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Real estate associations, Realtor members and their unique challenges

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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

How Gen X is nailing the COVID-19 social distancing order

(EDITORIAL) Of course, someone found a way to bring up generational stereotyping during COVID-19 and claim who is best, but are they onto something?

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Demographics and categorizing people helps us to process groups. A huge part of demographics and how we market ourselves in a job search, for example, is sharing our level of experiences and skill sets related to our profession – thus alluding to our age. Millennials (b. 1981-1996) received a lot of generational shame for being elitist and growing up in a time where they all received participation trophies – therefore being judged for not always winning a fair competition.

Gen X (roughly b. 1961-1981) has often commented that they feel like the forgotten generation which so much attention being play to the Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964) who seemed to be born in to a great time of prosperity for “The American Dream” and then the Millennials who overtook Gen X and some of their jobs while they weren’t enough Gen Xers to fill them.

In this article “It Took a Global Pandemic, But Generation X is Finally Getting Love”, it is discussed how great Gen X is at this social distancing thing and maybe this will be helpful to anyone who feels like they are losing their mind. This is by no means an intent to shame any generation nor claim no one else knows how to handle it but this article does a great job about why Gen X might be primed to be handling the global pandemic well with the times they were raised in.

Right now, it’s a waiting game for many people who’s professions and lives have changed in what seemed like overnight. The patience required. The uncertainty of it all. The global pandemic forced (without any forgiveness), a swift move to new ways of life. The busy-ness of our days came to a crashing halt when we were no longer allowed to be out and about in places with large groups and possibly sent home to work remotely.

Many non-essential businesses were forced to close which meant people could not only not work at the office, but also had to cease their extra-curricular activities like working out at the gym, shopping, eating brunch with friends or taking their kids to their sporting events, a playground and/or coordinating a play date or sleepover. The directive from our local and federal government was for “social distancing” before the shelter in place orders came.

Gen X may agree that there were some pretty great things about their childhood – the types of things you do with your time because you don’t have a smartphone or tablet addiction and the fact that there was no way for your work to get a hold of you 24/7. Gen X did have TV and video games and sure, Mom and Dad didn’t really want you spending all of your time behind a screen but it also seemed that there wasn’t as much of a guilt trip if you did spend some of your “summer vacation” from school playing Nintendo or Sega with your neighborhood friends.

It seems like the article alludes to the idea that COVID might be helping people to get back to some of those basics before smartphones became as important to us as one of our limbs.

Gen X has had no problem adapting to technology and in their careers, they have had to adapt to many new ways of doing things (remember when caller ID came out and it was no longer a surprise who was calling?! Whaaaat?! And you can’t prank call anyone any more with your teenage friends at a sleepover! Gasp! You also wouldn’t dare TP an ex-boyfriend’s house right now).

Regardless of the need to learn new hard skills and technologies, everyone has been forced to adjust their soft skills like how technology and still being a human can play well together (since it is really nice to be able to FaceTime with loved ones far away). It seems those slightly unquantifiable adaptable and flexible skills are even more required now. It also seems that as you grow in your career, Emotional Intelligence might be your best skill in these uncertain times.

And not that we are recommending eating like crap or too many unhealthy items, Gen X has been known to be content surviving on Pop Tarts, Spaghetti O’s, Ding-dongs and macaroni and cheese which are all pretty shelf stable items right now. Whatever way is possible for you, it might be a good time to find the balance again in work, technology, home, rest, relaxation and education if at all possible.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms. 
 
Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.
 
The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.
 
And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.
 
We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.
 
That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

I just got furloughed. Now what?

(EDITORIAL) Some companies are furloughing employees, betting on their company’s long-term recovery. Here’s what you can expect and should plan for in your furlough.

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furloughed woman

Are you furloughed? You are not alone! What now? What does “furlough” even mean? How will I get money? Will I still keep my insurance?

A furlough differs from a layoff in a few ways. Whereas a layoff means you are definitely unemployed, a furlough is at its core unpaid time off. Not all furloughs are created equal, though the basic concept is the same: to keep valued employees on ice without being on the hook for their pay until a financial turnaround occurs.

The good-ish news is that a furlough means the company wants to keep you available. When a company is unable to pay their employees for an extended (often indefinite, as is the case with COVID-19 closures) period, they may opt to furlough them instead of laying them off. This virus has decimated whole industries, at least temporarily.

Furloughed employees are forbidden by law to do so much as answer a work email or text while furloughed–or else the company must pay them. The first large waves of COVID-19 furloughs are in obvious sectors such as hospitality (Marriott International), airlines industries (Virgin Atlantic), though other industries are following suit with furloughs or layoffs.

Some furloughs may mean cutting employees’ hours/days to a minimum. Maybe you’re being asked to take off a couple days/week unpaid if you’re hourly, or one week/month off if you’re on salary. With the COVID-19 situation, though, many companies are furloughing bunches of employees by asking them not to work at all. This particular furlough will last ostensibly for a few months, or until business begins to bounce back, along with normal life.

So, what are your rights? Why would you wait for the company? Can you claim unemployment benefits? What about your other work benefits? I’d be lying if I said I knew all the answers, as the furlough packages differ from company to company, and the laws differ from state to state.

However, here are some broad truths about furloughs that should apply. I hope this information helps you sort through your options. I feel your pain, truly. It’s a tough time all around. I’m on your side.

The first answer people want to know is yes, if you’re furloughed and have lost all or most of your income, you may apply for unemployment benefits. You can’t be expected to live off of thin air. Apply IMMEDIATELY, as there is normally a one or two week wait period until the first check comes in. Don’t delay. Some states provide more livable unemployment benefits (I’m looking at you, Massachusetts) than others, but some income is better than none.

Also, most furloughed employees will likely continue to receive benefits. Typically, life and health insurance remain intact throughout the length of the furlough. This is one of the ways companies let their employees know they are serious about wanting them back as soon as it’s financially realistic. Yet some other benefits, like a matching 401k contribution, will go away, as without a paycheck, there are no contributions to match.

Should you look for a job in the interim? Can you really afford not to? What if the company goes belly up while you’re waiting? Nobody wants that to happen, but the reality is that it might.

If you absolutely love your job and the company you work for and feel fairly confident the furlough is truly short-lived, then look for a short-term job. Thousands upon thousands of positions have opened up to meet the needs of the COVID-19 economy, at grocery stores or Amazon, for example. You could also look for contract work. That way, when your company reopens the doors, you can return to your position while finishing off the contract work on the side.

If the company was on shaky ground to begin with, keep that in mind when applying to new jobs. A full-time, long-term position may serve you better. At the end of this global health and economic crisis, some industries will be slower to return to their former glory–if they ever do. If you’re furloughed from such an industry, you may want to shift to something else completely. Pivot, as they say. Now would be a good time.

The only exceptions are “Excepted” government workers in essential positions, including public health and safety. They would have to work while furloughed in case of a government shutdown (and did previously).

Furloughs are scary, but they offer a greater measure of security than a layoff. They mean the company plans on returning to a good financial situation, which is encouraging. Furloughs also generally offer the comfort–and necessity–of insurance, which means you can breathe a bit easier while deciding your next move.

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