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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

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

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

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strong leaders

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

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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decluttering

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

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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