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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

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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control your spending

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

Social isolation can literally kill you – we need each other

(EDITORIAL) Social isolation and aloneness have bigger consequences than most people realize.

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introspection ask yourself

Can isolation kill you?

Starling birds are often considered a pest because these birds are abundant and usually come in mobs.

Researchers studied the effect of isolation on common starlings and found that when the birds were separated from the flock, it caused increases of the stress hormone, corticosterone. These gregarious birds did not handle isolation very well.

“We live in a society bloated with data yet starved for wisdom. We’re connected 24/7, yet anxiety, fear, depression and loneliness is at an all-time high. We must course-correct,“ said Dr. Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey.

We need other people.

Loneliness and isolation have the same effect on humans. Researchers from Brigham Young University found that loneliness increases the risk of mortality by about 26 percent. Social isolation has a little higher risk, 29 to 32 percent.

Most people tend to feel lonely or become more socially isolated as they age.

Some experts believe that middle-aged men are most susceptible to loneliness and isolation.

Loneliness is a subjective feeling, and it’s just as damaging as being socially isolated.

The researchers pointed out that someone who is happy to be alone still suffers from social isolation and thus, the increased risk of death.

On the other end of the spectrum is a person with a lot of social connections, but who does not actually connect with another person face-to-face. This loneliness is not good for people.

When you’re feeling lonely, it’s not enough simply to interact with others. You have to make an emotional connection. People cannot read your mind.

When you’re lonely, you have to let others know.

If you have a support group, reach out. If you don’t have a network of friends and family, you are going to have to create one. For me, it’s my church and community organizations.

You might find friends at the gym, in a theater group, or through volunteering at your local animal shelter.

Go and play cards with a person in a nursing home or just talk. You might be saving their life through your connection by keeping them from feeling alone while also helping yourself.

This story was first published here in 2018.

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Op/Ed

Career pauses can feel painful but can lead to new avenues

(EDITORIAL) My job pause(s) lead to a complete career change…maybe. While at times nausiating, they can lead to refreshing new outcomes

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Career change

What’s worse than stand-still traffic?

The start-stop traffic.

In a standstill, you know where you stand…still. In stop n’ go n’ stop again traffic, you have no clue. You go from 5 to 50 again for all of three feet then back to 5. Eventually, you don’t even care about getting to your destination anymore just so long as the tedium ceases.

My jobs went almost exactly the same way.

Retail work, career work. Retail work, career work. Retail work, career work. And each time I had to take a pause, I didn’t have enough time, money, or interest to keep up with the rising trend of ‘content creators’ who can film, edit, script, photograph, edit THOSE, AND do blogs and emails replacing copywriter positions. So I just stayed scrambling until I could ‘relax’ into a career gig that ended shortly for one reason or another.

Even though I left each advertising job under different circumstances, in late 2019, I realized ‘Okay, maybe it’s ME. Maybe if I’m this frustrated with the traffic, I need to pull off the road.’

The last shift saw me go from copywriter, to house cleaner, to heavy metal head shop gal, to moderating freight brokerage in the span of two months. Hell of a detour…

Of course now that I’m out of full-time work in the field I sold my credit score to break into, the guilt of having left a career I soured on to break into a field I didn’t need to go to college at all for is…crushing. And new beginnings, with wages to match, are hard no matter who you are.

However, this shame and heaviness is all coming from the inside. My parents are proud, my friends are happy for me, and I have yet to hear anyone actively dumping on my decision to purposely exit the salaried copywriting field. And even if everyone sucked about my choice, it wouldn’t change the fact that so far it’s the best one. At some point, you gotta shake yourself by the shoulders, borrow from Mrs. Knowles-Carter, and scream: Suck on my job cause, I’ve had enough.

Why deal with a stigma when you could deal with stigmata, right? Those are way cooler. And I’m pretty done with wounding myself either way.

Multiple small, panicked hiatuses taught me something. Some things. First thing: truly powerful screaming comes from the belly, not the throat. Most relevant thing: I don’t want to write for other people, nor for brands that can’t use some variant of my own voice.

I thought I was a copywriting mimic octopus who could change colors, shapes, and textures to suit an environment, but this whole time I’ve been a chameleon— always keeping my funky fresh shape, and only changing colors to suit how I feel, or to attract mates. Gentlemen.

I’m not going to act like career pauses are some great thing in which to discover yourself and do some eat, pray, love BS. I quite literally almost died of a bad infection during a time I was on a pause with no heath insurance. The pauses were financially and mentally draining, and if it weren’t for extreme strokes of good fortune in several places, I wouldn’t be in a position to write this piece.

What I will say is that I was able to bid the misshapen phoenix cycle I was on a phrantic pharewell, at least I think so. Anything’s liable to change, such is life.

For now, there is only to bag up the ashes and try to use them in fertilizing my next steps.

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