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Op/Ed

Your MLS system is ugly and boring – how you can impact change

Many in the real estate industry complain about their MLS, but why is that the case and what can be done about it?

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When I perform surveys of real estate brokers and agents, I see the following two complaints about MLS systems all the time: “Why doesn’t the MLS have [this cool feature]?” and “Why can’t the MLS system be easier to use?”

The first question – “Why isn’t the MLS system isn’t as full featured as some would like?” – comes down to two things: money and politics.

Let’s talk about money

Some people might think that MLS software providers are making a huge amount of money, and that the providers can put more resources into adding software features. That’s just not the case. The money isn’t there. Think about it: MLS vendors have had to put resources into making their systems work cross-browser and on an expanding number of tablets and phones.

They have added increasingly more sophisticated prospecting and client collaboration features, numerous local information and mapping layers, and so much more over the past decade. All this while, the wholesale cost for MLS systems has not increased, and in many cases has trended lower due to fierce competition for strategic accounts.

The political push and pull

As for the politics, there is a constant push and pull over the future of MLS systems. For every professional that wants the MLS system to evolve and improve, there is one that doesn’t want the system to change. I often hear, “What we have now works fine.”

If MLS staff and software providers only listened to those latter voices, we’d still be using “the MLS book” instead of electronic tools. But even when an MLS is selecting a brand new system and options are being compared, committee members will often say something like, “We should choose this system because it is the most like our current one and so will be easier to learn.” What that means is that the most innovative system is penalized for being different!

Sometimes subscribers who sit on an MLS board of directors or committee don’t want the MLS to improve its functionality. Quite often, an MLS system will be deployed with some features disabled. During a recent demonstration of system features by an MLS vendor, visitors from the neighboring MLS (which used that vendor) commented, “Is this the same system as what we have?”

Even when the features are enabled, sometimes professionals don’t know what they have.

I see this in surveys all the time – an agent will ask, “Why doesn’t the system do this?” where this is a feature the system already has.

Why is the MLS so difficult to use?

Looking at the second question — “Why can’t the MLS system be easier to use?” — the answer is a lot simpler: the more features a system has and the more ways there are to customize it, the harder the system will be to use.

Since the MLS is a business system with significant complexity, and since subscribers often want it to be customizable to fit their business needs, preferences, branding, and so forth, ease of use can suffer.

For example, it’s easier to enter a listing when there are few required fields, but the fewer required fields there are, the more agents will complain about data inaccuracy and missing data. Likewise, an MLS-generated report with fewer fields on it is easier to read and more attractive.

However, without all the fields accessible, the agent can’t fine-tune the search on behalf of his or her client and must call the listing agent for the information—which is, in actuality, more difficult.

Also, it’s easier to click once to download a pre-built statistical report. Despite this, in order to make the reports more useful to many users, the reports need to be customizable based on the part of the market the user specializes in (i.e., by area, price range, and property type), and need to be styled so the chart can be downloaded and embedded in a newsletter. That means more complexity and a system that is more difficult to use.

MLS software providers try to make good choices when designing the MLS system, balancing out the need for robust features and customization with the desire for an easy-to-use system, but it’s impossible to please everybody.

What you can do about all of this

What this all comes down to is that, if you as a subscriber want to shape how full-featured and easy-to-use tomorrow’s MLS system is going to be, there’s a way for you to do it. Get involved with your local MLS leadership, including with the system evaluation, selection, and implementation processes.

I work with many local MLSs to make sure their leadership is aware of innovation going on in the MLS technology space so they can be smarter shoppers when looking at MLS software providers. When it comes to ease of use, while there sometimes are usability gaffes on the part of the software provider, it is more often the case that system complexity simply reflects the complex needs of active real estate professionals.

Expecting a professional-grade MLS system to be as clean and easy-looking as a consumer-grade real estate search site like Zillow or Trulia is simply unrealistic. Now that you know why your MLS system is so “Meh,” you don’t have to sit back and complain about it. Get involved in your local MLS organization and help take charge of your future!

This editorial was first published here in May of 2014.

Matt Cohen has been with Clareity Consulting for over 17 years, consulting for many of the real estate industry’s top Associations, MLSs, franchises, large brokerages and technology companies. Many clients look to Matt for help with system selection and negotiation. Technology providers look to Matt for assistance with product planning, software design, quality assurance, usability, and information security assessments. Matt has spoken at many industry events, has been published as an author in Stefan Swanepoel’s “Trends” report and many other publications, and has been honored by Inman News, being listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders.

Op/Ed

If ‘likes’ are dead and no longer matter, what does?!

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Social media likes don’t equal people ‘Like-liking’ you. What should you measure instead?

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What is “like”? Baby, don’t hurt me… but it’s the same as what it “meant” in middle school.

As in, it could mean any number of things, most of which aren’t as deep as you were lead to believe.

A lot of us are still hanging on to a like count translating directly to how many sales we’ll make, or how valuable our presence online is, and news like Instagram shutting down like counts threw people who land between the extremes of gas station flip-flop brands and Nike on the ‘How well are we known, and how much does it matter’ spectrum for a serious loop.

