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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after opportunity on a silver platter to others, leaving  “the industry” to play catch up and look defensive and outdated.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, 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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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

9 ways to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive at work

(OPINION EDITORIALS) With more and more people joining the LGBTQIA+ community it’d do one well to think about ways to extend inclusiveness at work.

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LGBTQIA+ people may have won marriage equality in 2015, but this momentous victory didn’t mean that discrimination was over. Queer and LGBTQIA+ identified people still have to deal with discrimination and not being in a work environment that supports their identities.

Workplace inclusivity may sound like the hottest new business jargon term on the block, but it actually just a professional way of making sure that everyone feels like a valued team member at the office. Business psychologists have found when people are happy to go to work, they are 12 percent more productive.

Making your business environment a supportive one for the queer community means you’re respecting employees and improving their workplace experience.

Here’s nine ways you can make your workplace more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ people.

1) Learn the basics.
If you’re wanting to make your workplace more open to LGBTQIA+ people, it’s best to know what you’re talking about. Firstly, the acronym LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual and the plus encompassing other identities not named; there are many variants on the acronym. Sexual orientations (like lesbian, gay, bisexual) are not the same as gender identities.

Transgender means that that person “seeks to align their gender expression with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.” Cisgender means a person identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. If you need a more comprehensive rundown about sexual orientation, gender identity, and the like, visit the GLAAD reference guide.

2) Stop using the word “gay” as an insult.
Or insinuating people you don’t like are “gay” together. This is the most basic thing that can be done for workplace inclusivity regarding the queer community. Anything that actively says that LGBTQIA+ people are “lesser” than their straight counterparts can hurt the queer people on your team and make them not feel welcome. It’s not cool.

3) Don’t make jokes that involve the LGBTQIA+ community as a punchline.
It’s not cute to make a “funny quip” about pronouns or to call someone a lesbian because of their outfit. This kind of language makes people feel unwanted in the workplace, but many won’t be able to speak up due to the lack of protections about LGBTQIA+ identities in anti-discrimination statutes. So stop it.

4) Support your colleagues.
If you’re in a situation and hear negative or inappropriate talk regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, stick up for your co-workers. Even if they’re not there, by simply expressing that what was said or done was inappropriate, you’re helping make your workplace more inclusive.

5) Avoid the super probing questions.
It’s okay to talk relationships and life with coworkers, but it can cross a line. If you have a transgender colleague, it’s never going to be appropriate to pry about their choices regarding their gender identity, especially since these questions revolve around their body.

If you have a colleague who has a differing sexual orientation than yours, questions about “how sex works” or any invasive relationship question (“are you the bride or the groom”) is going to hurt the welcomeness of your office space. Just don’t do it.

6) Written pronoun clarity is for everyone!
One thing that many LGBTQIA+ people may do is add their pronouns to their business card, email signature, or name badge for clarity. If you’re cisgender, adding your pronouns to these things can offer support and normalize this practice for the LGBTQIA+ community. Not only does it make sure that you are addressed correctly, you’re validating the fact that it’s an important business practice for everyone to follow.

7) Tokens are for board games, not for people.
LGBTQIA+ people are often proud of who they are and for overcoming adversity regarding their identity. However, it’s never ever going to be okay to just reduce them to the token “transgender colleague” or the “bisexual guy.”

Queer people do not exist to earn you a pat on the back for being inclusive, nor do they exist to give the final word on marketing campaigns for “their demographic.” They’re people just like you who have unique perspectives and feelings. Don’t reduce them just to a token.

8) Bathroom usage is about the person using the bathroom, not you.
An individual will make the choice of what bathroom to use, it does not need commentary. If you feel like they “don’t belong” in the bathroom you’re in due to their gender presentation, don’t worry about it and move on. They made the right choice for them.

An easy way to make restroom worries go away is creating gender neutral restrooms. Not only can they shorten lines, they can offer support for transgender, nonbinary, or other LGBTQIA+ people who just need to go as much as you do.

