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Op/Ed

Realtor expert insights: PropTech’s invasion into traditional real estate

(EDITORIAL) Proptech ended 2020 with a total of $23.8 billion of investment in the real estate segment, introducing an array of services across the Brokerage, Title, and Escrow sector. Let’s discuss.

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For two decades, real estate tech companies (PropTech) have been proclaiming they’re innovators and game changers.

In some cases, they are. They’ve propelled real estate into a more effective practice that meets consumers where they are.

In other cases, they have not only changed nothing, but dipped into Realtors’ pockets while criticizing them, then dream of exterminating them.

Few voices have a solid understanding of the many moving parts, but in conversation with broker Anthony Phillips, we knew we needed to include him in our conversation, because what we share is a deep concern for Realtors, the honest, hard working folks serving their communities.

What follows is an introduction to Phillips, and what you’ll soon read from him – it’s compelling. Buckle up!


Q: Could you start by telling us a little bit about your background and career in real estate?

Anthony Phillips-RealtorMy entrance into real estate began as a Project Manager for homebuilder Del Webb which ended in 2008 during the real estate crash. I then obtained my real estate sales license thinking I would buy fix and flips; however, the market was deteriorating so quickly that buying anything was too risky, so I started my sales career representing tenants seeking to rent luxury high-rise condos.

In 2012, I founded Luxury Real Estate Advisors/Management, and in 2013 I was fortunate enough to represent the Seller and broke the record for the highest price/sf sale in Nevada history. This transaction was publicized and provided a springboard for my career.

Since then, I have had the pleasure of representing Heads Of State, Multi-National Conglomerates, and CEOs worldwide.

As for education, I have completed Executive Programs at Cornell and MIT.

Q: What prompted your interest in PropTech?

Tech is a game-changer, so I continually evaluate new tech and new companies claiming to use various technologies.

My firm was one of the first in Nevada to use IBM Watson to analyze 100,000+ real estate transactions to glean insights and deploy advanced marketing techniques.

Q: What is your opinion of the current lineup of PropTech firms?

It is mixed; I admire Glenn Kelman from Redfin as I believe his representations made in public and on investors’ earnings calls appear to be humble and truthful.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are companies like Zillow and Rex Homes, who, in my opinion, knowingly mislead.

Moreover, many bring an aggressive and dubious approach to gaining market share. Realtors often tout recent sales or marketing capability, but they rarely target their competitors in ads.

PropTech’s sole marketing message is comparing their services versus traditional Realtors; however, they often make misleading claims about their capabilities versus a Realtor’s lack of capabilities and exaggerate Realtors’ fee structures.

Q: What are some of the examples of knowingly misleading claims?

One pervasive claim on PropTech websites that may mislead a consumer is using the term “savings.” PropTech firms display calculators on their websites to show how much the consumer “saves” when using their firm vs. full-service Realtors. “Savings” is not a deciding factor to transact, Buyers’ and Sellers’ net proceeds are the preeminent factors, and discount PropTech firms often do not disclose to the consumer that their home may sell for a lower price due to limited marketing exposure.

It is nice to “save” $4,000 in fees but not at the expense of selling your home for $12,000 less.

As for specific companies:

Rex Homes and their CEO Jack Ryan. Ryan admittedly initiated the DOJ complaint, which resulted in the DOJ declaring a statement of interest. Ryan published a series of articles about Realtor “Cartels” and may have colluded with some of the class-action firms currently bringing anti-trust claims against NAR and its 1.4m members.

I am not an Attorney, nor do I collaborate with NAR, any other Association or named Defendants in these lawsuits; however, I understand case law, and one of the first claims made, in my opinion, included allegations that were patently false, knowingly misleading, misleading by omission of critical variables, basing claims of excessive commission structures on skewed data that is 16 years old and in some cases, legal conflicts of interest which could be actionable. Jack Ryan was cited in this lawsuit.

Most cases usually claim the Seller is damaged because they pay the Buyer’s Broker commission; however, a recent lawsuit claims the Buyer is damaged because the commission is “baked” into the sales price. One can argue who pays the commission, but it is irrelevant since net proceeds are the deciding factor in a real estate transaction, and they can be negotiated in several ways. It would be nice if these “high-power” law firms would elect a position on this matter.

These cases also reference lower Seller commission structures in foreign markets like Singapore or the U.K. but conveniently omit that Buyers often pay their Agents in these markets, so the overall fees are similar to transact, ~5%. There also appears to be a hyper-focus on commission percentages; however, consumers bank dollars, not percentages, and average home prices in markets like Singapore are significantly more expensive in the U.S.

In the U.S., any Seller deemed damaged by paying a Buyer Broker fee would be remedied by the lack of fee when they acquire a subsequent property.
Subsequent cases appear to be inferior regurgitations of initial claims.
Ryan is currently suing the state of Oregon, and in my view, the complaint makes several misleading claims.

