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Opinion Editorials

The challenge of doing business in an archaic industry

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Don’t Judge a Realtor by the company they keep

I don’t know about you, but access to my MLS is governed by my local Realtor association. So when I wanted to become a Real Estate Agent, I had to join my local board. And joining my local board meant that I was also joining my state association and the National Association of Realtors. Board membership is mandatory to be an MLS participant. MLS participation is mandatory to have a successful real estate career. Joining my board was a business decision, not a political one.

There’s the business of real estate: the hustle for clients, the unpredictable (yet flexible) hours, the commission based income, the interesting people and fascinating homes. Then there’s the politics of real estate: the numerous MLS fiefdoms, IDX policies, data aggregation and syndication, and, national, state, and local association rules, to name a few.

Why join the board

Most agents that I know are like me, and joined the board because they had to. It was a business decision. This may explain why so many agents I know go out of their way to avoid the politics of real estate. Ask most agents for their position on IDX rules, data aggregation and syndication policies, and you’re likely to get a blank stare. Not because agents are stupid or short-sighted, but simply because agents focus on what they feel they can control, and most agents I know feel extremely disconnected from the decisions being made on their behalf at the local, state and national level.

Speaking quite frankly, I feel that many local boards have spent the last few years advocating policies that will perpetuate their existence, regardless of if the policy is good for their members or real estate consumers. For many agents there is an enormous disconnect between their day-to-day business practices and the policies adopted by our local, state, and national Realtor Associations.

As an example, let’s take the continued existence of almost 1,000 MLS systems across America. If you can look me in the eyes with a straight face and tell me that the real estate industry is better off with hundreds of local MLS systems rather than one (or a few) national systems, then I’m going to bet you’re a local MLS or association executive.

Consumers don’t think they should have to know that as soon as they cross a county line they need to start searching a different website for home listings. They want to go to one place, type in any address in America, and find out what’s for sale nearby and how the market is doing. Don’t believe me? Go visit Zillow. Or Trulia. Or even Realtor.com.

The evolution of the MLS

Our patchwork of MLS organizations developed in an era when cooperative listing information was shared on paper index cards updated weekly by a clerk at a local office. The clerk has long since retired (and perhaps died), the index cards have been relegated to the novelty drawer and yet we still have hundreds of little MLS systems across the nation. The logic for their existence is long gone, we should help them die a graceful death.

While I don’t have an issue with one (or several) national MLS systems, I think the real estate industry – at a minimum – needs to get serious and make 50 statewide MLS systems (each adapted to their own unique state laws about real estate) a reality. Because if our associations don’t make this a reality, some plucky entrepreneur will make it happen, either with or without our help.

The presence of hundreds of MLS systems when a few could accomplish the same task is indicative of the challenges that associations have created for their members. Associations, when faced with an onslaught of change, have – for the most part – each hunkered down and done everything they could to protect their little island of real estate data. In my area, for example, it has taken more than three years for seven local associations to agree to lockbox key interoperability. For comparison, Apple transformed computing with the introduction of the iPad in less time than seven associations could agree to share keys.

The conundrum

It’s a conundrum that I can’t quite wrap my head around: some of the most entrepreneurial, dynamic, and interesting people I’ve ever met are fellow real estate agents. But all of these individuals are doing business in one of the most rigid and archaic business frameworks I’ve ever encountered. I’d really love to hear what your thoughts are about how agents can help the real estate industry give itself a long overdue remodel?

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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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Jeff Brown

    February 18, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Hey Matt — Out of 1,000 home buyers, how many would you estimate are looking for their new home in an area larger than 5-20 square miles? Thanks

  2. Glenn Ashby

    February 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Get rid of all referral networks. Agent to Agent is fine, but 37.5% for someone to pull a name out of a hat is not doing the consumer a service. It is nearly extortion.

  3. Ed Neuhaus

    February 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I think this world be great. I know people already working on it.

