A finger on the pulse of real estate
Since our inception, we have been one of the biggest megaphones in the real estate industry, and we publish housing news so consumers and real estate professionals have the freshest data on hand, while simultaneously publishing industry-changing editorials over the years. Many a policy has changed based on our columnists and you (the reader), and we would argue that the industry is better because of how interested people are in making sure it is running as best as it can.
We recently received an open letter to the National Association of Realtors from from Daniel Bates, who is the owner and Broker-in-Charge of MCVL Realty, a boutique brokerage that specializes in real estate sales and rental management in McClellanville and Awendaw, SC. Bates is also the Chairman of the Bulls Bay Chamber of Commerce which also serves this rural niche located between Charleston and Myrtle Beach.
Upon reading, our first inclination is that we disagree with quite a bit of the content, but understand that many people agree with these points. The role of the world’s largest trade group is extremely complex, and while the member benefits (discounts on car rentals and such) mean little to paying members, the NAR’s policy and lobbying efforts, we believe are critical. The D.C. office is filled with extremely hard working unsung heroes whose fingerprints will never be seen as they help guide successful policy and block industry-destructive policies.
Although we agree with certain points made by Bates below, we disagree with others, so instead of us making the decision about whether Bates’ opinion is on point or not, we are publishing it in full and asking you to tell us in the comments what you think – what points do you agree and disagree with Bates on?
The following open letter is in the words of Bates himself.
An Open Letter to the National Association of Realtors
I am witnessing a rising level of discontent among members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is palpable through comment threads and forums of the internet. These voices have grown from seemingly few in numbers, written off as outliers, to a majority who are not pleased at the basic level of representation from their trade organization. The common thread of the complaints is that the organization values it’s own existence and money over preservation of the industry, it’s members, and the general public, which whom they serve.
With all this discontent, why do members remain? NAR would have you believe that it is because of the excellent services offered, however the answer is much more simple; it costs more to not be a member than it does to be one. Despite a DOJ ruling banning the organization from tying membership to access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) which agents rely on to share information about their listings and offer compensation to other participating brokerages, agents still find themselves having to be a member because of “non-member” dues which exceed the cost of membership and local REALTOR Associations built on top of the maintenance of these local databases. Reports from areas that have successfully severed the tie where vast majorities of brokerages and their agents have abandoned local, state, and national REALTOR Association membership is that all is rosy.
NAR leadership cite a plethora of reasons that the organization provides huge value to it’s members, but each argument they make seems to be flawed and causes dissatisfaction among members
A higher standard of professionalism?
NAR touts it’s Code of Ethics (COE) as the crowning achievement of bringing order to an otherwise chaotic marketplace. Perhaps these initial rules were valuable to have been penned, but can basically be summed up by the Golden Rule. There have also never been numbers produced to back up the argument that a REALTOR acts more ethically than a non-member, in fact, the opposite may be true – markets with high non-member numbers are performing quite well. State licensing commissions already enforce rules which guide the industry and protect the public and would cover the most egregious offenses performed by agents. As far as the agent-to-agent infractions, many believe that karma settles those scores and agents who can’t play well with others don’t make it far in the industry.
Ultimately, enforcement of the COE can be called into question because the complaint process is overbearing and impractical for the “victim” and the punishment is often no more than a slap on the wrist. Violators are not stripped of their membership and the records of what happened often remain private, so there are no lasting repercussions to the offender and no effort to clean up the industry.
A brand that attracts consumers?
Despite the organization’s age and advertising budget, the vast majority of the public is still very much in the dark as to any difference between a real estate agent, broker, or REALTOR. In addition, there is also still a large misunderstanding about what agents do, whom they represent, and how they get paid; all basic tasks that a competent trade organization should have successfully tackled from the beginning. Many members also feel that NAR’s decision to run advertising stating that it was a “A Great Time to Buy Real Estate” the entire way through the plummeting real estate market from 2007-2010 was misleading and did more harm than good to gain the trust of an already woeful public.
A lobbying voice?
