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Op/Ed

Why disruption of the real estate industry has failed

(EDITORIAL) In this exclusive interview, we discuss real estate technology, disruption, and change.

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real estate disruption

Ben Caballero, president of Texas-based HomesUSA.com – became the first billion-dollar producer in the world for total home sales last year and has been Real Trends’ America’s number one Realtor® for the last five straight years.

Caballero’s success is the result of a new technology he developed an online homebuilder sales platform that streamlines the MLS listing, management, and marketing process for builders. He shares his views on technology and change in an exclusive interview with The Real Daily:

How has technology changed the residential real estate industry?

Technology has brought about changes to residential real estate but not to the basic business model. Tools available to real estate agents like transaction management software, mobile phones, email, and electronic signatures make transactions more efficient and save a great deal of time, but monetarily, digital technology companies are the ones that have benefited the most by providing services that increase these efficiencies.

Real estate professionals traded money for time, and some are able to use the additional time to earn more income. Consumers have more information which makes them feel more embowed, but they are not saving much (if any) money.

Technology makes it possible for consumers to begin shopping for homes online and they can make decisions about where to live and the kind of home they want without being dependent on an agent. They can see all the inventory that is available before making decisions, which probably leads to a more satisfactory transaction for everyone.

How has technology helped real estate consumers?

The traditional real estate business model has migrated online with only minor changes. As far as how the transaction is handled, how homes are marketed, the business has not really changed.

I do not know anybody who has sold a home and written a check for six percent, say $18,000 on a $300,000 home, who is happy about it. People accept it because they do not know of an alternative.

If [consumers] had alternatives that maintained a high level of quality of service along with lower prices, I think you would see changes in real estate similar to changes in other industries.

Consumers are always looking to get more quality for less price, but that is hard to do. What we have done up to this point is to increase the quality, but we have not been able to do much on real estate commissions.

When somebody finds a way reduce commission cost and maintain a level of quality that is satisfactory, they will have accomplished what no one has yet been able to do, and a lot of people will want to do business with that person or entity. When you come up with a better product, whether Apple or Uber, people will buy it. If you come up with a better product at a competitive price, you are going to be successful. That is just basic, fundamental economics.

Why hasn’t that happened?

The kind of change that will make a difference to most real estate consumers will not come from within the brokerage community. Major franchises and brokerages simply are not going to voluntarily make potentially disruptive changes in the way they do business.

They are too invested in the status quo, and they see any disruption as a financial disaster.

On the other hand, quite a few people have raised substantial amounts of money for concepts to disrupt the real estate industry, but have failed to deliver any disruptive impact because they did not understand the business.

Some disappeared and others succeeded in making only minor refinements to the basic model. None have produced benefits for consumers or brought about a transformation in the basic business model on the scale approaching Uber, Amazon, or Expedia.

Some people would say that if online technology were going to bring about such a basic change, it would have happened by now.

The time is right for changes that take us beyond the traditional way that homes are bought and sold. I am very confident that change will come when someone comes up with a way to harness the power of the Internet to create tools that truly empower consumers.

Real estate consumers, especially the younger buyers who are so critically important to the real estate economy, are much more computer literate today than they were just a few years ago. They understand how to use new technology.

The changes that have taken place over the past 15 years have removed the mystery and made the process of buying and selling more transparent. Consumers have learned a great deal and now is the time for a new concept, not just a rehash of a discount brokerage or FSBO website. [tweet this]

It has got to be something that is all-encompassing and changes the traditional way things are done in the real estate business.

Today’s consumers expect technology to deliver savings as well as efficiency. They are realizing savings in other technology-enhanced transactions, and they are demanding the same from real estate. I think that the time is right for change.

Disruption will be made by someone with a deep knowledge of the business but that is not wedded to it. Someone who understands today’s consumer and has the right combination of hands-on knowledge of the real estate business, technical expertise, courage, and vision.

#Disruption

Steve Cook is editor and co-publisher of Real Estate Economy Watch, which has been recognized as one of the two best real estate news sites in the nation by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Before he co-founded REEW in 2007, Cook was vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors.

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Op/Ed

Malls repurposed as housing could bring back discrimination

(EDITORIAL) Recycling dead malls into community colleges and libraries are smart ideas, but is there a deeper, darker implication behind the affordable housing idea?

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malls changed into housing

Clever investors want to transform defunct malls into affordable housing. This sounds like a win-win-win at first. It’s helpful, useful, practical – and doesn’t necessarily require federal funding. What a warm and fuzzy idea that can help people and make use of existing structures. Yaaaay!

