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Op/Ed

Pocket Listing thriller flick highlights ongoing industry topic

In a new action-packed Rob Lowe/ Burt Reynolds thriller, real estate is glamorized as shady and far more dramatic than real life pocket listings, a topic which remains controversial in the industry.

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A new movie has debuted in hopes of giving an obscure real estate term a great deal more appeal and much more attention that it deserves. If this movie succeeds, many more will forever associate real estate it with deceit, drugs and “plenty of illegal activity,” as the movie’s blurb promises.

“Rise, Ruin, Revenge, Real Estate. You’re either a hot property, under foreclosure or one deal away,” promises Pocket Listing. It’s a hip new Hollywood offering with an edgy story line about money, greed, power, sex, revenge, redemption, and real estate. In that order.

Rob Lowe, Burt Reynolds star in this “dark comedy”

Set in Malibu and featuring such well-worn talent as Rob Lowe and Burt Reynolds, the flick is a racy shoot ‘em up about an extraordinary villa with a pool that seems to flow off the edge a cliff into a Malibu arroyo. It’s labeled a “satiric thriller” and “dark comedy,” which must mean that the producers don’t really think that aging real estate brokers like the one played by Reynolds walks around saying things like, “I give you permission to screw everybody, everybody but me.”

A mysterious power player played by James Jurdi, who also wrote the script, reels off one of my favorite lines, “It’s not real, friend, it’s real estate,” and his sultry wife British model Jennifer Clarke, hire Reynolds, a disgraced Los Angeles property broker to discreetly market and sell their Malibu villa. It’s all downhill from there, with more slinky real estate, vapid characters, guns, drugs, and sexy girls.

How did Hollywood catch wind of this practice?

How did pocket listings soar so quickly from the seedy backroom deals, the greedy brokers who want to keep both sides of the commission for themselves and ethics be damned to Hollywood?

A few years ago brokers representing stars found it was easy to get their listings on national celebrity shows like Entertainment Tonight and magazines like Us and People. The publicity helped them sell and soon, the big real estate listing sites realized they would often get the on-air credit, even though the listing came from an MLS and belongs to a broker.

When celebrity listings started pushing online traffic to new heights, a war broke out, which continues to this day. An entire industry has grown up around the practice of violating the privacy of rich and famous people when they want to sell their houses. Listings, offers, price changes, sales—they fill the pages of web site after web site.

There’s a problem with this traffic play

There’s a problem with this picture. Higher volume is great for web sites because it means advertisers—who are largely brokers who advertise to sell their own listings– pay more. The glam lookie-loos who surf in to look at Rob Lowe’s toilet aren’t buyers. They’re not going to bop over to check the latest offerings from the hard working brokers who are paying the freight.

On the other end of the process, celebrities have grown sick and tired of having their private spaces and their private real estate transactions blasted all over the media whenever they sell a house. The solution: pocket listings. An old but viable option to keep everything legal and hidden until a real live prospect arrives.

Pocket listings are coming under scrutiny

In the past few years, pocket listings have mushroomed. Southern California, the Bay area, Texas, Long Island—markets in these regions report the highest numbers though very few hard numbers exist.

In California, Illinois, Ohio, and some other states, MLSs are raising concern about the fast rise of pocket listings. Last year, the leading MLS service in Northern California reported that in Monterey, San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz, off-MLS listings increased from 12 percent in 2011 to 15 percent in 2012 to 26 percent of the market in the first quarter of 2013.

Midwest Real Estate Data LLC, which oversees the Chicago-area MLS issued 140 fines in 2013 for violations of its rules on off-market deals. Another 500 violations were reported, but were determined to be unfounded after seller consent was verified. In the Dallas luxury market last year, one Sotheby’s brokerage reported 30 percent of its office’s business was outside the MLS, which is interesting since Texas law prevents the disclosure of sales data in public records.

The movie is glamorous, but in real life, the MLS still reigns

In the movie, the pocket listing first seems like an easy deal to close but turns out to be much more intricate than expected. Jack, the Realtor, soon discovers that the owner, is a power player oil tycoon named Hunter, who is involved in shady operations which could jeopardize not only the house’s sale, but Jack’s life as well. With time running out and predators lurking at every corner, Jack is forced to resort to desperate measures to survive in a world where nobody is who they seem and closing a deal can literally be a matter of life and death.

For the rest of us, fortunately, closing a deal is only a matter of money and the money is almost always better when you go the MLS route. It makes perfect sense that the more potential buyers you reach, the offers will be better—or at least as good as they will be.

The experiences of Jennifer Anniston who immediately sold her $43 million Beverly Hills house on the MLS after it had languished for months as a pocket listing and Candy Spelling, widow of the late TV producer Aaron Spelling and mother of actress Tori, who sold hers fast on the MLS after marketing it for months as a pocket listing, suggest even the very wealthiest properties do better with the largest potential market.

Is the privacy and security worth forgoing the best possible price?

