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Real estate associations, Realtor members and their unique challenges

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Photograph: ITV

It’s no wonder that Realtor professionals are placing more and more pressure upon the associations tasked with connecting them to the latest and greatest technologies. The hysteria caused by the rapid growth of Zillow and Trulia along with the surge of mobile technologies, social media, and the idea of do-it-yourself real estate empowered by the likes of Google and popular television shows geared to this phenomenon are certainly tasking industry professionals in more ways than can be counted. Realtors seeking to maintain relevancy are demanding bleeding edge solutions and in most cases coming up empty handed.

Although the associations themselves do not design and develop their own systems, they have tasked themselves with the feat of connecting membership with the latest technology, never anticipating the wide birth of technological advances the real estate industry has sustained over the past 10 to 15 years. From the sharing of local MLS data with third parties, to a more personal shift in communications in relation to smartphone and mobile computing, it seems that the problem of buying an up to date PC only to be obsolete the next day is now compounded by a generation of consumer accepting and adopting the concept of online transactions coupled with the user experiences provided by consumer facing search products designed to capitalize on this digital evolution.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that there is a growing frustration among Realtors that search no longer begins locally, and when it does, local real estate search looks nothing like branded search competitors. Local Realtors can obviously overcome some of this by providing the best IDX products on the market but ultimately, they remain in competition with local search provided not only by associations, but also by branded search, and increasing numbers of SEO savvy Realtors. The first impression is either highly negative or positive, yet insanely competitive depending on who holds first position in search engines in that particular market. Realtor associations are walking a very tight rope in bolstering the local Realtor brand, not competing with Realtors or Brokers themselves, yet delivering the sharpest and most innovative first and last stop solution for consumers.

This crucial element is often overlooked by associations in the frustration of Realtor membership as it’s just one of many symptomatic issues that plague Realtors in terms of relevancy and associations in terms of living up to their mission statements. Why is this so critical? It’s not specifically search that is so critical, it’s the first point of contact for consumers that is the true issue in whatever first contact that comes to pass, whether it’s a client gateway, an IDX, a website itself, or even an MLS. Realtors we’ve studied see no difference in any of these products in terms of first and last impression and consumer experience believing that services they (the Realtor) do not control cannot and should not diminish their ultimate value in the eyes of consumers.

Many Realtors do not understand that the consumer facing real estate search that associations may provide is not the MLS itself, nor that the MLS itself is not a consumer facing product, nor the difference between an IDX data layer from an MLS, nor do they care. Education on these subjects is needed but often ignored by most associations as associations have relied on vendors to just magically produce acceptable products for associations to pass along to member consumers. But the expectations have drastically changed over time as the perception of many Realtors is that some vendors are in competition with them directly, or that their products are antiquated in comparison to most consumer facing products.

Advances once ignored by the industry are now in demand by Realtors but plagued (yet blessed) by membership-driven leadership with term limits, slow turn around time by vendors, and balancing the unique expectations of each and every member with their personal vision of what is bleeding edge yet not competitive with the membership itself, not to mention the political business interests inherently built into any Realtor association. The only thing that comes with many part-time cooks and supervisors in a kitchen is chaos and burnt food, all of which is being fueled by the latest 140 character sound bite on why Realtors are going to die like dinosaurs, or more realistically, like the legacy travel or stock trading industries.

Although Realtors and consumers are captivated by 140 character headlines, they’re less inclined to actually attempt to understand the complexities that make up the headlines they’re reading and repeating. When a Realtor flippantly spouts one of these sound bites that lend to the demise of the Realtor brand, they can seldom tell you where they heard it or argue to support it, thus lending to the ignorance shared among many real estate professionals who’ve fallen victim to the hysteria of change.

It’s true, in our opinion, that the real estate revolution was put down, but the evolution of the real estate industry has by no means ceased. The battle for relevancy has internalized and is spreading from within, and in some cases are placing the associations’ next move in the cross hairs of Realtor membership. The questions on the table for associations and Realtor membership are abundant and complicated, as is the relationship members have with brokers and branded search providers, but one thing is clear, it isn’t just Realtors themselves that are in question in terms of relevancy, but Realtor associations are as well in terms of what they are, who they serve, as is their ultimate purpose in the eyes of their membership.

Associations must redefine themselves today to get ahead of these systemic issues beginning with their CEOs. The root answer is leadership, and a clear and concise vision for the board and it’s membership with a hands on approach to solving these unique challenges. Visionary leadership from the top down is the only viable answer when it comes to uniting a membership behind a purpose and a mission. At the end of the day, the only thing that tames Hell’s Kitchen is a coherent strategy designed by a world class Chef.

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. kevin troll tomlinson

    May 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Good post. I wish I got points for commenting, like AR

  2. Teresa Boardman

    May 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I am not sure I get your point on this one. I know the homes searches are important but buyers can search for homes pretty much anywhere and I don't care where they search. It is a shame we gave our data away but this is the information age and our roles have expanded beyond that of gate keeper.