Well, this is where you exit the loop, because the likes are made up and the counts don’t matter.

That’s a bit harsh, let me try that again…the amount of likes you get on something doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.

Take YouTube’s interface for example. You can like a video to show your support, or dislike it because you disagree or think it sucks. Here’s the twist: it doesn’t actually matter how much a video was liked or disliked. YouTube just sees people interacting with the content, and doesn’t discriminate between fame and infamy when it bumps things up the lines for more people to view.

If any given shoe company shared a video of grade-school age kids working on our athletic wear, it’s highly likely that there’d be a lot of comments, a lot of likes, and a wave of dislikes.

Are the likes edgelords agreeing just to ‘own the libs’? Do they like the production values? Do they like the company values? Do those likes belong to repeat customers or not? Are they being liked because the person behind the account gave herself tendonitis being on her phone all day for a solid week, and selecting which playlist to put it in was too painful, so she just added it to her liked videos to save it for later because the Advil is too far away?

You have no idea.

And the same goes for any and every other platform out there. Ergo, strategy, presentations, and investments based on number of likes are all castles built on shifting sand.

I still remember a long form content-style commercial for some…keto…thing? With a witch in it, and she got her revenge body, and…stuff? Slapped a like on it. Did NOT buy that keto stuff. I couldn’t even tell you if it was a drink, powder, bar, or a gym at this point. We’ve come back full circle to the era of people remembering fun commercials, but not moving past that.

So what DOES matter?

Comments: Kind of.

You actually have to read these to see what’s valuable. There’s nothing sadder than having an alert go off with ‘10 new comments!’ but all of them are ‘I made 10k in a week working from my moonbase’ type spam.

Moreover, if all of the comments are negative, you’re doing great as far as eyeballs on all the ads you have supporting your site, but not so great on actually spreading what’s going to get you paid paid.

Shares: Sort of.

Have you ever seen a ‘hate share’? Those shares where your friends put a poor horrifically abused animal on your feed for NO GOOD REASON other than to show how much they hate the person that did it? Your brand content is not immune.

And not everyone’s settings will let you see the spirit in which something was shared. They could be buying. They could be outraged. The important thing here is that you monitor as much as possible, and don’t fall for the ‘no bad publicity’ line. You’re not the late Anna Nicole Smith (…right?). You’re a business owner.

Purchases: Mostly.

This always bothered me back in other places I worked. We’d huddle up, and cheer over an email generating loads of opens and buys—woo, we did it troops, we’re on the way up, and so forth.

The catch was usually that this email was about a giveaway, or a huge sale.

When we used the same formula in titling, formatting, and getting hyped about other emails that offered products at full price? Crickets. And now that you can purchase through new social media integrations, we’re facing the exact same potential for premature e-celebration with old new media.

If no one’s willing to buy your product/service at full price, purchases during sales periods are nothing to get super excited about.

We’ve gone through a lot of caveats here, good job following it all! This is where we get to the positive part.

Follows are something you can reliably keep track of!

It’s confusing since Facebook uses the same verb for inviting a page into your life, and doing whatever with an individual post, and also you can follow without liking, or still like a page but unfollow it, so I’ll call the phenomenon of clicking a button that will put your content into people’s feeds free of charge (somewhat) ‘follows’.

Follows are people saying ‘I need you by me, beside me, to guide me.’

It’s someone being totally willing to let your company be a part of their day. It’s a reliable stop-gap measure between awareness and purchasing! Hate-follows are ‘a thing’, but unless your brand pages are set to follower-only (which…WHY), you’re more likely to know that the folks following you like-like you, and you can adjust your focus accordingly!

This whole article can be summed up as ‘You can’t make quantitative data the only thing you look at.’ Even going by follows, if you have high follows, but low purchases, it’s probable that the people you’re pitching to don’t have the capital you’re actually aiming for. Not to get woo on this, but a human-focused, holistic approach to analyzing your social presence’s performance is your only option for success.

Whether or not you include bells and incense is up to you.

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Op/Ed

Working harder isn’t always financially smarter (there’s a better financial path)

(FINANCE) Getting that pay increase can cause you to spend a little extra money on the things you like, but trying to keep that level of comfort is hard.

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One summer I was a lifeguard. I earned $2.70 an hour. My first check was around $250. I was so money! I hit Contempo Casuals and I was able to buy an entire outfit and have a few bucks left.

My income was increasing and so was my taste. It’s called lifestyle creep and it happens to hard-working folk when they aren’t paying attention. Workers start out earning minimum wage, get a raise, then move on to a better paying job. Repeat.

As you earn more, you spend more and sometimes your PBR lifestyle is replaced with a craft beer attitude.

Whether you are a broker or have multiple side hustles, working harder to make more money isn’t always the answer, according to finance experts.

As Peter Dunn, aka Pete the Planner explains, the only thing better than a lot of money, is not needing that money.

Lifestyle creep happens when people have more income and they reward themselves, maybe buying a fancier car, buying nicer furniture, dining out at nicer restaurants, taking expensive trips. You get the picture.

But, as The Motley Fool, explains, rather than saving that extra money you are making, you have spent it. Should an emergency happen, or your income takes a dive, you will have a hard time going backward. And, you probably don’t have the income set aside for an emergency situation.

