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Opinion Editorials

The wild west of real estate: a startup story

Most in the real estate industry do not know that the boundaries have not yet been pushed as far as they can go and that some companies are still out creating new frontiers. Real estate is still very much the wild west when it comes to technology.

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Questions about succeeding in real estate

As a startup in the real estate industry and with the overwhelming perception that, at it’s core, this is a broken industry, I am faced with numerous questions about how to be successful. What does it take to rise to the top these days in real estate? With the value proposition of brokerages shrinking, along with their profits, how can you monetize the brokerage value proposition for your clients and yourself?

Should you become an agent to a large regional broker? Should you be a franchise to a big box brand? Should you start your own brokerage? Do you license technology or build it yourself? These are a few of the many questions I have asked myself.

I believe the consumer is entitled to all of the data that is available. Data transparency is key to the most efficient transaction. I set out to start a technology-based brokerage with a new standard of collaboration and efficiency for both the agent and the client. No, this is not a new idea but it is one that I believe is the minority in terms of the real estate brokerage experience.

Setting the stage

I want to be different. I want to be unique. I want to offer my clients a better experience. In Houston, that is a tall order. Why? We have the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR). What is so special about HAR? They are the leading MLS in the country in terms of technology and their consumer facing website. They do an incredible job of providing all the tools a brokerage or agent needs to be successful. What more could you ask for… right?

There is one pitfall. One need ask, is this good or bad? I am of the opinion that while it is good in some respects, it falls short in others. That creates opportunity.

All of the large brokerages in Houston, excluding some national names, have the same experience. They all use the same tools and there is nothing to differentiate one from the next except the agents themselves. Each does a great job and is a pleasure to work with, however, I believe there is more to the process than just the agent. In today’s world of technology and with the Internet, a brokerage has an opportunity to define themselves in other ways than just having good agents. Your sophisticated clients expect more. They are now doing a large part of the process on their own and while they still want and NEED a good agent, they also want the tools to make the most informed decision.

NuHabitat is in the process of developing our own proprietary online experience from the ground up. I could use all the tools available to me as a member of my MLS but I want to establish NuHabitat as a brokerage with the ability to stand on it own two feet. What if we want to grow outside of Houston and there is no HAR? In order to do so, there are many issues to address.

Issue one: data

The first dilemma is how do we get the data and how to have the ability to do with it what we need to give our clients the best information and experience. Due diligence directed me towards a VOW (Virtual Office Website). To my surprise, I didn’t find a good solution in the market so I said, I’ll do it myself. Ambitious… right? Look at Redfin, Zip, Sawbuck and others… all brokerages with their own value proposition. Makes sense to me.

I later found this to be no easy task. Zip is publicly traded and Redfin has raised over $30 million dollars.

Then there are the politics. Who owns the data? Is it the MLS? The brokerage? The agent? I always hear the brokerage. What about the consumer? Seems to me it is their data. The whole transaction starts and ends with the consumer. I think that tends to be forgotten.

Issue two: to VOW or not to VOW?

There are so many issues that surround data in real estate. It is exhausting. IDX, VOW, Syndication. Somebody give me a stick. I don’t think the horse is dead yet. I wont go there as it has been covered ad-nauseam, however, I will comment on VOW since that is my chosen approach.

For those of you who may not know, a VOW is a Virtual Office Website and was the result of the 2008 DOJ vs NAR settlement. In its simplest form, it allows for a brokerage to access and display on their website (once a broker-consumer relationship has been established) all the same data that can be provided to a client in a “bricks & mortar” setting or by any other means of transmission.

Seems to me everyone would do this. Well, not really. The alternative, IDX (Internet Data Exchange), is easier and cheaper. The barrier to VOW can be extremely high with a tremendous expense if you are going to develop your own application from the ground up, but the benefits in today’s marketplace are tremendous. Look at Redfin’s platform. What if you could license it? Would you? Is Redfin a brokerage, or really a technology company with an identity crisis?

It would seem to me that with the never-ending debate about the end of IDX and brokerages pulling their listings or the concern about syndication, VOW would be a no-brainer.

Real estate is still the Wild West

There are a lot of moving parts and I hope I can share my experience first hand and maybe save someone else the aggravation that I deal with while navigating the process of starting a technology focused model in an industry that feels more like the wild west rather than one that represents the single largest asset each of us will probably own.

As the leader of NuHabitat LLC, Jeff brings a unique qualification to the table with 10 years experience of buying and selling homes as a high-end luxury homebuilder while working with clients, agents and brokerages. Motivated by a unique set of circumstances, his goal is to provide a more efficient and economical approach to prospective home buyers and sellers in the modern day world of residential real estate.

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35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Danny

    March 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Great article Jeff – I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Russ Capper

    March 21, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Sounds real smart to me. Why don’t more Realtors think this way? If I had a large brokerage, I’d be in touch with Jeff right now….

  3. Jeff Brown

    March 21, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Hey Jeff — Welcome.

    I’m thinkin’ you’re about to sit down to a plate full of elephant. Like Grandma always said, “One bite at a time.” Are you being ambitious? Duh. Nothin’ worthwhile in business ever got down without it. Best of luck.

  4. Brian

    March 23, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Jeff,
    I agree it’s time to liberate data and let the consumer see everything they can. If you hide data and restrict access it’s because you fear that you have no value to add. Those days are gone, and Realtors who think that way will go the way of the dinosaur. I look forward to following your progress with NuHabitat… you’re going up against the best MLS site in the country.
    Cheers,
    Brian

  5. Tina Fine

    March 29, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    The data does belong to the consumer!!

  6. Galen Ward

    April 15, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Jeff, building a great site indeed does take a lot of investment up front, but to be successful, you should plan on ongoing after you launch too.

