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Op/Ed

Focusing on listing data is looking into the wrong end of the telescope

The real estate press has been obsessed with listing data while ignoring the bigger picture – it’s a crafted narrative designed to chip away at your earnings.

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wrong end of telescope

For the last several years, there has been a narrative being told through real estate news outlets, with a primary focus being on real estate listing data, with headlines praising or chastising whichever of the big three (Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com) is popular to love or hate that day, and it’s threatening agents’ ability to earn.

Why? First, let’s look at the current focus on Zillow, and then the truth about backroom deals that have nothing to do with listing data that you’re being distracted from so there is less of the pie left for you.

Enron was aggressive and innovative once

This year, Zillow has been the real estate search company darling in the headlines – their aggressive tactics have led to their being called innovative, and their flair is enjoyed by the real estate practitioner masses (never mind their anti-agent roots). Right now, they’ve pulled ahead of Move (Realtor.com) and Trulia, with their stocks performing 10 times better than the S&P 500 average for the week. They’ve poached talent and walked into private meetings with brokers and boards with exceeding levels of cockiness.

There was another company once upon a time that had brilliant minds filling the halls, accolades out the wazoo, and amazing profit margins, and the streets of Houston were abuzz with talent from the mega-company, Enron. But we know how that ended. I’m not saying Zillow is shady at all – the only parallel you must take away from this is that aggressive winners aren’t always destined to remain in the winner’s seat. If Move can get it together and reorganize and come out swinging, they could easily pull ahead, and if Trulia’s insistence on being the underdog pays off, they too could pull ahead.

Could Trulia be the long term winner?

Just today, The Motley Fool predicts Trulia is the best stock investment in the long run. “So far, Zillow has proven to be the superior investment; however, looking ahead, Trulia’s performance now means it presents the better value. Furthermore, at 9 times sales with 70% plus growth, Trulia trades at a level that is very attractive in the arena of momentum stocks.”

Further, they noted, “Move doesn’t have the same aggressive growth, nor is it a high-profile business, but double-digit growth and a profitable company for less than 2 times sales appears to be a fairly good value. Nonetheless, much of Move’s upside rests in the growth prospects of its rather small software segment. Due to this uncertainty, Trulia looks like he [sic] best investment, as it has proven quarter after quarter that its growth is sustainable and shows no signs of slowing.”

I’m not convinced at this moment that Trulia could be the long term winner, but it’s quite possible since they’re keeping their nose to the grind. I’m not sure the court of public opinion (real estate practitioners) will determine them as the winner, but again, these opinions change with the wind.

The truth that you’re missing out on

Focusing on listing data is like looking into the wrong end of the telescope. It’s a myopic view of the industry, and an intentional framing of a narrative designed to have boots on the ground focus on one moving cog in the machine while thousands of other pieces of the machine keep running. It’s a way to get clicks on a website, and it’s intellectually lazy – it’s like saying you think the government sucks, but can’t detail why, just that they suck.

There are backroom deals you don’t know about and you’ll never know about. Have you ever devoted endless time to a committee only to find out that a decision was made before you ever got involved, but the motions had to be gone through, or a last minute change in circumstances discarded the entire committee’s decision on a technicality?

Further, there are policies being considered and drafted and voted upon that you won’t hear about elsewhere, and there are so many bigger moving parts that impact your practice and ability to earn, that it is offensive how much attention is paid to this one moving part.

It’s all a distraction. Can you say wag the dog? Love or hate Z/T/R, it’s a ruse that is keyword packed and filled with buzzwords from organizations that take your money yet have a history of disrespecting the real estate practitioner, associations, and anyone that doesn’t have a widget to sell at their conferences or on their sidebars.

You’ve experienced this before

The truth is that you’ve probably experienced this type of ruse before and had a better understanding of it – have you lived in an area where faster internet speeds were coming? What happens as the better internet is on its way? Suddenly your once-fast internet is choking and slowing. Just as internet providers supposedly don’t do this, the Z/T camp is supposedly not doing this as they tighten the pipeline on your ability to earn.

You may not love them, but Move (Realtor.com) is a company that has a percentage interest in your earning power, through their operating agreement with the National Association of Realtors, so they can’t about face and serve another master when it benefits their bottom line – but others can, and one company has had an anti-agent rhetoric since day one. But today of course, they’re still in damage control mode to get you back on board to spend money – what happens when they have your money if they do beat out Realtor.com? Just like your internet, the pipeline is going to choke up and you’ll have to spend more/earn less.