  3. Matthew Rathbun

    May 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    I've had a large personal shift in ideology in the past 18 months or so… I've become indifferent about the Association. I get what support I can from them and don't expect them to get me on the bleeding edge.

    It's time for agents to take responsibility to learn what we need on our own and stop blaming our brokers and Associations for our own lack of knowledge.

    As far as data goes, it's out – now it's time to do what we should have been doing all along… concentrate on service and not being the keepers of the data.

  4. Missy Caulk

    May 9, 2011 at 6:53 am

    "What are you doing for me?" What is the value proposition?

    This is the question our Association is dealing with, as we just hired Kevin McQueen to come in and do an assessment. Well that was the 2nd most response. The first was, "we want data sharing to be easier."

    Of course never mind there are updates all the time from the staff and very few members click them open or read them.

    I agree with you Benn, in the fact that Associations are redefining themselves or are having too. Technology is above them most of the time.

    We currently use mlxchange and have been waiting for it to be Safari, FoxFire compliant for years. We finally were told they were beta testing in Austin with a product called Fusion.

    But, they are using flash to upgrade, now how is that gonna work out for you with Ipads and Iphones….NOT.

    Us, Mac users (which is becoming more and more in Ann Arbor) are frustrated beyond belief.

  5. Eric Holmes

    May 9, 2011 at 11:49 am

    I think if you look at the demographics of each association you'll get a better idea of why they're slow, cumbersome dinosaurs. For every forward thinking, go-getter Realtor that's in the business there are ten "old school" agents that wish we were using dot matrix printers, mls books and the only competition in town were FSBO's. If you think about it the Association is doing exactly what is expected of them by the majority of it's members. They don't want change and they don't want cutting edge. They want to hop in a DeLorean, kick that puppy up 88 mph and head back to 1985.

    The issue then becomes do you turn your back on the Association because you're not being represented or do you get involved and change the culture. Me, I'm getting involved. I don't know all the answers or for that matter half the questions, but I read AgentGenius and a few other blogs so I've got a head start on the "old school" agents that are out there. Most of them think that if they put their head in the sand then this will all go away. I'm going to go by and kick those agents in the rear and tell them to hop on board because this train is only going one direction.

  6. John Rowles

    May 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    >The battle for relevancy has internalized and is spreading from within..

    Sooner or later Brokers are going to realize that content=power.

    Today, the local MLS, IDX sites, Realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow and the rest use the *content that brokers give them* (GIVE them!!!) to beat the broker's own domain in Google. Now, we can add Realogy to the list of companies with brand-driven PageRank that will be competing with local brokers using content those local brokers originated.

    Maybe, just maybe, that will be a bridge too far and brokers will demand the separation of the "church" of the local board and all it does outside of organizing listings and the "state" of MLS+IDX, but I'm not holding my breath.

    Brokers who are ready to recognize the need to put the homebuyer's interest ahead of their own perceived self interest today are invited to MainRhode.com/contact.shtm where they can request our new whitepaper on "search reciprocity".

    In a search reciprocity network, brokers agree to trade traffic at the search result level for their own listings so that the homebuyer is put in touch with the only customer service rep the industry has to offer that actually knows anything about the property in question — the listing agent.

    The net result is that Google will be able to tell that the listing broker's domain is the most relevant domain for any particular listing, because every other broker domain on the network will point to it — end of story. Since the whole thing is open source and cloud hosted, it is affordable and scalable.

    To paraphrase Yakov Smirnoff, "What a concept".

  7. Jim Whatley

    May 9, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    We are lucky at the Emerald coast Association of Realtors. We Use Solid Earth. I have be able to talk to The CEO of our MLS provider. He gets it. He understand he will not be able to provide all of our request. What they do is provide the information so others can make apps, software and IDX to fill out tool box. I'm with John, I do not think Realogy, NAR and most information providers really care if I'm around next year. I better stay ahead of the the game. If I have to stand on my head and spit nickels for google I will. I'm in the real estate marketing business. The Most powerful tool out there is your local MLS. If don't have the IDX feed that stands out what's the point. Will google even now it's your listing.

  8. BawldGuy

    May 10, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I'm with Teresa. There is no problem, at least any new one. Realtor leadership is an oxymoronic phrase. Get over it. It's been that way since I learned what a real estate agent was back in the mid-60's.

    Zillow, Trulia, and the rest simply don't matter a hill of beans to agents. Sure, some have figured out how to game those systems, and more power to 'em, they're smart folk. But in the end? It's still about producing consistent results, and no, the associations, as dumb as they've been about the data, etc., aren't the reason an agent fails — or succeeds.

    Tech or no tech — produce results and move on.

    Oh, and for those who'll opt in knee jerk fashion to label me a dinosaur, I'm OldSchool, but no dinosaur. I don't complain about various association missteps, cuz frankly, they don't matter much. I use technology to the best of my limited understanding. It serves me well.

    There is no crisis. There is only lack of results. IMHO, most who are concerned as agents on this 'topic' should stop making excuses, and start making good. The public will always, as a rule, opt for results over TechGuy.

    There, I feel much better.

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Opinion Editorials

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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