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Op/Ed

Raising the NAR: Sink ships or float boats?

The board approved ZipLogix as a benefit to members: is NAR’s decision going to raise low-performing agents up, or bring everyone else down?

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Lack of real estate agent professional competence: it’s a perpetual topic of industry conversation. Marginal agents have been called the #1 threat to the agent sphere in the recently-released D.A.N.G.E.R. Report. “Raising the bar” in real estate is the prime focus of one of the largest agent-led groups online.

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Missing the mark on raising the bar

While the industry professes to want improvements in agent competency, tangible progress is inconsistent. Franchisers, brokers, associations, MLS’s, and licensing boards control the barriers to entry and sustaining licensure in real estate. These organizations are primarily driven by the inertia of their need to sustain revenue.

Raising the bar for the industry is widely accepted as a necessary goal, but few have the motivation to fund it.

This paradox was particularly evident at NAR Annual this year, with the debate over making ZipLogix a nationwide member benefit. NAR would spend $12 million per year to provide the transaction management platform to all of its members. The funds would come from NAR reserves.

ZipLogix for all agents?

Proponents of the deal spoke of the long-term benefits to Realtors:

  • Keeping the real estate agent at the center of the transaction
  • Protecting the data of Realtors from outside vendors
  • Recruiting the almost 1 million non-Realtor licensees into NAR

These were all important points in guiding the financial and technological strategy for the organization. There was also a significant undercurrent in the discussion, though, about raising the level of membership professionalism. Financial and competitive issues aside, it was implied that this service could improve the competence of the members who currently don’t use transaction management software.

Efficiency and professionalism increase

There’s an argument in favor of the deal, simply for this cause. By getting the vast majority of real estate agents on board with a platform that will increase their efficiency, it could improve the professionalism of their interactions with clients. Theoretically, better tools could boost the image of a Realtor in the eyes of consumers, one transaction at a time. Each time a client closed an efficiently-managed transaction with a tech-savvy agent, NAR’s broader image would be enhanced to the buying and selling public.

That’s a lofty goal, but one that shouldn’t be dismissed simply because of its difficulty.

Spending money on the lower rung

The flipside is that most successful agents are already using software that improves their transaction management, document management, and e-signature processing. There are a plethora of tools that competent agents already pay for on a monthly basis and use consistently in their businesses.

This is a clear duplication of costs for this group. The implication for them, and their brokers, is that money is being spent on those members who aren’t willing to step up and commit themselves to better tools and service. They see NAR spending money to raise the level of competence of its lowest-performing members. The top performers will continue to use the tools they currently have, while carrying the water for the rest of membership.

We often hear in these circles that this strategy doesn’t actually improve the image of the organization, but preserves its lowest rungs. It focuses on those who can’t, instead of embracing those who can and do, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

There are strong arguments for both sides. Does a rising tide really lift all ships? Can we raise the bar in real estate by bringing up the baseline of all agents?

Taking out the weakest links

Or, should NAR be torpedoing everything that’s a drag on the top line of our industry? Does the industry, and NAR, ultimately only improve when focusing resources on those who can lead a smaller successful core of agents toward a higher level? There is plenty of rhetoric about significantly increasing the costs associated with membership and shrinking the population to put more business in the hands of the purportedly more capable bigger producers.

A board divided

With the stated goal of recruiting many of the 1 million non-Realtor licensees into the fold with the ZipLogix deal, it seems that the current leadership is leaning toward the rising tide. NAR’s directors voted two-to-one for the proposal. But that is a highly divided board, compared to the nearly unanimous approval that most proposals receive by the time they get to the directors.

This is a discussion that has to be central in the search for NAR’s ideological future. Is it in our best interests to focus our resources on increasing the population of members from its current slate of 1.2 million? Will that increased membership have the resources to improve the level of real estate agency services nationwide, or will it dilute the organization’s focus and lend less resources to its best and brightest?

Getting off the fence

We certainly have the ability to provide different services to distinct groups within our membership. But choosing to bifurcate our mission to both a bottom-up and top-down approach means we’ll be less successful at both.

Float more boats or sink more ships? Let’s decide, let’s say it out loud, and let’s put it on our flag, so everyone on board knows where we’re headed.

#ZipLogix

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 president-elect of Seattle King Country REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and BellevueHomes.com.

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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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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