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Op/Ed

From the field: how Project Upstream will change the industry

Change is upon us in the form of Project Upstream, but many do not yet grasp the importance of this massive shift and how it will impact different types of agents differently.

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project upstream

My brain hurts. I’ve just returned from NAR’s 2015 Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo (formerly called Mid-Year) in Washington, D.C. and my head is filled with new ideas to implement at my brokerage and meaningful conversations enjoyed with colleagues from around the country. The talk about Project Upstream, RPR, and a National Broker Public Portal were buzzwords I heard repeatedly throughout the meetings, and it’s enough to make even a real estate tech geek’s head spin.

I believe only a small fraction of real estate brokers and agents truly understand what’s going on with syndication and how things work on the back end of our MLS systems with data distribution. How many agents still believe Realtor.com is “our” portal? When Zillow and ListHub parted ways in February, how many agents understood why their listings may have disappeared from Zillow and how to get them back on the platform? What’s happening right now, with the announcement of Project Upstream / RPR potential alliance and the National Broker Public Portal are groundbreaking issues all brokers and agents need to understand.

Two large initiatives you must understand

These are two different initiatives that are moving the industry in a similar path: they are national projects intended to (1) take back control of the data and (2) consolidate the listings under one big umbrella.

As quoted from their website, the Broker Public Portal (BPP) “seeks the creation of a national MLS consumer facing property search website.” Think Zillow – created and run by Realtors. No, Realtor.com is NOT already our public portal. Realtor.com is owned by MOVE Inc., and the name is licensed to MOVE, but it is not run by brokers or owned by us. While agents bash and rail against Zillow and Trulia for “selling us back our listings” by making us pay money for zip codes and prominent featured status (note – not my argument or belief, but that is a widespread opinion of agents) agents rarely seem to understand that Realtor.com does the same thing! Z, T and R are all advertising sites. The listings feed to them, and the listing agent is identified, but other agents can advertise and feature prominently on other agents’ listings for a fee.

How BPP plans to be different

To differentiate from the other consumer-facing search portals, the BPP’s model states that ONLY the listing broker and agent will be displayed for a listing. No competing (paid) agents will show up on a listing’s information page. This is called the Fair Display Guidelines. Since buyer’s agents won’t be able to appear alongside the listing agent, the consumer will only see listing broker/agent information, giving a distinct advantage to strong listing agents.

The elephant in the room: Fairness

A bone of contention arises since the BPP will be funded by MLS dues. Therefore buyer’s agents, who essentially are left out of the site, will be paying for a portal they may receive little if no benefit from. Does that matter?

The brokers that control the listings in any given market will obviously dominate the portal. The listing agents and sellers will benefit – as who knows the listing better than the listing agent? As a strong listing agent, I frequently have sellers question why “all these other agents” are bringing buyers to their house. They don’t understand that buyer’s agents have value and are there to represent the buyer – and his/her best interest. They want me – the listing agent – to be there to explain the nuances of the property and to “sell” the house to the buyer.

Buyers and buyer’s agents certainly will get the short end of the stick, as buyer’s agents are marginalized or left out of the site. Whether the seller likes it or not, we need buyer’s agents. A good buyer’s agent is invaluable to his or her client – and we need to respect that relationship. Pushing a “listing agent as the only point of contact” does not mean the house will sell quicker or for more money than if the buyer is exposed to multiple agents.

Maybe it’s not too late to regain control of our data

The Project Upstream broker initiative is an attempt to gather real estate data under one umbrella, again trying to wrestle back control of our listings and data. At Saturday’s NAR board meetings, directors voted to pursue an alliance between NAR subsidiary Realtors Property Resource (RPR) and Upstream.

Upstream will be a repository of data, a single entry point where property records will be stored to make distribution of that data easier. Rob Hahn states on his blog, “The stated goals of Project Upstream are for brokerages (particularly the larger ones who belong to The Realty Alliance and LeadingRE) to have more control over the flow of data to the MLS and to the portal.” If you want to dive into the exact specifics of how this model works, read his extremely detailed description.

The model that makes sense in modern times

Hahn’s description of “MLS Mashups” and the modular MLS model makes sense in today’s app-driven world. My own MLS uses a vendor whose portal looks like we’re working back in the 1990s. It hasn’t evolved with how we practice real estate today. I won’t even rant here about having to belong to multiple MLS systems, pay duplicate dues to market my listings on multiple platforms, and enter/re-enter the same data again and again (and again). Our fragmented MLS system needs to evolve and change with the times.