9) Learn from your mistakes.
Everyone will slip up during their journey to make their workplace more inclusive. If you didn’t use the correct pronouns for your non-binary colleague or misgender someone during a presentation, apologize to them, correct yourself, and do better next time. The worst thing to do is if someone corrects you is for you to shut down or get angry. An open ear and an open heart is the best way to make your work environment supportive for all.

The workplace can be a supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ people, or it could be a hurtful one, depending on the specific culture of the institution. But with some easy changes, it can be a space in which queer and LGBTQIA+ people can feel respected and appreciated.

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Opinion Editorials

“Starting a business is easy,” said only one guy ever

(OPNION EDITORIAL) Between following rules, finding funding, and gathering research, no business succeeds without lifting a finger.

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While browsing business articles this week, I came across this one, “Top 10 Business Ideas You Can Start for Free With Barely Lifting a Finger.” These types of articles make me mad. I can’t think of many successful freelancers or entrepreneurs who don’t put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to get a business going.

The author of the article is Murray Newlands, a “VIP Contributor.” Essentially, he’s a freelancer because he also contributes to Forbes, HuffPro and others. He’s the founder of ChattyPeople.com, which is important, because it’s the first business idea he promotes in the article.

But when I pull up his other articles on Entrepreneur.com, I see others like “How to Get Famous and Make Money on YouTube,” “Win Like A Targaryen: 10 Businesses You Can Start for Free,” and “10 Ventures Young Entrepreneurs Can Start for Cheap or Free.”

I seriously cannot believe that Entrepreneur.com keeps paying for the same ideas over and over.

The business ideas that are suggested are pretty varied. One suggestion is to offer online classes. I wonder if Newlands considered how long it takes to put together a worthy curriculum and how much effort goes into marketing said course.

Then, you have to work out the bugs, because users will have problems. How do you keep someone from stealing your work? What happens when you have a dispute?

Newlands suggests that you could start a blog. It’s pretty competitive these days. The most successful bloggers are ones that really work on their blog, every day. The bloggers have a brand, offer relevant content and are ethical in how they get traffic.

Think it’s easy? Better try again.

I could go on. Every idea he puts up there is a decent idea, but if he thinks it will increase your bottom line without a lot of hard work and effort, he’s delusional.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a plan. They need to work that plan, rethink it and keep working. They have to worry about liability, marketing and keeping up with technologies.

Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it’s hard work. It is incredibly inappropriate and grossly negligent to encourage someone to risk everything they have and are on the premise of not lifting a finger.

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Opinion Editorials

Why freelancers should know their worth

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Money is always an awkward talking point and can be difficult for freelancers to state their worth.

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Recently, I delved into what I’ve learned since becoming a freelancer. However, I neglected to mention one of the most difficult lessons to learn, which was something that presented itself to me rather quickly.

“What is your fee for services?” was not a question I had prepared myself for. When it came to hourly rates, I was accustomed to being told what I would make and accepting that as my worth.

This is a concept that needs multiple components to be taken into consideration. You need to evaluate the services you’re providing, the timeliness in which you can accomplish said services, and your level of expertise.

Dorie Clark of the Harvard Business Review believes that freelancers should be charging clients more than what they think they’re worth. The price you give to your clients is worth quite a bit, itself.

Underpricing can send a bad message to your potential clients. If they’re in the market for your services, odds are they are comparing prices from a few other places.

Having too low of a number can put up a red flag to clients that you may be under-experienced. What you’re pricing should correlate with quality and value; set a number that shows you do good work and value that work.

Clark suggests developing a network of trustworthy confidants that you can bounce ideas off of, including price points. Having an idea of what other people in your shoes are doing can help you feel more comfortable when it comes to increasing prices.

And, for increasing prices, it is not something that is going to just happen on its own. It’s highly unlikely for a client to say, “you know what, I think I’ll give you a raise!”

It’s important to never take advantage of any client, but it’s especially important to show loyalty to the ones that have always been loyal to you. Test the waters of price increasing by keeping your prices lower for clients that have always been there, but then try raising prices as you take on new clients.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that you are doing this work to support yourself and, theoretically, because you’re good at it. Make sure you’re putting an appropriate price tag on that value.

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