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Opinion Editorials

Neighborcity.com alleges NAR, MRIS, NorthstarMLS violate anti-trust laws: op/ed

Neighborcity.com has filed a countersuit against two MLS operators, naming NAR as a co-defendant, claiming anti-trust laws are being violated by all three.

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Allegations that two MLS operators violate anti-trust laws

In the interest of full disclosure, I should start by telling you that while researching this editorial, I discovered I’m almost a zero. At least, according to neighborcity.com, which is in the news for recently filing countersuit against the NorthstarMLS and MRIS, naming the National Association of Realtors (NAR) as a co-defendant.

The operator of neighborcity.com, American Home Realty Network (AHRN), alleges both MLS operators are in violation of anti-trust laws, and that the original copyright suit brought by the two MLS operators is just a bogus claim to prevent AHRN from exercising their “right to inform American consumers to assist them in making choices on the biggest purchases of their lives.”

According to their own website, neighborcity.com – owned and operated by AHRN, is an “operational brokerage” by which I believe they mean “paper brokerage” since they don’t actually employ agents. Their business model is, as far as I can tell, based upon receiving referral fees from “non-paper brokerages” that have “non-paper agents” to assist “non-paper consumers” in buying “non-paper houses.” Although, to be fair, buying all those “real” houses does actually generate quite a lot of paper.

Operating across different regions

AHRN/neighborcity.com operates with a San Francisco address as a California “brokerage” but the two lawsuits involve MLS services that are far, far, far from the sunny hills and valleys of San Francisco. Which gets to one part of the problem: the collision we’ve repeatedly seen between the competing business models of geographic “flesh-and-blood” brokerages and virtual websites that want to make money in the realm of real estate.

Under CA state law, a real estate brokerage is defined as including anyone that “solicits prospective sellers or purchasers of [real estate],” but are you really a brokerage in St. Paul Minnesota (Northstar) or Maryland (MRIS) if your mailing address is in San Francisco, you don’t employ agents in either Minnesota or Maryland, and your business model is based upon taking a cut of an industry derivative? In other words, do you deserve to be called a stockbroker if you don’t actually buy or sell stocks, but provide information about stock brokers and make a profit every time you refer a friend or relative to a preferred stock broker?

…and then the internet came along…

While I don’t know the complete history behind the evolution of California brokerage law and it’s definition, I’m willing to make a friendly bet that the definition of brokerage has been expanded over the years and widely interpreted to consider any plausible behavior that pertains to real estate as engaging in “brokerage.”

Why? Again, I don’t know for sure, but my hunch is to make it easier for the state to protect consumers from fraudulent or misleading advertising, and to make it easier to bring claims of fair housing violations against a wider audience of individuals. Historically, a broad definition of a brokerage gave the state greater regulatory control over a business that was by its nature (and existing technological limitations) inherently local. And then the internet came along…

Neighborcity’s fight for information

I’m sure that neighborcity.com will argue that they bring value to the real estate transaction by providing “hidden” information to the consumer that those un-fair people-based brokerages want to hide. However, providing information about a market isn’t the same as providing that market. I can tell you all day long which cardiologist is the cutest, but that doesn’t mean you should trust me to crack your chest open and put some stitches in your ticker.

In addition to the fact that they aren’t capable of actually closing a transaction involving a home because, you know, that would involve something more than paper (like a human being), the information that neighborcity.com does provide seems abysmal. Which is where that disclaimer from the introduction becomes relevant. Apparently, I suck.

How I don’t match their algorithm

I’m not sure exactly why, but my best guess is that I’m almost a zero (07 out of 100 to be exact) because I work as part of a two-person team. We’ve been a team for more than a decade (ie, we aren’t just a “paper team”), and sometimes we list properties under my MLS ID. Other times we use Britton’s ID. Sometimes our closings are reported under my MLS ID, other times they are reported with her ID. Go look either one of us up on neighborcity.com, and you’ll quickly discover that despite our great reputation in the SF brokerage community, the incredible number of referrals that power our business, our raving testimonials, and our great Yelp reviews that… we both suck. Because the “operational brokerage” that is neighborcity.com isn’t designed to deal with anything that doesn’t match their algorithm.