Our commitment to the big picture

The narrative built around supporting the listing data companies looking to throttle your earning power is insulting. While we will continue to stay on top of the Z/T/R happenings, we are committed to treating it as only one piece of the puzzle, not as the entire puzzle, because we know how to look through the telescope – and what we see is both inspiring and terrifying.

There are stories we are fleshing out that are so much bigger than who added a green button to a blue site – there are competitors to Z/T/R in the works that don’t even exist in alpha yet, there are lawsuits being filed that threaten how you operate, associations running around like chickens with their heads cut off to rally members to take action on even the simplest things that would keep their earning power in tact, broker models being conceived of that could actually rock the boat, executives taking cash to block innovation, patent lawsuits being filed that want to penalize you individually, and so forth. We’re thinking bigger and looking through the proper end of the telescope.

The commitment you must make

You have a responsibility to blow the whistle. If things are going on in your backyard that are being ignored by the real estate press because it doesn’t serve their narrative of the day, we want to tell that story, your story, so speak up, even if it’s anonymous (we fervently protect our sources). The only way to improve the industry and insure that practitioners can continue to earn an honest living is to be a part of that change. Right here.

Your ability to earn could be sharply impacted over the next few years as the market tightens, and you can’t let that happen as news is bought and shaped by those that believe your commission is too high. We can disagree all day long about who will win the Z/T/R battle, but where we all must agree is that it is only one tiny cog in a giant machine.

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

Don’t just set and forget your succession plan – update it regularly!

(EDITORIAL) You may think that once you have a succession plan in place, you’re set for life, however, it’s recommended to continually update them!

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Older man looking out of window representing a need for a succession plan.

We’ve written before about how the everlasting success of the business will need to outlive you, and this is best conjured up in a succession plan. This is especially true for small business owners and entrepreneurs that have built an empire for themselves but aren’t sure what the future will hold beyond their passing. This is the exact reason that succession plans shouldn’t be set and forgotten, but instead consistently updated.

What are some of the obvious reasons that you may need to update your succession plan?

  1. Health Issues
  2. Marriage or Remarriage
  3. Changes in health in executors or guardians
  4. Changes in the law
  5. Changes in Residence

Now, for the not-so-obvious reason: It should be updated when any personal circumstances changes, which most likely happen often. This is why a will is like your home, an investment that needs to be properly maintained, and if it is, it will last a very long time.

Examples include changes in economic or parental status, as well as designations or fiduciaries. Elders could be aging, siblings may be having their own life changes, as well as if any dependents are born with or develop special needs.

“Every state has different laws regarding the administration of a will,” he said.?“For instance, states vary regarding the required residence of an executor, inheritance tax laws, and whether a child can be disinherited by omission.”

The recommended procedure is to review wills and powers of attorney at least every five years.

Lastly, when should a will update to a trust?

  1. When you have some significant assets (more than $500,000) in your own name.
  2. If you have special needs beneficiaries.
  3. If you have properties in multiple jurisdictions (multiple states or even counties).
  4. If you have beneficiaries you want to control distributions to (e.g., distribute at ages 25/30/35).
  5. If you have kids from a previous relationship you want taken care of.
  6. If you may want asset protection (special trust needed).
  7. If you are a big dog (over $22M if married), to save taxes.

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Op/Ed

Tips to identify & minimize employee’s ‘invisible’ tasks in the workplace

(EDITORIAL) Often meaningless, invisible tasks get passed down to interns and women. These go without appreciation or promotion. How can we change that?

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Two women in the office discussing invisible tasks.

Invisible work, non-promotable tasks, and “volunteer opportunities” (more often volun-told), are an unfortunate reality in the workforce. There are three things every employer should do in relation to these tasks: minimize them, acknowledge them, and distribute them equitably.

Unfortunately, the reality is pretty far from this ideal. Some estimates state up to 75% or more of these time-sucking, minimally career beneficial activities are typically foisted on women in the workplace and are a leading driver behind burnout in female employees. The sinister thing about this is most people are completely blind to these factors; it’s referred to as invisible work for a reason.