The solution is a plug and play, where we pay only for the tools we want and use. A network where data is pulled in without having to re-enter it on multiple platforms is efficient, so I look forward to seeing what Project Upstream and RPR put together.

#ProjectUpstream

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

Op/Ed

6 questions to determine if you are exhausted and feeling burnout

(EDITORIAL) Six questions can determine your feelings of workplace stress and burnout, and knowing is the first step to curing the problem.

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man laying head on computer representing burnout at work

Everyone feels the stress of the job. Even if you are one of the lucky few who holds what they deem their “dream job,” there are days where not everything is picture-perfect. With the technologically based world we live in, it’s hard to deal with being constantly attainable. After we are through putting in our hours at the office, work continues to follow us home with every email that pops up in our inbox. The stress of not allowing yourself a significant work-life balance can lead to work burnout.

Burnout causes and effects

Studies in organizational communication have examined the causes and effects of workplace burnout. The causes are divided in dimensions of emotional exhaustion, lack of personal accomplishment, and depersonalization.

With emotional exhaustion, a worker may feel fatigued, frustrated, and fed up with their work. Lack of personal accomplishment leads to feelings of failure or incapability.

Finally, depersonalization causes a worker to feel like a cog in a machine, rather than a valued employee. As a result, they may begin to dislike coworkers.

The effects of workplace burnout come in the form of physiological, attitudinal, and organizational. Physiological effects may see spikes in blood pressure and heart disease.

Attitudinal effects see reduced job satisfaction and lower commitment to the organization. And, if burnout is continuously felt with a particular job, the organizational effect could be a high turnover rate.

Ask yourself these six questions

Dr. Steve Albrecht posed six questions one must ask themselves to examine their level of workplace burnout. He suggested that the questions will determine whether one’s workplace burnout is low, medium, or high.

1. What do I like about my job?
What aspects of the job help get you out of bed in the morning? Do you feel like you are doing something you’re good at? Do you feel valued? These feelings, along with tangible aspects, such as salary and benefits, are important for anyone in any job to consider.

2. What do I hate about my job?
Consider the hours, pay, people, responsibilities, etc. Are these items helping or harming you in the workplace?

3. What do my coworkers do that makes my job easier?
Colleagues can make or break a job. Many people often find themselves in workplace cohorts, as work is their main source of socialization. Are these people beneficial in that manner, in addition to being helpful with practical application?

4. What do my coworkers do that makes my job harder?
If you’re on the outskirts of the aforementioned cohorts, that can make the workplace less enjoyable. Are the people you’re working alongside unprofessional? Do they neglect to help with tasks?

5. What does my boss do that makes my job easier?
More so than coworkers, bosses have the ability to make or break the humanistic vibe of a job. If you have a firm, but caring boss, that can make all the difference. If your boss is someone you can go to with concerns, you may be less likely to feel stress in the workplace.

6. What does my boss do that makes my job harder?
Flip everything that was said in #5. If your boss is a nightmare, that is incredibly likely to lead to feeling unappreciated and ultimately stressed out with work.

Every job is situational, but it is important to be aware of the toll that workplace burnout can take on you. Life is too short to settle. I understand that it’s easier said than done, but if you are not happy with where you’re at in your career, never stop looking for other opportunities.

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Op/Ed

5 must-do’s if you want to come across as a great communicator

(EDITORIAL) When you communicate in business, you have to change your talking style to give infor without losing engagement. Here’s how.

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Being confident during a work presentation, using tips to communicate efficiently.

Mark Zuckerberg once said, “The thing that we are trying to do at Facebook (now known as Meta), is just helping people connect and communicate more efficiently.” One of my biggest pet peeves on social media is the post that goes on and on and on. I’d like to think that I communicate fairly well, but I do tend to verge into over-communication every so often. I’m not an expert, but I have learned – and continue to learn – a few things about talking and writing to other people.

