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Opinion Editorials

AgentMatch launches, objections appear to be anti-consumer

AgentMatch by realtor.com has launched to mixed responses, but much of the criticism is unfounded and based on misinformation.

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AgentMatch launches, world keeps spinning

(AGENT/GENIUS) – Recently, Realtor.com has put some of their acquired talent and technology to work in an extremely beta product called AgentMatch, piloting in the Las Vegas Valley and Northern Colorado. Performance data is fed directly from the MLS, bios are populated from agents’ SocialBios profiles, and the site unveils the top performing agents in any given area – a bone of contention for a small group of real estate professionals.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers survey, 91 percent of consumers did not directly find their agent online, a high number that has been a tremendous part of AgentMatch’s birth, the company tells AGBeat.

Ernie Graham, Director of Product Management for realtor.com said that technology has empowered consumers, especially Millennials, want to use technology to find an agent, meanwhile agents are best served by spending less time with poorly suited prospects.

AgentMatch has spent the last year in an endless loop of focus groups and use monitoring, and consumers overwhelmingly love it. Graham said, “I wouldn’t be working on this right now if I didn’t see consumers’ eyes light up.” He asserts that they are very early on in the project and are all ears to objections as well as ideas and support. In fact, they’ve already formed an Advisory Board after calling out and inviting the loudest critics to the table.

We reached out to non-realtor consumers for their feedback, and in each case, the responses were positive, even when we noted that the data may not account for teams or new home specialists. These individuals could not understand why anyone would protest it. They liked that there were not reviews, it was simply raw, unbiased data and immediate (read: real) contact information that they had been thirsting for.

Enter the objections

Upon launching, a number of Realtors took to the web to speak out against AgentMatch, and while it isn’t surprising, much of it is based on misinformation and a basic misunderstanding of how internet users use the internet today.

Any time a website launches that adds transparency to a real estate professional’s transaction history, a nuclear explosion goes off and agents lose their mind. Why? Some of them are far less busy than they feign on Twitter, while others are, in fairness, successful regardless of transaction numbers (lead gen folks, teams, and so forth). Buyers’ agents fail to study the site and instantly claim the deck is stacked against them, but in reality, it’s not just the number of homes on the market shown in an agent’s bio; the number of homes sold appears right next to it, unlike most sites featuring agents. This has been one of the more common misunderstandings we’ve seen.

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Picking bones over wording

The “Find Realtors” feature already exists on Realtor.com, but the truth is that while the bones are good, it has a lot of room for improvement, particularly when it comes to getting consumers to engage more. So, after endless testing, they launched AgentMatch, and the very word “match” seems to have set the industry off.

The landing page of the site currently reads “Sell Your Home,” then “Compare and connect with the best performing agents in your neighborhood.” The word best has been a contentious word with agents who have falsely assumed that realtor.com is playing favorites with top producers, or ranking agents – but you’ll see no stars, no thumbs up, no ratings, and no stickers with words like “top producer” or “number one agent.” The truth is that the word simply tested better and increased engagement with consumers – kind of important when consumers are vetting agents.

Not seeking to influence MLS policies

Because agents cannot upload any listings to the site, and because the data is 100 percent from the MLS, some have protested. First of all, third party agent ratings sites that allow uploads often have no way of verifying the validity, leading to inaccurate data and a lack of transparency.

Graham asserted that this product will never seek to change policy at the MLS level, and agents that wish for their transactions to be fully recorded by the MLS should petition their local board (which AgentMatch says they’ll help with if requested). It makes sense to use one and only one data source in this case, as it is truly the only reliable source when you look at it on a national level, and because rules are so different between each MLS, it makes sense for realtor.com to keep their nose out of it – if they did seek to change the rules, imagine the outrage then!

What you may not be aware of is that this product wasn’t just birthed by faceless code jockeys at realtor.com, it has been headed up by the founder of SocialBios (acquired by realtor.com), and Graham spent years as a broker and a MLS Director, so his understanding of agents’ needs and objections are first hand – yet the product still has his endorsement and his acknowledgement that influencing MLS policy from their position isn’t wise or useful for anyone.

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No charge for agent’s email to be featured up front

Additionally, AgentMatch features agents’ phone numbers and email address front and center without forcing consumers to register to get it (thus, they don’t act as a middle man, they instantly get to their agents of choice), and they don’t charge agents to feature their information on the site – a far cry from their competitors, who agents have complained for years about their featuring competitors’ information on their listings pages. None of that, just simple contact information. This fact has been wildly overlooked, particularly by the people who railed against their information being hidden or sold by other companies.