One of NAR’s biggest arguments for it’s current existence is their great lobbying ability. They tout any cause that they supported as a victory which would have never happened without their involvement, a fact which is impossible to argue, but quite arguable. Even casual outsiders can see that the wheels of Washington are in fact greased by money, but my biggest argument is that most of their achievements while possibly helping real estate agents, have harmed the country in the long-run.
Tax credits to first-time home buyers was essentially cash for clunkers for the real estate industry; an artificial shot in the arm which helped a struggling economy, but also prevented capitalism from taking hold and allowing the market to seek a natural level. The biggest argument that it’s lobbying efforts are not supported by it’s members, was NAR’s own move to make contributions to their PAC mandatory. NAR also stated that they would not take sides in the national election and then proceeded to hire Hilary Clinton as the headlining speaker for their national convention. PAC donations should always be optional when membership crosses political lines.
NAR is also quick to cite the many designations offered which ensure that their members are at the top of the profession. While there is no denying the value of education, the quality can always be called into question, but more than that; the motives.
NAR makes hundreds of dollars off of each designation issued to each agent anxious to differentiate themselves from the crowd and add some letters to the end of their name. Not only does is cost money to obtain this training and then apply for the designation, but agents are also charged annually to actually retain the ability to claim the use of the designation. The recurring fees just to claim the right to use a designation are like a college reclaiming a graduate’s diploma unless a contribute to the Alumni fund was made each year.
A consumer gateway?
In a move that can only be described as ludicrous, NAR gave away it’s rights and control of it’s own website, Realtor.com, to a third party (read: for-profit) company, Move, Inc. With a direct feed to the listings of it’s members, Realtor.com was able to boast a quality control that it’s competition did not have, however this fact was squandered while it’s competition (Trulia and Zillow) built better tools and features on a more user-friendly interface while convincing brokerages to volunteer their listings to get better exposure. Realtor.com was quickly bumped to the third on the list for most major real estate keyword searches.
Under Move, Realtor.com charged agents and brokerages to display their contact information and the total number of pictures on their own listings as a way to profit, yet brokerages still found a better ROI investing in Zillow and Trulia advertising. Realtor.com had but one claim to make over Trulia and Zillow, that their data was a clean as the new fallen snow, due to it’s source, and yet NAR leadership voted to allow FSBO builders AND non-member agents to supply their data directly to Realtor.com.
NAR then agreed to supply it’s membership records for a tool which had three times been objected to and shot down by REALTOR members which allows consumers to search for agents in an area, promoting quantity over quality and skewed toward the success of teams over individual performance of agents without regard to their abilities to serve a clients needs.
Value for the money?
NAR’s final argument to justify it’s existence is to state that most members get far more in services (like those cited above) than they pay for dues. While NAR (and state and local) memberships often include free and discounted services which can be used by agents, they also discourage free enterprise.
Contracts are struck with companies and then efforts are made to suppress competitors which would normally compete in the market and cause both companies to improve their products and services or lower their prices. Most will agree that if NAR disappeared tomorrow and they had to pay 10 percent more to rent a car, or purchase the complimentary document software (but have a choice on which one to use), but they were not responsible for paying for lobbying, designation use fees, or bloated leadership purchases including a new a high rise building in Chicago; that they would somehow be able to go on.
In the end, the overall grand scope and duties of the National Association of Realtors seems to have escaped their their mission statement “to help its members become more profitable and successful” and morphed into an organization who’s primary goal is to preserve and enhance it’s own existence.
Learning in the workplace: An exploratory mindset can foster efficiency
(OPINION) A typical business model is to run a tight ship with fear of inefficiencies, but cultivating learning can bring the best out of organizations
Despite living in an ever-changing world, many people assume that learning, be it academic or vocational, more or less stops with the conclusion of formal education. Harvard Business Review’s John Hagel III posits that an exploratory mindset, rather than fear, is the most effective way to cultivate an ongoing interest in learning – something that, as Hagel reveals, is more beneficial to a modern world than business owners realize.
Inefficiency is perhaps the most common fear of any business owner, and for good reason- Efficiency is tied directly to profits. Because of this, the majority of industries focus on establishing protocols, training employees rigorously, and then holding them to their prescribed models of operation.
