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.
DNA tests are cool, but are they worth it?
(OPINION EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?
Over the last few years, DNA testing went mainstream. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, through simple tests.
However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.
When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.
These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.
These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPPA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.
These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.
Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.
In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”
There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.
Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.
Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.
It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.
Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.
It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.
If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.
Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.
Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?
I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.
The best course of action is to take extra precaution.
Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.
Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.
How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too
(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.
Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?
A new study to be published in the next Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.
But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.
Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?
The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.
However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”
The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.
The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.
In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.
In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”
Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.
Avoid the stack, conquer busy work as it comes
(PRODUCTIVITY) It’s easy overwhelmed with emails and a stack of real mail. But tackling as it comes may help to enhance organization and productivity.
A few weeks ago, I was walking through my office (also known as my bedroom after 5 p.m.) and I noticed a stack of mail that I had tossed aside over the course of the last few months. While they were non-urgent, this collection of paperwork had been opened, read, and left unattended.
Now, this was a classic move of mine – leave a mess for Future Taylor to clean up. So, imagine my surprise when Present Taylor woke up and decided to put an end to “the stack.”
I sat down, went through everything, and took care of what needed to be done. Even though my wallet took a few hits, it felt great to have this cleared up and off my desk.
Right then and there, I made it a rule to let things only cross my desk once (unless there’s some extenuating circumstance in which it requires me to come back to it; i.e. my favorite sentence on this paperwork “This is not a final bill.”) There’s no point in drawing out the stress that “the stack” induce.
This led me to finally attacking something that’s been on my to-do list since I created my Gmail account in 2009 – create an organizational system.
I set aside some time to create folders (for individual projects, people I communicate with frequently, etc.)
While this is all stuff that you may have already implemented, my point is that this increase my productivity and lifted a weight off of my shoulders I didn’t acknowledge was there.
So, I encourage you to find one of those menial tasks that has been on your to-do list forever and tackle it.
This can include, organizing all of your electronic files into folders, updating your phone and email contacts, or going through all of your desk drawers to get rid of unneeded items. Organizing and freshening up your workspace can help increase your focus.
Once you’re organized and in gear, try the “let it cross your desk once” method. When an email comes in, respond to it or file it. When a bill comes in, pay it. You may be surprised at your rise in productivity.
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