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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 tips & tricks to maximize productivity and lower stress levels

(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

How minimizing your clutter will help you with time management

(EDITORIAL) If you’re a clutter queen that tends to wait until your inbox has more than 500 emails in it or your closet can’t shut, read this…please.

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Woman carrying boxes representing minimizing clutter.

Rethinking your clutter habits

Are you one of those people who has an endless to-do list of mindless tasks like emptying your inbox, decluttering your entryway, or balancing your checkbook? Think about these tasks for just a minute.


In each case, the longer you put it off, the more time it takes to get it back to a manageable amount. If you’re a procrastinator that tends to wait until your inbox has more than 500 emails in it or your closet can’t shut, maybe it’s time to look at this clutter through a different lens.

Busyness is like a debt

When you have a credit card, it’s recommended to pay off the balance each month to get to zero. You would never let your bill go unpaid month after month. Once you get your credit card balance paid off, you’re probably more cautious about taking on more debt.

Consider your inbox a debt you have to take care of each week. The idea is to get it down to zero.

Delete it or file it, just get it out of your inbox so that it doesn’t get back up to 25, 100, or 500 to reduce the clutter in your life. Same thing with your entryway. The idea is to minimize the clutter. Once you keep this clutter at zero, it’s much less work to manage it.

Minimalism as a lifestyle

You may have to spend some time cleaning up your inbox or tidying up the kitchen to find your zero, but it’s time well spent. Don’t try to tackle every job in one week, but think about some of the things that have gotten out of hand in your life.

Routine work is manageable, but you have to make a commitment to it. If you need more inspiration, check out Zeromalist, a manifesto of living simply and embracing minimalism.

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Op/Ed

How to go about delegation to *actually* bring about peak productivity

(OPINION) Delegation is well, a delicate subject, and can end up creating more work for yourself if it isn’t done well. Here’s how to fix that.

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Man talking on virtual meeting, using delegation to get more work done.

Delegating work is a logical step in the process of attaining peak efficiency. It’s also a step that, when executed incorrectly, leads to a huge headache and a lot of extra work for whomever is delegating tasks—not to mention frustration on the part of those asked to complete said tasks. Here is how you can assign work with the confidence that it will be done quickly and effectively.

Firstly, realizing that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work can be a bit of a blow. It’s certainly easier to assign tasks across the board and wait for them to be completed; however, when you consider how much clean-up work you have to do when those tasks don’t end the way you expect them to, it’s actually simpler to assign tasks according to employees’ strengths and weaknesses, providing appropriate supports along the way.

In education, this process is called “differentiation”, and it’s the same idea: If you assign 30 students the exact same work, you’ll see pretty close to 30 different answers. Assigning that same piece with the accommodations each student needs to succeed—or giving them different parameters according to their strengths—means more consistency overall. You can apply that same concept to your delegation.

Another weak point in many people’s management models revolves around how employees see their superiors. In part, this isn’t your fault; American authority paradigms mandate that employees fear their bosses, bend over backward to impress them, and refrain from communicating concerns. However, it is ultimately your job to make sure that your employees feel both supported and capable.

To wit, assign your employees open-ended questions and thought-provoking problems early on to allow them to foster critical thinking skills. The more you solve their problems for them, the more they will begin to rely on you in a crisis—and the more work you’ll take home despite all of your delegation efforts. Molding employees into problem-solvers can certainly take time, but it’s worth the wait.

Finally, your employees may lack strength in the areas of quality and initiative. That sounds a lot worse than it actually is—basically, employees may not know what you expect, and in the absence of certainty, they will flounder. You can solve this by providing employees with the aforementioned supports; in this case, those look like a list of things to avoid, a bulleted list of priorities for a given project, or even a demo of how to complete their work.

Again, this sounds like a lot of effort upfront for your delegation, but you’ll find your patience rewarded come deadline time.

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