And while those models can be extremely restrictive, the fear of inefficiency prevents employers from fostering creativity and personal learning, prompting some to go so far as to penalize employees who color outside of the lines. Indeed, Hagel describes one such interaction affecting an acquaintance of his: “As someone who was excited about improving the company’s supply network, she created and began testing a new intake form to assess supplier reliability.”
“She was fired for not using the standard procurement forms,” he adds.
But Hagel’s acquaintance wasn’t acting maliciously, at least by his description; she had simply identified a bottleneck and attempted to fix it using her own expertise.
We’ve written before about the importance of trusting one’s employees, implementing flexible procedures, and even welcoming constructive criticism in the interest of maintaining efficiency in a growing market. This is exactly the point that Hagel drives home – that holding employees to standards that are optimized for maximum efficiency discourages flexibility, thus culminating in eventual inefficiency.
“In a rapidly changing world with growing uncertainty, front-line workers find themselves consuming much more time and effort because they have to deviate from the tightly specified processes, so scalable efficiency is becoming increasingly inefficient,” says Hagel.
The irony of rigidly efficient practices inspiring inefficiency is clear, but the process of moving away from those structures is fraught with missteps and a general lack of understanding regarding what truly motivates employees to seek education on their own.
Let’s be clear: No one is advocating for a Montessori approach to work, one in which employees spend more time licking the walls and asking questions about the sky than they do attending to the tasks at hand. But employees who have been encouraged to explore alternative solutions and procedures, especially if they are supported through both their successes and failures, tend to be more ready to “scale” to increasingly changing demands in the work environment.
Ultimately, those employees and their expertise will create a more efficient system than all of the best-thought-out procedures and guidelines one can muster.
“Cultivating the passion of the explorer enables innovative thinking in the organization at a whole new level,” Hagel summarizes. “But harnessing that opportunity requires us to move beyond fear and to find and cultivate the passion of the explorer that lies waiting to be discovered in all of us.”
It is both Hagel’s and our own hope that businesses will find ways to appeal to that same exploratory passion – if not because it is in the best interests of employees, then, at least, in the name of improved efficiency.
Art meets business: Entrepreneurship tips for creative people
(EDITORIAL) Making your creative hobby into a business is an uphill battle, but hey, many other people have done it. This is how they crested that hill.
If the success of platforms like Etsy has proven anything, it’s that creative people can launch successful businesses, even with relatively few tools at their disposal – and for many hobbyists, this is the dream. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though, and what pushes someone from creator to businessperson can be hard to pin down. In one study, the determining factor was encouragement by family and friends. Others make a slower transition from hobby to side hustle to full-time employment in the arts. Whatever the motivating factors, though, artists interested in becoming entrepreneurs need to hone an additional set of skills.
It’s All In The Plan
From one perspective, artists know how to follow a plan. Whether we’re talking about a knitter who can work through a pattern or a novelist outlining a chapter and building characters, creative thinkers also tend to be very methodical. Just because someone can create or follow a plan, that doesn’t mean they know how to develop a business plan. Luckily, there are plenty of guides to starting a business out there that contain all the basic information you’ll need to get started.
Business development guides are full of valuable technical information – what paperwork you’ll need to file, the cost of licenses, and other similar details – but they can also help you answer questions about your goals. Before you can even start writing a business plan, you’ll need to consider what service or product you want to offer, who your clients will be, and what differentiates your product from others out there. This last question is more important than ever before as more people try to break into creative fields.
Assess Your System
Once you know what your business goals are and what products you’ll be offering, you need to consider whether you have the ability to scale up that operation to fulfill market demand. There aren’t very many art forms that you can pay the bills with fulfilling commissions one at a time. The ability to scale up the artistic process is what made the famous painter Thomas Kinkade so successful during his lifetime when many others have failed. For the modern artist, this might mean asking whether you can mechanize or outsource any of your activities, or if you’ll be doing only exclusive work for high-paying clients.
