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Op/Ed

The dangers of pre-MLS, pocket listings, listing clubs, and off-MLS listings

Pre-MLS listings are used for a variety of reasons, but as they become more popular for their advantages, let us look at the disadvantages.

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There are some past real estate practices that are now explicitly illegal. Referral fees deemed harmful to consumers were explicitly banned by RESPA. Dual agency is likewise under scrutiny, with mandatory disclosures being created to discourage the practice and the practice is now illegal in several states, with more states likely to come. If a practice is bad for consumers, it’s not likely to stay legal for long, and those who engaged in the practice might find themselves in serious trouble.

Pre-MLS, listing clubs, pocket listings, and off-MLS listings all fall into this category. All of these involve an agent or broker keeping a property for sale off of the MLS, for sale to a buyer:

  • found by word of mouth
  • found by sharing the property with agents in the same office,
  • found by sharing the property with a larger group of agents over coffee, through email, or through Internet sites.

In all cases, the agent’s aim is to get the entirety of the commission, or at least to have it stay within his own brokerage or other group that provides the agent some advantage. Given everything we know about the dangers of these forms of non-listing for the client:

  • minimizing exposure to audiences, both local and on web, who might purchase the property,
  • minimizing the number of offers received, and
  • property fetching lower sales price,

the agent is clearly privileging his own interests over the client’s. Like referral fees and dual agency, this practice is bad for consumers.

Even the government has taken action

We’ve already seen those “in the know” enact rules requiring MLS listing. In August of 2013, Fannie Mae said that it wouldn’t approve short sales unless the property had had an active MLS listing for at least five straight days including a weekend. I think that’s just the start – the government is aware of the financial harm caused by not giving a listing proper exposure. Take heed.

Some might ask, “Is MLS entry really needed to get top dollar for a listing?” Where it has been studied so far, the answer has been, “Yes!” In one study (at MLSListings), for every $100,000 of home sold, not having an MLS listing cost the sellers an average of $15,000. Do agents really think that once a consumer realizes they may have taken a $150k haircut on that million-dollar home just so the agent can get an extra 2-3% on a transaction, they’re not going to take action?

Financial harm to the consumer isn’t the only issue at hand

Financial harm to the consumer isn’t the whole of the issue either. In a recently published article, attorney Grant Harpold made the following additional points:

  • If a consumer makes a claim against the broker, the insurance company carrying the liability insurance may “take the position that intentionally leaving a property off of the MLS is not covered, i.e., no REALTOR® should be that careless.”
  • Such listings may actually “deny certain people access to the purchase of property. If only certain buyers are allowed to bid on the property, then the REALTOR® runs the risk of being party to a discriminating act, even if unintentional.”
  • A broker or agent may also “be subject to antitrust laws that are in place to promote competition.”

Handling off-MLS listings when clients request them

While the practice may still be legal, Mr. Harpold recommends that agents engaging in the practice explain the risks to the property owner and have them formally sign off on all of the risks – in writing. There may be instances where a sophisticated client – a celebrity or other high-net-worth individual – wants to use an off-MLS listing to protect his/her privacy.

If so, s/he can sign a form explicitly acknowledging the dangers of such a listing. It is worth noting, though, that there are alternatives to off-MLS listing in such a case, such as restricting the listing’s Internet display in the MLS context.

The practice is increasingly popular

In desirable areas with a shortfall in housing inventory, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, this practice is increasingly popular. Fully 29.4% of listings in Contra Costa County, in the Bay Area, were off-MLS in 2012. This provides increasing occasion for bad outcomes and even abuse, all of which will filter back to regulators, trial lawyers, and legislators. Without some tangible incentive for agents to keep listings within the MLS, an unwanted, imposed solution is likely down the road.

If the practice of off-MLS listing continues, we may expect one or more of the following outcomes.

  • NAR will step up and require MLS entry as a standard of practice.
  • Attorneys will smell blood and start a class action lawsuit against brokerages, leading to the practice’s decline.
  • A law will be passed prohibiting the practice.

The real question I’m left pondering is whether this practice will worsen perceptions of the industry before the trend fades away due to market conditions or is stopped by legal means.

This editorial first published in May 2014.

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Matt Cohen has been with Clareity Consulting for over 17 years, consulting for many of the real estate industry’s top Associations, MLSs, franchises, large brokerages and technology companies. Many clients look to Matt for help with system selection and negotiation. Technology providers look to Matt for assistance with product planning, software design, quality assurance, usability, and information security assessments. Matt has spoken at many industry events, has been published as an author in Stefan Swanepoel’s “Trends” report and many other publications, and has been honored by Inman News, being listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders.

Op/Ed

A hugely dangerous challenge of the Internet of Things

(EDITORIAL) The Internet of Things is here, with all manner of soft AI voices and shiny Bluetooth bits. But how long can we count on it staying?

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So, robot apocalypse. The Internet of Things machines have their cold metal fingers all up in our data, our houses, our sand dunes and/or porn.

And for what? What do they offer in exchange for this unprecedented invasion of our day to day lives?

Seamless, user-friendly automation to help with a thousand daily tasks, demonstrably improving our quality of life.

That’s… that’s actually a pretty good offer! Nice work, robots.

It comes with catches, and we’ve covered those, but Day One bumps and blunders are part of owning tech. They generally get engineered out.

What I want to talk about is Day 100, or 1000. Because the important word in “Internet of Things” isn’t “Internet.” We have the Internet. We can confidently expect the Internet to continue being a big deal.

But “things” is an important word. Things are distinct from tech. With tech, buying the thing and futzing with the thing are part of the fun, especially for practicing nerds like your narrator. Tech is new, and the excitement of a new game or a new phone can take the edge off, say, a server crash or a quick trip to tech support and back.

