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Op/Ed

12 pointed questions for Zillow’s Errol Samuelson

Errol Samuelson abruptly left Move, Inc. this month for competitor Zillow, and several tough questions remain in the wake of his departure.

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Earlier this month, Zillow announced that Errol Samuelson, former president of realtor.com and Chief Strategy Officer at Move, Inc. became their new Chief Industry Development Officer to direct the company’s relations with the industry. Move quickly promoted Samuelson’s number two, Curt Beardsley to fill his shoes, and days later, it was announced that Beardsley too, had converted to Zillow-ism. Both figures left on the heels of Trulia announcing that they had recruited John Whitney, the VP of ListHub (a Move company) to shore up their listing accuracy.

Some called the poaching a blow, others cited Move’s opportunity to bring in some new blood. Brad Inman, founder of Inman News recently sat down with Samuelson to discuss his exit, and we gained insight into Zillow’s culture. While we have tremendous respect for Inman and the paths he has paved for the industry, the video interview left us wanting more. Much more.

Prior to the publication of the video interview, we reached out to Samuelson, offering to tell his side of the story, even inviting him to do a video interview with our CEO who he has met with and spoken with in the past. He politely declined, citing that “right now I’m heads down with the team here in Seattle, putting together our plans for the next 6 months.”

Although our invitation stands, it may be because he knows that our policy is to not offer questions in advance, to never softball an interview, and to focus on the facts, that the interview was declined. For this reason, we were left wanting more. Much more.

12 questions remain for Errol Samuelson

Because we consider ourselves watchdogs for the Realtor membership and feel it fair that he answer to questions that impact not only Realtor-owned Realtor.com, but the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and their members. In that spirit, we have no choice but to ask these questions here.

  1. Why did you erase all memory from the iPhone, iPad, and laptop issued to you for business purposes by Move?
  2. Why didn’t you give the standard two week’s notice?
  3. Why did you resign by contacting the human resources department on a day that everyone knew your CEO would be in investor meetings and completely unavailable for the duration of the work day? Why didn’t you attend your scheduled 2013 review the next day with Steve Berkowitz and resign in person?
  4. When Berkowitz contacted you upon learning of your resignation, he asked only one thing – that you give him 24 hours before the announcement of your leaving goes public (we assume so he could finish his meeting and have his team mobilized to respond). You declined and the announcement went out just minutes later. Why wasn’t this request honored?
  5. How many Move employees did you contact after you had already left for Zillow? What was the context of those conversations?
  6. Why didn’t Curt Beardsley, your number two, leave at the same time as you?
  7. How do you feel about your actions (wiping hard drives, going to a competitor without notice) potentially impacting how Move will likely analyze Beardsley’s exit? Doesn’t this put Beardsley in an awkward position?
  8. Berkowitz noted that you were always one of the most outspoken critics of Realtor.com competitors, and to see that change overnight is like a Republican becoming Democrat with no explanation. How do you respond?
  9. In your interview with Inman, you allude to constraints at Move. Can you expound on those constraints?
  10. Were the constraints because of the company, or because in the past three years, a $90 million marketing budget was taken out of your hands, and you were stripped of involvement in day to day operations, leaving you as somewhat of a figurehead with tied hands? Is that the real reason you resigned?
  11. Zillow launched as the anti-Realtor.com, so why do you think they are recruiting talent from within the ranks of the company they once swore against and are creating products that are so similar to Move products? By joining Zillow, aren’t you just setting them up for the same failure you couldn’t control in your tenure at Move?
  12. In your new role in industry relations, wouldn’t you expect to walk into a broker’s office and receive this same line of questioning, given that the Realtor model is built on cooperation and trust?

Samuelson is a very pleasant person and not abrasive, so he is indeed a popular figure in the sector, but industry relations matters and it’s built on trust.

We look forward to getting answers to these questions, not because musical chairs aren’t common in corporate life, but because of the complexity of the Move, Inc. structure and how intertwined it is with NAR and their members; trade secrets are relevant.

This story originally appeared on AGBeat.com on March 25, 2014.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Op/Ed

6 lessons from failed transactions that will save your next deal

(BUSINESS) Failed transactions can be a tremendous source of learning for any level of real estate professional.