What agents protesting this site have missed is that consumers are more sophisticated today than a decade ago, and they have diverse goals. Agents, so often wrapped up in the mentality of the industry, assume that consumers only want an agent who has the most listings in town, but the truth is that many look to the agent with a smaller number, assuming they’ll get more attention and have more time devoted to their listing. Consumers aren’t stupid and there is an inadvertent belief under agents’ breath that they are. Without being guided, the consumers we spoke with all deemed the anti-AgentMatch agents to be anti-consumer. Ouch.

I’m not 100% a fan. Yet.

Although we partner with realtor.com on a select number of events, they are not past scrutiny, so let me be clear – there are holes in the product, and the creators can blame the MLS, but the holes remain. Agents that specialize in pocket listings are out of luck, and brokerages that focus on new home builders’ listings (which sometimes don’t ever touch the MLS) are not accounted for. That’s a meaningful chunk of the industry.

Another hole, and a big huge fat one, is that there is currently no way to opt out of being featured – Graham tells us they would consider it if users requested it, but for now, agents cannot opt out. That probably should have been built in from day one and made easy for agents who object.

In addition to the holes, I have to jump in to say that this is not that big of a deal. It’s one website. It’s a simple tool in a buyer or seller’s massive toolbox. The few outraged agents remind me of real estate professionals who were wildly opposed to lockboxes going digital or the MLS going online.

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What the industry must do

The industry must be more consumer-driven and quit giving the opportunities to third party sites that don’t have industry affiliations. If real estate technology innovates at the pace that some of the naysayers prefer, the MLS would still be exclusively on paper. If the few loud objections overrule the potential national launch of this tool, it will eventually be mastered by a third party company that has no industry affiliation, no ramifications for not following the rules, and no requirement to follow the Code of Ethics.

While AgentMatch is actively listening, objections should be aired, but what is presently making the rounds is riddled with misinformation, and honestly, is actually anti-consumer. People want to research agents, and realtor.com has met them where they’re looking.

My fear is that the industry is going to wail about this and miss an opportunity to provide something meaningful to consumers, letting third parties find a way to make it happen and then charge agents to be featured or get leads, and the next generation of agents will then scream at realtor.com for not doing this in the first place. #backfire

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. egraham2

    November 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Great post Lani. Thanks for shining a light on the big gaps in the public discussions. The “off-mls solds” (e.g. pocket, new homes) issue is a good one…and it varies widely by market. Like every other data accuracy/consistency/gaming concern, I believe it’s a local issue that should be solved by the local agents with their mls. This is nothing new, this is what MLS’s “do”, and I think they do it better than anyone else. A good example of this are MLS’s that import non-mls solds into their systems from public records to provide agents a more complete data set for doing CMA’s. If agents want “credit” for these transactions, why not find a way to get them in the MLS?

    • Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

      November 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      That’s a great point. If the MLSs include and regulate this off-market sold data, it will create an even larger, more accurate feed to a portal.

  2. Marc Davison

    November 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    In the grand history of the real estate industry, nothing to my knowledge has displaced the agent. Not the Web. Not Google. Not eBay. Not Microsoft. Not Zestimates. Not new models such as Redfin. Not even the great economic disaster of the last 6 years.

    As you stated Lani, hysterics occur when new things hit the market. When anything launches that attempts to move the real estate needle forward and present itself in the most progressive manner to the consumer.

    Not sure why. It just is. And probably will be for years to come. It’s the nature of this industry.

    But history has shown us that all worst fears and staunch objections never pan out and don’t stop progress. Like all those things, AgentMatch will be refined and improve and takes its rightful place as a different color thread in the overall fabric of the industry.

    Nice coverage Lani.

  3. Daniel Bates

    November 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    LOL, Your basic argument for why not to sweat it is that NAR / Realtor.com aren’t very good at driving traffic anyway, which is true, Love it! :-p It sounds like you got to speak with Mr. Graham, did you happen to ask him what their long-term plans were for the site? How long before they start charging due-paying members to be included in this service? How long before they start allowing agents with lower numbers to pay to be “featured” in the top 5? How long until agents can just send them a suitcase of money and ask for their contact info to be switched with a member of their choice? Those are my concerns as NAR has proven time and time again that they only care about bringing in more bucks for themselves.

    This tool COULD actually be a good thing if it served the roll of educating the public and helping our customers make educated and informed decisions about who they work with. Inform the general public that quantity isn’t everything in this business. Make an argument about choosing an agent that is a good match for you. How about educating them on what DOM and Sold / Ask Price actually mean (nothing in my opinion). I worked pretty damn hard this year and I too am shocked at how few homes I’ve got to show for it. I don’t mind the public seeing that at all, but it’s be nice to show more than the numbers and make an argument for each of our unique services. I am more than my SOLDS, I’ve helped people make their dreams come true.