Research from Harvard Business Review* found that 44% more requests are presented to women as compared to men for “non-promotable” or volunteer tasks at work. Non-promotable tasks are activities such as planning holiday events, coordinating workplace social activities, and other ‘office housework’ style activities that benefit the office but typically don’t provide career returns on the time invested. The work of the ‘office mom’ often goes unacknowledged or, if she’s lucky, maybe garners some brief lip service. Don’t be that boss that gives someone a 50hr workload task for a 2-second dose of “oh yeah thanks for doing a bajillion hours of work on this thing I will never acknowledge again and won’t help your career.”  Yes, that’s a thing. Don’t do it. If you do it, don’t be surprised when you have more vacancies than staff. You brought that on yourself.

There is a lot of top-tier talent out there in the market right now. To be competitive, consider implementing some culture renovations so you can have a more equitable, and therefore more attractive, work culture to retain your top talent.

What we want to do:

  1. Identify and minimize invisible work in your organization
  2. Acknowledge the work that can’t be avoided. Get rid of the blind part.
  3. Distribute the work equitably.

Here is a simple example:

Step 1: Set up a way for staff to anonymously bring things to your attention. Perhaps a comment box. Encourage staff to bring unsung heroes in the office to your attention. Things they wish their peers or they themselves received acknowledgment for.

Step 2: Read them and actually take them seriously. Block out some time on your calendar and give it your full attention.

For the sake of demonstration, let’s say someone leaves a note about how Caroline always tidies up the breakroom at the end of the day and cleans the coffee pot with supplies Caroline brings from home. Now that we have identified a task, we are going to acknowledge it, minimize it, and consider the distribution of labor.

Step 3: Thank Caroline at the team meeting for scrubbing yesterday’s burnt coffee out of the bottom of the pot every day. Don’t gloss over it. Make the acknowledgment mean something. Buy her some chips out of the vending machine or something. The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact when coupled with actual change.

Step 4: Remind your staff to clean up after themselves. Caroline isn’t their mom. If you have to, enforce it.

Step 5: Put it in the office budget to provide adequate cleaning supplies for the break room and review your custodial needs. This isn’t part of Caroline’s job description and she could be putting that energy towards something else. Find the why of the situation and address it.

You might be rolling your eyes at me by now, but the toll of this unpaid invisible work has real costs.  According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report* the ladies are carrying the team, but getting little to none of the credit. Burnout is real and ringing in at an all-time high across every sector of the economy. To be short, women are sick and tired of getting the raw end of the deal, and after 2 years of pandemic life bringing it into ultra-sharp focus, are doing something about it. In the report, 40% of ladies were considering jumping ship. Data indicates that a lot of them not only manned the lifeboats but landed more lucrative positions than they left. Now is the time to score and then retain top talent. However, it is up to you to make sure you are offering an environment worth working in.

*Note: the studies cited here do not differentiate non-cis-identifying persons. It is usually worse for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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Op/Ed

Technology gurus thrive on marketing you bullshit, here’s what really works

(EDITORIAL) Technology gurus have fun tools to sell you and tricks to teach you, but I can tell you firsthand that it’s mostly bullshit.

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woman holding phone representing technology

I am known as a technologist. An avowed geek. An unapologetic adopter of shiny new objects. My passion is finding out how technology – specifically the internet, can make my job better, faster, and more profitable. It is also figuring out how the consumer intersects with the internet and how I can leverage this to create more business.

In years past, I bet heavily on internet lead generation, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and video email marketing. I researched the best platforms and practices, sought the counsel of the foremost experts and hired the best talent.

I had some great wins and surprising losses this year. I’ll get into that in a bit… but I realized that the real estate industry often markets tech on the internet as a replacement for human connection, as a convenience for the agent, and as a crutch for a basic lack of knowledge and expertise. In the real estate industry, technology is marketed as a shortcut to profits and that is complete bullshit.

Fair warning- this post is likely to get you riled up and deny that any of it applies to you. That’s cool. It probably doesn’t, so move along. I am not trying to derail your successful train. But this category of business tools creates stress for a lot of agents who feel left behind or “less than.”

About those gurus on stage at your favorite conferences

Listen to the gurus on stage and the vendors hawking their wares. According to them, the internet can provide a never-ending source of people who want to buy and sell (leads). It can eliminate the need to chase signatures or show homes. It can sell homes without the need to open it to strangers or tell you a home’s value instantly and automatically.

Wow. Get clients without dealing with real-time rejection. Show and sell homes with no physical effort. Find values with no expertise or local knowledge. Makes you wonder what human Realtors are going to do. Flip burgers, maybe?