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The late Maya Angelou was known to have said, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

And while I believe that this humorous quote is quite true, you can also learn a lot about a real estate professional when the going gets tough. That is, when a real estate transaction begins to face challenges or when there are signs that the transaction itself is going to fall through, you can learn a lot about an agent by his or her behavior in the face of adversity.

Having assisted agents in closing thousands of transactions, here are the six largest lessons that I’ve learned about real estate from these failed transactions.

  1. Never oversell your services. Don’t promise the moon if you cannot even deliver the stars. That is, don’t offer up marketing programs that you cannot deliver. Don’t promise your client that the property will be on page one of Google if it will not. And, never promise that you can save a client from foreclosure or negotiate a sale for top dollar. It’s not generally a good idea to guarantee that you can sell a property—especially at a price that does not align with current market value. When you cannot deliver on your promises, clients get angry. This anger will result in bad reviews, no referrals, and possibly even a cancellation of contract.
  2. Don’t be pushy. If a client is on the fence about making an offer or listing the property for sale, never be too pushy. It is generally a good idea to document pros and cons in order to help a client make a more informed decision. However, if you push clients to list their home as a short sale when they are still considering a loan modification or when you push buyers to make an offer on a property they don’t really like, your behavior will come back to bite you in the butt. Help clients make informed decisions in their own best interest—not yours.
  3. Always read the preliminary title report. If you are listing a property for sale or if you represent a buyer on a purchase, one of the first things that you must do is review the title report. If there are a significant number of unpaid liens, the seller will need to pay those off at closing. Often, this can be difficult or there may not be enough funds to close and cover the seller’s obligations. So, don’t put your buyers into a situation like this and don’t take a listing if you are not going to be able to get it closed.
  4. Always check proof of funds. If the buyer is an investor buying on behalf of a corporation, limited liability company, trust, or partnership, make sure that the buyer has the authority to sign on behalf of the entity prior to moving forward. Obtain proof of funds monthly if you have an ongoing relationship with the buyer in order to confirm that the entity has the necessary buying power.
  5. Have the lender update the pre-qualification letter monthly. Since lending guidelines are constantly in a state of flux, it’s a good idea to ask your buyer’s lender to provide you with a new pre-qualification or pre-approval letter monthly. With the fluctuation of interest rates and the risk of a buyer purchasing a big-ticket item on credit, you’ll always want to be certain that the buyer will qualify for a loan before moving forward and making an offer.
  6. Don’t waste time on anyone with irrational expectations. Perhaps you are working with an investor buyer that wants to purchase a home to flip for 50 cents on the dollar. Or… perhaps you are working with a seller that wants to sell his home for $300k over market value. It doesn’t matter how hard you try; this individual may be a waste of time. Consider how many money-making opportunities you’ve lost while spending time showing countless properties and making lowball offers. Instead, focus on lead generation and money-making activities for individuals and transactions that will actually close.

You can avoid panic mode in your next real estate transaction if you heed this advice. The greatest benefit from a failed transaction is what you actually learn and how you can apply it. You don’t want the same stinking stuff to happen to you over and over again. With that advice in mind, I wonder why it is that the Christmas lights are always tangled.

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Op/Ed

The 10 skills every successful real estate pro shares

(EDITORIAL) It isn’t slick business cards that make a real estate pro successful, it’s a constant striving for improvement. Here are the 10 skills the most successful among us share.

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“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” -Winston Churchill

Churchill’s quote may be shared with lame inspirational imagery on Facebook in an effort to make people think the poster is an inspiration, but his words are timeless and a universal truth. People enter the real estate profession with big dreams and expectations and are often met with the brutal reality that it is a lot of grunt work.

Once in the industry, what separates the successful from the failures? There are 10 skills every successful Realtor shares, no matter their expertise:

1. Education level

Successful real estate pros continually educate themselves, and not just in the “I have 6 hours of legal updates to take before I renew” way, but through webinars, earning designations and certifications to refine expertise, continuing education, and so forth.

Resting on laurels is never an option for successful pros, because they’re constantly seeking the competitive advantage. Further, they are educated enough to educate people around them, be they consumers or fellow agents – the skill to effectively convey a message is a sure sign of being educated.

2. Negotiation skills

Those at the top of the food chain can negotiate well, and we’re not talking about haggling at a rug bazaar, we’re talking skillfully navigating the transaction from start to finish, knowing the laws and processes so well that they aren’t just worried about their bottom line, they’re taking their fiduciary relationships with clients ultra seriously.

