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Opinion Editorials

Explaining the controversy surrounding RealEstate.com

There is a medium-sized kerfuffle in the real estate industry that is raising eyebrows. We opine below as to whether or not it is worthy of all this fuss.

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realestate.com

realestate.com

Hubub about RealEstate.com’s re-launch

It’s been described as a market-disrupting “hail-mary” pass that will change the entire real estate industry and the beginning of “crazy town.” I, however, believe that Bruce Lemiux’s thoughts about Market Leader re-launching the RealEstate.com domain with data from the associated brokerages licenses it also acquired last year from Lending Tree were most accurate when he said, “Yawn.”

It’s an 8.25 million dollar example of the larger industry debate about data sharing and how business models for online success in real estate will integrate with (or bypass) real estate agents – “bricks and mortar” if you will. And quite frankly, as has been noted elsewhere, if the website as it stands today represents the “re-launch” that was touted in the company’s buzzword-compliant and SEO-optimized press release, then they just spent a lot of money to very publicly embarrass themselves.

A quick illustration:

As I’ve written about before, I don’t believe that the raw data provides the same amount of value as the local, friendly individual that puts that data into context, and can dynamically filter and adjust it based on something as slight as a client’s non-verbal cues. To make this less personal, let me take an example from my car that might put this all in perspective.

I drive a reasonably-recent hybrid car brimming and whirring with electronics. There are a bunch of computers processing raw information to coordinate the electric motors, battery charging, and gasoline engine status while ensuring my safety through a coordination of a bunch more things like the airbags and brakes. If my car alerted me every time something happened with one of these systems, I would quickly become so overloaded with information that I would promptly park the vehicle and walk away.

But last week my vehicle’s dashboard illuminated the check engine light with a message about my hybrid system. My car was programmed with a philosophy that sometimes less is more and that it should alert me only when it has meaningful and actionable information. In this case I took my car to the repair shop and it was repaired under warranty.

I appreciate that my car spares me the reams of raw performance data and only alerts me when necessary. I do not want information unless it is personally meaningful to me and actionable in my particular situation – and I believe real estate shoppers feel the same way. Knowing a house is for sale is a commodity.

Long before Z/T/R

Long before Zillow, Trulia, or Redfin came along the chatty neighbor would also tell you that for free. Knowing that a house is for sale that fits their bedroom count and can be purchased with their particular financing requirements is more valuable and actionable.

Knowing that a great house is for sale that fits their bedroom count but they should ignore it because of something particular to their search moves even farther up the value chain. Finding a way to successfully overcome, fix, or work-around that one (or three) things that stands between a potential buyer and the house they want notches the value up dramatically.

The Siri era is here

We live in the age of Siri – decades of research and billions of dollars spent have finally delivered a phone that can tell me the weather when I ask conversationally. Someday someone will successfully build an algorithm and launch a business model that takes the raw data of real estate and transform it into meaningful and actionable information that makes sense to consumers in the way they want at the moment they need it (if your Realtor doesn’t promplty return your phone calls, texts, and emails you should fire them, but that’s another story).

Given how long it has taken the technology and telecom industries to build a phone that can answer a simple question about the weather, I feel secure that agents like myself will have an important role to play in the real estate value chain for a very long time.

Zillow, Trulia and other real estate “innovators” aren’t real estate companies that derive their income directly from the purchase and sale of a particular house but are instead advertising companies that derive income when individual agents voluntarily agree to pay them money so they can appear prominently on a page that most likely features someone else’s listing. Zillow, Trulia and similar websites and brands have spent years redesigning and subtly improving their product so that they can sell more advertising and generate more income in their core business – which is selling advertising.

Quite frankly, the realestate.com website looks to me like it was slapped up by a collegiate insomniac who spent $99 dollars for some clipart and $99 for a wordpress theme and pulled an all-nighter to put together a rather sophomoric effort. If this took them a year to design and code, I’d like to know what they did with the other 364 days?