Internet-based tools are an amazing enhancement to traditional skills and techniques, but it is often promoted as the miracle cure and wholesale replacement of skills and knowledge. I call this bullshit – but our industry is buying it.

The enticement of internet lead generation

Let’s start with internet lead generation. The surface promise is very enticing. Write a check and get a never-ending stream of people interested in real estate who have given up their contact information. No physical effort. No skill is required. No face-to-face rejection. Who wouldn’t sign up for that program?

But here is the problem. It takes a lot of money to do internet lead generation effectively. It takes a lot of resources to follow up and it generally takes time to create a sale. When you factor in all of these resources, internet lead generation is far sexier on paper than in practice.

Now, this does not mean lead generation isn’t a viable way to run a business. But it is best done in a team setting with proper resources to handle these leads effectively. In a team setting, internet lead generation is less likely to divert attention away from relationship building. And, for a single agent, it is a very dangerous place to “bet the farm”.

So I can pay more but get the same results?

The number of portals and agents competing for attention increases every month, so the resources required to stay level will also increase. This means it continually takes more money to get the same result… and this is where I call bullshit. The average agent is only seeing the tiny fraction of people making a profit from internet lead generation and they have no clue how costly internet lead generation actually is.

And that is another problem. How many agents use internet lead generation as a replacement for the much less “sexier” work of face-to-face prospecting? My guess is quite a few. I’ll confess. I tried replacing my traditional prospecting with a lead generation site. It was bullshit.

Another bullshit problem: social media

Here’s another technology coming between the consumer and the agent. Facebook, Twitter, and email marketing- loosely categorized as social media. When used as an easy, thoughtless, broadcast machine (as most agents do) the agent is following the idea that being seen- frequently- is the way to make the phones ring.

Agents have been doing this sort of “look at me!” advertising with postcards and print advertising for years. However, print costs lots of money and most will give some thought and attention before doing each piece. Social media is essentially free and nearly effortless, allowing agents to completely alienate their audience with their avalanche of tone-deaf posts and emails.

Now, at least this stuff is nearly free and the agent has resources left over for traditional relationship building. But, how much damage is done to potential real-life relationships with poor and uninformed social media tactics? The bullshit part is that free and easy should not mean tacky, thoughtless, and loud.

E-sigs aren’t the next coming of Christ

Here’s another thing. I thought electronic contracts and e-signatures were the best technology tool since sliced bread. And, used properly, it still is. Contracts can be signed at the consumer’s convenience and that can be a huge benefit for busy lives. All too often, though, e-signatures serve the agent or brokerage more than the client. There are situations where the client is best served with an in-depth explanation of the documents, but they are given an e-signature package instead.

This was one of my hardest realizations – I was completely guilty of choosing convenience over great representation. I told myself it was for the convenience of the client, but it really made my job a lot easier. This is not cool, it is bullshit.

I love technology, but…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still the technology fan girl you know and love. But with each passing day, I am convinced that a lasting and enduring business is made with an authentic connection to the people in my community. Technology simply gives me the opportunity to make more of those connections.

I meet and interact with hundreds of people on local Facebook groups and these interactions have led to wonderful real-life meetings and lasting relationships. It is an amazing and efficient layer to my traditional community building and prospecting. But it is a layer. Nattering on Facebook all day long does NOT create enough engagement to create a business.

So, what were my wins?

I used technology to publish my internal checklists to my clients, bringing a new level of transparency and accountability to our transactions.

I went deep on an unreasonable number of CRM systems and I am getting close to having a system that enhances both the creation of business as well as the transaction.

I went even deeper into the concept of the paperless office. There are a lot of benefits to a paperless office, but for the consumer, it means anyone on my team can answer any question, anytime, anywhere.

And my losses?

What were my losses? The biggest loss was my investment in internet lead generation, and that was a real surprise. I invested heavily in the platform, in the tools, and in the human resources necessary to make a profit.

I learned what it takes to make this business strategy work, but I also learned that I would rather use my resources to build a local community.

Another “loss” was the lesson learned on e-signatures. I have retooled my process to make sure that certain critical points in the process- the purchase contract, escrow instructions, and going over disclosures, are no longer a simple e-signature packet.

Moving forward – join me?

As I enter the next year, I am focused on a few principles. Belly to belly rules. Technology done right is invisible. Build a community to build long-term trust. Make a difference.

Wanna join me?

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