Well, fine, you might say, teams are an exception to the rule, no algorithm designed by incredibly super-smart engineers with advanced computer science degrees can ever get everything right (but we should still trust the algorithm over our flesh and blood friends)…

Ok then, how about this example? A home we listed in the San Francisco MLS four days ago isn’t in the neighborcity.com database. I searched by street name “4064 17th” and zip code “94114” and then tried multiple variations with no success. So finally I gave up and just exasperatedly typed in the exact MLS listing number. And then I got results! Neighborcity.com returned one listing – a house located in Hesperia, California that sold in November of 2010 for $100,000. Which is almost exactly like my listing in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco for $1,695,000. Except that the home in Hesperia is 425 miles to the south-east of San Francisco and $1,595,000 cheaper. Oh, and it isn’t even for sale anymore. Yeah, that.

Bad information is not valuable information

The usual argument is that the consumer benefits when the most information possible is made widely available. As I hope the two examples above demonstrate, bad information is not valuable information (if you recently upgraded to iOS 6, you’re probably with me on this). So let’s flip the argument around. Do the owners of the data have the right to ensure that it is used accurately?

I say that yes, absolutely, the owners of the original data have the right to ensure that their data is used accurately and responsibly. Why? It isn’t to protect me or my flesh-and-blood business. I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.

Consumers are the biggest losers when inaccurate information is gussied-up and trotted about as beautifully accurate data that can be relied upon. And if you look at the disclaimer page of neighborcity.com you’ll be delighted to discover that “[AHRN]… disclaims any warranties concerning the accuracy, quality, title or timeliness of the content on the [neighborcity.com] website.”

This is exactly why I support NAR, Northstar MLS, and MRIS in their lawsuit to ensure that their data is used in a way that helps consumers.

Matt Fuller, GRI spends most of his waking hours obsessing over all things San Francisco real estate. He is half of the successful JacksonFuller real estate team, and also writes at the San Francisco real estate blog about all things SF. He is also a father, husband, foodie, avid runner, and slave to his Newfoundland and Basset Hound dogs.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. victorlund

    October 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I can’t imagine why MLSs or Brokers would care about this.

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Opinion Editorials

Apprenticeships: How focused training can jumpstart your career

(EDITORIAL) Apprenticeships have been a buzzword recently, but if you haven’t looked into it, we asked the experts to tell us all about them.

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When President Trump announced he’d be opening up more federal dollars for apprenticeship programs to improve the economy, business owners’ ears perked up. That interest is now trickling down to employees, especially people considering a new career or a pivot.

I had a meaningful conversation last year with the folks behind Digital Creative Institute (an apprenticeship program that seeks to bridge the gap between higher education and job experience in the digital marketing field) not only to learn about their plans to impact the central Texas market, but how apprenticeships could alter the workforce in years to come. Will the model supplant internships? What of coding schools or hell, even higher education? If you ask Europeans, they’ll probably say yes, while Americans are new to this old term.

To dig into how apprenticeships could speed up a career move, we reached back out to the folks at DCI and asked them to spell it out. Alexis Bonilla from their leadership team penned the following:

Maybe you graduated with a B.A. in theater, started a blog, and found a great love for marketing. It could’ve been that you had a passion for video, but instead of finding yourself creating films, you found yourself telling a brand’s story. Or, by some stretch of the imagination, you went from scientist, to teacher, to social media strategist. All of these are real stories that belong to real people. The two things they have in common:

  1. They all started somewhere completely different from where they would end up.
  2. They all used apprenticeships to transform their careers.

The key is to find that one thing you love to do and run after it full force – because the truth is – you’re probably going to spend over 90,000 hours of your life working at it. Only about 30 percent of adults are actually engaged or excited about their work. You can either spend that huge portion of your life doing something out of “because you have to” or learn how you can invest in a career that will keep you on your toes – constantly learning and actively growing.

Digital platforms are always changing, and lifelong learning is becoming absolutely necessary. If you think about it, most Chief Marketing Officers among companies today didn’t start out by being formally trained in automation software, paid search, Google Analytics, or other digital tools. That’s because much of it didn’t exist when they started their careers. They most likely engaged in a very intentional learning process or self-styled apprenticeship. Their willingness to learn turned them into the best in their field, and the same can happen for you.

We’ve identified a few myths that might be holding you back from standing out among your peers and how you can come out on top!

Myth: You can only find a position in the field you majored in.
Truth: Your major doesn’t determine your career path.

Only 27 percent of college grads actually have a job related to what they studied in college. The fact of the matter is this – a lot of people don’t want to continue their learning once they have their Bachelor’s degree. Typically, if they do, they pursue graduate school, whose students often face challenges that are similar to what undergraduate students experience upon graduation.

This whole idea of “once and done” is over, to the extent that leaders in our government are recognizing it and working on implementing new, innovative ways of learning in the United States.