We need more affordable housing. Nobody will deny that. According to Pew Trusts, the 2018 U.S. housing market was at its least affordable in ten years. Adaptive reuse is a brilliant idea on paper. However, “affordable housing” is not merely a phrase; it holds legal connotations and requirements, both on national and state levels. It’s…complex.

Then my inner skeptic popped up and whispered in my ear, “Careful. What if it’s a trap?” History tells us to be wary of separating people by socioeconomic status (often–though not always–related to race). I started thinking about the long, troubled history of the “projects” in the U.S., which served to effectively segregate low-income families from the post-New Deal era until modern days. This in turn led to less investment in the area, meaning residents had to contend with fewer schools, grocery stores, public transportation routes, and the like.

Perhaps the adaptive reuse of the malls is not so nefarious. After all, these malls are already in residential areas. Therefore, one hopes, decent schools, supermarkets, and public transportation already exist, just as in other areas of a given city. The residents of one mall, one housing development, should not significantly change the housing market and available local resources by much, right? It will be a seamless integration of a whole new group of people into a neighborhood, right? We hope that’s true.

Maybe it won’t be a case of white flight, AKA “There goes the neighborhood” all over again. After all, the ethnic diversity isn’t specified beyond “workforce, student and 55 plus housing,” future residents, as defined by Richard Rubin, CEO of Repvblic, the company leading the charge to invest in old malls and big box stores. It sounds like a positive thing that the new, “recycled” housing developments he’s investing in don’t require federal funding to get built.

Affordable housing is a challenge wherever you look. Investors in multi-million dollar, sexy and modern high rises aren’t traditionally going after the affordable housing market, because what’s in it for them? In Austin, where The American Genius is based, developers already balk at the idea of including the mandated affordable housing units required for new construction. Some developers have even paid the city millions of dollars to get around the requirement.

Adaptive reuse by recycling dead malls into affordable housing feels like a creative, beneficial idea. Yet, I encourage us to delve a bit deeper and ask the hard questions. I mean, there must be a reason there are more movies about hookers with hearts of gold than real estate investors with hearts of gold. This calls for cautious optimism, but also reading between the lines and paying close attention to the details as this type of housing develops.

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Op/Ed

Top 5 reasons resilience is key in the workplace and the hiring room

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) While it matters all the time, 2020 has especially shown resilience is important as an employee or employer to hold their own in the workplace.

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Open workspace, where resilience will be key to success.

If there is ever a time that demonstrates the value of resilience in the workplace, that time is now. Challenges, complexities, and change in our personal and professional spheres are inevitable and required for growth.

Brent Gleeson, author of the book Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to an Extraordinary Life breaks down the components of resilience into three dimensions: challenge, commitment, and control. Resilient people see difficulty as challenge and a learning opportunity. They are committed and take ownership over their lives and goals. They spend their energy on that which they have control.

In the context of the workplace, employees and leaders will inevitably face setbacks, critical feedback and change- positive or negative. Managing engagement through this while working remotely can add an additional layer to this. Gleeson highlights five important reasons organizations should understand and work to build resilience in their workforce as part of their culture strategy.

  1. The first is that resilience skills directly benefit the psychological wellbeing of employees. Happy, healthy employees are good for business and the bottom line as well.
  2. Change is bound to happen and adaptability is key. Organizations need leaders, managers, and employees that have the resilience to navigate whatever comes up, as it happens.
  3. Learning and innovation is required to make it in today’s business environment. Even capable and motivated employees need to constantly maintain and hone their skills in a culture where they are allowed to continue to grow and improve.
  4. Resilience can be put to the test in organizations when interpersonal relationships are strained. Teamwork, when lead by intentional leaders, can help employees to frame interactions in a way that reduces negative feeling and improves group dynamics.
  5. Managers who can lead with resilience can help employees with career development and coaching in a way that develops their skills.

Some of the key characteristics that drive heightened levels of mental fortitude as shared by Gleeson are optimism, giving back, values and morals, humor, mentors, support networks, embracing fear, purpose, and intentional training. These contribute to resilience in employees, and in an environment where the only constant is change, the ability to meet the challenges of 2020 and beyond.

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Op/Ed

Enough, is Enough: how much minimalism do you need to succeed?

(EDITORIAL) Nobody starts a business praying for failure and debt. But, if we don’t identify what is enough for us, we can have a hard time pulling ourselves out.

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Enough peace

You’re scrolling on Facebook when you notice your friend’s feed, and the most recent post says, “You are enough.” You may recoil and think to yourself, “blech” what does that even mean? Touchy feely crap. I am “enough.” Ha! I’ll show you enough.