    I’m exceedingly pleased to see you working to build a web experience that connects with the consumer – I gave a talk called “The End of the Average Brokerage” at RETSO and my advice to the brokers in the room was to embrace the web and to over-invest in making themselves relevant to consumers and in providing real value to consumers.

    Keep us posted on how it goes.

  7. Steve Scott

    May 10, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Welcome Jeff!

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Opinion Editorials

Will shopping for that luxury item actually lower your quality of life?

(EDITORIAL) Want to buy yourself a pick-me-up? Have you thought of all the ramifications of that purchase? Try to avoid splurging on it.

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shopping bags

In an era of “treat-yo-self,” the urge to splurge is real. It doesn’t help that shopping – or what ends up being closer to impulse shopping – provides us with a hit of dopamine and a fleeting sense of control. Whether your life feels like it’s going downhill or you’ve just had a bad day, buying something you want (or think you want) can seem like an easy fix.

Unfortunately, it might not be so great when it comes to long-term happiness.

As you might have already guessed, purchasing new goods doesn’t fall in line with the minimalism trend that’s been sweeping the globe. Being saddled with a bunch of stuff you don’t need (and don’t even like!) is sure to make your mood dip, especially if the clutter makes it harder to concentrate. Plus, if you’ve got a real spending problem, the ache in your wallet is sure to manifest.

If that seems depressing, I’ve got even more bad news. Researchers at Harvard and Boston College have found yet another way spending can make us more unhappy in the long run: imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you’re not as good as your peers and they just haven’t caught on yet. This insecurity often arises in competitive careers, academics and, apparently, shopping.

Now, there’s one big caveat to this idea that purchasing goods will make you feel inferior: it really only applies to luxury goods. I’m talking about things like a Louis Vuitton purse, a top of the line Mercedes Benz, a cast iron skillet from Williams Sonoma (or is that one just me?). The point is, the study found that about 67% of people – regardless of their income – believed their purchase was inauthentic to their “true self.”

And this imposter syndrome even existed when the luxury items were bought on sale.

Does this mean you should avoid making a nice purchase you’ve been saving up for? Not necessarily. One researcher at Cambridge found that people were more likely to report happiness for purchases that fit their personalities. Basically, a die-hard golfer is going to enjoy a new club more than someone who bought the same golf club to try to keep up with their co-workers.

Moral of the story: maybe don’t impulse buy a fancy new Apple watch. Waiting to see if it’s something you really want can save your budget…and your overall happiness.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer got you down? Does it make your job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment without budget worries.

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better equipment, better work

Aside from bringing the boss coffee and donuts for a month before asking, what is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes. In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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Opinion Editorials

Minimalism doesn’t have to be a quick process

(EDITORIAL) Minimalism is great and all…but how do you get started if you’re not sold on getting rid of basically everything you own?

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minimalism desk

Minimalism. This trend has reared its head in many forms, from Instagram-worthy shots of near empty homes to Marie Kondo making a splash on Netflix last year. If you’re anything like me, the concept of minimalism is tempting, but the execution seems out of reach. Paring down a closet to fit into a single basket or getting rid of beloved objects can sometimes seem too difficult, and I get it! Luckily, minimalism doesn’t have to be quite so extreme.

#1 Digitally

Not ready to purge your home yet? That’s fine! Start on your digital devices. Chances are, there are plenty of easy ways to clean up the storage space on your computer or phone. When it comes to low stakes minimalism, try clearing out your email inbox or deleting apps you no longer use. It’ll increase your storage space and make upkeep much more manageable on a daily basis.

It’s also worth taking a look through your photos. With our phones so readily available, plenty of us have pictures that we don’t really need. Clearing out the excess and subpar pictures will also have the added bonus of making your good pictures easily accessible!

Now, if this task seems more daunting, consider starting by simply deleting duplicate photos. You know the ones, where someone snaps a dozen pics of the same group pose? Pick your favorite (whittle it down if you have to) and delete the rest! It’s an easy way to get started with minimizing your digital photo collection.

#2 Slowly

Minimalism doesn’t have to happen all at once. If you’re hesitant about taking the plunge, try dipping your toe in the water first. There’s no shame in taking your time with this process. For instance, rather than immediately emptying your wardrobe, start small by just removing articles of clothing that are not wearable anymore. Things that are damaged, for instance, or just don’t fit.

Another way to start slow is to set a number. Take a look at your bookshelf and resolve to get rid of just two books. This way, you can hold yourself accountable for minimizing while not pushing too far. Besides, chances are, you do have two books on your shelf that are just collecting dust.

Finally, it’s also possible to take things slow by doing them over time. Observe your closet over the course of six months, for instance, to see if there are articles of clothing that remain unworn. Keep an eye on your kitchen supplies to get a feel for what you’re using and what you’re not. Sure, that egg separator you got for your wedding looks useful, but if you haven’t picked it up, it probably has to go.

#3 Somewhat

Sometimes, minimalism is pitched as all or nothing (pun intended), but it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because I want to purge my closet doesn’t mean I’m beholden to purging my kitchen too. And that’s okay!

Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything that needs to be reduced, just pick one aspect of your life to declutter. Clear out your wardrobe and hang onto your books. Cut down on decorations but keep your clothes. Maybe even minimize a few aspects of your life while holding onto one or two.

Or, don’t go too extreme in any direction and work to cut down on the stuff in your life in general. Minimizing doesn’t have to mean getting rid of everything – it can mean simply stepping back. For instance, you can minimize just by avoiding buying more things. Or maybe you set a maximum number of clothes you want, which means purchasing a new shirt might mean getting rid of an old one.

The point is, there are plenty of ways to start on the minimalist lifestyle without pushing yourself too far outside your comfort zone. So, what are you waiting for? Try decluttering your life soon!

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