If it is proven that Ryan filed a lawsuit with knowingly misleading claims and subsequently broadcast these assertions via press release to 3000+ websites and over 20,000 journalists, it would be an unprecedented violation of ORS 696.301, which states:

696.301 Grounds for discipline. “Subject to ORS 696.396, the Real Estate Commissioner may suspend or revoke the real estate license of any real estate licensee, reprimand any real estate licensee or deny the issuance or renewal of a license to an applicant who has:”(1) “Created a reasonable probability of damage or injury to a person by making one or more material misrepresentations or false promises in a matter related to professional real estate activity.”

(4) “Knowingly or recklessly published materially misleading or untruthful advertising.”

If found in violation of Oregon statutes, Rex Homes license could be revoked. Moreover, most states have similar regulations, so there could be a domino effect.

Regarding Zillow, I believe they make misleading claims on a range of issues. The most significant, in my view, involves disclosures of alleged violations of RESPA (unlawful kickbacks.)

There is a shareholder lawsuit against Zillow, which was disclosed to shareholders stating: “On February 28, 2020, our motion to dismiss the consolidated shareholder derivative complaint was denied. We do not believe a loss is probable related to these lawsuits.

Zillow claims, “We do not believe a loss is probable related to these lawsuits,” despite Judge John C. Coughenour of the U.S. district court in Seattle claiming, “the court can draw a reasonable inference that Zillow designed the co-marketing program to allow agents to provide referrals to lenders in violation of RESPA.

RESPA is a criminal act, and if affirmed, their privileged Brokers licenses could be in jeopardy. Zillow’s iBuyer and Flex programs require a privileged permit in each state.

Q: Why did you decide to speak out and take on the risk of confronting well-funded companies?

If I don’t, who will? I am uniquely qualified as I understand real estate, finance, marketing and have massive discovery capabilities. Furthermore, I have Commissioner-level contacts at the FTC and SEC, and connections with a minimum of four class-action firms seeking to file claims against PropTech firms when we discover anything actionable.

Q: What is your plan going forward?

I am going to tell the other side of the story.

I plan to assess EVERY PropTech company, including their TOS, and publish my opinions. If I discover egregious acts, I will file claims at the FTC, SEC, the relevant State Real Estate Divisions and share evidence with class-action firms.

NAR has been a punching bag and playing mostly defense against claims, and I have yet to see any significant counterpunches against the opposition.

Now that changes.

Op/Ed

The real reason women are overlooked? Leadership is seen as masculine

(EDITORIAL) We can tell women to “lean in,” or we can address what researchers point to as the real challenge – leadership is still seen as a masculine trait.

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Researcher Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic recently rejected the popular advice of “leaning in” for women* looking to scale the professional ladder. It’s not that women are unconsciously holding themselves back from leadership opportunities, as Sheryl Sandburg so famously theorized in her TED talk and subsequent book.

But, this advice only works for women aren’t actively pursuing higher roles and greater responsibilities.

The reality is more that even when women are advocating for themselves, they are less likely to be seen as having the qualities of a leader. This widespread gender bias isn’t news: Pantene and some partners even released a feel-good commercial that capitalized on calling out how assertive women are “bossy” and borderline competent men are seen as “the boss.”

As Chamorro-Premuzic explains, the fact that our culture has so closely adhered to the belief that these characteristics are “masculine” is more likely what holds high-performing women back. Even if they are better than their competition, even other women will often not evaluate them fairly because of how they have internalized our culture’s apparent blindness to women’s ability to be “the boss.”

But then, even some masculine-identifying or preforming people who are inferior in their technical skills could be afforded afforded many professional benefits because of the implicit bias we carry into business spaces that favors “masculine” traits. For example, “male-performing” assertive people may get credit for a quieter colleague’s work.

Where Chamorro-Premuzic’s editorial gets really interesting is when they reject the idea that women and other minorities need to over-compensate for their marginalization and try to join the good ol’ boys club.

He explains, “If our solution is to train women to emulate the behavior of men… we may end up increasing the representation of women in leadership without increasing the quality of our leaders. In this scenario, women will have to out-male males in order to advance in an inherently flawed system where bad guys (and gals) win. Unless our goal is to make it easier for incompetent women to succeed – much as it is for men – there is little to gain from this approach.”

As I’ve said before: Being a leader is a gender-neutral act, (spoiler: so are all actions!); the sooner that we can accept that coding behavior as “masculine” or “feminine” only serves to obscure people’s actual contributions, the better.

Removing these archaic labels allows the real competencies of professionals to be evaluated — for their benefit, and their organization’s benefit.

For now, organizations that make conscious efforts to level the playing field (like the National Association of Realtors’ restructure leading to half of their leadership team being women) are the primary answer as our culture shifts to a more aware environment.

*Though the referenced article and study perpetuate a binary gender structure, for the purposes of our discussion in this article, I expand its “diversity” to include femme-identified individuals, nonbinary and trans workers, and anybody else that does not benefit from traditional notions of power that place cisgendered men at the top of the social totem pole

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Op/Ed

10 productivity tips to get the most out of yourself and your team

(EDITORIAL) Keeping up productivity can be a hard goal to shoot for, so sometimes It helps to see what others are doing. Here’s our list of 10 ways to stay productive

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productivity in a team

Funny thing about inverse relationships, they are so counterintuitive. Like working hard. That is an example of doing what you think will be beneficial, but usually just makes the job what you expected, hard. When it comes to productivity, harder isn’t smarter, as the saying goes.

