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Op/Ed

The end of the MLS is near… maybe

With all of the predictions surrounding the death of the MLS, let’s talk about how this could happen at the hands of the industry instead of outsiders. This will be a tough pill to swallow for many.

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mls end is near

It has been said many times throughout history, “the end is near.” Nostradamus, the Bible, and even the Fortune Teller under the Boardwalk in Atlantic City have predicted it. In the MLS space, many have predicted the end of MLS. Consultants, MLS gurus, association executives, and the Fortune Teller under the Boardwalk in Atlantic City have all predicted MLS will go away.

All these predictions have been wrong… so far.

Love/Hate Relationship With MLS

For some, the end of the MLS would feel like the end of the world, but some seem to be gleefully looking forward to it. There is a love/hate relationship between Realtors and the MLS. Notoriously an independent group, Realtors hate the rules, fines, restrictions, and frustrating technology of the MLS. At the same time, they love the comprehensive data, easy distribution of listings, and the rich business tools that feed off of the data.

Realtors also love and/or hate the cost of the MLS. If you only have to join one MLS to operate in your marketplace, the MLS is generally a good value and very few complain about the price. Unfortunately, marketplaces have expanded over the years and many have to pay multiple MLS fees to operate their business. Only a few things make Realtors crankier than having to pay multiple MLS fees.

It is easy to understand why paying multiple times for the same service is not popular. What if you had to pay one phone service to call people in your city/area, another one to call people in the city 50 miles to the east, and a third carrier to call folks 50 miles to the west? And, you could not call other states unless you had that state’s phone license and paid various vendor fees in each of those states?

Even worse than having to pay to join multiple MLS systems is the fact that you have to enter the same data into each of those systems. And the final straw? Each system operates differently, with different technology and different rules.

So to recap, having to join multiple MLS systems means Realtors have more costs, more work, more systems to master, and more rules to learn. No wonder this makes them cranky, and no wonder some are begging for a national MLS.

So, Why Don’t We Fix This?

The problems with the current set up of MLS are easy to understand, but the solutions are much more complex. First, let’s start with the fact that there are 800+ MLS systems in the United States. That’s 800+ different sets of rules, 800+ different databases, and 800+ different groups of professionals providing local services to members. That’s almost 50 gazillion different variables to overcome.

Even if you suspend disbelieve and assume that we can actually overcome the organizational challenges, the human challenges are much more complex. The complexity of the human side of the issue can be compared to Congress, another significantly inefficient and dysfunctional American institution. Most Americans think their member of Congress is not the problem. Most Realtors, in much the same way, think their MLS is not the problem. In both cases, it is the rest of the country that’s so screwed up.

Like politics, all real estate is local. We have trouble looking beyond our own little world to see the bigger picture. In addition, like politics, we have a bunch of people willing to point out the flaws, but few leaders are willing to step up and lead us to a solution. Perhaps no leaders have appeared because the problem is so complex and emotionally charged that the likelihood of a solution is not worth the effort.

MLS is the third rail for Realtor politics.

Tough Love and Tough Leaders Needed

A wise person once said, “don’t just bring me your problems, bring me your solutions.” All right, here are the five steps to fix the problem:

  1. NAR must stop ducking the issue and publicly declare it is in the best interest of the industry to have a National MLS. The issue will never be fixed on a comprehensive scale by the state or local associations without national leadership.
  2. Create a policy that local associations have to stop using MLS revenues to subsidize non-MLS programs. Currently, many associations have not raised dues to pay for rising association expenses because they use MLS revenue to subsidize other activities. This will likely require a 5-year transition.
  3. Develop a mandatory common database structure, with standard fields and field names. We got halfway there with RETS (Real Estate Transaction Standards), but each MLS is allowed to do things differently. This has to stop. Lock ten really smart people in a room and don’t let them out until they develop a standard we are all required to follow. Again a 5-year transition may be required after the standard is developed.
  4. After standardization, merge the 800+ databases into one national database backbone that hosts the data for all MLS systems. Realtors already have three national databases with NRDS, RPR and realtor.com, so while we’re at it, let’s make sure they all work on this same common database.
  5. Scrap the name MLS and come up with a new one that can be branded by the Realtor organization and delivered as a dues-based service. Members will have access to the common database as a member benefit included in their dues, and non-members will have to pay for access. No more “joining” the MLS; instead each member will purchase the software of their choice to access the Realtor database and the access to the data will be included in dues.

