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Op/Ed

Three ways to actually raise the bar instead of just talking about it

Talking about raising the bar is one of the industry’s favorite pastimes, but taking steps to promote change are often on the backburner – here’s how we can change that.

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At any given time, there are roughly half a million full time real estate professionals (sales agents and brokers) in the United States. Yet, at the same time, there are over one million members of the National Association of Realtors®. Does anyone else take issue with the big gap here? Can it possibly be that almost 60 percent of the real estate professionals that I deal with day in and day out are actually dabblers in the field?

Industry changes are coming fast and furious – so quickly in fact that it is often hard for even the busiest of real estate professionals to keep up. While we tend to think that it’s the technology that’s always changing, it’s not just tech. It’s contract law, state and local policies and procedures, and risk management among other things. The truth is that with that production volume comes experience – lots and lots of it. Dabblers, hobbyists, or part-time real estate professionals have a tough time staying in the game.

I realize that I am not going to make any friends here when I say that part-time agents (those closing only one or two transactions per year) often lack the experience and know-how to get the job done. A part-time agent may not know about the latest contract forms release or the latest technological advance. In addition, a part-time agent may be dividing time between two jobs and thus compromise the quality of customer service that he or she can provide to a client. I’ve had buyers call our brokerage and request a showing of one of our office listings; they’d say that they are represented by another agent that is “too busy” to show the property or “at work.” And this hasn’t only happened once. It has happened over and over and over again.

What kind of message do phone calls like these send about what’s going on in the profession?

Three areas where we can forge change

When considering ways to address the challenges faced by working in an industry where 58 percent of the real estate professionals may not have the demonstrated expertise associated with full-time work, it’s curious to consider where change should begin – at the top or at the bottom. Here are some places to start:

  1. At the state level. What would happen if licensing and renewal requirements were strengthened in each state? That is, if it were tougher or more expensive to get a license or if the renewal requirements were a little more challenging than passing a few $69 correspondence courses; this might actually enhance the quality of licensed professionals. Making it more expensive to obtain a license or to renew would also demonstrate that those who do renew are serious about practicing real estate. It’s pay to play, and those that pay (if it costs more) would be serious about the play.
  2. At the local level. At the local level, real estate associations could increase their dues, offer more educational opportunities, and have stricter requirements for membership. Again this would force the hand a little bit. Kelley Skar, a Canadian Realtor® states “if the associations start increasing the cost, they might start to see a slight dip in their membership numbers which could be detrimental to their bottom line. I see this as being temporary as the associations and boards would make adjustments within their current business model to allow for decrease in membership.” If associations do see a dip in membership, they’d have to do something about it to keep the doors open, Namely, they’d have to demonstrate their relevance or increase the value that they provide to the current members.
  3. At the brokerage level. In a perfect world, raising the bar in the real estate industry would begin at the brokerage level. If brokers were to have minimum guidelines for they type of contractors they would accept and offer trainings and guidance to keep their agents at the forefront of the industry, this could make things better. The reality is that this will never happen. Skar points out that there will always be discount brokerages and brokerages whose model depends not only on producers but non-producers that pay a monthly desk fee. As long as there will be brokerages where non-producers can hang their licenses, the industry is not going to change.

Theory of natural selection

The good news is that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection seems to apply pretty well to the field of real estate. If you are reading this article and actively working within the industry, you are likely one of the half million that is raising the bar in the industry by working full time, staying ahead of real estate trends, and developing personally and professionally.

Whether the change begins at the brokerage level or at the state level, it shouldn’t matter to you. You’ve paved your way to success among your industry peers. You’ll have no problem stepping over the bar even if it raised a little bit, because you are fairly flexible already.

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Melissa is an in-demand business success speaker and author, as well as a real estate broker with thousands of short sale transactions under her belt. She leverages her experience as a short sale insider to motivate thousands of business professionals to plan their careers better, execute more effectively on their plan, and earn more because of it.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Been There, Done That - Weekly Housing Roundup - Short Sale Expeditor

  2. Marte Cliff

    May 9, 2014 at 10:28 am

    I agree Melissa. While I understand why some people begin their careers in real estate as part-times, I think those who are serious should make the transition as quickly as possible.

    You simply can’t get the experience and learn all you need to know by working at it only a few hours a week.