It’s not about being cutthroat, it’s about being extremely knowledgeable and being able to get the best deal possible (and convey that to) a client, who in turn refers to them because of their wicked value proposition.

3. Communication skills

Real estate agents are famous for not calling anyone back. It’s true, let’s be real. But those at the top not only have the systems in place to handle calls when they’re unavailable or funnel leads through the most effective pipelines, they treat their clients like gold. Which means communicating at every phase of the transaction. No one at the top lands a client then just shows up at the closing table, it just doesn’t work that way.

Emails are routed properly, social media connections are groomed effectively, and systems are in place to deal with incoming communications. Further, they are able to communicate complex legal terms simply and concisely to clients, and they make the process look easy. They’re very hands on.

4. Tech-savviness

The most successful in the industry aren’t necessarily programmers, but they’ve vetted the endless systems they have working well together to get consumers from point A to point Z effortlessly. Many are left behind, duct taping together old crappy technologies, while the successful agents tend to be ahead of the curve and are thirsty to always improve (see #1). This doesn’t mean they’re Twitter experts and want to come talk to your office about the benefits of tweeting, it means their site won’t look like it was half-assedly built in 1999, they aren’t using outdated tools, they’re pushing technologists to serve them so they can better serve their clients.

5. Marketing skills

If you ask someone that is successful about their toolbox and methods, you’ll be in for an hours-long conversation. Marketing is second only to negotiation skills when it comes to a Realtor’s value proposition, so they don’t just slap up a flyer in a yard, they have endless digital analytics in place, they (and/or their team) follow up on every single opportunity not only for leads but feedback. They tweak. Then they tweak again. And again. And again. Marketing skills isn’t just knowing what a modern logo looks like, but what a good ROI is on a specific type of ad, which listings require a re-shoot, expertise on a farm area like school ratings, and so forth. It’s a science and an art that separate the successful from the others. By miles.

6. Problem solving

The most successful in the industry are creative and think well on their feet. When problems arise, they can confidently offer an immediate and effective solution, which requires experience and education (which yields refined judgment). If a sale is falling through because the buyer wants the hot tub to convey, but the seller plans to take it with them, they know when to let go of the damn hot tub and when to hold on, as well as what to offer each party to create a win-win.

This also applies to knowing when they’ve expanded too quickly or too slowly and need to add team members and navigate those waters of operating a business to scale.

7. Team building

Speaking of teams, there is more team building to a successful agent’s tale, no, it takes a village – relationships with all types of vendors they can call in a pinch, title professionals that are effective, photographers that are skilled, and so forth.

The most successful in the industry are networkers with a purpose that have refined their pitch (and they know “I help people buy and sell homes” is forgettable, but “I specialize in luxury properties on the north shore” yields more referrals), and know that their team expands far beyond their four office walls.

8. Leadership

Successful real estate pros are typically quality leaders. They know how to motivate every actor in a transaction, motivate their team, and get everyone to work toward a common goal. To be honest, these qualities are often natural when you combined the aforementioned skills.

9. Risk takers

Most people don’t think of Realtors as risk takers, but inherent to success is a refusal to settle. Even if there is a market area dominated by a successful Realtor, they know that the pipeline always has room to grow. They’re the first to try new technologies to speed up a transaction or better serve a consumer, they’re the first to add or subtract an offering to refine their methods, they’re willing to try out new agents that show promise.

They also know how to balance risk for the sake of success versus risk for the sake of taking risk. In real estate the “fail faster” mentality of Silicon Valley tech doesn’t make for a successful veteran agent or brokerage.

10. Advocacy

What most outsiders don’t know is that most successful Realtors are advocates for homeowners and homeownership, often involved at the local, state, or national level with volunteer efforts. They serve on committees, they communicate the importance of homeowners’ rights to politicians, they volunteer at places like Habitat for Humanity and are typically deeply involved in a non-superficial way in their community.

The takeaway

Real estate is a profession that anyone can enter if they can pass a basic test, but the most successful are those that know resting on laurels and refuse to stop growing, stop pushing, stop educating themselves and others, and they refuse to stop advocating. That’s what makes the industry so wonderful, and why we will always advocate for those in the trenches.