Will this be easy or popular? No way. Will lots of great people who run MLS systems lose their jobs? Unfortunately, yes. Will the leaders of NAR take a lot of heat? Count on it. No matter what the solution, this is going take tough love to push associations/members away from the status quo and tough leaders who can stand tall and take the heat.

Will this be the end of MLS? Maybe, but it is better to dictate your own changes, than lay in wait for others to dictate them to you.

Dave is a 20+ year veteran in Realtor® association management and leadership and is currently the CEO of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®. He is a writer, speaker, strategic planner, and life-long learner with a passion for creative thinking. Dave has published his first novel For Reasons Unknown and will be publishing his second by the end of the year.

Op/Ed

The dos and don’ts of balancing your life with your real estate career

(EDITORIAL) Your real estate practice can be overly consuming if you let it. With discipline, you can have a good work/life balance.

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Real estate agent shaking hands with couple over a For Sale sign marked sold from Zillow

In your real estate practice, you have a plate, and you can only put so much onto that plate before things begin to fall off into the cracks. These cracks are what I call “fires” – you know, those things that become emergencies because simply put, you let them.

What I am about to share with you at first glance may come off as cold, however, I believe that with a little thought, some practice, and your own tweaks, you can realize the income you want and afford time with your family – all while elevating the respect you deserve from your real estate clients.

Balancing work and life in real estate is no easy feat.

At no point in my real estate career have I ever allowed myself to appear too eager or desperate for a client, and my clients always felt special and cared for, even though I observed a strict daily schedule. The following is how this can be accomplished:

Lesson one: You know your threshold of how many clients you can handle at once. Your pipeline should be full, and the next client in line for your services should know you’re worth waiting for, and be assured that the same care and attention will be shown to them as soon as they are “next” (never answer a client call while with another client, or this will not work for you). A client became “next” when an offer was accepted on one of my existing transactions. My threshold was originally four clients. If my pipeline was expanding quickly, I brought on agent assistants. As they waited their turn, my assistant held their hand and kept them busy with pre-qualification, buyers agreements, and the like.

Lesson two: When I took on the next client, clear rules of the road were established. I do not leave the house (home office) until 10. I have better things to do with my time than to sit in rush hour needlessly. Some like this time for phone time, however, your undivided attention is not always given, and the possibility of missing vital details while driving and negotiating grows exponentially (as do safety risks). My phone calls were made from 8am to 10am before I left my office.

Lesson three: All of my appointments were set on the half-hour – I’m not sure why, but it worked and I was always on time, as were my clients. The same went for phone calls. Schedule them on the half-hour. You will find, for example, that if you grab lunch at noon, you’re ready for business again at 12:30.

Lesson four: Be home either before or after rush hour. I preferred before. The implied impression of my work hours with my clients worked in my favor nearly 100% of the time. Why? Because I skipped the salesman b.s. of showing them more expensive homes first – I actually took them to the home described in the range they wanted. I set the proper expectations in the first place. I listened to my clients, and they appreciated it. The day they may have waited for my undivided attention gave them immediate results, and they loved it.

Lesson five: If you cannot show your buyers their next home within five showings, either you’re deaf to their needs and wants, or they don’t intend to buy – if you’re experienced, you know it when you see it, and they’re wasting time for the next customer in your pipeline. Place them on a drip campaign with a buyer’s agreement in place, or refer them.

Lesson six: Decide when your workday ends. Mine was at 5:30. However, from 8:30pm to 10pm I would work on offers, faxes, enter listings, answer texts, and emails.

Lesson seven: Not every client was right for me. For example, I have a zone of travel. The markets I work in. Working outside of that zone takes up time from my clients in travel, and time from my family. Refer them, or if you’ve tapped into a further away zone, build your team. Teams can grow and shrink as needed.

Lesson eight: You are a business. Real estate is a business. You have business hours, and you have you time. My you time was with my family, but I love marketing, so I added a 6th half-day for my marketing, blogging, and the like.

As my business grew, my referral network grew. I utilized an assistant until an indie brokerage was established. We had a clear code of how we conducted business, encouraged our buyer’s agents to adapt their business model as I’ve described, and never allowed an unseasoned agent to handle more transactions than their limit. Inevitably my threshold grew to six, but it took time.

With the technologies we have today with instantaneous communication, it’s very easy to allow things to creep onto your plate. So my final lesson is to utilize an assistant frequently.

