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Op/Ed

Are Realtors the real loser in the sword fight between Zillow Group and Move, Inc.?

The last year has been one of dramatic and rapid change in the real estate tech sector, but Realtors are vulnerable, and we’re worried.

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zillow move

Corporate warfare demands headlines in every industry, but in the real estate tech sector, a storm has been brewing for years, which in the last year has come to a head. Zillow Group and Move, Inc. (which is owned by News Corp. and operates ListHub, Realtor.com, TopProducer, and other brands) have been competing for a decade now, and the race has appeared to be an aggressive yet polite boxing match. Last year, the gloves came off, and now, they’ve drawn swords and appear to want blood.

Note: We’ll let you decide which company plays which role in the image above.

So how then, does any of this make Realtors the victims of this sword fight? Let’s get everyone up to speed, and then we’ll discuss.

1. Zillow poaches top talent, Move/NAR sues

It all started last year when the gloves came off – Move’s Chief Strategy Officer (who was also Realtor.com’s President), Errol Samuelson jumped ship and joined Zillow on the same day he phoned in his resignation without notice. He left under questionable circumstances, which has led to a lengthy legal battle (wherein Move and NAR have sued Zillow and Samuelson over allegations of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets), with the most recent motion being for contempt, which a judge granted to Move/NAR after the mysterious “Samuelson Memo” surfaced.

Salt was added to the wound when Move awarded Samuelson’s job to Move veteran, Curt Beardsley, who days after Samuelson left, also defected to Zillow. This too led to a lawsuit, with allegations including breach of contract, violation of corporations code, illegal dumping of stocks, and Move has sought restitution. These charges are extremely serious, but demanded slightly less attention than the ongoing lawsuit against Samuelson.

2. Two major media brands emerge

Last fall, the News Corp. acquisition of Move, Inc. was given the green light by the feds, and this month, Zillow finalized their acquisition of Trulia.

What used to be a three horse race became a two horse race, but the entire track changed as Move became News Corp. and Zillow/Trulia became Zillow Group. What does News Corp. have in common with Zillow Group? They’re both media companies.

Anyone still wondering whether Z/T/R intend to become national brokers can now rest easy, as they have both made it so abundantly clear that they’re media companies, period.

3. ListHub and syndication heats up

In January, Zillow announced that they would cut ties with ListHub, then this month, after Zillow and Trulia officially got married, ListHub (remember, they’re owned by News Corp./Move, Inc.) shut off the pipe that feeds listings to Trulia. Yesterday, a California judge granted Zillow Group a restraining order that forces ListHub to continue syndicating at least until their next court date on March 12th. Zillow Group CEO, Spencer Rascoff continues to assert that ListHub sends subpar data to make Move competitors appear to have inaccurate data.

Sources tell us that Zillow Group should have been prepared for the relationship with Trulia to end, given that Zillow already announced their breakup with ListHub, and some indicate that this fight reveals a vulnerability in Zillow’s data quality, otherwise they would have simply supplemented Trulia with their own listing data instead of ListHub’s. One broker told us that she feels this is Move being petty.

Move disavows claims that inferior data is being sent to Zillow, and say they look forward to their day in court (as we’re betting Zillow is as well).

That brings us to today

The swords have been drawn, the lawyers have suited up, and we’re watching a corporate war like we’ve never seen in this sector. And it’s just now heating up. These two juggernauts are battling for the same eyeballs and same dollars, so there will be figurative casualties. I wouldn’t say anyone’s fighting dirty, but that they’re fighting, stabbing, and clawing, and they’ve got deep pockets to back up the fight. That said, because of Move’s affiliation with (thus accountability to) NAR and their dues-paying members, we’re more confident that Move’s interests are aligned with practitioners’and that’s important to note as we move forward here…

In an email to employees obtained by Realuoso, Ryan O’Hara, Move, Inc.’s new CEO said, “Competing in business typically involves trying to be better, cheaper, faster or different than your competition. How will we compete? By continuing to build the best web and mobile experiences for consumers and the best and most valuable tools for brokers and agents, and by providing the market with the most comprehensive, most accurate and most up-to-date listings in the U.S. I can also promise you we will quicken the pace of product innovation and apply more marketing muscle to our consumer and industry outreach. When we do all of this, we execute on our vision of putting real estate at the fingertips of today’s information-driven consumer and enabling real estate professionals to provide their customers with indispensable and personalized service. And that’s how we win.”