  4. Russ Bergeron

    November 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    It doesn’t work. I contacted an agent whose average price point was $1.2 million. I figured I could get $1 million for my home. But they said it was only worth $300,000. Forget about it.

    My brother needed to sell his house quickly so he picked an agent with the lowest days on market
    numbers. It took 30 days longer than average to sell his house. These numbers just don’t help.

    Of course I am being facetious. But what any of the ratings sites never offer is a true picture of each and every transaction – because they are all different. And cold, hard numbers only show just that – there is nothing to grade the responsiveness or professionalism of the agent or the broker. Nothing to gauge the effectiveness of all the other players involved in each transaction – title, escrow, legal, lending, etc.

    And what happens when an agent changes offices – their past performance has been wiped out and they have to start over.

  5. Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

    November 27, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Many of us are open to more transparency, but glossing over the MLS issue doesn’t change it. Yes, it’s a problem. No, you can’t produce a downstream product based on that data and say “Well, the MLS was inaccurate, so we’re displaying an inaccurate product to the consumer but it’s still good.” Accountability and truth are not created by displaying inaccurate data to the consumer. That may be frustrating, but it’s the truth.

    • agbenn

      November 27, 2013 at 10:57 am

      You’re right Sam, which is why I said, if you’ve got MLS inaccuracies then you have the responsibility of addressing it directly with your board. If the mls is not accurate, again, your region has an even larger problem, it’s the only tool that separates you a R from just an A – It has to be right 24/7.

      • Sam DeBord, SeattleHome.com

        November 27, 2013 at 12:52 pm

        Two problems with that. First, the MLS doesn’t separate an R from an A. Many MLSs allow both, and some, like mine, MLS aren’t even Realtor-owned.

        Second, an MLS board has no responsibility to change its data for a 3rd party who’d like to create a product for it. The data is accurate in its current intended form: tracked MLS sales for agents’ and brokers’ use. Now, a portal wants to change that data’s use as a consumer education project, and to do so correctly it will need the MLS to add off-MLS sales to its database.

        The MLS can absolutely do that if it sees value, but to insinuate that they have a responsibility to a portal’s new product is just incorrect. It’s backwards, in fact.

  6. Bill Fowler

    December 2, 2013 at 10:35 am

    I don’t completely grasp the counter point here. MLS data will create arbitrary rankings? A seller simply wants to know who has experience and a track record of success in a given area. What other means besides the numbers that express actual performance (MLS data) could provide a good snapshot of who is good and who isn’t? OK, so there are holes. Well, let’s fill them with data from other sources if necessary.

    Reviews are a part of the consumer’s research process – for any purchase. It’ a fact of life. Transparency will ultimately win here just like it has in other industries. I’d think that more real estate people would be willing to engage realtor.com on this point and help shape what they feel is broken with AgentMatch instead of an outright boycott.

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Opinion Editorials

Before you quit your job, ask yourself these 5 questions

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Frustrated at work? Here are 5 ideas utilizing design thinking and exploration tactics to assess if you really are ready to quit your job.

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Man reclining on beanbag with laptop, thoughtful. Considering tactics before you quit your job.

We have all been there. We are in a job that just doesn’t feel right for us. Maybe we strongly dislike our manager or even our day to day work responsibilities. We find it easy to blame everyone else for everything we dislike. We question life and ask “Is this what life is all about? Shouldn’t I be spending my time doing something I am more passionate about?” But, we probably like the regular paycheck… Thus, we stay there and possibly become more miserable by the day. Some of us may even start to feel physical symptoms of headaches, stomach aches, and possibly depression. We also may go to the internet like this person seeking answers and hoping someone else can tell us what to do:

“I feel conflicted but I want to quit my job. What should I do?

I was thinking of quitting my job because I dislike what I do, and I feel I am underpaid.

However last week my colleague tendered her resignation too. Needless to say, if I leave too, my whole department will fall into a larger mess and that causes some feelings of conflict within me.

Should my colleague quitting affect when I want to leave too? How do I go about quitting now?”

We can definitely empathize with this – it’s really uncomfortable, sometimes sad, and hard to be in a position where we feel we are underpaid and we aren’t happy.

So, how can you navigate a situation like this? How do you figure out if you should just quit your job? How can you be an adult about this?

