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Op/Ed

Looking at the bigger picture: Wall Street, real estate portals, and endless debates

When Wall Street and real estate collide, taking a look at the bigger picture adds clarity to the future of the real estate practice.

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zillow trulia

The debate over the big portals will rage on forever, but should we even care? Are they really such a key component of today’s real estate industry that we have to spend so much time and effort trying to figure out if they are helping us, or planning to take over the industry?

Based on the extremely overvalued stocks of the soon-to-be married Zulia/Trillow, Wall Street is betting on these portals disintermediating the industry. Before you jump on that bandwagon, keep in mind that Wall Street hates real property investments and would love to disrupt the industry and the value of owning a home.

Say what? That’s right, look at the big picture.

The two largest investment vehicles available to almost everyone are real estate and stocks/bonds. The more money that goes into Main Street, the less that goes to into Wall Street.

Also, remember the big housing bubble last decade? While there was plenty of blame to go around on that crisis, Wall Street was guilty of blindly selling trunks of bad real estate mortgages to unsuspecting investors. Admittedly, at that point they probably loved real estate, but their actions were the gas on the fire and it came back to burn them.

Wall Street will always compete with us for investment dollars, so anything that might disrupt real estate is valued by traders. Their over-zealous support of Zulia/Trillow is yet another misguided attempt to capitalize on Main Street values. By the way, they significantly overvalued Realtor.com when it first came out, partially aided by some illegal book-cooking by Homestore executives back in the 90’s.

But all this Wall Street hoopla is all just smoke and mirrors and we have all fallen into caring more about the big data aggregators than we should. Zillow gets 45 million visitors a month. So what? That might sound good to online advertisers and investors, but is it really disrupting the real estate business?

All real estate is local

No matter how hard Wall Street might want it to be true, technology cannot counteract this basic rule of real estate. All real estate is local and even really cool technology will not change that rule. So, some clients may start their real estate search on the national sites, but many start, and more importantly finish, their Internet search for a home on a local site owned by the broker or an MLS.

Wall Street, the media, the national portals and Fern down at the hair salon might all tell you that their favorite national aggregator site is the best place to go, but ask a buyer in search of a home and they will typically tell you they used the agent’s IDX site or the local MLS site.

Let’s be clear, we are not talking about so-called “leads.” We are talking about where a client goes once they are serious enough to be ready to buy. These are people who have already decided to buy, selected an agent, and probably even pre-qualified for a loan. They aren’t interested in messing around on a national aggregator with inaccurate data and a bunch of ads.

So the question is, how many of the 45 million visitors to Zillow each month are people seeing what the Zestimate is on their own house, looking at the latest celebrity homes to hit the market, or checking out the insane real estate prices in San Francisco? Zillow probably can give you a guess and maybe they will add some stats to the comments of this post (begging).

Look at the numbers

Numbers may not really exist to measure national aggregator traffic compared to the aggregate of thousands of local sites, but bloggers can make up numbers as well as any Internet site. Commscore said in April that 97 million unique visitors went to a real estate website. Apparently 87 million of these visitors went to one of the three big national aggregators, leaving just 10 million for all other sites.

Why should we believe that number? NAR reports that just over 5 million existing homes are expected to sell in the US this year. Yes, the Internet overlords are telling you that 97 million unique visitors EACH MONTH are only buying 5 million properties each year. Keep in mind that there are only 300 million people living in the US.

We should not buy these numbers for a minute. Let’s start thinking for ourselves and forget these hyped up stats.

A conservative estimate of the number of local IDX sites in the US would probably be 200,000. Add about 100 really top-notch local MLS sites, many of which dominate the local market, well ahead of the national aggregators.

Again, conservatively, let’s say these sites average just 300 unique visitors a month. That’s over 60 million visitors compared to Zillow’s 45 million (assuming you believe that number). By the way, Zillow claimed almost 79 million unique visitors to their site in April.

Confused? Who should we believe?

This is worse than Century 21 and Re/Max debating who was the biggest real estate company a few years ago. If we look around and think for ourselves, we will realize it doesn’t really matter. All real estate is local and of the 5 million real buyers in the market this year, I’m betting most will find their dream home on a local site.

If we think for ourselves and quit getting caught up in a bunch of big numbers, including the numbers estimated for this article, we might be able to rationally discuss this issue. Ask your clients where they search for homes when they are ready to buy. We may never be able to prove it statistically, but the safe bet is that all real estate AND all real estate searches that matter, are local.

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

To do list methods that maximize productivity, lower stress

(EDITORIAL) Even if you have a to-do list, the weight of your tasks might be overwhelming. Here’s advice on how to fix the overwhelm.

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To-do list in a journal with gold rings.

If you ask me, there’s no better way to unwind and ease everyday stress by making a to-do list. Like they said in the movie, Clueless, “It gives [you] a sense of control in a world full of chaos.”

While that quote was specific to a makeover, it certainly applies here. When you have too many things on your plate, making a to-do list is a quick way to get yourself in order. Typically, this does the trick for organizing your upcoming tasks.

It’s important to determine what method of listmaking works for you. I personally like to use sticky notes around my computer monitor to keep me in check for what’s needed to be done work-wise or by use of my computer. Other personal task items will either be kept in a list on my phone, or in my paper planner.

For work, I have a roster of clients I work with everyday. They each have their own list containing tasks I have to complete for them. I also use Google Calendar to keep these tasks in order if they have a specific deadline.

For personal use, I create a to-do list at the start of each week to determine what needs to be accomplished over the next seven days. I also have a monthly overview for big-picture items that need to be tackled (like an oil change).

