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Opinion Editorials

Sharing listing data is irrelevant if Realtors let others shape the future

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Looking outside of real estate

“As a company, we are culturally pioneers, and we like to disrupt even our own business.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, in a November 2011 interview with Wired Magazine.

I’ve been in a real estate for a decade, and I can’t imagine a statement even close to that coming from any “leader” of the real estate industry. NAR, state, and local real estate associations have spent the past decade doing everything they can to preserve the status quo. As a result, pretty much all of the innovations that consumers have come to rely on have come from outside the industry, reinforcing a consumer view that the real estate industry is a dinosaur that isn’t aligned with the wants and needs of today’s consumers.

Did our industry disrupt? No.

Did NAR, state, and local associations want to do anything to disrupt the word-of-mouth referrals that many agents depend on for their business? Absolutely not. Instead, it was a little San Francisco company – Yelp – that started out with a focus on restaurant reviews. Consumers quickly used the Yelp infrastructure to review pretty much everything and anything, real estate agents included.

Did NAR, state, and local associations do anything to disrupt how consumers search for homes online? Absolutely not! Instead, companies like Zillow and Trulia built-out best-in-class consumer sites with a nationwide reach that put tons of information (accurate or not, that’s another story) about homes for sale at the fingertips of interested consumers.

Did NAR, state, and local associations do anything to disrupt how the industry polices the behavior of its members? Nope, of course not. In an age when you can find information about almost everyone and everything online, Code of Ethics complaints and other arbitration matters continue to take place behind closed doors.

Unwilling to reinvent

I don’t want to start sounding pedantic (or bitter), so I’ll summarize: The real estate industry has been unwilling and unable to reinvent itself. Our failure to disrupt the status quo and re-imagine what real estate could be hasn’t stopped others from doing it. Instead, we’ve handed opportunity after opportunity on a silver platter to others, leaving  “the industry” to play catch up and look defensive and outdated.

And here’s the sad part: As websites have sprouted and technologies have been developed that make it easier for home buyers and sellers to do their research online, our state, local, and national association leaders missed the opportunity to put the agent at the center of that conversation. Want to connect with home shoppers? Trulia will gladly sell you a package – for about $80/month that will do exactly that. Want to appear above any agent’s reviews on Yelp? They will happily sell you an advertising package to make that happen.

We’ve arrived at a time when we are now arguing about whether or not it makes sense to syndicate our listing data to third party websites like Zillow or Trulia. Whether or not we will share our listing data with others isn’t the important question to me. It’s an interesting question, and I can see both sides of the argument. But I think it’s a distraction from the more important question: Are we going to find the courage to disrupt our industry and build the tools consumers demand, or will we continue to let others shape the future of our industry?

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

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23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Benn Rosales

    February 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Hi Matt, love the piece. I wonder though if our thinking is wrong from the outset? Why do we consider anyone who isn't branded a realtor outside of the industry? Aren't the radicalized thinkers that innovate part of the industry? It seems to me we draw this line between them and us rather than just bringing them into the fold and working with them.

    In the case of aggregation, truth be told, they are running data for free and have been for some time. Every business needs to make their own business decision on whether they'll syndicate for free or not. In that same spirit, the industry itself isn't one voice or one unit, it's each and every company that must innovate to remain competitive in their space, not the industry as a whole. In fact, the further away NAR and other orgs remain out of our businesses the better – we're already overly regulated.

    Perspective is sorely needed I think.

  2. Bill Petrey - real estate agent

    February 3, 2012 at 11:19 am

    MLS Data is all the National Association of Realtors have left of any value. If I could get full access without being a Realtor I'd drop my membership in a heartbeat. I suspect others would too. NAR probably knows this and is devoting its resources to protect it rather than being innovative. Of course they could be still working on the ethical thing. Can't believe they spent all that money on the theme of "we won't screw you."

    Maybe innovation from NAR is too much to expect.

  3. Matt Fuller

    February 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Benn – I agree with you that it shouldn't be "us or them." Unfortunately, though, the industry policies and regulations are structured so that if you aren't on the "inside" it is exceptionally challenging to get access to the data you need to build a useful product. I'd love to see associations make it easy for others to partner with them on cool projects. I'd also love to see associations standardize their data models and regulations so that innovation happens at a faster pace and startups have access to bigger markets for their products without having to tweak their product for hundreds of associations.