Rascoff, on the other hand, has blogged about his open mindedness as to the future of Zillow Group’s direction, and he’s been one of the ballsiest leaders in the industry, so we have no doubt that he’s rallying his teams’ enthusiasm to a fever pitch as they prepare for what we are certain is a delightful and exciting battle for Rascoff and his executive team. He’s a competitor and has never made apologies for it.

A shocking level of apathy in the industry

Some might think that we’re projecting that Realtors are the ones that lose out because of potential changes to Market Leader (many Trulia staffers were laid off from the Bellevue office where sales and support are (that’s Market Leader territory)), which could impact Keller Williams who is their biggest customer. But no, it’s none of that minutiae.

I originally set out to opine that Realtor confusion will put Move on top (some will expect that a Z/T merger means one bill, but operating separately, they’ll still pay two bills and be disillusioned), but then I hit the phones. I called dozens of Realtors across the nation, not just our readers, and the responses were astounding.

Several had no idea that Zillow had acquired Trulia, many didn’t know what ListHub was or how it related to this fight, and not one could accurately tell me any details of the three major points outlined above. Not one Realtor.

Only a select few knew that ListHub had severed ties with Trulia, meaning their listings might not appear on Trulia as of this week, and three actually said they didn’t care one way or the other, even when we discussed the importance of listing accuracy.

One told me that her most important concern is whether there are flyers at her listing because she’s so rural that most people still don’t have internet, so this battle means nothing to her (even though I asked her about the future, to which she said, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there”).

Every industry has idiots, but for the most part, Realtors are a bootstrapping breed of ingenious ass kickers who live or die by how good they are at every single transaction. So how were so few uninformed, and for those that were, why didn’t they care? Don’t they know that almost every single transaction starts online, and that where they land dictates how they get to you!?

Here’s why Realtors are going to be the loser here

Realtors are going to lose in the Zillow Group battle with Move, Inc. because they’re busy working instead of obsessing over the minutiae of listing syndication and blossoming media company mergers and acquisitions. Realtors are a hard working, honest bunch, but let’s look at it through the lens of politics – there are a few decision makers pushing papers, a few more that approve those papers, a lot that watch news, a larger group that react negatively or positively when they learn of a policy that impacts them, and the largest group which has no idea what the hell is going on at any given time, and couldn’t identify the VP of America if paid $1M.

So here is how I see the industry:
industry involvement

  • True insiders are the handful of people that lead these companies and know every move that is going on, long before even their employees know. In this circle are the Spencer Rascoffs, the Ryan O’Haras, and Dale Stintons.
  • Informed insiders are the small circle of people that work at these companies and know what’s going on, or are talking to the true insiders on a regular basis. These are also the types that are involved (like those leading policy-making committees at a national level).
  • Well informed are those that aren’t directly affiliated with any of the aforementioned companies, but study them. This is most of our readers – you’re a decision maker at your company, so you work endless hours, but you’re good at your job because you’re obsessed with knowing as much as possible to retain your competitive advantage.
  • Somewhat informed are the normal practitioners that read real estate industry news from time to time, may watch some cable tv news, but mostly focus on their continuing education and being good at their job.
  • Uninformed is where an even larger number of practitioners lie. They are not stupid by any stretch of the imagination, but they honestly have no clue what Zillow Group is, and even when told, they don’t care, they have a call to make and you’re wasting their time.
  • Clueless is the large number of people that don’t know what ListHub does or why it matters, and like the uninformed, they’re not stupid, they’re just not interested, and that’s their prerogative.

Because of these levels outlined above, very few people in the sea of practitioners even know what is going on. It is my firm belief that this is exactly why Realtors will lose out – not enough are involved to affect change, fewer care to be involved, and even fewer will ever know that there was even a battle. This means that decisions are being made that they have no awareness of (therefore, no say in), and it’s not like American politics where we all urge each other to vote to be heard – involvement is the only vote here, no matter how busy you or your practice are.

Our industry’s track record of diminished involvement means media companies have increasing power, and hell, they’ve earned it. But until the day comes where I can spend a week on the phone calling Realtors, and they all know what the issues are or why they matter, they’re vulnerable. Realtors are vulnerable, and as an advocate for Realtors, that makes me increasingly nervous.