Zillow and Trulia are recognized brands at this point, regardless of your feelings about syndication, IDX, or data sharing. I’d be willing to make a friendly bet that when Lending Tree wanted to dump their realestate.com domain and brokerage licenses, they got in touch with every player in the market. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Zillow, Trulia, and others passed on the opportunity to spend so much on a domain name because they’ve built enough name recognition that they don’t need the “obvious” domain name to redirect to their own site. NAR would have made a perfect buyer for the domain, but that’s its own column…

Getting to the crux of the controversy

The part of all of this that is fascinating – and probably “smells” the most offensive – is how a company with a valuable domain name and brokerage licenses that once was in the business of earning income on the purchase and sale of individual homes has suddenly transformed into something else entirely: an advertising company with a lot of brokerage licenses that provide it with IDX data feeds so it doesn’t have to rely upon syndication for the data it needs (real estate listings) to sell its new product – contact data for consumers browsing on their very expensive URL.

To me this just smells like bare-knuckle American capitalism at work. We live in a country where Google (the website folks) can buy Motorola (the old-school hardware company) while Apple and Samsung are busy litigating each other senseless. We could wake up tomorrow to headlines of Apple buying AT&T or Wells Fargo buying PayPal from eBay. After all, a coffee company just made a major play in the retail payment processing space (Starbucks and Square). Anyone can buy their way into another industry – but buying your way in the door is entirely different from succeeding once you are there.

Bloggers’ support and criticism of the move:

Matt Fuller brings decades of experience and industry leadership as co-founder of San Francisco real estate brokerage Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Matt is a Past President of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. He currently serves as a Director for the California Association of Realtors. He currently co-hosts the San Francisco real estate podcast Escrow Out Loud. A recognized SF real estate expert, Matt has made numerous media appearances and published in a variety of media outlets. He’s a father, husband, dog-lover, and crazy exercise enthusiast. When he’s not at work you’re likely to find him at the gym or with his family.

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. J Philip Faranda

    August 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    While I tend to feel that it is a mistake to underestimate your adversary, I think Matt here is probably right for a variety of reasons.
     
    In my experience, the best way to be profitable in real estate brokerage is to list and sell lots of homes. I have yet to see this uber-IDX business model be organically profitable on its own.  Millions in venture capital makes a splash, but does not equate to sustainable long term profitability. . 

  2. J Philip Faranda

    August 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    While I tend to feel that it is a mistake to underestimate your adversary, I think Matt here is probably right for a variety of reasons.
     
    In my experience, the best way to be profitable in real estate brokerage is to list and sell lots of homes. I have yet to see this uber-IDX business model be organically profitable on its own.  Millions in venture capital makes a splash, but does not equate to sustainable long term profitability.
     

    • MattFullerGRI

      August 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm

       @J Philip Faranda I think “ogranically profitable” goes to the heart of this debate about various business models. Venture capital or other external funding can be a great starter or source of leverage, but if you can’t pay the bills then the lights eventually have to go out…

  3. StuSiegel

    August 14, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    @gregrobertson How does that explain anything?

  4. JonathanDalton

    August 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Real life lesson – I get a ton of IDX rental leads. Clients that come through on the IDX, because they are shopping homes and not agents, tend to be more than a little flighty. And that’s okay, as long as you know what you get.
     
    RealEstate.com’s plan isn’t much different than what I’ve long planned should Arizona ever open a state-wide MLS. I’ll be the most referringest mother you’ve ever seen. Still won’t pay the mortgage on its own, but it’ll give a little bit of a bump.IDX is very, very helpful in obtaining the David Knox prototypical “just be there” transactions. But since it all comes down to being in the right place at the right time, sustainability is tough. A consistent listing base still is the key – the buyers agents can do whatever they want to attract buyers and, honestly, we ought to root for them. Because when they do their job, we get paid. Not a bad set up.(Quick note – please spare me the b.s. totals about the tremendous number of leads you get through IDX, okay? You’re like the guy in Singles who collected 20 numbers of 20 women you’ll never call, never see in the daylight, 20 numbers you got just so you can say you got 20 numbers.) 