And, if you are sick of the word “hack” we hear you. But, finding ease in work will allow you to be more productive and with better results.

We offer you this list of stories to meet your productivity needs. Here’s to finding work-life balance, seeking ease in the moment and rocking out a productive day!

1. If you’re trying to be more productive, don’t focus so much on time management. Instead, consider energy management to get more out of less effort.

2. Meetings suck. Wait, I mean they are a time suck. Yeah, that’s it. Everyone knows some meetings are unnecessary and could easily be handled through an email. Yet, many supervisors are hesitant. But, there’s an app for that now. Here’s to meeting less and actually getting work done.

3. Kondo your desk, for God’s sake. If you say you are more productive with a messy desk, yet you have a sandwich from last week and those TPS reports you were supposed to turn in weeks ago somewhere under a pile of crap, you need to clean up your act. Nobody wants to get a report covered in coffee, chocolate, and mustard.

4. Are you agile? I mean, really. Is your team as productive as it could be? Whether you are a PM or a real estate agent, if you need a tool that helps your team stay agile and nimble, this will help you and your crew kick ass and take names.

5. Cut the team some slack. Too many messages and you forget what you were originally doing. Slack thought about that and has a way to make the app work for your team so you can be more effective and keep the workflow moving.

6. Working remotely has some serious benefits, notwithstanding working in your PJ’s. While it is the norm now, convincing your boss you will actually work in the future and not binge on Netflix may be the challenge. And, for many folks, working from home is a much more productive option long term, even after COVID restrictions lift. Yet, anyone who has worked remotely also knows it can be easy to get caught up in work and miss human interactions, leading to burnout. Here’s how to make the remote transition work for you.

7. Sometimes more is less. That is the truth when it comes to work where quality beats quantity all day long. Our 9-5 workdays may be good for some, but not for all. And, putting in 80-hour weeks may seem righteous dude, but what do you really accomplish? Kick productivity in the butt and consider are you using your hours wisely.

8. Want to be a baller in the workplace? Then get focused. According to the experts, those at the top of their game aren’t necessarily working harder or smarter, they are just hyper-focused. Here are some good habits to have if you want to get ahead.

9. If it seems everyone has a podcast, you are correct! Some of those podcasts are useful, especially if you are trying to get ahead and find ways to use your productivity to the fullest. Here’s a list of podcasts that will fill your free time with useful information.

10. Creative folks love to start new projects. They can be like kids in the candy store any time they have a new idea they must explore. The problem is that whether you are an artist, writer, graphic/web/software designer or developer, you may start a lot of projects and finish few. Here’s how to finish what you start!

By now, you know what information to keep and you are ready to get your rear in gear. We wish you all the success with your future projects. We know you will be diligent and hyper-productive!

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Op/Ed

Living through a pandemic has us ALL on high alert, causing exhaustion

(MENTAL HEALTH) When your system is constantly in a state of unknown, you’re in a state of high emotion. After an extended period, exhaustion and burnout set in.

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It isn’t a stretch to say that universally, people are feeling burned out these days. Whether it’s because of ongoing COVID-19 ramifications (the top cause today) or good old-fashioned job stress, the majority of burnout cases have one thing in common – high-intensity emotions.

According to Yale lecturer, Emma Seppälä, any kind of high-intensity emotion – be it fear, joy, rage, or anything in between these feelings – can lead to sheer exhaustion after a certain point.

And while these emotions are completely justified in today’s tumultuous world, it’s also apparent that the range of extreme emotions one can feel in an ordinary day is widening, making burnout all the more inevitable.

What Seppälä says many people don’t know is that those positive, high-intensity emotions, while contributing to burnout in their own way, lead to a feeling of “crashing” after elation rather than the soul-sucking despair one often tends to feel after experiencing a wave of negative emotions.

The exhaustion one experiences may feel different depending on the emotions inspiring it, but the outcome is often the same – a complete and total depletion that “taxes the body.”

Seppälä also points out that some people experience emotions in a more acute fashion than others, with “15-20% of people” being classified as “highly sensitive.” People who fit into this category may be more susceptible to exhaustion from high-intensity emotions.

The past few years have been extremely emotionally polarizing, with things like social media, social justice movements, elections, and, yes, pandemics jeopardizing the otherwise-calm natures of many across the world.

Burnout isn’t surprising in a world in which one can see every public thought each member of their family has had in the last decade, nor is high-intensity emotions becoming more present a shock.

Seppälä posits that the solution to living in such a world is emotional balance, which entails making intentional time for calm, low-key activities to counteract some of the more stressful ones you may encounter from day to day. Staying off of social media, setting boundaries with friends and family, and participating in the news cycle during the day rather than before bed are all good examples of ways to minimize your stress throughout the week.

It’s a stressful world we live in, and if this last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s only going to get more stressful. Emotional balance, where possible, is perhaps the best solution to an otherwise ubiquitous problem.

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