Find The Right Supports
Every business needs support to thrive, whether in the form of a startup accelerator, a bank loan, a community of fellow professionals, or some other organization or resource. Artists are no different. If you’re going to develop a successful creative business, you need to research and connect with supports for working artists. They may be able to help you access tools or studio space, get loans, market your business, or connect you with a receptive audience. These groups are expert repositories of information and you don’t have to be in a major city to connect with them.
Find Professional Partners
You’re a talented artist. You have a vision and a plan. That doesn’t mean you have to go it alone – or even that you should. To build a successful creative business, you’ll want to partner with people who have different strengths. Not only will these people be able to lend their expertise to your operation, but they’ll make you a better artist and entrepreneur by lending a critical eye to your approach. Just like a major corporation won’t thrive if it’s composed of yes-men who are just along for the ride, your creative undertaking needs internal critics whose ultimate aim is to support you.
It’s easy to get bogged down in business logistics and lose your creative spark. In fact, that’s why many artists are reticent to monetize their work, but you shouldn’t let that fear hold you back. Instead, put in the effort to stay inspired. Read books about art and creativity, keep a journal, or go to museums. Experiment with new forms. Be willing to push your own limits and know that it’s okay to fail. Many businesses that aren’t tied to creative output flounder and struggle to find their way, and there’s no reason your business should be any different. Still, the surest path to failure is stagnation and losing your spark. That’s worse for any artist than a sloppy business plan.
Artists are often told that they aren’t meant to be entrepreneurs – but the most successful businesspeople are creative types, even if they aren’t typical artists. Use that outside-the-box thinking to your advantage and make a splash. If you want to do more with your art, you owe it to yourself to try.
Why tech talent is in the process of abandoning Austin
(AUSTIN TECH) There is no single reason Austin tech talent is packing their bags, but a handful of factors have collided to create a tenuous situation.
“Nothing’s keeping me here” is a phrase we keep hearing around town. Being in the center of the tech space, we’ve been able to keep my finger on the pulse, and what we thought was primarily housing that is driving folks out of town turns out to be far more insurmountable than we could have ever imagined.
A perfect storm is brewing as the housing market collides with a dramatically transformed workforce that has become accustomed to working remotely and shifted priorities.
Last time Austin was bleeding talent, the year was 2011 and most investments were focused on early stage startups and there weren’t enough open roles that were senior level, so we started losing people to competitive markets. In response, we built a massive employment hub (the Austin Digital Jobs Group (ADJ)) and volunteered hundreds of hours to help make Austin a magnet for high quality employers.
This time around, we expressed to the Group of over 55K members that we were frustrated that people were confiding in us that they were leaving (or considering it). Some are even people that we all imagined to be part of the very fabric of Austin tech. We feel helpless this time.
Many of these talented people said that the soaring housing prices in Austin had them eyeballing smaller towns in Texas, or worse, their hometowns outside of the state. There are only so many times you can try to buy a house, get rejected, or get outbid on 22 homes before you start looking at other places. Only so many people will accept a billion percent rent increase at renewal time before thinking that going back home to Louisiana’s lookin’ pretty good.
This week, Austin CultureMap reported that Austin now ranks number two among the most overvalued home markets in America.
Tesla is getting ready to open their Gigafactory, Oracle is moving their headquarters to Austin, and Samsung is currently trying to get buy-in from city officials in Taylor so they can build their mega plant near Austin. Home investors and firms from all over are salivating.
It all feels both exciting, yet overwhelming when you’re going to buy a house here, only to get outbid by $150K over asking price from an investor in California. It’s been demoralizing for so many.
Because we also own a massive real estate publication, we’re firmly in touch with that sector, and brokers in Austin are telling us that the summer was out of control and overheated, but they’re already seeing that hyper-activity slow a bit.
Housing alone isn’t enough of a reason for an entire sector to be packing up or dreaming of leaving. So what gives?
At last count, a thread in ADJ on this topic is at 806 comments, and I personally received several hundred more via direct message with people in tech explaining why they’re leaving or considering leaving.
There are challenges within the city limits of Austin that have bubbled over like crime and separately, the contentious issue of houselessness – it’s an ongoing and very serious issue that has people leaving downtown, but not necessarily leaving the surrounding areas.