  4. Karen Brewer

    February 18, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    OMG….youre talking about my life. I am now on the Board of the hyperlocal Board and it is astonishing to me howmuch people want these things to stay the same. In my case, the MLS adds NO value since we are officially dominated by a larger MLS in the state.Most of the budget (membership $ just goes to perpetuating the existence of the board.Amazing.

  5. Russell Shaw

    February 18, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    We already have several "national" methods the public can search for properties. I have never seen a national MLS as a Realtor or a public benefit. To the contrary, a national MLS or even 50 state wide MLS systems is just asking some DOJ lawyer to attempt to nationalize the entire system. All the little MLS systems are our best defense against such crap.

    To suggest that the committees at the state or national level are somehow possessed of better insight or judgement does not seem to be supported by the facts. Just look at the silly set up NAR gave Realtor.com or the latest piece of pretty much useless crap – RPR. I don't do a lot of my business out of my area. Neither does anyone else who is actually in the real estate business.

    In California it is beyond me why an agent in the Bay Area needs access to data for Los Angles. I don't believe a Los Angles broker is competent to advise a buyer or a seller about buying or selling a home in San Francisco.

    • Jeff Brown

      February 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Hey Russell — I've been sayin' the same thing for a few years now. Also, notice nobody's stepped up to the plate to answer my first question here. The reason is cuz I suspect the answer proves your point.

  6. Eric Estate

    February 19, 2012 at 9:36 am

    I'm just a student, but coming into this system with a pair of fresh eyes to the situation. There is absolutely NO need for any MLS system at all. If an agent were to just post their listing on their own website, search enginges like Google or Bing could easily index them, nationwide.
    This would also separate out the best agents because they would have the most popular sites, with the best, most up to date info on their listings.

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Opinion Editorials

5 ways to grow your entrepreneur business without shaming others

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) We all need support as business owners. Let’s talk ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur that do not include shaming your competition.

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Entrepreneur women all talking around a meeting table.

The year 2020 has forced everyone to re-assess their priorities and given us the most uncertain set of circumstances we have lived through. For businesses and entrepreneurs, they were faced with having to confront new business scenarios quickly. Maybe your entrepreneur business was set to thrive as behaviors changed (maybe you already offered contactless products and services). Or, you were forced to add virtual components or find new revenue streams – immediately. This has been tough.

Every single person is having a hard time with the adjustments and most likely at different stages than others. We’re at the 6-month mark, and each of our timelines are going to look different. Our emotions have greeted us differently too, whether we have felt relief, grief, excitement, fear, hope, determination, or just plain exhaustion.

Now that we are participating in life a bit more virtually than in 2019, this is a good time to re-visit the pros and cons of the influence of technology and marketing outreach online. It’s also a great time to throw old entrepreneur rules out the window and create a better sense of community where you can.

Here’s an alluring article, “Now Is Not the Time for ‘Mom Shaming’”, that gives an example from about a decade ago of how the popularity of mommy bloggers grew by women sharing their parenting “hacks”, tips, or even recipes and crafting ideas via online posts and blogs. As the blog entries grew, so did other moms comparing themselves and/or feeling inadequate. Some of the responses were natural and some may have been coming from a place of defensiveness. Moms are not alone in looking for resources, articles, materials, and friends to tell us we’re doing ok. We just need to be told “You are doing fine.”

Luckily, some moms in Connecticut decided to declare an end to “Mom Wars” and created a photo shoot that shared examples of how each mom had a right to their choices in parenting. It seemed to reinforce the message of, “You are doing fine.” I don’t know about you, but my recent google searches of “Is it ok to have my 3-year old go to bed with the iPad” are pretty much destined to get me in trouble with her pediatrician. I’m hoping that during a global pandemic, “I am doing fine.”

Comparing this scenario to the entrepreneur world, often times your business is your baby. You have worn many hats to keep it alive. You have built the concept and ideas, nurtured the products and services with sweat, tears, and maybe some laughs. You have spent countless hours researching, experimenting, and trying processes and marketing tactics that work for you. You have been asked to “pivot” this year like so many others (sick of that word? Me too).