#REsuccess

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Op/Ed

Ratings companies have evolved into two camps that couldn’t be more opposite

(EDITORIAL) The ratings and reviews game has evolved considerably in recent years, and now, two clear camps have emerged… which do you think is better for consumers?

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Nearly every industry today is either participating in or being assessed by ratings and reviews. It’s what consumers want – it has become a consumer-centric fundamental.

Because time is scarce, consumers are increasingly seeking what they hope are reliable, trusted sources that collect and post both product and service experiences of real customers. The idea is that having access to the actual experience of others will lead to making better, more informed decisions and choices in selecting their next product or service provider.

In meeting this consumer interest, a pursuit of five star ratings has created a Star Wars battle line with two distinct camps:

  • Marketing Spin Camp – best foot forward, filtered results, selected feedback, and heavy bias of positive news
  • Transparent and Accurate Camp – reliable, measured, complete, unscrubbed and unmanipulated information from real past customers

So one camp chooses to Photoshop the picture while the other offers untouched results; one camp chooses pleasant fiction and the other chooses the reality of non-fiction; one camp elects to edit and cleanse, the other offers accountability and transparency with some blemishes; one camp seeks an immediate, short-term, gamed advantage to win customers while the other trusts that truth is the foundation of long term relationships; one camp doubts its ability to deliver great results and chooses marketing spin while the other camp believes consumers can be discerning and their service providers can deliver.

Facts sure can ruin a good story

In response to Brad Inman’s comment in an April 19th, 2016 interview, “…what I’d love to see here… (is) a higher-quality agent… better ones”, the former president of an organization promoting the Marketing Spin Camp stated, “Ratings are not the way to a higher-quality agent because ratings are a marketing tool… I don’t care what anybody says about that.”

The power of Marketing Spin is in telling a tale. Since the facts can ruin a good story, those in the Marketing Spin Camp often find it more convenient to avoid, ignore, omit, or not even bother to learn the facts. These facts have been researched and available for some time now, including in a 2008 report, before most in the Marketing Spin Camp entered the North American real estate market.

Transparency, accountability, and feedback both change and positively alter behavior in sports, business and politics. The evidence is clear, empirical, and unambiguous.

Ratings and reviews when properly designed, delivered, and data aggregated (scientific methodology with research expertise) do create the kind of accountability, transparency, and feedback that influence and alter professional behavior creating both measurably higher quality and a more satisfying customer service experience.

Spin a story, discredit the real estate industry.

The facts – Here are the measurable results that are specific to the real estate industry and related to how service quality assessment of every closed transaction can influence agent behavior, the quality of service they provide and make them better (data based upon more than 2,000,000 customer satisfaction assessment surveys):

• 54% more Very Satisfied customers with the overall service experience than the national average
• 86% fewer Dissatisfied and Very Dissatisfied customers with the overall service experience than the national average
• 400% greater likelihood of agent making a post-closing service follow up call than the National Average
• 65% greater Satisfaction with quantity and quality of communication
• 72% greater Satisfaction with attention to transaction details
• 78% greater Satisfaction with negotiating assistance
• 54% increase in sales of returning past customers
• 56% increase in referral sales from satisfied past customers

Star Wars – the battle for five star ratings is bigger than the quest to win today’s customer. Honest and accurate ratings and reviews are about TRUST and long-term customer relationships.

Adopting practices of misleading information, selected feedback, and manipulated data are a “win the battle lose the war” strategy that also sacrifices the opportunity for ongoing improvement, real service excellence and true five star results.

Presenting manipulated, selective, or cleansed customer feedback as accurate and honest is also likely a violation of the Code of Ethics.Click To Tweet

You have the power to do the right thing.

The 2015 independently commissioned D.A.N.G.E.R. Report identified agent service inconsistency and the invisible interactions between agents and consumers as the highest threat to the survival of the industry and the value of Realtor® services.

Believing that ratings are only about creating positive messages or merely a marketing tool that cannot influence professional behavior is factually incorrect and a sad surrender in the face of what can and is actually being done.

“Like them or not, reviews are now central to the consumer decision-making process. Go all in or stay out of the game. People will sniff BS a mile away if you try to peddle filtered or otherwise less-than-open reviews.” -Brian Boero, Founding Partner, 1000Watt Consulting

While we may frequently feel that events in business and life are beyond our control, each of us has the power to do the right thing, to do it well and to do it now!

This editorial was first published here in February of 2017.

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