  4. Matt Fuller

    February 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Bill – In addition to the data, I think Realtors themselves are the value in the era of information overload. It's unfortunate that we look like data hoarders. We have even more value once we set the information free, IMHO.

  5. Abe Rashdyi

    February 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    One example of the lack of leadership is we as realtors are required by law to change listing status from active to pending or sold within 24 to 48 hours maximum, while a large number of advertized listings on Zillow and Trulia are pending or sold. This gives Zillow and Trulia a huge advantage; they can offer listings that buyers want. This is the fundamental premise on which Turlia and Zillow built their success.

    Miss information? You be the judge.

    Is it going to weaken consumer confidence in our industry? Think about it.

    Should industry leaders require outsiders to live by the same rules as realtors? It is up to us.

  6. Greg Cook

    February 4, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    BRAVO MATT!
    We need to look no further than KODAK to see what happens when a business is unable or unwilling to reinvent itself.
    IMHO consumers want more than listing information, much more. They need to know HOW or HOW NOT to buy, WHERE or WHERE NOT to buy, WHY or WHY NOT to buy.
    Here's an interesting stat that I feel sums it up: "Less than 10% of Agents do it, but those that do get 88% more leads. Answer? Blogging!

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Opinion Editorials

Freelance is the Future? I call bull malarky

(EDITORIAL) Some have predicted that due to company needs and employees’ desire for flexibility, and even COVID, freelance is the future of work. But I have reservations.

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Freelance desk

Long gone are the days of punching a clock in Corporate America to be in your seat at your desk for an exact period of 8 hours on a day x 5 = 40 hours per week. If you work in an office setting now, usually you are expected to manage your time and finish your projects but companies have adjusted their strict butt in seat polices so that you can come in late after a doctor appointment or even leave a little early for Susie’s soccer tournament.

The truth is, with the advancement of technology and connected devices, many of us can work from anywhere (as long as there’s Wi-Fi or we have our hotspot). So, as long as your work gets done, there’s a little bit of room for “flexibility”.

When a company pitches this as flexibility, it’s really just a way of re-wording that you will work a lot so they will cut you some slack here and there considering most of us work well over our 40 hours a week. We can check email first thing in the morning, forward documents from the plane and even be on conference calls while in a line or in an Uber. You may work late on a Tuesday due to Wednesday deliverables which allows you to take off on Friday at 3pm when usually your projects are in a good place. There are also times where you will work on the weekend.

The opportunity to work anywhere has led to some considering that freelance is the future? I just don’t buy it. And this might be an unpopular opinion. I think that’s like turning the Titanic around. People rely on companies to offer a feeling of stability (or so we think) so that you know there’s a paycheck coming in every other week and you definitely have your fair share of projects (oh yeah, plus healthcare benefits).

If we all moved in to freelancing, we’d have a wide variety of clients, customers, teammates and paychecks that could be difficult to keep up with. We’d be forced to be the CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, CMOs, CFOs, oh, forget it, the entire C-suite of our own careers. It’s really difficult to generate new clients in the future while you’re working on a current project.

However, it’s equally difficult to have a lull so you have to be constantly engaged and pitching business (at the same time you have your current work). You have to be on your A-game at all times and out pitching yourself and your brand. You have to be creating content on all the social channels and be invited to participate in fancy conferences and meetings. This unfortunately is the life of freelance.

Does it seem like more people will do freelance? Yes. There’s lots of opportunity now thanks to the world wide web. But I predict they will do this in addition to their regular jobs. Is it possible that we may move to a gig economy? We are already there. You’ve heard of Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Fiverr and Upwork…It seems like that most people that have 2-3 gigs to make them whole are typically looking for full-time opportunities or would love to find something that can replace the others with more consistent work and not all the hustle. Are Small Businesses on the rise? Absolutely.

It seems that it depends on your desire for either slightly more predictable work and paychecks or if you’re a throw caution to the wind person and live that freelancer life. Also, if your skill sets are the ones employers are looking for on an ad hoc basis. No doubt many people live a freelancer life and love it. But I just don’t see it being the masses – I think it takes a special kind of dedication to rely on freelance and/or starting your own business. Plus, you’re off your parents’ healthcare at age 26. That’s when real the “real job” starts to sound really appealing.

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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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quarantine

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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