    • MattFullerGRI

      August 14, 2012 at 9:52 pm

       @JonathanDalton 

    • MattFullerGRI

      August 14, 2012 at 9:55 pm

       @JonathanDalton In my experience, the leads I get from a certain unnamed partner program tend to be the most skeptical and hardest to win over, but depending on the complexity of the transaction they can quickly become big fans. I’d very much agree with you that building a business on IDX is all about volume, and definitely a challenge. My experience with IDX leads hasn’t been that they are more flighty, just less serious shoppers overall. Which is perhaps a different way of saying the same thing. You can only sell a house once (unless you want it to cost you more than your commission) so I’ll take 1 solid lead over 50 flaky ones any day of the week…

      • 365frederick

        August 15, 2012 at 11:13 am

         @MattFullerGRI We’ve flitted about from various third party partner programs over the last 20 years, some have paid off for a while, some not at all. The leads from those sites are not the best leads, no doubt. I do think, however that the actions of consumers have changed, and the days of the domination of the Trulia’s and Zillow’s are numbered. Melinnials have grown up with search, and are seeking much more in-depth information. Information about neighborhoods, lifestyles and local expertise. These are the specialty of the local agent, not the big national information brokers. Just having massive amounts of listings on your site, although a draw, isn’t enough.

  5. kenbrand

    August 15, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Human nature views competition as threat.  But is it really?  I guess it is if you don’t have Top Of Mind Awareness as a trustworthy go to pro within your network.  Or you don’t have a network your rule, or people don’t like you, then you have to rely on leads from strangers. If you do rely on leads from strangers than instead of earning trust and choice, you pay for a contact and take your chances.  The challenge is if you don’t rule a network and people apparently don’t trust you, you’re not going to hot-dog your way to the bank chasing strangers because as most research, experience, observation and feedback from actual consumers at events like Hear It Direct all point to the same thing – the vast majority of consumers (me and you) we don’t like to be harassed by strangers.  Strangers chasing strangers who don’t like strangers is a hard road to hoe.  Bottom line, who cares.  Care about the people you know, the people you work, play, socialize with and around.  Make yourself the go to person for everything home, family, community, lifestyle and real estate.  Sure people may shop around the interent to dream and research, when it comes time to buy or sell, most of us would chose  a trusted pro……if we know one.  The question is are we know that way.  My 2 cents.  Back to work now people.  

    • MattFullerGRI

      August 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm

       @kenbrand Ken – I think most agents would agree with you. I guess the question is do you think it will be possible (in the next 5 – 10 years) to replicate the trusted network you describe with an online site along the lines of something in the ZTR model? 

      • kenbrand

        August 15, 2012 at 4:40 pm

         @MattFullerGRI Who knows Matt.  We have to keep our head on a well oiled swivel and minds and imaginations wide open, even when we think some of the satellite schemes are dumb things for dummer people.  It’s not likely that ZTR will replace what it takes to create Top Of Mind Awareness anytime soon, but it does prey on the an army of hopeful soliders who have to buy attention and opportunity, instead of earn it or create themselves. Facebook is an example of a modern tool that when used well helps to create Top Of Mind.  So, who knows.  I sleep with one eye open.  cheers
         

  6. michaeltudorie

    August 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    @RealtyNinja very very informative articles. RT

    • RealtyNinja

      August 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm

      @michaeltudorie thanks michael 🙂

  7. Sean Goerss

    September 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Matt, just read this article after referencing a similar one my tech tuneup I do with agents, great stuff, I’m going to share it!I think we have to be real careful about differentiating a vendor from a competitor.  

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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:

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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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