Obviously, that’s a decision for the seller. It’s a decision, however, that might become more difficult should the luxury market remain flat and lining up prospects through the back-alley channels become more difficult.

Going the pocket listing route could cost celebrity sellers–even those in the move were willing to let their $20 million Malibu villa go for $12 million. At the end of the day, however, a movie is just a movie.

“I didn’t want to get too heavy or too realistic. I’m sure a broker would see this film and say it’s completely unlike anything that would ever happen in that world – but in a way that’s kind of good, because we wanted it to be very dramatized,” said actor/writer James Jurdi in an interview last week.

Op/Ed

Tips to become one of those people who is good with their money

(EDITORIAL) In real estate, it’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty. So how do you manage money?

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money for transactions

I’m a firm believer in making mistakes. Specifically, the all-out, crash-and-burn kind. You know those people who say “own it” – yeah, that’s definitely me. That’s the sort of high-risk, high-reward mentality that leads to really thrilling moments onstage and in life. And when the reward is that intense, so is the loss. It’s the same with money.

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My formal background is as a professional opera singer. The level of training for a full-time career in the field includes Olympic-level physical, emotional, and intellectual training. Opera singers don’t use microphones, which means they must use their bodies in a perfect, practiced physiological balance to become a human megaphone.

They learn several languages, with enough facility to jump into rehearsals with colleagues who are relative strangers, singing about passionate love, and infuriating politics while maintaining that physical balance in a foreign tongue.

Unlike the Olympics, regular opera singers don’t get endorsement deals. (Okay, famous tenor Plácido Domingo is sponsored by Rolex, but that’s a particularly singular example.) So despite its extreme training, opera is a medium that requires its artists to manage themselves as freelancers. Freelancers and be-your-own-boss types, I know you feel me:

It’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty.

Preparing for financial uncertainty

So how do you manage finances with so much up and down?

Invest time instead of money. I rethink how I’m approaching my everyday needs. I’m talking about what methods of transportation I use and how often; I’m talking about regular doctor’s visits or self-care; I’m talking about any payments that you owe regularly. Is there any way to reassess seemingly non-negotiable expenses? Can you refinance a mortgage? Can you drop the gym altogether and commit to really learning and developing an exercise routine? Find something convenient you can replace with a free education; the Internet is an insanely abundant resource and should be milked for information.

Develop multiple interests and invest in them. I am a professional singer, but I also love to cook and am serious about it. I write frequently and across a wide spectrum of interests. I read avidly. When you invest in other ideas and interests, you make yourself a more powerful candidate for the workforce, and you give yourself more ability to seize opportunities. Who knows – you might find yourself pivoting careers.

Design a financial contingency plan before you need it (but go broke at least once). Do you have a place to crash if you can’t afford your own place? How much money do you really need to get through the month? How far can you stretch $50? If you can’t define your limits, you’ll never be able to develop a plan with thoughtful security.

What’s life without risk?

The freelancers who truly succeed are the ones who failed. It’s that Oscar Wilde quote, right? “Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes.” And so have I before, and so will I again. The only way forward is up. I’m going to take my experience along with me for the next chapter. I hope mine will help color yours a little, even if with a passing thought. Dare to lose it all — and see where it leads.

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Op/Ed

Tips to combat lack of participation in virtual meetings or online events

(EDITORIAL) Even after the pandemic, virtual meetings and online events have no end in sight. But how do we get people to participate?

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Online conference call on skype, without Meet Cam widgets.

Online meetings are here to stay and increasing participation is key to making them fun and inviting for everyone involved. Those little icons of our faces and initials showcasing the fact that cameras are off-strike dread in the heart of the presenter. Or even worse, the camera-on view of the ceiling fan or mic-on sound of the smoke detector that needs a new battery.

Instead of leaving the success of an online meeting to chance, presenters can help make their meetings more fun for everyone with a few easy practices.

Send out an agenda with meeting expectations early. If attendees know the time investment, expectations, and what will be covered, it’s easier for them to be involved. Do you want cameras on? Share that. Be specific with what that means. If you don’t make that expectation clear, be prepared for bookcases instead of people, ceiling fans instead of people, and other distractions. Do you know specific questions you will be asking? Include those in the agenda so people can be thinking about them ahead of time. Often people don’t talk because they don’t understand what you want them to say or they’re not sure you really want them to participate.

Ask participants to help create the agenda ahead of time. What questions do they want answered? What do they need from you?

Let people know you will be asking questions regularly and answers are appreciated either on the mic or in the chat. If you can, include when you will be taking questions or opening up for conversation in the agenda. The chat feature can run seamlessly throughout the meeting. Allowing and encouraging the use of the chat feature regularly increases participation and leads to a more conversational feel for the session. If you can have a co-facilitator who can answer questions on the chat so they don’t get lost, that helps. If you don’t have one, consider asking an attendee to watch to help make sure questions are answered throughout the meeting.