So if housing isn’t the exclusive driving force, how has that problem combined with the employment market shifts? How has the job market changed in such a way that talent is ready to hit the eject button on this town? It boils down to a changing talent pool, fractures in the hiring process, a shift in priorities, and a lingering brokenness in the entire process that is exacerbating all other conditions.
Let’s dig into that further.
Because of the global pandemic, remote work has become a staple in the tech industry, teams adjusted and realized the office is more of a luxury than a requirement, and many large brands swear that they’ll never require their employees to come into the office again.
For that reason, tech workers’ expectations have been forever changed. Fully remote options will drive the market for years to come, and hybrid options or flex work hours will also be how large tech firms attract and retain talent – ping pong tables and chill vibes will be less of an appealing sales pitch.
The pandemic has also shifted the talent pool to include everyone in America – if all workers are remote, employers no longer have to look just to the local workforce. This talent pool expansion is a double-edged sword – if an Austin tech company can look to Nebraska for workers, then remote workers can look outside of Austin to other budding tech hubs, potentially shifting the entire environment. That’s the main driver for Austin brands continuing to hire in Austin, lest the entire ecosystem fail.
All that said, a disconnect in the job market in Austin tech remains. Holdouts from attitudes and old systems of the past linger on.
A theme we continue to hear from high quality candidates is that employers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. You already know the stereotype of job listings that say they’re entry level but require a decade of work experience. But as budgets tightened in the face of uncertainty, Austin tech companies are becoming phenomenally great at hiring someone to do three jobs that pay less than one. One of our Group members asserted that employers are looking for turnkey employees. It used to be that employer job descriptions were a realistic wish list and that if you hit over 60% of them, you might get an interview. Now people believe that the requirements are becoming unrealistic and if you meet less than 100% of them, there is zero chance of an interview. Many have complained that hiring managers and recruiters continue to not be aligned, slowing the process repeatedly.
The timing of the acceleration of unrealistic expectations has locals feeling like the pandemic created conditions that allowed for employers to take advantage of job seekers who must be desperate since the world is upside down. I don’t personally believe this has anything to do with the pandemic, rather it is a continuation of an ongoing trend.
If you think this is an exaggeration, just this week a job seeker let me know that a recruiter sent them a job description that required the “ability to code in any language.” WTF. The recruiter was serious. Try telling me this isn’t out of control and I will laugh right in your face, friend.
Another serious point of contention in Austin is that salary levels are not increasing anywhere near the skyrocketing living expenses.
Many believe the salary levels are a decade old and simply can’t keep up with the market conditions in Austin and while we’ll leave the “you are a remote worker, you shouldn’t earn as much since you moved to a less expensive locale” debate to another day, we will firmly assert that this problem will hold back the tech innovation and the overall economy in Austin.
In that massive thread in our Group, one member asked, “So I guess a question is: do we accept the idea that Austin is now only for those making 6 figures??”
What is so disheartening about the salary conditions is that changing this couldn’t possibly be done overnight – it requires time and structural changes, and the bigger a company is, the slower it is to turn the proverbial ship.
Meanwhile, numerous people retired early during the pandemic, or began freelancing or consulting full time. Many of these people aren’t likely to return to the workforce under current conditions, and they feel like they have less roots in Austin – they can live anywhere now. See how remote work has caused a ripple effect?
Do you remember when some tech executives in Austin reluctantly sent employees home as the pandemic hit, flippantly warning that it wouldn’t be a coronacation!? Bad behaviors like this and other employee treatment during the pandemic haven’t and will not be forgotten – the memories will remain as fresh as the time you got shoved by that bully in elementary school. You may have forgiven, but you’ll never forget. Trust has been broken.
Trust was also broken during the pandemic when people lost what they believed to be stable jobs. It has created a certain trepidation in the marketplace.
The pandemic has forever altered all of our lives as individuals. Thousands died from COVID-19, and those of us left behind lost loved ones. We were all sent home with no job security. Many of us became homeschool teachers and somehow also had to keep up with our careers. We were forced to share spaces with our partners, our children, our parents, our family.