    Perhaps there should be some stricter renewal requirements. And yes, perhaps it would be better if the “Pay to play” bar was raised a bit higher. Those changes might cut out the “full time” agents who refuse to learn anything beyond the required continuing ed, if they even learn that much.

    A face comes to mind of an agent who, after 15 or so years in the business, put down the phone from speaking with a client and asked me “What does PITI mean?”

    Speaking of which… The last few years I was in the business all we had to do was show up for the classes. There were no exams, so those who chose to could read a book or take a nap. From the way many agents behaved, I think that’s what some of them did.

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Op/Ed

Why you should lose the sweat pants if you work from home

(EDITORIAL) While it’s tempting to cozy up and work in your most comfortable sweatpants or yoga pants, there are a number of reasons that dressing up to go to work can help increase work from home productivity.

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There are many often discussed benefits to working from home. If you’re not spending time on a daily commute, that means you have more time to work on personal projects and share with your family and friends. Plus it saves you gas and/or fare money.

While it’s tempting to cozy up and work in your most comfortable sweatpants or yoga pants, there are a number of reasons that dressing up to go to work can help increase work from home productivity — even if you’re just commuting to your couch!

You should wear pants (yes, everyday).

When you look your best, you feel your best, and arguably work your best.

It’s pretty hard to resist the temptation of vegging out a bit if you’ve rolled out of bed and headed to your desk while still wearing pajamas. If you have no plan to get dressed for the day, the temptation to hit the snooze button until the moment you need to be present and accounted for will really work against you.

Your computer will say work, but your favorite oversized t-shirt says go back to bed.

When you’re working from home, planning to get up early and prepare for your day allows you to create a transitional space that will help distinguish your home life from your work life. Dressing for success, even if you don’t see anyone during your office hours, will drive your sense of purpose and help you carve out a more productive space. It will also signify to any family members or roommates that you’ve entered the workspace and shouldn’t be bothered.

If you work from a restaurant, coffee shop, or workspaces, it can make you more approachable.

If you’re not dressed for the part, those around you may assume that you’re spending your time recreationally. Even if you are constantly answering your phone, drafting emails, or working on a project. It’s deceptively easy to look like you’re simply browsing the internet or socializing in casual attire.

There are plenty of opportunities to network and meet new people, even when you work from home. You never know who you may end up connecting with, and dressing appropriately to your profession can send the message that you’re an expert and take what you do seriously.

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Op/Ed

Why the hell don’t real estate search sites have a “roulette” option yet!?

(EDITORIAL) House hunters start searching a year in advance, and a roulette search option would keep them engaged during the early phases of their search, so why isn’t it a common feature!?

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It’s no secret that our attention spans have gotten shorter in the last few decades, and some forms of marketing are still scrambling to keep up—one of them being real estate. While looking through photo after photo of specific homes provides the necessary level of focus for devoted home-hunters, having the option to randomize your search on a photo-to-photo basis might prove more interesting for casual lurkers.

Theoretically, having a “roulette” or “randomize” option could lead to some interesting finds: you could plug in your ZIP code, click a button, and start viewing specific shots from homes in your area. You might even expand your search to contain houses from the whole country or look at entire property pages in a random order; either way, by taking the specific search parameters out of the equation, users would have significantly fewer limitations on the content they see.

Once a potential customer found an interesting property, they could open the property’s full page and view its listing info. Sites could even implement a “swipe” feature so that users could add their favorite properties to a list for concentrated viewing later, making the roulette feature akin to house-themed speed dating.

Think of it as Tinder for houses.

What is so appealing about this notion is that it would give everyone from casual real estate enthusiasts to third-time homeowners the chance to step outside of the structures imposed by their search preferences (and browser cookies) in order to view properties at which they might never look in any other context. It can be liberating to have choice specificity removed from the equation, and the real estate market is no exception.

There’s a simple reason that sites like Chat Roulette and apps like Tinder are so popular: they capitalize on our newfound need to be exposed to new information whenever we feel like a change. Real estate sites – especially those with large amounts of traffic – could see a huge upswing in both on-site traffic and conversions by fulfilling this need. Given that most home buyers start casually searching up to a year in advance, this could be a pretty interesting conversion tool in that process.

It has been tried before (and failed) at smaller startups, but house roulette still isn’t a feature on sites like Realtor.com, Zillow, or Trulia as of now, but they should be, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for more dynamic, fast-paced solutions in the future.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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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.

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