Here are some ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur (or at least, ideas worth considering if you haven’t already):

  1. It’s about the questions you ask yourself. How does your product or service help or serve others (vs. solely asking how do I get more customers?) This may lead to new ideas or income streams.
  2. Consider a collaboration or a partnership – even if they seem like the competition. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
  3. Stop inadvertently shaming the competition by critiquing what they do. It’s really obvious on your Instagram. Try changing the narrative to how you help others.
  4. Revisit the poem All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and re-visit it often. “And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
  5. Join a community, celebrate others’ success, and try to share some positivity without being asked to do so. Ideas include: Likes/endorsements, recommendations on LinkedIn for your vendor contacts, positive Google or Yelp reviews for fellow small business owners.

It seems like we really could use more kindness and empathy right now. So what if we look for the help and support of others in our entrepreneurial universe versus comparing and defending our different way of doing things?

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Opinion Editorials

Can we combat grind culture and injustice with a nap?

(OPINION EDITORIALS) A global pandemic and a climate of racial injustice may require fresh thinking and a new approach from what grind culture has taught us.

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Sleeping cat with plant, fighting grind culture.

Information is delivered to us at warp speed with access to television, radio, and the internet (and more specifically, social media). We are inundated with messages. Oftentimes they’re personalized by something that a friend or family shared. Other times we manage them for work, school, or just keeping up with news. Many entrepreneurs already wear many hats and burn the midnight oil.

During this global pandemic, COVID-19, we have also seen a rise in awareness and attention to social injustice and systemic racism. This is not a new concept, as we all know. But it did feel like the attention was advanced exponentially by the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020. Many people and entrepreneurs felt called to action (or at least experienced self-reflection). And yet they were working at all hours to evolve their businesses to survive. All of this happening simultaneously may have felt like a struggle while they tried to figure out exactly they can do.

There are some incredible thought leaders – and with limited time, it can be as simple as checking them out on Instagram. These public figures give ideas around what to be aware of and how to make sure you are leveling up your awareness.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Center for Antiracist Research – he has been studying anti-racism and has several books and interviews that help give language to what has been happening in our country for centuries. His content also delves into why and how white people have believed they are more than people of color. Here is a great interview he did with Brené Brown on her Unlocking Us podcast.

Tamika Mallory – American activist and one of the leading organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. She has been fighting for justice to be brought upon the officers that killed Breonna Taylor on March 13. These are among other efforts around the country to push back on gun control, feminist issues, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brené Brown – research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She has been listening and engaging on how racism and our shame intersect. She also speaks about how people can reflect on themselves and where they can take action to better our society. She has some antiracism resources on her website.

With all of this information and the change in our daily routines and work habits (or business adjustments), what is a fresh approach or possibly a new angle that you haven’t been able to consider?

There is one social channel against grind culture that may not be as well-known. At an initial glance, you may even perceive this place as a spoof Twitter and Instagram that is just telling you to take a nap. But hold on, it’s actually much smarter than that. The description says “We examine the liberating power of naps. We believe rest is a form of resistance and reparations. We install Nap Experiences. Founding in 2016.”

It might be a great time for you to check out The Nap Ministry, inspired by Tricia Hersey. White people are called to action, and people of color are expressly told to give time to taking care of themselves. Ultimately, it goes both ways – everyone needs the time to recharge and recuperate. But people of color especially are being told to value their rest more than the grind culture. Yes, you’re being told you need to manage your mental health and include self-care in your schedule.

Through The Nap Ministry, Tricia “examines rest as a form of resistance by curating safe spaces for the community to rest via Collective Napping Experiences, immersive workshops, and performance art installations.”

“In this incredibly rich offering, we speak with Tricia on the myths of grind culture, rest as resistance, and reclaiming our imaginative power through sleep. Capitalism and white supremacy have tricked us into believing that our self-worth is tied to our productivity. Tricia shares with us the revolutionary power of rest.” They have even explored embracing sleep as a political act.

Let this allow you to take a deep breath and sigh – it is a must that you take care of yourself to take care of your business as well as your customers and your community. And yes, keep your drive and desire to “get to work”. But not at your expense for the old grind culture narrative.

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Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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