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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

The offensive myth of getting laid off being a blessing

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There’s an age-old trend in news to look for rags-to-riches stories. People love to hear about someone who’s down on their luck scraping together a genius idea and, through sheer grit (it seems), finding the motivation to finally strike out on their own and realize their dream.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Person X is laid off from their long-time but unfulfilling office job, say at an oil company in Alberta, or a marketing agency where their good ideas are consistently shot down.

What seems like a situation to for despair is actually an opportunity in disguise— see, with their newfound freedom Person X has the ability to fully commit to their small business pipe dream.

In fact, the story goes, getting laid off was actually the best thing to ever happen to this person.

This story is a myth.

Although I don’t want to discredit anybody who has had the willpower, luck, and resources to succeed at launching their business, there are many people who are laid off who are truly in critically terrible times.

The insidious underlying message of this myth is that anybody who is truly devastated by being laid off is being weak or lazy.

It serves to alleviate the guilt of those who may have survived the lay off themselves; it helps organizations justify the fact that they might have had to let an otherwise good employee go for their own, corporate-level problems.

The characteristics that many of these laid-off-turned-successful-entrepreneurs have in common are the same sort of privileges that many take for granted – health, youth, a personal support system to help keep the lights on, and an established network of people that can be turned into a market of clients.

What happens to the many workers who are victims of ageism when they are laid off in favor of younger, less expensive workers?

What happens if you’re laid off and you can’t use your newfound time to work on your business plan because you’re raising young children?

The entrepreneurs who find opportunity in being suddenly jobless were probably already on their way to striking out on their own, with their being laid off acting as the defined starting point for a plan they might not have known was forming in their heads.

If you, a friend, or a colleague have the unfortunate luck to be laid off, don’t let this myth get under your skin.

It’s okay to have a rough time with a huge life event that is absolutely terrifying and difficult.

Hang in there.

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Opinion Editorials

3 things to do if you *really* want to be an ally to women in tech

(EDITORIAL) Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce.

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More and more women are leaving their positions with tech companies, citing lack of opportunity for advancement, wage gaps and even hostile working conditions as some of the reasons why.

What’s better for the tech industry and its employees than cultivating inclusive and diverse departments? Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce. To name a few:

1. Be open to listening to different perspectives.

It can be awkward to hear so many reports of workplace politics stacking against women, especially if you’re not a woman!

Instead of getting uncomfortable or defensive – ask open ended questions and be interested in a perspective that isn’t yours and may be unfamiliar.

Don’t seek to rationalize or explain the experiences you’re hearing about, as that can come off as condescending. It’s common for women to be interrupted or spoken over in team gatherings. If you notice this happening, bring the conversation back to where the interruption began. Offering your ear and counting yourself as responsible for making space will improve the overall quality of communication in your company.

Listening to and validating what women have to say about the quality of their employment with a company is an important step in the right direction.

Expressing something as simple as “I was interested in what you had to say – could you elaborate on your thought?” can help.

2. Develop an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program.

An ERG is a volunteer-based, employee-led group that acts as a resource for a particular group of employees. An ERG can help to foster inclusiveness through discussion, team-building activities and events. It’s common for a department to have only one or two women on the roster.

This can mean that the day to day feels disconnected from concerns commonly shared by women. disjointed it might feel to be on a high performing team, without access to relatable conversations.

3. Be responsible for your company’s culture.

Chances are, your company already has some amazing cultural values in place. That said, how often are you checking your own performance and your co-workers performances against those high standards? Strong company culture and values sound great, but whether or not they’re adhered to can make or break the mood of a work environment.

Many women say they’ve experienced extremely damaging and toxic cultural environments, which lead to hostility, frustration, and even harassment. Take action when you see the new woman uncomfortable with being hit on at team drinks.

Call out those who make unfriendly and uncouth comments about how women perform, look, or behave.

Setting a personal threshold for these kinds of microaggressions can help you lead by example, and will help build a trustworthy allyship.

(This article was first published here in November, 2016.)

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Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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bullet journal

It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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