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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

Amazon kills HQ2 in NY, Austin and Toronto should gloat

(EDITORIAL) Amazon is breaking up with NY, and Toronto and Austin are in a position to say “told you so.”

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Amazon has decided to abandon its plans for its much hyped and much maligned second headquarters in New York City. The location had been chosen after a lengthy (and embarrassing at times) bidding war between cities across the country after local politicians like Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio offered the $1 trillion company over $3 billion in economic incentives.

Amazon’s flip decision comes after increasing frustration and resistance from existing residents in the Long Island City and Brooklyn neighborhoods where the campus was supposed to be built. Many believed that the influx of tech workers from Amazon would drive rent prices higher, crowd an already at-capacity public transportation system, and lead to gentrification of the area.

Reactions to the reversal are mixed. Some see this as a David-versus-Goliath story where communities were able to rally and scare off arguably the biggest corporate monster possible; others lamented the loss of economic opportunity, particularly the 25,000 jobs that Amazon said the HQ would bring to the area.

Amazon itself blamed these small groups in its statement, stating, “[A] number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.”

It will be interesting to watch and see what the fallout (if any) of this is for New York City. As Tech Crunch reports, it’s all a bit complicated.

According to Amazon’s announcement they will not be reopening the search for a second headquarters. Instead, they say that they will focus their efforts on expanding their existing operations in Virginia and Tennessee. They have not said whether they plan on expanding either campus by the 25k employees that NYC was supposed to offer.

Despite this proclamation, many cities are already reaching out to Amazon to try and entice investments.

Cities across America initially fell over each other, begging (I mean propositioning) Amazon to grace them with their HQ2, offering free land, massive tax breaks, bootcamps at major colleges and new schools to spinoff talent specifically for Amazon, interest-free home loans for employees, massive grants for hitting employment targets, employment relocation reimbursements, and employee tax incentives.

But two cities openly stood above the fray – Toronto basically said, “come here if you want to,” without offering incentives, while Austin said in a friendly Texas voice, “y’all come here if you want to, everyone else in tech does!”

While everyone else fawned over Amazon, it turns out that HQ2 is dead in the water, and Austin plus Toronto are likely patting themselves on the back right now.

Among all of these dizzying revelations, it’s important to note that rather than try to work out a solution with the local residents Amazon thought would be so eager to have them, the tech giant simply pulled its resources and left.  One wonders whether the next city can reasonably expect to have any sort of sway in negotiations with the company at all. 

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Op/Ed

Morning rituals of highly successful people – do you have one?

(EDITORIAL) From start to finish, the daily life of each successful person is very much dictated by their family and job. But there are definitely some patterns that we can all incorporate into our own morning rituals to achieve higher success and order.

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Fleximize took a look at the morning habits of 26 of the country’s most successful individuals to include the President of the United States Barrack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Jobs and even Oprah Winfrey.

What was discovered? Well, each of the men and women on their chart start their day early with time blocked out for exercise and meditation, breakfast and family. In short, things that are important!

Someone, somewhere coined it best: “If it has to happen, then it has to happen first!” Everyone has an “it.” Anyone who has managed to find professional success is surely embracing this philosophy. The first hour(s) of the day are used doing whatever is one’s top-priority activity. And no sooner do you start you risk the priorities of everyone else creeping in.

Interestingly enough, exercising in the morning is one of the group’s top priorities. It’s been said many times that exercise helps keep productivity and energy levels up and better prepares us for the everyday challenge of achieving all we can.

From start to finish, the daily life of each successful person is very much dictated by their family and job. But there are definitely some patterns that we can all incorporate into our own lives to achieve higher success and order.

An Insider article found that “the most productive people understand how important the first meal of the day is in determining their energy levels for the rest of the day. Most stick to the same light, daily breakfast because it works, it’s healthy for them and they know how the meal will make their mind and body feel.”

The Fleximize chart demonstrates that successful people consider the quiet hours of the morning an ideal time to focus on any number of things: important work projects, checking email, meditation. And what’s more, spending time on it at the beginning of the day ensures that it gets complete attention before others chime in.

So check the chart and find someone you can relate to.

BI points out that planning the day, week, or month ahead is a crucial time management tool designed to keep you on track when you’re in the thick of it. Using the mornings to do big-picture thinking helps you prioritize and set the trajectory of the day!

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Op/Ed

5 ‘lies’ HGTV tells viewers that impact the housing market

(HOMEOWNERSHIP NEWS) HGTV has long been a fan favorite for renovations and home searches, but is the information they portray accurate? What influence does this really have on consumers?

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It’s no secret that reality television very often does not, in fact, depict reality. One of the most frequently viewed “reality” television networks is HGTV, which features a wide range of home renovation and DIY shows that cater to a variety of home improvement enthusiasts.

