to cover the caravan itself.

4. Be choosy: If you’re faced with a long list of caravans, ask your association’s rep which are the most reputable, informative and well-attended. Each caravan is different, from its set-up to the member composition. You’ll likely get a candid answer.

5. Experiment: Attend more than one gathering. Try different geographic locations to get a sense of different sales agents and their unique challenges.

When you’re there, remember to:

1. Mingle:  Many times, you’ll meet not only agents but also lenders, home repair workers and bank reps.

2. Be prepared: Have your business card and your notebook handy.

3. Ask questions: How’s the market in this area? What are your struggles? Which other caravans do you hit up?

4. Listen: The pitches say a lot. You’ll get a sense if prices are being reduced, inventory is stagnant, or if certain areas are doing well.

5. Tour: Don’t forget to check out the homes. It’s a caravan-style open house, after all.

For more tips, check out these related links:

What is a real estate caravan? (via wisegeek.com)

Real estate agents caravans is all about the food (via the L.A. Times, 2008)

A Peek into the Daily Life of a Realtor (via the National Association of Realtors)

About the Author

Lily is on the business desk, covering residential real estate at The San Diego Union-Tribune. Previously, she worked at The Arizona Republic covering local government. She is a Northwestern University graduate.

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