Break the meeting up into sections. Don’t throw all the information out at once. Instead, make sure you pause regularly for feedback and questions and answers. If the group is large consider breakout rooms where smaller groups can answer questions, work through agenda items or participate in roundtable discussions, then come back to the large group with their ideas and answers.

Know your end destination. What’s the purpose of the meeting? What do you want or need to accomplish? Make sure everyone involved knows what that is and why. That helps keep everyone focused.

Set a time limit for responses if needed.

Be prepared. It’s even more important to be prepared for your online meeting than in-person meetings where you have multiple resources at hand and the energy of the crowd to bounce off of.

If these online meetings are a regular occurrence, consider adding a fun element like bringing your pet or plant to the meeting day. If it’s a brainstorming session, consider creativity ice breakers. And again make sure attendees know the expectations.

Use the poll feature to help encourage participation. Then follow up with participants to go deeper with those answers.

Instead of asking are there any questions at the end, ask everyone to either tell at least two things they learned or share two things they still have questions about. Again utilize the chat feature here. Some people are more comfortable chatting than speaking on the mic.

Consider offering prizes and give-aways to those participating. It’s not always necessary, but it’s fun when you can.

If you can, run the meetings live instead of recorded presentations with the leader in front of a slideshow. The sit and get PowerPoint and speaker presentation leads to bored participants who aren’t invested in the content. However, if that’s not possible, make sure you have a real-time chat session available for participants who are watching and make sure your slides are light on text. That chat session can change “sit and get” boredom to excitement, fun, and learning for all.

As always remember the meeting needs to last long enough to cover what’s essential but should be short enough to keep people engaged. Use surveys to gather meaningful feedback throughout the meeting and at the end. You can’t get better without feedback from your participants.

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Op/Ed

Social media addiction is 100% real, but whose responsibility is it?

(EDITORIAL) Social media addiction is not only real, but it is proven to be real. The question is who is to blame for it – the users or the providers?

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Man giving out phone number using his phone representing addiction.

I’m not on Facebook. I don’t have a Twitter account. You won’t find me on Snapchat, Pinterest, or any other social media platform.

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It may seem hard to believe that a Millennial – one who reports at an online news network, no less – would forgo participation in social media entirely. But it’s true. I deleted all of my social media accounts several years ago.

Cold turkey

When I was a Facebook user, I obsessively checked my newsfeed multiple times a day. I thought I was staying connected to friends, entertaining myself, keeping up with the news, and distracting myself from loneliness. Yet, the more I used Facebook, the more anxious and depressed I became.
When I read a study confirming that social media does, in fact, correlate with a host of bad feelings, I took a daring leap and left the platform, never to return. My life improved tremendously.Let me repeat that: My life improved. Tremendously.

But choosing to cut oneself off may be a lot more difficult for folks who have a genuine internet addiction.

While the American Psychological Association has yet to acknowledge addiction to the internet or to social media as an official disorder, they have published literature describing some of the negative effects of spending too much time online, and have acknowledged Internet gaming disorder in patients who spend so much time gaming that it affects their ability to work, go to school, or maintain healthy relationships.

Addiction wears many hats

Addressing addiction to popular (and profitable) products takes time. Undoubtedly, people were suffering from emphysema long before science proved that cigarettes were unhealthy. Cigarettes used to be ubiquitous; you could smoke in your office, in restaurants, even on public transportation.

It has taken decades of activism to create a culture wherein smoking is confined to designated areas, and where smokers are warned of the health risks by labels on the pack.

These days, folks can be found checking Facebook on their smartphones in all of the same public places where smoking used to be the norm. Nowadays, the idea of someone smoking a cigarette at the dinner table seems pretty gross. Will we one day look back at Internet-enabled devices at the dinner table with the same disgust?

Easier said than done

Cigarettes, truth be told, are far more easily avoided than social media. If you don’t want to be tempted, don’t buy a pack, and don’t go to the smoking patio. However, most of us require internet for our jobs and basic communications, making social media almost unavoidable.

Some jobs even require you to have social media accounts to apply.

So, who is responsible for social media addiction? Are people to be expected to cut themselves off, as I did? Or should the tech companies themselves try to intervene?

Helpful or harmful?

Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products admits that the strategies he wrote about in his book “intended to help product designers build healthy habits in their users… are the same tactics used by some to keep people un-healthfully hooked.”

Eyal believes that tech companies, who have a wealth of data to keep track of their customers’ usage habits, have a responsibility to help customers who exhibit signs of addiction, offering to limit their hours on the platform or blacklist their credit card. Eyal says that “tech companies owe it to their users simply to reach out and ask if they can be helpful, just as a concerned friend might do.”

Unfortunately, social media is not your concerned friend.

Tech companies have no particular incentive to limit use from addicts, and with just about everyone constantly glued to their smartphones, it will take a larger cultural shift to acknowledge that a smartphone between you and your dinner date is about as sexy as puff of tobacco smoke in your face.

In the meantime, I suggest that addicts take matters into their hands and do what I did: quit cold turkey. Delete your accounts, and never look back.

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