A few ways you might work on reinventing yourself as you establish or change your career:

  • Start freelancing – We know that working for free doesn’t sound great on paper, but the portfolio you’ll come out with is all the ROI you’ll need. When you have a variety of experience, whether it be a branding project you pick up, a video you edit, or a logo you make for a friend, employers recognize that as experience. Just be sure to pick up projects that are relevant to the direction you’re looking to take your career.
  • Perfect your resume.
  • Turn your work into an awesome portfolio – It’s one thing to do the work and another thing to organize it in a way that is visually appealing to an employer. Around 53 percent of employers say that your resume is not enough. You’re going to need that extra differentiator, so invest in crafting the perfect portfolio to have a place for all of that hard work. We recommend Pathbrite for an easy digital portfolio experience.
  • Connect with a learning community – Whether it be early post-grad or a drastic career change, apprenticeships are a perfect way to engage with a community that pushes you and challenges you. And what if we told you apprenticeships can take the place of graduate school?

So you’ve probably been asking yourself: “What is apprenticeship?”

The historical or traditional definition for an apprentice is a person legally bound to a master craftsman in order to learn a trade.

Think professions such as carpenter, electrician or welder. But those were the old days – apprenticeship is now applied to all professions and modern skills.

Apprenticeship has evolved into more of a partnership: where one person learns a trade or skill by working with someone more experienced. Think of an internship, where you’re at a company to accelerate your learning while you’re still in school, but more advanced, long-term, and with deeper levels of commitment. Instead of being at a school, you’re at a full-time paid position, applying your learning hands-on with the support of a learning coach, mentors, and instructors.

Myth: Between my Bachelor’s degree and staying up to date with online articles, I’m already set to advance my career.
Truth: Coaching and mentoring are two of the best investments you can make for your career after professors are out of the picture.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of you have had a coach of some type in your lifetime. Whether it be a sports coach, a choir instructor, an invested teacher, or even a driven parent, you’ve had someone in your circle of trust that pushed you toward your goals. Well, a career coach isn’t much different.

It’s easy to come up with reasons as to why you don’t need one. “I’m too old for a coach”, “it costs time and money that I don’t have”, “I’ve been through college and got all the help I needed”. You can make all of the excuses you can think of, but it’s pretty hard to argue with the results.

What does the development process look like with a career coach?

You define tangible goals, your coach guides you through practical ways to achieve those goals, and after a defined period of time you evaluate your progress. The retention rate is extremely high. Generally, people are extremely happy with what they gain from having a career coach. Fully 96 percent of people who were coached say they would repeat the process and 86 percent said they at least made their investment back.

What’s holding you back from identifying a coach or mentor and reaching out for support?

Myth: Post-college education isn’t necessary to be successful in my career.
Truth: Rigorous self education, graduate school, and innovative learning like digital apprenticeships are essential.

Continued learning and specialized training are valuable to your career. They are so valuable, in fact, that multiple governments are either investing, or beginning to invest, in new, innovative models.

For example, if you’ve been to the UK, you’ll know that apprenticeships are a big deal. A huge percentage of workers develop their skills through an apprentice-like experience. Since 2004, the U.K. has been actively creating more apprenticeships through supporting employers. The huge success of apprenticeship programs led to the creation of a National Apprenticeship Levy that requires almost all employers to offer apprenticeships.

AAA Apprenticeships has successfully scaled their digital apprenticeships to serve 6,000 apprentices in 22 locations across the country – now it’s time to apply that to the U.S.

Why don’t we have a similar model in the U.S.? It’s harder for businesses to start apprenticeships on their own when it isn’t their core competency – but apprenticeship programs are popping up to fill that gap.

The Obama Administration earmarked $100 million to create more examples of modern apprenticeships. The intention is to fuel more success stories through individual programs around the country; creating positive momentum for a larger movement and scaled strategy.

President Trump recently announced a $200 million plan, nearly doubling what was invested last term, to create more apprenticeships.

This is just the beginning of a major movement to make marketplace aligned learning more accessible. But don’t wait for some new national program to support your learning path, start owning your learning today by outlining a strategy to continuously develop yourself into a highly sought after digital expert.

So don’t wait. This is for anyone that finds themselves in a place to pursue a new job or launch their career. Ask yourself, “What’s next?” Take that step – it’s worth it.

If it’s something you’re interested in, the first digital marketing specific apprenticeship in the U.S. has launched – and right here in Austin, TX. Digital Creative Institute’s next Austin cohort launches in January 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

Is working less the key to productivity?