Here are some exploratory questions, ideas, and some design thinking activities to help you answer this question for yourself.

  • Before you up and quit, assuming you don’t yet have your next opportunity lined up, have you considered asking for a raise – or better yet, figure out how you add value to the organization? Would your supervisor be willing to move you in to a new role or offer additional compensation?
  • If you don’t have a job lined up, do you have the recommended AT LEAST six months of living expenses in your savings account? Some would recommend that you have even more during a global pandemic where unemployment is at an all-time high – it may take longer to find a new position.
  • Do you have a safety net of family or friends that are willing and able to help you with your bills if you don’t have your regular paycheck? Would you be willing to put that burden on them so you can quit your job?
  • Why aren’t you job searching if you are unhappy? Is it because the task seems daunting and the idea of interviewing right now makes you want to puke?
  • What would your ideal job be and what would it take for you to go for it?

Many people claim they don’t like their job but they don’t know what to do next or even worse, don’t know what they WANT to do. To offer a little bit of tough love here: Well, then, that’s your job to figure it out. You can go on Reddit all you want, but no one else can tell you what is right for you.

Here are some ways to explore what may be an exciting career move for you or help you identify some areas that you need to learn more about in order to figure out where work will align with your skills, interests, and passions.

  1. Consider ordering the Design Your Life Workbook that provides writing prompts to help you figure out what it is that you are looking for in a job/career. You may also like the book Designing Your Work Life which is about “How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work”.
  2. Utilize design thinking to answer some of your questions. Make a diamond shape and in each of the four corners, write out the “Who” you want to be working with, “What” you’d like to be doing, “Where” you’d like to be, and “Why” you want to be there or doing that kind of work.
  3. Conduct informational interviews with people doing work that you think you might be interested in. Usually these conversations give you lots of interesting insights and either a green light to pursue something or validation that maybe that role isn’t right for you either.
  4. Get your resume updated. Sometimes just dusting off your resume, updating it, and making it ready gives you a feeling of relief that if you did really want to pursue a new job, you are almost ready. Consider updating your LinkedIn profile as well.
  5. Explore what you can do differently. A lot of what we can be frustrated about can be related to things out of our control. Consider exploring ways to work better with your team or how to grow to become invaluable. Tune in to Lindsey Pollak’s podcast, The Work Remix, where she gives great ideas on how to navigate working in current times where there are five generations in the workplace. There may be ways you need to adjust your communication style or tune in to emotional intelligence on how to better work with your supervisor or employees. Again, focus on what is within your control.

You may decide that you need to quit your job to be able to focus your energy on finding a better fit for you. But at the same time, be realistic. Most of us have to work to live. Everyone has bills, so you may continue working while you sort out some of the other factors to help you find a more exciting prospect. Either way, wishing you all the best on this journey, and the time and patience to allow you to figure it out.

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Opinion Editorials

New USPS duck-shaped truck design has mixed reactions

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) The USPS is getting a fleet of electronic delivery vehicles. We’re wondering if the actual design got lost in the mail.

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New USPS truck in a fictional neighborhood delivering mail.

So the USPS is getting new trucks and they look like ducks and maybe that sucks… or maybe it wucks. Like “works,” if a duck said it. Just give me this one please.

Anyway.

I don’t know how mean I can be here – there has to be something said for objective journalistic integrity – but I have a feeling most people are going to have a rather sarcastic reaction to the new design. I’m not so sure I can blame them – it has a kind of stubby little nose with a shortened hood and a boxy frame and super tall windshield, which gives the wheels a disproportionately large look compared to the rest of the silhouette. It’s sort of like a Nissan Cube but less millennial cool, which A) is discontinued (so maybe not so cool), and B) is not the car that had those giant hiphop hamsters running around, but I’m still going to link to it anyway.

Elon Musk must be breathing a sigh of relief right now.

The contract was awarded to Oshkosh Defense (which I was thrilled to find out is NOT the adorable kid’s clothing company, even though I personally think that would be hilarious if there was a factory making overalls for tiny humans alongside tactical defense trucks) and officially announced on February 23rd, 2021 to the tune of $482 million. Seriously though, someone is going to mix those up for the rest of all time and eternity; I’d never not think about my own baby pictures if some contractor from Oshkosh Defense showed up.

The release mentions that, “The historic investment is part of a soon-to-be-released plan the Postal Service has developed to transform its financial performance and customer service over the next 10 years through significant investments in people, technology and infrastructure as it seeks to become the preferred delivery service provider for the American public.” It’s called the NGDV – Next Generation Delivery Vehicle, which I happen to adore, and will pronounce as Nugduv, and you can’t stop me anyway. The old one was called the Grumman, by the way.