While HGTV wants you to get lost in the latest episode of House Hunters, you may be surprised to know that these episodes are in fact, at least partially scripted.

Although there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good home improvement show, especially those ever-addicting home flipping shows like Fixer Uppers, there are a few things HGTV portrays that are less than accurate. Here are five of those things you may want to consider, or have your clients consider before embarking in the home ownership process yourself (or with a client).

Consider the following…

1. Realtors work a lot harder/longer than people think

Unfortunately, HGTV often portrays real estate agents as people who do the bare minimum for their clients, when in fact most Realtors® go above and beyond for their clients.

According to CheatSheet, Sissy Lapin, author and co-founder of ListingDoor, stated shows like House Hunters “make the agent look like they’re just these lazy people who show two houses and negotiate $1,000 off the asking price,” rather than showing the whole host of duties a good agent performs for their clients.

Good agents tackle the whole home buying process; informing clients about what they should consider when selecting a home, negotiating a better deal, and making sure that they do their very best to ensure nothing goes wrong throughout the entire process from start to close.

This is not the impression a potential homebuyer would get from HGTV alone. Realtors® are an amazing asset to have on your team when you’re considering buying or selling a home, and they do a lot more than HGTV portrays.

2. Over-emphasizing the importance of new features

HGTV shows make a production out of showing homeowners frantically searching for the “perfect home” with all the “must have” features. In all fairness, sponsorship from the latest and greatest in home innovations is how they make some of their money. While it’s certainly understandable that most homeowners have a list of things they want in a new home, worrying sellers into thinking they won’t be able to sell their home unless they have these highly coveted features is an entirely different thing.

Lapin commented, “I can’t tell you how many times that I go into a house and they’re like, do you think it would add more value, or do you think it would sell faster if I put in granite countertops?” In fact, like many other trends in homes, consumers are moving away from granite to other sustainable materials. But you would never guess this if you believe everything HGTV is promoting on their shows. Again, the key is to do your own research. Consult a professional and inquire as to what would increase your home’s value.

3. Downplaying the expense of renovations

If you took what HGTV shows to heart, you’d be inclined to believe that major home renovations can be completed in mere hours for a few hundred dollars. If you’ve ever seen Property Brothers, you know the brothers function on extremely fast renovations schedules and very low budgets. This is likely not the situation you’ll encounter if you decide to renovate your own home (or a project home). Even contractors have complained that these types of shows are giving people an inaccurate picture about renovation expectations.

“Remodelers say that shows such as Love It or List It and Property Brothers, which often cram whole-house remodeling projects into too-small budgets, give clients the wrong impression regarding pricing and time constraints,” notes Tim Regan, writer for Remodeling.com. Also, according to CheatSheet, some renovations may not even be up to code.

One couple who appeared on Love It or List It are suing the show’s production company stating their home was “irreparably damaged” and a that a licensed architect was not hired.

To ensure your next project goes smoothly the best thing you can do is consult with a licensed, bonded, and insured contractor. They will be able to give you a time table and price range that is more realistic than what you see on HGTV.

4. Location, location, location

While not as important as the other factors on this list, in my opinion, it is certainly something to be considered. HGTV shows like House Hunters very rarely focus on the importance of location with the home buyer.

Lapin stated in one episode, she watched as a couple chose a home because of its stylish features even though it meant they would have to make a 45 minute commute to work. While everyone is entitled to make their own choices, Lapin makes a good point in stating that she would have “made [her] client make that drive to work three days in a row” to see if they would still enjoy the location of their new home.

This is one of the many benefits to having a Realtor® on your side: they know the ins and outs of home values, location, and more. Getting your information from a Realtor® will take you a lot further (and very likely save you money) than the information you can get from HGTV programming.

5. Buyers know more than some think

Contrary to what HGTV would like you to believe, buyers are not naïve. For the most part, buyers are real-world savvy and have a good idea about what they need and the price range they can afford. This is the age of digital technology, and most buyers are putting that technology to use, researching before they set out to buy something.

Sites like Zillow give buyers an idea of what’s available for how much, and they can even see what the home looks like without getting out and driving to the location.

HGTV tends to show buyers that don’t know what they want or how much they can spend.

This is likely done to make their professionals seem more knowledgeable, but in reality, as Lapin states, “the buyer, the consumer, is very savvy and I feel like that’s not portrayed. Buyers have a lot of confidence now.” This isn’t to say most buyers don’t still welcome guidance from a professional, but they do have a general idea of what they want and what they can spend, by and large.

Instead of viewing HGTV as an example to follow, or representative of the market as a whole, it should be treated as entertainment.

While there are some aspects of the show that may be useful to some viewers, such as window replacement and selecting new flooring, it definitely shouldn’t be held as the gold standard for service or the home buying experience.

Consumers’ best bet is to consult an industry professional who can give you a more realistic picture of cost and time.

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