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Opinion Editorials

Changing of the Guard: Toby’s Switch



Toby's Road

Gaining Legs

It was at the Ohio Association of REALTORS® Annual Convention and Expo that the idea really began to gain legs.

Sitting around the lounge enjoying adult beverages with agents from all over the state, the various brokerages and what they offer became a key topic. And as a relatively young – in terms of license life — agent I began to see “what I was missing” in my small independent brokerage.

I enjoyed the work I was doing, but felt that I was missing out on something. Something, that I was finding these other agents seemed to have – education and support. I walked out of the convention preparing myself to explore changing brokerages.

It was a long journey, but effective a few weeks back my license was transferred from Disbennett Real Estate Company to Keller Williams The Realty Firm. Let’s explore the road …

The Beginning

As I drove away from the Columbus Convention Center, my mind raced with the new information I’d absorbed – but also my new found understanding of how the “real estate game” worked. And I made the decision right then and there, I was going to become an active player.

Knowing that my small-town community, and the agents that worked it, was not a good place to be looking for a new broker. I relied on connections that I’d made through Twitter and Active Rain to develop an understanding of the national companies.

Going through the process, it became obvious that I wasn’t very interested in the “traditional” brokerage model. I’d been in that model and wasn’t finding any companies that could merge my desire to be independent with the need for education and training in this model.

And while the “full-agent” model (i.e. ReMax) was interesting, I lacked (and still do) the resources to survive until the market bounces back. Not to mention the limited support – education and training wise – that these companies are known to provide.

It was weeks of debating and dissecting the options that were in front of me. Two companies – HER Real Living and Keller Williams – emerged as my best fit. However, with the loss of my father and a pick-up in my listings I decided to sit tight at Disbennett.

The Resurgence

The recruiting calls slowed down, but in December I was named the Delaware County Board of REALTORS® Rookie of the Year. And it was at that point that the interest stepped up in earnest from other brokers, agents, and companies.

Never one to look a gift horse in a mouth, I sat down with the companies and talked about my options and the benefits of moving from Disbennett. Again, the same two companies emerged as the best fit for me and my business model.

The Decision

I found myself comparing and contrasting the three companies, and a couple of key points emerged.

  • Local Competition – After all real estate is really about being local. Which name would give me the best opportunity locally?
  • Competing Agents Under Same Umbrella – It is hard enough to feel like you have a grasp on the agents in your office, what alone others using the same “company name” to sell real estate.
  • Compensation Structure – We all like to make money. Don’t we?
  • Education Opportunities – Real world education is awesome, but you usually only get it when you need it — or worse after — and it has to be reactionary as opposed to proactive.
  • Brokerage Support – I’m giving you a lot of the money I worked so hard for, now what are you doing for me? Also, I have a transparent view of real estate, and if my brokerage didn’t like or respect that then it would be issues from the start.

I sat down and compared and contrasted the three companies and it quickly became evident that a move was in my best interest. And it appeared that one company was really taking the lead — Keller Williams.

The Move

I don’t do anything hasty – well except for those darn Roger Butcher videos that still torment me from the shelf – but once I make a decision, I want action.

It was torture to know that I was putting this ball in play and not able to talk about it. It was really cool to talk with my sellers and hear:

“We didn’t hire Disbennett, we hired you. So I’m coming with you.”

I was honest and up-front with my old broker about the reasons for the change and my personal need to grow to take this business to the next level.

It has been a whirlwind of a couple of weeks – but finally is starting to get back into the routine that will lead to more sales and a much happier wife!

Was it the right move?

I’ve had several people ask me this and while it is too early to tell, the early odds are yes.

Writer for national real estate opinion column, focusing on the improvement of the real estate industry by educating peers about technology, real estate legislation, ethics, practices and brokerage with the end result being that consumers have a better experience.

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  1. Teresa Boardman

    April 11, 2008 at 3:44 am

    I am with Keller Williams and have almost no contact with my office. it is too far away. I do have contact with agents from other offices and have kind of developed a network. We all work the same market so it is fun to talk and compare ideas. They are competitors but then every agent is. I get most of my education through the board and have found the classes to be excellent.

  2. mike price

    April 11, 2008 at 3:53 am

    good luck toby – now is the time to reinvent your brand

  3. Benjamin Bach

    April 11, 2008 at 4:25 am

    Congratulations on the switch

    I started with Royal LePage, but I moved my business to Keller Williams last year. I increased my annual GCI by 500%, and this year I’m on track to increase GCI another 500%. The training and support I have access to at my office is unparalleled in our market. No other firm even comes close, it’s just a different business model. Oh, and I proft share too 🙂

    Be Great

  4. Darren Kittleson

    April 11, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Congratulations as well. I made the move to KW in 2003 and have only increased my business and the strength of my brand for my team in our market. Take advantage of all the training opportunities you’ll find including Mega Agent Camp and Masterminds and you’ll only find your business growing.