While exploring the concept of being enough may make some folks queasy. Asking the question: How does “enough” translate from our lives to our business? is it relevant and can help us get to our raison d’etre, our sweet spot, our perfect pitch, our business manifesto. And, what is “enough” for us in planning our life and business goals.

Recently, I was watching a British show on Netflix. The gist is an “expert” goes around to businesses to help them update their brands and improve business. In one episode, the host walks into a man’s clothing shop and asks the owner about his wares. He explains in one section he has clothing for the “fat bastards” (I am not making this up – he literally says that), in another section he has styles for the “trendy” kids, in another section, clothes for the businessman.

The owner thinks he’s doing great, but his sales suck, his customer service sucks, and he doesn’t understand why.

From the outside looking in, it seems pretty obvious, the guy is trying to serve everyone and in doing so, he’s doing a crap job of serving anyone. Plus, he was rude and literally didn’t understand that calling customers fat bastards wasn’t good customer service.

From a business point of view, this guy had no concept of what it meant to be “enough” because he was trying to serve too many potential customers and it was a very disjointed effort.

His problem is not unusual. Think about it. Haven’t you gone into a locally owned business to find it selling too many items that make no sense? Kind of a like a gift shop gone wild. You look around and see things you like, but you get confused and leave without making a purchase. Instead, you walk a few doors down to the store that specializes in jeans or shirts or cool shoes and you drop some virtual Benjamins.

In his blog, Paul Jarvis expounds on the idea of being enough. He says, “In order to be more aware of what makes sense for our lives and businesses, we need to be aware of what enough means.”

And, that my friends, depends on who you are. Enough to me may not be enough for you. But, Jarvis explains is that, it can’t be minimalism for Instagram’s sake. Meaning, we aren’t truly living in an enough “state” if we are trying to be what we think others want to see.

Let’s not get caught up in the “yeah, but it’s Paul Jarvis.” Cuz, he also states this isn’t about judging others, because if you ain’t got much, it can seem pretty patronizing for someone to tell you to live with less. And, that isn’t what we’re talking about here.

If we go back to the business concept, consider Apple. The company started off building computers. It veered into phones and watches, but still tied to the idea of smaller versions of its computers. It stayed pretty true to itself. The concept was built around one product. The stores make that product shine. And, we as consumer feel we aren’t enough until we have the newest gadget and gizmo they sell. Brilliant.

For you having the latest gaming system or all the streaming channels may be the thing. For me, I get by with basic cable and Netflix. My enough isn’t yours.

So, if we are being truly cognizant of what we want in our business and lives, we need to understand what enough is for us. Not what is enough based on someone’s feed on Instagram, showing them with the Lambo (rented) and fancy clothes (rented) and fancy location (maxed credit card). We need to consider where we, from a truly authentic space, can live in enough.

Per Jarvis:
“Enough is the antithesis of unchecked growth because growth encourages mindless consumption and enough requires constant questioning and awareness. Enough is when we reach the upper bound of what’s required. Enough revenue means our business is profitable and can support however many employees/freelancers we have, even if it’s just one person. Enough income means we can live our lives with a bit of financial ease, and put something away for later. Enough means our families are fed, have roofs over their heads and their futures are considered. Enough stuff means we have what we need to live our lives without excess.”

One way to think about enough is to sit back and consider what would be your perfect day. If you were doing what you wanted – no holding back – what would your day look like. Imagine it. Are you really shopping and dropping $1k on a pair of shoes? Maybe. Or, are you hanging out with someone you love, doing work the way you want, having some food, walking your dog, doing yoga, CrossFit, etc., enjoying dinner and heading to bed?

If you think about business in the same way, what would your business look like? Would it be like 7-Eleven with Slurpee’s, Slim Jim’s, lottery tickets and birthday cards? Or, would it look more refined? Because, Target and Walmart have a lock on mega shopping experiences. 7-Eleven has a lock on, it’s 4 a.m., I’m wasted and need crap food.

Consider, how does your idea of equilibrium impact the outcome of your business, your work, your idea of success?

Most of us would love to be wealthy and that is our guidepost when it comes to the idea of business success. But, when evaluating it from the perspective of “enough” our viewpoint might change if one considers debt load to profit or unsold, stolen or damaged goods to profit. If you have more debt than cash, are you enough?

“Where things can go awry is when we never consider what enough is as a marker,” Jarvis says. “When this happens, we don’t solve for enough or optimize for it, we just keep going and going with more and more.”

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