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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

Your career depends on you, and the mentors you select

(EDITORIAL) Moving up in your career can be dependent on your drive to be better, but improving does depend on who you choose to teach you

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Remember when you were younger and were encouraged to join extra-curricular activities because they would “look good to colleges”? What if the same were true for your career?

While applying to a university may be a thing of the past for you, there are still benefits to having extra-curricular activities that have to do with your career. Networking is a major piece of this, as is finding mentors who will help point you in the right direction.

These out-of-office organizations or clubs differ for every industry, so for the sake of this article, I will use one example that you can then interpret and tailor towards your own career.

The Past President of the national Federal Bar Association, Maria Z. Vathis, is someone who has taken the extra-curricular route throughout her entire career, and it has paid off immensely. Working as an attorney in Chicago, Vathis joined the FBA shortly after beginning her legal career and now is the Past President of the almost 100-year old organization.

She started working her way up the ladder of the Chicago Chapter of the association, and eventually became the president of that chapter. At the same time, she was also becoming involved in the Hellenic Bar Association, and would eventually become national president of that organization, as well.

“Through these organizations, I was fortunate to find mentors and lifelong friends. I was also lucky enough to mentor others and to have opportunities to give back to the community through various outreach projects,” said Vathis. “As a young attorney, it was priceless to gain exposure to successful attorneys and judges and to observe how they conducted themselves. Those judges and attorneys were my role models – whether they knew it or not. I learned how to be a professional and how to work with different personality types through my bar association work.”

Finding people in your industry – not just in your office – can be of great help as you go through the journey of your career. They can help you in the event of a job switch, help collaborate on volunteer-based projects, and help collaborate on career-advancing projects (like writing a book, for example).

And all strong networks often start with the help of a mentor – someone who has once been in your shows and can help you handle the ropes of your new career. Most importantly, they’re someone who you can seek advice from when you’re faced with someone challenging – either good or bad.

“I have been unbelievably fortunate with my mentors, and I cherish those relationships. They are good people, and they have changed my life in positive ways. I still draw on what they taught me to help make important decisions,” said Vathis. “My career success is due in large part to the fact that my mentors took an interest in my career, had faith in my abilities, and supported me while I held various positions in the organizations. Not only is it important to continue having mentors throughout your career, but it is important to recognize that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. You never know who you will learn something from, so it’s important to remain open. Also, after you become seasoned, it is important to give back by mentoring others.”

When asked why it’s important to be part of organizations outside of the office, Vathis explained, “To build a book of business, you need to be visible to others.” She also stresses the importance of putting yourself out there for new affiliations and challenges, because you never know where it may lead.

If you’re unsure of how to start this process, try asking co-workers and other people in your professional life if they have any advice or recommendations of organizations that can help advance your career. Another simple way is to Google “networking events in my area” and see what speaks to you. In addition, never be afraid to reach out to someone with a bit more experience for some advice. Take them out to coffee and pick their brain – you never know what you may learn.

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Op/Ed

Kakeibo: The Japanese art of spending wisely

(EDITORIAL) If regardless of how much money you make, it seems like you’re always short a buck, take a hard look at how you are spending. It could save you a lot.

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Raise your hand if you have cash in your wallet.

What is a wallet you ask.

I jest. I know you know what a wallet is. (I hope.) But, sometimes I wonder if cash will go the way of the rotary phone. Seems most folks I know use debit cards, Venmo or their phones to pay for things nowadays.

Ever notice when you go to the store and have a debit or (worse) a credit card at your disposal, your plan to spend $20 ends up more like $50-$100. For example, anyone who shops at Target knows that when they ask you at the checkout, “Did you find everything you needed,” the answer is “ugh… Yes, and then some.”

Living in a plastic economy has made us less cognizant of how we spend money. But, leave it to the Japanese to have a system for putting the thought into buying. It’s called Kakeibo (pronounced kah-ke-boh) and it translates to “household finance ledger” and it’s something most Japanese folks learn to use from the time they are wee children.

The system began in 1904 and was “invented” by a woman name Hana Motoko (also known as Japan’s first female journalist), according to an article on MSNBC. The system is a no-frills way of approaching finances, whether personal or business.

Now, some folks are great at keeping a budget and knowing where the money is going. My mom, for example was the best bookkeeper. Unfortunately, her skills with money didn’t pass down to me. So, I actually purchased a Kakeibo book to try and get my finances in better shape.