    Welcome aboard!

  5. Aria Schoenfelt, Austin Real Estate

    April 11, 2008 at 9:36 am

    It’s really important to find the right Brokerage for you and your style. There is no such thing as the ‘best brokerage,’ only the one that will allow you to grow the most and give you support where you need it! I love my small brokerage, BridgeOne Properties (Austin), but I’ll admit that it has it’s roots in KW. Best of luck!

  6. Missy Caulk

    April 11, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Hope our little skype chats helped some. I’m at learning a lot at my office on taking my business to the next level. See you in Orlando !!

  7. Matthew Rathbun

    April 11, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Congrat’s Toby!

    I think that the franchise is only as good as the leadership. We’ve got a certain franchise in our market area that has two offices. One is fantastic, well ran and well staffed. The other is horrible and has done much to damage their franchise name and that of the other company.

    The company is a tool (don’t read into that syntax) , if leadership isn’t using it effectively, it’ll do more to hurt the agent than help.

    I’m glad you’ve found a tool chest that you can build with!

  8. Toby

    April 18, 2008 at 5:51 am

    I’ve been spending a lot of time on the new branding and marketing efforts and haven’t had a chance to visit the genius for a while.

    Thanks to everyone on the kind words: Matt hit it on the head. The company is a “tool” for your success and you need to match your desires and abilities with the company that best fits you.

    I was speaking with a potential agent yesterday and he was weighing the same two brokerages I did. And was leaning towards the other, and I think it is the best move for him.

    Only when people take this too personally, does it get bitter

  9. Austin Smith -

    March 13, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    At the risk of sounding naive, what exactly do you mean by:
    “I have a transparent view of real estate”

    Great post! You definately went about ‘the switch’ correctly, I hope it works out for you!

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.



Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

BIPOC Gen Zers are using TikTok to create cultural awareness

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) TikTok has become a platform for younger generations to share their cultures, paving the way for a more inclusive society. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.



Black person's hands holding a phone loading TikTok above a wooden table.

When scrolling on TikTok, you might come across this question posed by a BIPOC creator (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color): “How old were you when you realized you weren’t ugly, you just lived in a predominantly White space?”

Growing up in predominantly White spaces myself with immigrant parents from the Middle East, I had a warped perspective of beauty. Straight light hair, fair skin, Western features, a stick-thin figure – I internalized my physical otherness as lack.

It wasn’t until I moved to a diverse city for college that I realized this. I saw others speaking different languages, eating ethnic foods and dressing however they wanted without fear of losing their proximity to Whiteness. Exposure to others who didn’t fit “the mold” was transformative for me.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I came of age with social media like Tumblr, Facebook and, ultimately, Instagram. But I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t wish TikTok was around when I was a kid.

For reference, most TikTok users are between 16-24, meaning that many are still in high school. While content on TikTok is really all over the place and specifically catered to your preferences (you can feel the algorithums at work as your scroll), one facet that I find integral to the app’s essence is Gen Z proudly showcasing their cultures – aka #culturecheck.

Besides the countless ethnic food tutorials (some of my favorite content on the app!), fashion has become a main way for BIPOC or immigrant TikTokers to fully express their identities and share their culture with other users on the app, regardless of physical location.

Take the #FashionEdit challenge, where creators lip sync to a mash-up of Amine’s “Caroline” and “I Just Did a Bad Thing” by Bill Wurtz as they transform from their everyday Western clothes into that of their respective culture.

In her famous video, Milan Mathew – the creator attributed to popularizing this trend – sits down in a chair. She edits the clip in such a way that as she sits, her original outfit switches to a baby-pink lehenga and she becomes adorned with traditional Indian jewelry. Denise Osei does the same, switching into tradition Ghanaian dress. If you can think of a culture or ethnicity, chances are they are represented in this TikTok trend.

This past Indigenous People’s Day, James Jones’ videos went viral across various social media platforms, as he transformed into his traditional garments and performed tribal dances.

Though the cultures and respective attire they showcase are unique in each video, the energy is all the same: proud and beautiful. Showing off what your culture wears has become a way to gain clout on the app and inspire others to do the same.

The beautiful thing about cultural/ethnic TikTok is that it isn’t just Mexicans cheering for other Mexicans, or Arabs cheering for other Arabs – the app sustains a general solidarity across racial and ethnic lines while cultivating an appreciation of world cultures.

But just how deep does that appreciation go? Some users think (and I agree) that “liking” a video of an attractive creator in traditional dress is hardly a radical move in dismantling notions of Western beauty.

While TikTok trends might not solve these issues entirely, it’s important to note that they are moving things in the right directions – I certainly never saw anything like this when I was growing up.

For whatever reason, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers seem to have a lot of shade to throw at Gen Z. But one thing is for certain – this young generation is paving the way for a more inclusive, more respectful society, which is something we should all get behind. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.



Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in March, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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