It is possible to work and live but it takes discipline and a set of business rules for yourself that you’re accountable to besides just the Code of Ethics. It’s about being honest with yourself, and never being so desperate that something can’t wait a minute.

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Op/Ed

Learning beyond the scope of your career has life-changing benefits

(EDITORIAL) While many may think education stops after graduation, there are ways to continue life-long learning that are endlessly rewarding.

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Man writing representing studying and learning.

I took a class titled “Communication in Aging.” For the most part, it was much like any other class where you learn the material from textbooks and PowerPoint slides. One particular day took a different approach. The professor organized a small panel of five individuals from the community that was in their 70’s and 80’s. While many different topics were discussed, the overarching theme was the importance of life-long learning. One woman spoke excitedly about trips she takes with different groups that have an educational component to them.

All of these individuals were active in the community and have a variety of interests. All of this was attributed to their dedication to life-long learning.

This wasn’t a new concept to me, however, it was not something I had ever taken into personal consideration. I was sitting there with the thought that I had one month left of school and that I would continue education at the School of Hard Knocks for the rest of my life.

But, why wouldn’t someone want to be a life-long learner?

Why be complacent with picking up bits of knowledge here and there when you can be active about it even after you’ve graduated?

This can be done in a couple of ways.

You can continue your education by taking classes at your local community college or park district, or you can take your own creative approach.

At the start of the New Year, my resolution was to learn about a new thing every week (or to simply expand my knowledge on something that I already knew a little bit about.) While my dedication tapered off due to graded research taking precedence, I have picked up this resolution since graduating and have had a blast learning about new things.

My list ranges from information about orca whales to Camino de Santiago, to mortuary science, to how to make a citizen’s arrest. Yes, I am aware that this list is strange (I didn’t even include the ones on the stranger side).

But, I’ve found that learning about these varied items has expanded my mind and has enhanced my small-talk skills. Getting to learn about something different each week keeps me educationally invigorated, and I hope that it helps as I go through my own process of communication in aging.

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Op/Ed

Security of client information is too important to not take more seriously

(OPINION/ EDITORIAL) Too many companies have had security breaches, but is the process for ensuring client information safety too old to secure?

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security too old to function

While it’s clear companies seem to get hacked regularly, the steps taken to keep users safe are a joke. Companies still rely on asking personal questions in an effort to make users feel safe, but those attempts are laughable.

I wasn’t laughing earlier this week as I was setting up a few new accounts.

As anyone knows, creating accounts can be a real pain in the buttocks. But, since I’m kind of a geek, I would sometimes find the humor in choosing and answering my three security questions. (Wondering if I’d remember the answers.)

What band was your first concert?
What was your favorite dog’s name?
Where were your parents married?
What model was your first car?
Who was your childhood bff?

Cool.

I never thought much about the security questions until the last few times when I encountered a few like this:

In which city were you married?

What is the name of your eldest child?

At what time of day was your oldest child born?

How old was your father when you were born?

What?

I felt I had taken a step back in time.

Sure, these questions might be ok, if there were a lot of options, but these were four of the seven provided.

I’m not a super touchy person who gets triggered easily or angered at the drop of a hat. But, these questions made me question this process and its security.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, in this day and age, it’s quite possible you’ve never been married or had a kid. It’s also possible for some folks, they didn’t know their dad. Or, if they do, maybe they don’t want their security question asking how old he was when they were born.

But, the bigger question: Why so very personal? And, from a woman’s perspective, why so presumptive. It made me wonder: are the questions the same for a man or a woman of any age?

I can’t imagine a 22-year-old being asked about the birth of their eldest child. Or, where they were married.

These questions had to be options based on my age and gender.

I chose the questions I could answer like, where was my elementary school located.

But, I didn’t feel safer for answering. Somehow I felt like the company asking them was 1) Prying to gather personal data 2) Not concerned about safety 3) Was sexist.

As many others have argued, it’s time to shut this process down, if only for the fact that it doesn’t make us safer online. This is a practice that should be relegated to the past, just like the presumptive questions being asked.

Seems no matter where you look online, banks, retailers and even medical providers are hacked. Our information is floating in space on the interwebs.

Obviously, security is a top concern. Who wants to sign up for a service only to find out later, “OOPS, our bad, your information was hacked. Here, we will give you free credit monitoring for a month.”

Doesn’t cut it.

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