You don’t need some special book (save your money), though you can find lots of resources online, including these downloadable forms, but in actuality all you need is a notebook (preferably one to take with you) and a pen. No Technology Required.

If you have been spending money and not knowing where it is going, then it’s going to take some work to change your habits around money.

In her article on MSNBC, Sarah Harvey says what makes Kakeibo different than using an Excel spreadsheet or budget software is the act of physically writing purchases down – it becomes a meditative way of processing spending habits. “Our spending habits are deeply cemented into our daily routine, and the act of spending also includes an emotional aspect that is difficult to detach from,” Harvey says.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, it is also easy to get sucked into believing you have to have new technology, systems and bells and whistles that maybe you don’t need – just yet. Spending goals for a business, just like a personal budget, are important if you plan to stay on track and not lose sight of where your money is going. Lord knows the money flies out the door when starting any new project.

Based on the Kakeibo system, there are some key questions to ask before buying anything that is nonessential (whether for your home or business):

• Can I live without this item?
• Can I afford it? (Based on my finances)
• Will I actually use it?
• Do I have space for it?
• How did I find the item in the first place? (Did I see it in an IG feed? Did I come across it after wandering into a store, am I bored?)
• What is my emotional state today? (Calm? Stressed? Celebratory? Feeling bad about myself?)
• How do I feel about buying it? (Happy? Excited? Indifferent? And how long will this feeling last?)

For Harvey, who learned about Kakeibo while living in Japan, using the system forced her to think more about why she was making purchases. And, she says it doesn’t mean you should cut out the joy of buying, just possibly making better choices when needing retail therapy on a crappy day. She found the small changes she was making were having a positive impact on her savings.

How to be more mindful when spending:

• See something you like, wait 24 hours before buying. Still need it?
• Don’t be a sucker for sales.
• Check your bank balance often. Can you afford what you’re buying?
• Use cash. It’s a different feeling having that money in your hand and letting it go.
• Put reminders in your wallet. What are your goals? Big trip. Then, do you really need new headphones, a bigger TV, a new iPhone, etc.
• Pay attention to what causes you to spend. Are you ordering every monthly service because of some Instagram influencer or, because of some marketing you get online. Change your habits, change your life.

Using the Kakeibo system of a notepad and pen or a Kakeibo book for the process can help you identify goals you have for the week, month and year and allow you to stay on track. Remember, cash is still king.

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Op/Ed

5 Things your home office may not need

(EDITORIAL) Since many of us are working entirely from home now, we are probably getting annoyed at a messy desk, let’s take a crack at minimalism!

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COVID-19 is changing our behaviors. As more people stay home, they’re seeing (and having to deal with) the clutter in their home. Many people are turning to minimalism to reduce clutter and find more joy. There are many ways to define minimalism. Some people define it as the number of items you own. Others think of it as only owning items that you actually need.

I prefer to think of minimalism as intentionality of possessions. I have a couple of dishes that are not practical, nor do I use them very often. But they belonged to my grandma, and out of sentimentality, I keep them. Most minimalists probably wouldn’t.

They say a messy desk is a sign of creativity. Unfortunately, that same messy desk limits productivity. Harvard Business Review reports that cluttered spaces have negative effects on us. Keep your messy desk, but get rid of the clutter. Take a minimalistic approach to your home office. Here are five things to clean up:

  1. Old technology – When was the last time you printed something for work? Most of us don’t print much anymore. Get rid of the old printers, computer parts, and other pieces of hardware that are collecting dust.
  2. Papers and documents – Go digital, or just save the documents that absolutely matter. Of course, this may vary by industry, but take a hard look at the paper you’ve saved over the past month or so. Then ask yourself whether you will really ever look at it again.
  3. Filing cabinets – If you’re not saving paper, you don’t need filing cabinets.
  4. Trade magazines and journals – Go digital, and keep your magazines on your Kindle, or pass down the print versions to colleagues who may be interested.
  5. Anything unrelated to work – Ok, save the picture of your family and coffee mug, but clean off your desk of things that aren’t required for work. It’s easy for home and work to get mixed up when you’re working and living in one place. Keep it separate for your own peace of mind and better workflow. If space is tight and you’re sharing a dining room table with work, get a laundry basket or box. At the start of the workday, remove home items and put them in the box. Transfer work items to another box at the end of the day. It might seem like a little more work, but it will give you some boundaries.

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