(EDITORIAL) It’s that time of year where we obsess about our habits and productivity, but maybe we’re overthinking the whole thing…

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The “work smarter, not harder” mantra has for a long time been, in consensus, about a simple truth: the massive amount of work that we have is kicking your productivity in a few ways, for example:

  • Our never ending work load is further exacerbated from technology that removes the boundary of work and home.
  • The addiction of multi-tasking makes us feel good, but for the most part leads to massive inefficiencies because our brains aren’t designed to do that – they just switch rapidly (and clumsily) between different activities. A little primer is here.
  • We have competing roles and priorities – spouses, caretakers, gig economy participants, careers, business owners, realtors, clients, professionals, friends, dog owners, cat servants – that engage us and that give us more and more to do.

And the never ending work spiral leads to a number of troubles – inferior work, emotional breakdowns, inappropriate Netflix procrastination, sleep deprivation, burnout, relationship troubles, and more. Basically – it sucks for your health.

Having too much to do, sadly, for many of us is a fact of life. There are a few ways to help get around it by working less (aka streamline your efforts):

  • Have a to-do list – they are awesome. Put it in a planner, use outlook or Google Calendar, etc.
  • Use a science driven list like an Eisenhower Matrix! What’s that you say? Glad you asked: an Eisenhower matrix pulls from the wisdom of Dwight Eisenhower and encourages you consider what is Urgent (as in what requires urgency, immediate attention), and what is Important (tasks that contribute to our long term). It’s a simple 2*2 Grid. Basically it helps move away from the idea that we conflate urgent with important, and we are basically always in a highly reactive and “shocked mode.” I like this tool because it’s a great way to prioritize – lean more about it from our buddies at Trello.
  • Engage delegation and love it. Can you pass it on to someone else? Can you use it as an educational or teaching tool? Does it have to be your mess?
  • Eliminate things that don’t bring value – in one of my favorite books “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life,” Mark Manson puts it brilliantly: What problems do you want to have? What things can we get rid of? We do things out of obligation or a feeling of “I must” that doesn’t correspond to reality.
  • Embrace automation. Whether it’s auto-bill pay or automatic deletion or automatic lists, if you can automate it and it gets the quality you want – engage it. If you use social media a lot – can you schedule your posts? Can you automatically reblog content? Or go crazy, get a Roomba.
  • Practice self-care, dude. Eat better. Go workout. Walk in the middle of the day. Get on your workplace wellness plan. Sleep. Repeat healthy behaviors.

In general, the assertion that we do too much is very true.

Most of that comes from the overwhelming sense of “now” that we experience. Take a breath and explore what you can do to either eliminate, delegate, or prioritize effectively so you can spend more time doing what’s important, and maybe eventually, we can marathon TV shows guilt free more often.

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Opinion Editorials

If Reddit goes IPO, will it have to shed its soul?

(EDITORIAL) Reddit is known as a firebrand, a bastion of free speech, but if they go public, will they be able to remain as they are now?

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Reddit, the eighth-most popular website on the Internet, is reportedly considering an IPO. As a site valued at over 1.8 billion dollars, this is great news for the company itself – but how much of Reddit will remain if the IPO goes through?

Reddit’s history is steeped in controversy, from minor incidents such as invasion of privacy and a few creepily quirky community members to allegations of child pornography and egregious hate speech. While Reddit’s policy has allowed it to tighten posting restrictions regarding the latter two, the fact remains that Reddit – for all its usefulness – is viewed by many as a ticking time bomb.

An IPO would certainly lend back to Reddit a degree of credibility not seen since its inception, but the problem is that Reddit itself (the haven of free speech and original content that made it so popular in the first place) might not survive the offering. Given the platform’s controversial past, many believe it likely that stakeholders would move to tighten further the restrictions on the platform, ultimately ending a significant era in Reddit’s history.

Admittedly, Reddit has come a long way since its early days of supporting user-created content regardless of persuasion: this past year saw entire subreddits shut down for violating the terms of use regarding hate speech, and the platform certainly has cracked down on illegal and abusive content. Unfortunately, the history might be too much to shake off going forward, which is why we think that Reddit’s branding won’t be a part of the final IPO.

The platform’s developers’ dedication to free speech and truth-seeking is what makes Reddit so fantastic, and that’s not liable to change – it’s the most marketable aspect of the site, after all – but perhaps the rationale behind going public lies in a sense of duty rather than routine. 2017 has seen some of the most reprehensible instances of false reporting and deliberate misguidance in recent history; maybe Reddit’s team feels that they can provide a stable news platform at the cost of some personality.

At any rate, the IPO itself isn’t set in stone, and is unlikely to take place for quite some time. As the situation develops, it will be interesting to see if Reddit embraces its past, or sheds it altogether.

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