This form of organization can be a lot and it can still be overwhelming, even if I have my ducks in a row. And, every once in a while, those tasks can really pile up on those lists and a whole new kind of overwhelm develops.

Fear not, as there are still ways to break it down from here. Let me explain.

First, what I’d recommend is going through all of your tasks and categorizing them (i.e. a work list, a personal list, a family list, etc.) From there, go through each subsequent list and determine priority.

You can do this by setting a deadline for each task, and then put every task in order based on what deadline is coming up first. From there, pieces start to fall into place and tasks begin to be eliminated. I do recognize that this is what works for my brain, and may not be what works for yours.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has some interesting insight on the topic and examines the importance of how you relate to your tasks. The concept is, instead of letting the tasks be some sort of scary stress, find ways to make them more relatable. Here are some examples that Babauta shares:

  • I’m fully committed to this task because it’s incredibly important to me, so I’m going to create a sacred space of 30 minutes today to be fully present with it.
  • This task is an opportunity for me to serve someone I care deeply about, with love.
  • These tasks are training ground for me to practice presence, devotion, getting comfortable with uncertainty.
  • These tasks are an adventure! An exploration of new ground, a learning space, a way to grow and discover and create and be curious.
  • This task list is a huge playground, full of ways for me to play today!

Finding the best method of creating your to-do list or your task list and the best method for accomplishing those tasks is all about how you relate and work best. It can be trial and error, but there is certainly a method for everyone. What are your methods?

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Op/Ed

Want to move past your burnout? Stop using multiple lists

(EDITORIAL) How my evolving understanding of “burnout” helped me learn an important distinction between being busy and being productive.

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too busy to burnout

When I used to hear the word “burnout” I would picture the freaks from the gone-much-too-soon series, Freaks and Geeks, as they would bum around outside, smoking in between classes. Now when I hear the word “burnout,” I think of myself a few years ago as my brain was being fried by life.

I wasn’t smoking between classes, rather running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to figure out how to manage all of my tasks at hand. I’d make a to-do list, see everything I had to do, and drown in overwhelm.

I’d spend my days fretting over how busy I was, and nights catching up with friends via phone, talking about how busy I was and how there just wasn’t enough time in the day.

Notice that nowhere in here was I actually doing anything productive. I fell into a vicious hole of being so consumed with how much I had to do, I wasn’t taking the time to do anything but stress.

At first, it made me feel interesting and somewhat important that I had so much going on. I quickly realized that no one cares and it’s not that interesting (I also quickly remembered how much I love to just relax and not have something planned every day of the week).

This is where I learned the of the most important lessons to date – being busy does not equal being productive.

It got to a point where I was running on fumes and eventually had this epiphany that how I was operating was doing nothing to help me. This was in part brought on by seeing someone close to me behave the same way, and I was able to actually look at how defeating it was.

From there, I made it a point to change my tune. Instead of wasting time writing and re-writing to do lists, I challenged myself to make one master to do list and accomplish at least one item upon completion of writing the list. This helped shake off the cobwebs and I was able to feel a bit of weight off of my shoulders.

The ideas surrounding the hustle mentality had me so consumed and all I was doing was hustling my way to nowhere. After feeling the burnout, seeing someone else operate that same way, and seeing that hustle mentality mocked, I was finally able to break free and get stuff done.

And, guess what? I have even more to do now, but feel more calm and collected than ever. I just have to repeat the mantra: Being busy does not equal being productive. Being productive – especially in silence – is so much better and much more rewarding.

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Op/Ed

How any real estate pro can become more assertive

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Being assertive is not the same as being bossy and while most people tell women to be more assertive, lack of assertiveness isn’t gender exclusive. Here are a few tips how to make your presence known.

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assertive broker meeting negotiation team

Merriam-Webster defines assertive as “disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior.” I believe assertive behavior is the balance between being passive or aggressive.

You aren’t demanding, but you’re not dismissing your needs either.

Women are often told that they need to be more assertive, rather than passive, and men need to be less aggressive. I’m more of the opinion that assertiveness isn’t gender-specific. I believe every person needs some assertiveness training.

While I may not be an expert in assertiveness, as a freelancer, I have learned to be more assertive. Here are a few of my observations:

  • To be assertive, I had to stop feeling as if my work was unimportant. Call it confidence or self-esteem, but it was a definite turning point for me. I stopped using the word, “just.” I didn’t apologize for bothering people. I simply began stating what I needed to get the job done.
  • I defined what assertive meant to me. For me, it was the ability to stand up for my opinions and needs. This didn’t happen overnight, but it took practice. One of the key things I did was to try and be more assertive in other places, like when I volunteered. That gave me the confidence to stand up for myself in my work.
  • I use “I” statements. “I need to take next Monday off.” “I need more information about this project.” “I cannot do that this week.”
  • I’ve found that part of being assertive is taking the other person at their word and not holding a grudge. Don’t read more into their emotions than what is being discussed. Just because my co-worker hated the last idea I had shouldn’t stop me from exploring new ideas with the team.
  • It is very difficult to change old behaviors. I have mentors and coaches that I talk to about my successes and failures. This has helped me figure out what I’d do differently if I had the chance. Trust me, it isn’t easy to be introspective about the time you blew it, but it’s been very beneficial in all the areas of my life.
  • I’ve apologized when it was appropriate, but I don’t beat myself up, either. The other day, I missed one part of an assignment. In the past, I would have not taken any more assignments as punishment. Instead, I apologized that I missed it and fixed the assignment. Then, I took another block of work and moved on. It was freeing.

Being assertive isn’t easy. But it is very rewarding.

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