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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.

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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

Funny females are less likely to be promoted

(CAREER) Science says that the funnier a female, the less likely she is to be promoted. Uhh…

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Faceless keyboard warriors around the world have been — incorrectly — lamenting that women just aren’t funny for years now (remember the “Ghostbusters” remake backlash?).The good news is they are obviously wrong. The bad news? When women dare to reveal their comedic side in the workplace they are often perceived as “disruptive” while men are rewarded.

That’s right. Women not only have to worry about being constantly interrupted, receiving raises less frequently than men despite asking for them equally as often, and still making nearly $10,000 less than men each year, but now they have to worry about being too funny at the office.

A recent University of Arizona study asked more than 300 people to read the fictional resume of a clothing store manager with the gender-neutral name “Sam” and watch a video presentation featuring Sam. The videos came in four versions: a serious male speaker, a humorous male speaker, a serious female speaker and a humorous female speaker.

According to the researchers, “humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females.” Translation: Male workers earn respect for being funny while their funny female coworkers are often seen in a more negative light.

There are, of course, several reasons this could be the case. The researchers behind this particular study pointed to the stereotype that women are more dedicated to their families than their work, and being perceived as humorous could convey the sense they don’t take their work as seriously as men.

Psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon offered another take, putting the blame directly on Sam the clothing store manager, calling out their seemingly narcissistic behavior and how society’s tolerance for such behavior is “distinctly gender-based.” She says these biases go back to the social programming of our childhoods and the roles mothers and fathers tend to play in our upbringing.

So what are women supposed to do with this information?

Gourgechon’s status quo advice includes telling women to not stop being funny, but “to be aware of the the feelings and subjectivities of the people around you.” While recommending an empathetic stance isn’t necessarily bad advice, it still puts the onus on women to change their behavior, worry about what everyone else thinks and attempt to please everyone around them.

We already know that professional women can have an extremely hard time remaining true to themselves in the workplace — especially women in the tech industry — and authenticity is often a privilege saved for those who conform to the accepted culture. We obviously still have a long way to go before women stop being “punished” for being funny at work, but things seem to be progressing, however slowly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her thoughts last year on the improvements that have been made and the changes that still need to happen, including encouraging men to step up and do their part. In the wake of the #metoo movement, CNBC recommended five things men can do to support women at work. There are amazing women in STEM positions around the world we can all admire and shine a spotlight on.

All of these steps — both big and small — will continue to chip away at the gender inequality that permeates today’s workplaces. And perhaps one day in the near future, female clothing store manager Sam will be allowed to be just as funny as male clothing store manager Sam.

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Opinion Editorials

Two common business myths that could get you sued

(EDITORIAL) Two misconceptions in the business world can either make or break a small business.

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When you’re an entrepreneur with a small staff, you may be in the habit of running your team casually.

While there’s nothing wrong with creating a casual environment for your team (most people function better in a relaxed environment), it’s wise to pay close attention to certain legal details to make sure you’re covered.

It’s easy to misinterpret certain aspects of labor law since there is a lot of misinformation about what you can and cannot do inside of an employee-employer relationship. And since labor laws vary from state to state, it can be even more confusing.

As an entrepreneur, it might be strange to think of yourself as an employer. But when you’re the boss, there’s no way around it.

Here are two employment myths you might face as an entrepreneur along with the information you need to discern what’s actually true. Because these myths carry a lot of risk to your business, it’s important that you contact an attorney for advice.

1. Employees can waive their meal breaks without compensation

It’s a common assumption that any agreement in writing is an enforceable, legally binding contract, no matter what it contains. And for the most part, that’s true.

However, there are certain rights that cannot be signed away so easily.

For example, many states in the US have strict regulations around when and how employees can forfeit their unpaid meal breaks.

While meal breaks aren’t required at the Federal level, they are mandated at the state level and each state has different requirements that must be followed by employers. While some states allow employees to waive their meal breaks, on the other end of that the employer is usually required to compensate the employee.

For example, in California an employee can waive their 30-minute unpaid meal break only if they do so in writing and their scheduled shift is no more than 6 hours. In other words, when a shift is more than 6 hours, the meal break cannot be waived.

Additionally, when an employee waives their unpaid meal break, they must be paid for an on duty meal break and be compensated with an extra hour of pay for the day.

Vermont, on the other hand, provides no specific provisions for meal breaks and according to the Department of Labor, “Employees are to be given ’reasonable opportunities’ during work periods to eat and use toilet facilities in order to protect the health and hygiene of the employee.”

As you can see, some states have specific regulations while others have general rules that can be interpreted differently by each employer. It’s best not to make any assumptions and contact a labor law attorney to help you determine exactly what laws apply to you.