Some credit this as a radical change, and keeping in mind that radical doesn’t necessarily denote positive or negative, it seems like the perfect word to use here. Then there are those who correctly identify “a mixed bag of responses,” sort of like when you get a bag of candy at Halloween that has at least one thing no one likes. Some call it strange, while others defend it as something every new big vehicle should look like (this is where – as one of many – I found it called a “duck” which oh man do I love, quack quack).

We can also hit up the ever fair public opinion of Twitter, because why wouldn’t we?

JavaScript is not available.

This is how I would draw a car. That is not a plus for this design

I really can’t get over that last one. But I mean, whoa. That’s quite the spectrum. There’s less disagreement on pizza toppings I think. But luckily I think we’re safe there – Domino’s makes people drive their personal cars.

Taking a step back and putting snide commentary away for a moment, there’s some areas that should be discussed. First – and what should probably be obvious – there was a laundry list of requirements and restrictions from the USPS, which made Nir Kahn – design director from custom carmaker Plasan – offer up his own tweets that give some insight on dimensions and design:

JavaScript is not available.

I was involved in an early proposal for the USPS truck so I know the requirements well. They pretty much dictated the proportions – this package sketch shows that to meet the ergonomic and size requirements, there wasn’t much freedom 1/2 #USPS pic.twitter.com/Fk35g98Z83

Kahn mentions that “there wasn’t much freedom,” but also that “it could have looked much better,” and this sort of underlines the entire discussion I think – there were goals in place, and possibly some more aesthetically pleasing ways to meet them, but the constraints won out and drove (hehe) the design more than style did.

Certainly, there are other concerns – the ability for USPS drivers to reach a mailbox while seated is paramount. Others have pointed out that this design – with its large windshield and shortened front – should help with safety around small children (all the better if they are wearing Oshkosh B’gosh, because that implies they are tiny and may not be at all concerned with the dangers of streets). The open field-of-vision will aid in making sure drivers can navigate places that might be frequented by any number of pedestrians, so that’s a plus.

Further, if you get struck by one of these, you’ll basically “just” get kneecapped versus taking it square to the torso. The duck article is the one making this call, and I think there’s some merit there (though it makes me question how the USPS fleet is going to do against the SUVs and big trucks out in the wild). It then goes on to point out that this design has more cargo space, fitting into the idea of “rightsizing,” where the form and function of the vehicle meet in a way that is downsized, but still punches above its weight.

“From smaller fire engines to nimbler garbage trucks, making vehicles better scaled to urban tasks can make a huge difference, not only for keeping other cars moving on narrow streets, but also to ensure that humans on those same streets can access the bike lanes, sidewalks, and curb cuts they need to get around.”

I didn’t try too hard to find stats on crashes in mail trucks, but seems like something that should be addressed.

Maybe the biggest point here is that we sort of have to get new trucks – they are outliving their 24 year expectancy and catching on fire. On FIRE. I mean a mail truck might be the worst place for a fire. I’m not even sure I can’t think up a better answer… Ok maybe toilets would be worse.

The new vehicles can be either petrol or electric powered, have 360 cameras, airbags, and automatic braking. Oh, and air conditioning, which the old vehicles did not have. So yes, literally the worst place to have a fire. But due to the taller vehicles, someone can stand in them now! So escape is even easier! Hooray!

A series of delays pushed back the introduction of new vehicles from their 2018 projected date, with poor initial prototypes and the pandemic being major setbacks. Aggressive bidding led to extended deadlines, which had been narrowed down to a small list of candidates that included Workhorse (who unfortunately suffered a large stock plunge following the announcement). It’s been in the works for at least six years.

In the end, I don’t think we can discount all the advantages here – more efficient vehicles that are safer and provide drivers with modern amenities. That’s a LOT of good. I think once the initial goofy shock is over, the design will be accepted. Everyone thought Nintendo’s Wii was a hilarious name (still pretty much is regardless of being in the public book of acceptable nomenclature), and Cybertruck sales are brisk, so I think we can set a lot of this aside. The Edsel these are not.

So hey, new USPS vehicles in 2023, like an exceedingly late birthday present. All I want to see is a bunch of baby ducks following one of them around oh please let that happen. The USPS kind of has an identity crisis in the modern era, so maybe a funny little cute silly boxmobile is just the right way to get some attention.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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decluttering

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob, or an un-alphabetized bookshelf, or that we’ve put off ‘declutter’ on our to-do list for too long.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, taking time to declutter can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those 3 things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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