Some would think all of this is a recipe for resentment, but in the majority of cases, what has happened is a serious shift in priorities to favor the family, to appreciate quality time, to find solace in more quiet time and a less full calendar.
People tell us they don’t intend on going out for drinks after work when they’re called back into the office – it turns out we actually like our kids or partners now that we’ve gotten to know them, or that we value our newfound connection to old hobbies. The priorities aren’t fleeting – this pandemic has changed us.
Because of this fundamental change in who we are, ongoing problems in the employment market are now magnified.
“Isms” still plague the hiring process. Ageism continues to be a very serious problem in Austin tech, for example. People tell us that they’re still experiencing sexism, racism, ableism, and every other sort of discrimination. In 2021. It’s unbelievable. You can say all of that is simply perception, but in this scenario, perception truly is reality. And because our priorities have shifted, our giveashitters are pretty low when it comes to tolerating bad actors.
That same shift has also lowered tolerance levels for burnout. One member in the Group pointed out that after the market crash in 2008, resource levels were depleted – and here we are in 2021, they haven’t been restored. People were burned out before the pandemic, and now they’re moving to the country to work remotely and begin healing this burnout that is coming to a head.
It’s difficult to deal with ghosting (be it computer-aided or overworked recruiters) when you’re already burned out and thinking you’re the only one. It’s giving this sector a terrible reputation that is spreading.
Resources aren’t the only factor here that is stuck in 2008. Companies were so used to getting a flood of applications for every single job listing, their ATS (applicant tracking system) filters were implemented accordingly. The volume of applications has dropped, yet the filters remain overly restrictive. They put their ATS on auto-pilot once upon a time, and it remains that way, yet they continue to reach out to us in confusion, asking us where all the applicants are.
In the eyes of tech talent, the hiring process has deteriorated. Simultaneously, in the eyes of companies hiring, the process has been improved. Enhanced.
The disconnect here is not in the unrealistic expectations previously outlined, or the rising opacity in salaries, but in the actual mechanics of the hiring process. Even smaller companies have added additional rounds of interviews and ridiculous red tape in what is an effort in vain to compete with the Googles of the world. There’s a lot of what I would call “playing office” going on, with non-technical hiring managers hiring for technical roles, or unrelated staff being roped into panel interviews to weigh in on whether or not someone is a “culture fit.”
The process has become lengthy and demanding with endless personality tests, whiteboard tests, Zoom calls, questionnaires, more phone and video calls, aptitude tests, and so forth. Most people have come to accept these as hoops to jump through, but the practice of having job seekers do extensive unpaid projects as part of their job application is creating deep resentment and a growing resistance. No one expects to shake a hand and get a job today, but doing a 12 hour assignment that is due in 24 hours is unreasonable, especially unpaid and with no promise of their intellectual property being protected.
It started off as a way to aide candidates into demonstrating their true skills and it was simple. But over time, the practice has “evolved.” It feels to some like every Austin tech recruiter and hiring manager went to some evil underground conference a few years ago and were brainwashed into thinking that if they ALL assign abusive tasks, no one in the sector will notice because they’ll just accept that it’s “how things are done now.” But that’s not happening and the overly complicated process combined with other market factors is driving seriously qualified tech talent out of Austin.
The hiring process has continued to degrade and for no good reason. We actually built ADJ in a way that would directly connect hiring manager and job seeker, promoting the concept of simplifying the hiring process. Yet here we are.
The final nail in the coffin is that candidates and employers are blaming each other for a power imbalance, and thinking that their situation is unique. A feeling of isolation is growing due to peoples’ inability to openly discuss this process – both hiring folks and job seekers.
The bottom line is that numerous market conditions have converged to create a scenario where people are tired and simply won’t settle anymore. Expectations have changed. And we have changed as people.
We will inevitably get hate mail because of this editorial and folks will say that the very publication of this piece will push people out of town, but we would argue that if no one makes an effort to diagnose the growing illness, it will metastasize.
This editorial was first published here on September 09, 2021.
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