2. You own the copyright to all employee works

So you’ve hired both an employee and an independent contractor to design some graphics for your website. You might assume you automatically own the copyright to those graphics. After all, if you paid money, shouldn’t you own it?

While you may have paid a small fortune for your graphics, you may not be the legal copyright holder.

Employees vs. independent contractors:

When your employee creates a work (like graphic design) as part of their job, it’s automatically considered a “work made for hire,” which means you own the copyright. An independent contractor, however, is different.

While any legitimate work made for hire will give you the copyright, just because you created a work for hire agreement with your independent contractor doesn’t mean the work actually falls under the category of a work made for hire.

According to the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 101) a work made for hire is defined as “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas.”

This means that unless your graphic design work (or other work you paid for) meets these requirements, it’s not a work made for hire.

In order to obtain the copyright, you need to obtain a copyright transfer directly from the creator, even though you’ve already paid for the work.

The boundaries of intellectual property rights can be confusing. You can protect your business by playing it safe and not making any assumptions before consulting an attorney to help you discern the specific laws in your state.

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Living as a 7 in the Instagram world of 11s (why hotties rule IG)

(OPINION) Hot people have it, not people want it, Instagram perpetuates it – beauty, and it’s a prime ingredient for success.

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Who runs the world? Girls. Who runs the social media world (read: Instagram)? Hot girls. And hot guys.

Social media has always fascinated me. When I was a freshman in high school I got a Facebook – all you older millennials that had to wait ‘til college can hop off because I wasn’t allowed to have Myspace / Xanga / any other predecessor social sites.

That Facebook allowed me to connect to my camp friends, one of whom lived in a different country, family in other states and the friends that I saw every day.

My story is pretty predictable after that. Social media blew up, I did my millennial duty to help the creation and exposure of new sites and now here we are. Living in a society where hot girls on Instagram selling tea that makes you poo make more money than that girl with multiple degrees.

I’m not gonna blame millennials, but I kind of am, but everyone had a hand in this.

As a society we value celebrity. When I was a child that value manifested into society with tabloid magazines and copying haircuts (hello, Rachel Green). As a teen, that value on celebrity pivoted into the daytime/nighttime / anytime talk show. Now, as an adult that missed the opportunity to make an ascent into stardom via YouTube, celebrity is valued by way of social media.

EVEN CELEBRITIES HAVE THEIR CELEBRITY VALUE MEASURE BY SOCIAL MEDIA FOLLOWERS.

Don’t get me wrong. Several *actually* talented and wonderful people have leveraged social media in niche ways and created a nice lifestyle for themselves. However, I’m also going to assert that 80% of social media influencers / modern celebrities would be nothing if they weren’t hot.

Singers that have worked their way up the ranks with 6 second Vine video snippets and two minute YouTube videos can have insanely gifted voices but it also doesn’t hurt that were nice to look at while they hit that E5 note.

Artists and illustrators that have busted their butts and their hands creating and making stunning visual pieces can create one-of-a-kind masterpieces but it also helps that they throw the occasional full-glam face selfie.

That one guy or gal that posts photos of (seemingly) delectable food can have grown a 100% organic following by creating content that people want to see but it will also never be a negative for them to post a photo of them in their swimsuit on that tropical island they got paid to visit.

And please hear me when I say this: being attractive helps offline too. The amount of times my insanely attractive guy friend has profited from his jawline jaw line is almost as crazy as the amount of times my unfairly gorgeous gal pal has reaped the benefits of having phenomenal facial symmetry. Hell, even I’ve used a hair flip and batted an eye in lieu of twisting arms.

I’m pretty sure there’s some science somewhere that says that its natural for people to be inherently attracted to attractive people. I’m not sure why that is, but at least in my life, I’ve found it to be true. Unashamedly (and slightly shamefully) I’ve listened to authority figures better when they were kind on the eyes, I’ve gone to the cash register with the prettier human, I’ve followed the accounts of people who created an aesthetic I vibed with more.

Sometimes it just feels like that if a quarter of the pictures on a highly followed account – skilled or otherwise — weren’t of the person made up, or shirtless, or provocatively posed, they might not have the same level of following or at least engagement. Honestly, it makes the whole exchange feel insincere (which is a funny thing to say about internet interactions to begin with). Like, even if I buy that gadget / get those clothes / put that makeup on / fill-in-the-blank from that #ad on your Instagram story the exact way you do I still won’t look like you.

Reminds me of that old saying, “you can put lipstick on a pig but its still a pig.” You can buy that stuff off that one hottie’s Instagram but you’re still going to be you.

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