What about things? No early adopter aura in history will get a customer to ignore a fridge full of rotten food. Fridges need to work, period. So does your thermostat and your car. All those things are charter candidates for the full IoT overhaul, and they’re all capital T Things, not tech. They aren’t shiny toys people can live without for a week or four. They’re expected parts of daily life, things that need to work on Day 1, 100, and 1000.

Are companies preparing for that? Are the startups rising out of the blue-light-white-plastic Stuff Renaissance prepared to rebrand as global service providers, doing the hard, unglamorous, absolutely necessary work of digital maintenance?

Bigger question: are they prepared to guarantee security while they do so? Because anything with digitized bits needs patches and updates to function, and if it can download patches and updates, it can download things that are not patches and updates. No one wants to chase a botnet out of their microwave. Are the companies invested in always-on Things standing up and saying they’ll take responsibility for indefinitely securing and maintaining the infrastructure they intend to profit from?

Short answer, no. They’re not. Operations departments tend to be vanishingly small, painfully understaffed, spectacularly underpaid. Let’s be real,: we don’t prioritize stuff like that. We’re talking the digital equivalent of the guy who chases the raccoons out of your HVAC, and that sounds entirely too much like work.

Maintenance is not sexy.

But it’s absolutely necessary. It’s generally just the beginning of a thing. It gets the wheel rolling, and that’s not to be undersold.

But the IoT wheel is most definitely rolling. The issue is keeping it in motion, making it a wifi-level universal usage standard, not a 3DTV fad.

That won’t get done in a meeting. That gets done through long term adoption, and long term adoption will be about attracting, training, and retaining people willing to do the hard work of maintenance and customer support.

The Internet of Things wants to be a major step forward in the infrastructure of daily life. I am incredibly in favor of that. But daily life works because it’s the full time job of a whole lot of people to make sure it does so. So to Internet of Things companies, I say – pay them, treat them well, make your organization the best place in the industry for them, or be left behind by the people who do.

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Op/Ed

The texting sin to never commit with your clients, period

(EDITORIAL) Clear communication with clients is important (and that’s an understatement). This study found one error that separated the sincere text from the insincere.

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I have enough issues making myself understood when I speak with someone face-to-face. Now I need to pay attention to how I text so as not to be misconstrued.

According to the latest findings from Celia Klin, associate professor of psychology and associate dean at Binghamton University’s Harpur College, the mere use of a period (.) can make a person seem less sincere compared to say, using an exclamation point (!), which, by the way, ranks higher on the sincerity meter.

The study, led by Celia Klin of Binghamton University, and published in Computers in Human Behavior, suggests ending your text messages with a period makes them seem less sincere to the receiver.

Participants in the study read short exchanges with responses that either did or did not contain messages that ended with a period.

When the messages were in text message form, as opposed to handwritten notes, the messages that ended with a period were generally rated as being less sincere than messages that didn’t end in a period.

Klin points out that “Texting is lacking many of the social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations. When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on.”

Instead, adds Professor Klin, people who text rely on what they have available to them: “…emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and punctuation.”

I’m not sure what the alternative to texting is. Lifehacker.com recently published its findings of what it feels are the five best alternative texting apps. But at the end of the day (or end of the sentence in this case) you are still texting and thus still setting yourself up for the dreaded improper use of a period (.)

That said, Lifehacker’s survey revealed that WhatsApp leads the pack. WhatsApp is a cross-platform messaging system that supports Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry devices. WhatsApp is popular because the service is backed by hundreds of millions of active users, and allows you to send text, photo, and voice/video messages to individuals and groups for free using mobile data or Wi-Fi. And there’s not a Period (.) in sight. You can see the rest of the top five contenders by clicking here.

In terms of expressing myself, the use of emoticons works perfectly for me. Trouble is, within a professional context the cartoon-like emoticon looks out of place. That’s OK. It’s the next best thing to speaking in person (which I’d rather do anyway) and it sure beats worrying about period (.) misuse.

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Op/Ed

Why you should lose the sweat pants if you work from home

(EDITORIAL) While it’s tempting to cozy up and work in your most comfortable sweatpants or yoga pants, there are a number of reasons that dressing up to go to work can help increase work from home productivity.

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There are many often discussed benefits to working from home. If you’re not spending time on a daily commute, that means you have more time to work on personal projects and share with your family and friends. Plus it saves you gas and/or fare money.

While it’s tempting to cozy up and work in your most comfortable sweatpants or yoga pants, there are a number of reasons that dressing up to go to work can help increase work from home productivity — even if you’re just commuting to your couch!

You should wear pants (yes, everyday).

When you look your best, you feel your best, and arguably work your best.

It’s pretty hard to resist the temptation of vegging out a bit if you’ve rolled out of bed and headed to your desk while still wearing pajamas. If you have no plan to get dressed for the day, the temptation to hit the snooze button until the moment you need to be present and accounted for will really work against you.

Your computer will say work, but your favorite oversized t-shirt says go back to bed.

When you’re working from home, planning to get up early and prepare for your day allows you to create a transitional space that will help distinguish your home life from your work life. Dressing for success, even if you don’t see anyone during your office hours, will drive your sense of purpose and help you carve out a more productive space. It will also signify to any family members or roommates that you’ve entered the workspace and shouldn’t be bothered.

If you work from a restaurant, coffee shop, or workspaces, it can make you more approachable.

If you’re not dressed for the part, those around you may assume that you’re spending your time recreationally. Even if you are constantly answering your phone, drafting emails, or working on a project. It’s deceptively easy to look like you’re simply browsing the internet or socializing in casual attire.

There are plenty of opportunities to network and meet new people, even when you work from home. You never know who you may end up connecting with, and dressing appropriately to your profession can send the message that you’re an expert and take what you do seriously.

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