“When your lifestyle creeps up with your income, you’ve just become more and more dependent on your income,” according to Dunn’s blog.

But, you say, wait a minute! I’ve worked hard and I deserve that nice car and those fancy meals and drinks out at the hot spots.

Ok. First, you need to have a budget and, according to experts, save at least 20% of what you earn. As The Motley Fools lays it out, if you can buy the item and still reach your savings target, you are good.

You should also ask: Does the expense improve your life enough to justify the purchase?

How to know if those purchases are worthwhile? Be intentional about what you buy. See something you really want. Write it down, wait 30 days. Still can’t get it out of your head. Buy it. As Money Under 30 suggests, create a fun fund. Have your savings automatically deposited and determine how much can go toward fun each month.

Avoiding the “creep” is important if you are thinking long-term and considering what retirement will look like. If you can stick to your savings goals and manage your spending in the years leading up to retirement, Dunn says, adjusting to a lower income won’t be as challenging.

“Retirement planning is so focused on saving money,” Dunn says in his blog. “Yet, breaking your dependence on your income is a huge part of retirement success.”

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Op/Ed

5 secrets to a more productive morning in the office

(EDITORIAL) Productivity is king in the office, but sometimes distractions and other issues slow you down. So what can you do to limit these factors?

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Regardless of whether you’re a self-proclaimed morning person or not, more efficient mornings can be catalytic in your daily productivity and output. The only question is, do you know how to make the most of your mornings in the office?

5 Tips for Greater Morning Productivity

In economic terms, productivity is a measure of output as it relates to input. Academics often discuss productivity in terms of a one-acre farm’s ability to produce a specific crop yield, or an auto manufacturing plant’s ability to produce a certain number of vehicles over a period of time. But then there’s productivity in our personal lives.

Your own daily productivity can be defined in a variety of ways. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting the desired results with less time and effort on the input side. And as a business professional, one of the best ways to do this is by optimizing your morning in the office.

Here are a few timely suggestions:

  1. Eliminate All Non-Essential Actions

    Spend the next week keeping a log of every single action you take from the moment your eyes open in the morning until you sit down at your desk. It might look something like this:

    • Turn off alarm
    • Scroll through social media on phone
    • Get out of bed
    • Eat breakfast
    • Take shower
    • Brush teeth
    • Walk dog
    • Watch news
    • Browse favorite websites
    • Starbucks drive-thru
    • Arrive at office
    • Small talk with coworkers
    • Sit down at desk

    If you do this over the course of a week, you’ll notice that your behaviors don’t change all that much. There might be some slight deviations, but it’s basically the same pattern.

    Now consider how you can eliminate as many points of friction as possible from your routine. [Note from the Editor: This may be an unpopular opinion, but] For example, can you skip social media time? Can you make coffee at home, rather than drive five minutes out of your way to wait in the Starbucks drive-thru line? Just doing these two things alone could result in an additional 30 minutes of productive time in the office.

  2. Reduce Distractions

    Distractions kill productivity. They’re like rooftop snipers. As soon as they see any sign of productivity, they put it in their crosshairs and pull the trigger.Ask yourself this: What are my biggest distractions and how can I eliminate them?

    Popular distractions include social media, SMS, video games, news websites, and email. And while none of these are evil, they zap focus. At the very least, you should shift them to later in the day.

  3. Set Measurable Goals and Action items

    It’s hard to have a productive morning if you don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to be productive. Make sure you set measurable goals, create actionable to-do lists, and establish definitive measurements of what it looks like to be efficient. However, don’t get so caught up in the end result that you miss out on true productivity.“There’s a big difference between movement and achievement; while to-do lists guarantee that you feel accomplished in completing tasks, they don’t ensure that you move closer to your ultimate goals,” TonyRobbins.com mentions. “There are many ways to increase your productivity; the key is choosing the ones that are right for you and your ultimate goals.”

    In other words, set goals that are actually reflective of productivity. In doing so, you’ll adjust your behavior to come in proper alignment with the results you’re seeking.

  4. Try Vagus Nerve Stimulation

    Sometimes you just need to block out distractions and focus on the ask at hand. There are plenty of ways to shut out interruptions, but makes sure you’re also simultaneously cuing your mind to be productive. Vagus nerve stimulation is one option for doing both.Vagus nerve stimulation, which gently targets the body’s vagus nerve to promote balance and relaxation, while simultaneously enhancing focus and output.
  5. Optimize Your Workspace

    Makes sure your office workspace is conducive to productivity. This means eliminating clutter, optimizing the ergonomics of your desk, reducing distractions, and using “away” settings on apps and devices to suppress notifications during work time.

Make Productivity a Priority

Never take productivity for granted. The world is full of distractions and your willpower is finite. If you “wing it,” you’ll end up spending more time, energy, and effort, all while getting fewer positive results.

Make productivity a priority – especially during the mornings when your mind is fresh and the troubles of the day have yet to be released in full force. Doing so will change the way you operate, function, and feel. It’ll also enhance tangible results, like income, job status, and the accolades that come along with moving up in your career.

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