1. Know Your Audience

At a board meeting of a local non-profit, I was explaining a repair project that we had to vote on. When I got finished talking about the quotes and the insurance claim and said that we will probably come out even, the acting president looked at me and said, “why didn’t you just tell us this to start out with?” I realized I had wasted about 10 minutes because I didn’t know the audience. Definitely a case of overcommunication. All he wanted was the bottom line, but I thought the board needed to know every detail. Chalk that one up to a lesson learned. When your listener’s eyes start to glaze over, you’re probably talking too much.

2. Be Intentional – AKA Don’t Go Down Rabbit Trails

When I’m with my friends, I love just letting the conversation take us down whatever path. In business, I want brevity. I’m kind of a TL;DR person. Even though I want to make sure that people have enough information, I just want the bottom line. When you’re communicating with a co-worker or boss, don’t let your message get hijacked by taking a fork in the road. You’ll lose your audience.

3. Avoid the Obvious

I hate it when people regurgitate information or tell me what I already know. Call it mansplaining or just being thorough, but it’s annoying on the listener’s side. Give information that serves your audience, not your ego.

4. Don’t Assume

I could write a dissertation on assumptions. We all know the saying, “when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me…” When you’re communicating, find a balance between stating the obvious and assuming your listener knows what you’re talking about. The simple question, “do you need more information” can be a place where you can find out what your listener needs. But I’ve also learned to avoid assuming someone’s emotions or attitude about what you’re saying. Read their face, but know that confusion and daydreaming can look similar.

5. Good Communication Improves Productivity

When you’re an effective communicator, it directly impacts your effectiveness in the workplace. You get more done because you’re not going back and forth answering and re-answering questions and providing information. There are times when you do need to provide lengthy emails or have detailed meetings. Knowing the difference keeps you from being boring and long-winded. Take a few seconds (or even minutes) before sending that message or talking to a colleague about a project. You’ll be a better communicator.

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Op/Ed

What life-lessons college taught me both in and out of the classroom

(EDITORIAL) College teaches you some things that you will (and won’t) find in a textbook but it sure comes at a hefty price.

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People meeting with laptops in a college classroom

I walk the fence when it comes to a college education. It works for some and maybe not so much for others. It’s the whole “well-rounded” education thing that bothers me: First there’s 12 years in elementary and high school learning things that, even if you never use the information, it’s important to know. I get that.

After a lifetime of education

But when you go into college why repeat the process all over again? Why not focus on a career track? Learn and do! Get into the trenches! Where the heck are/were the survival skills you need to make it in the real world? Instead you get two more years of general education requirements! Really? And that’s going to make me a better “xx?”

I chanced upon a great editorial that touches on these same questions. And it got me to thinking: A college degree makes for a perfect world and on paper it looks good. Everyone with a framed BA or two would rule the world and help consumer trust levels, but I don’t believe it would actually make for better X’s (fill in the space with the career of your choice).

The big picture

I had a moral sense of needing to graduate so my folks, bless ‘em, would have the satisfaction of seeing their kid accomplish something they never did, but in the bigger scheme of things what was the purpose of Astronomy 101? Geology? I wanted to learn how to make movies and write scripts and I couldn’t even take a class on Film Theory until my junior year? NASA we have a problem.

Lesson Number One: What I learned fast is that college is a business. If the business can make more money in four or five years instead of one or two, of course you want to drag it out and milk it for all it’s worth. What’s the rush on graduating? Relax! Kick your feet up! That was a problem back then and I still see it as a problem now.

Fear: An incredible motivator

Instead of feeling like I was in the comfort zone of the universit,y I felt like the clock was ticking. Those first two years taught me that I needed to get out of that environment. THAT much I learned! I didn’t know what was waiting for me on the outside but some internal clock kicked in and I went from 12 hours a semester to 20 or whatever the maximum was that you could take with the Dean’s permission.

Lesson Number Two: The unknown is scary. It keeps you up at night. Ties your stomach in a knot. It almost makes you do things you might not ordinarily do. I graduated in three and half years and not four or five like many of my friends because I was scared shitless. Without even realizing it, by wanting so badly to get out of school, I was learning things that would serve me well in life: Goal setting, time management and speaking before a group.

I made a short list: a) See the world. b) Get paid to write about what I saw. c) Don’t look back. I graduated on a Friday and walked into a recruiter’s office on a Monday. I should have done that a few years earlier, but it didn’t matter. Within six months I was in Europe.

The ensuing 20+ years serving all over the world is a story for another time. I wish I would have started that odyssey a few years earlier.

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