#ZillowMoveBattle

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Op/Ed

So few bosses do this, but they’re the highest quality leaders

(EDITORIAL) Strong leaders are hard to find, and all industries tend to use an outdated leadership model – let’s discuss.

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NAR committee

Have you ever browsed for cars online and looked at video reviews? The answer, for most of us, is yes. Now, have you ever noticed how the person giving the review is always standing in front of the car in the initial car shot, ruining the reveal?

I didn’t notice that either until Jason Fried pointed it out.

He mentions that it’s important for the reviewer to get out of the way in order to give the car it’s glamour shot, then they can jump back in to give the review by standing behind the car.

After all, that’s what the viewer is there for, right? The car and not the person. This could be used as metaphor to illustrate how good leaders can lead from behind and not front and center.

If that doesn’t do it for you, picture a parent teaching their kid how to ride a bike. The trail behind, making sure the kid doesn’t fall, but give them the space to have nothing stopping them in front.

This is what leaders should be doing, not only for their team, but for their product. If you’re a leader, having your face plastered in the way of the product only makes things confusing and negates the simplicity of advertising.

When leaders are focused on their product, their team, and their outcome, they have much more room to be successful and make waves. Leaders who are concerned about “themselves” and “their” image will not get very far, and will likely alienate many people.

Keeping an eye on your team and the development of your product is important, don’t get me wrong. However, having your hands in every little detail can make you miss the big picture, which is where the real success comes in.

Think about the great and powerful Wizard of Oz: he’s not seen, but is making big things happen. Yet, when it comes down to it, he’s just a regular person – just like any other leader.

I hope I haven’t lost you with my string of metaphors!

The takeaway is: don’t hover, let your team do their thing and let your product speak for itself. But, while you’re in the back, don’t forget to stop for a moment and take it all in.

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Op/Ed

Compete by using data ruthlessly, but note this often forgotten ingredient

(EDITORIAL) The use of analytic data is already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. But there’s something at the core we aren’t always talking about here.

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data

Through the power of predictive analytics, I can tell you when your employees are looking for new jobs, based on such factors as the timing of their sick leave requests, their word choice in company memos, and the number of emails that they send and to whom in your organization.

If I want to outsource that responsibility, I can tell you through the efforts of any one of a number of third-party vendors what the likelihood of your employees leaving you is, simply by examining the employees’ behaviors on social media sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn and aggregating that into a risk factor.

The use of such analytic examinations in human resource functions isn’t a widely established practice yet, but it’s already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. For example, in perhaps an unlikely place, consider amusement parks.

In research conducted by Pikkemaat and Schuckert, they identified key factors that determined customer behavior, including warning signs of customer behaviors that would lead to the failure of parks altogether.

Having the ability to know what your customers think and believe and how those factors will predictably translate into action is an amazing tool, one which allows you to harness hundreds and thousands of data points and utilize them in preparing your business for success.

Predictive analytics are being used to seemingly trivial things, such as determining which items Amazon recommends for you to the challenge of predicting civil unrest in Latin America, which Virginia Tech’s EMBERS project has been doing since November 2012.

I’m not denying either the importance or the power of using predictive analytics to help you better understand your employees or your customers. Having data and utilizing it in a timely fashion to drive planning is the hallmark of a good business plan. You should be appropriately investing in these segments, but at the same time you’re doing so, you shouldn’t forget that behind each of these data points is a real human being.

We’re drowning in information, while dying for wisdom; we have so much data at our fingertips about the actions of people that we often fail to consider the person individually.

Some of this is the ease which data can be amassed and quantified; quantitative research is fairly simple to conduct, assuming that your data points are clear from the beginning, and that you have enough of them, appropriately sampled, to make a generalizable conclusion about the population.

Some of it is science; Dunbar’s number, a theory proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, proposes that humans can hold space for approximately 150 close stable social relationships, although we can obviously tangentially know many more than that. With the human limitations on getting to know one another in a meaningful way, and the speed at which we can now analyze the actions of the group at large beyond our immediacy level, it’s often easier just to let that amalgamation of information serve as an entrée to understanding who your customers and employees actually are as people, rather than just relying on reports on them.

But those reports don’t tell you the whole story. The human touch is what provides the value to your data, and helps you understand how the practices that you take as a leader and those that you implement in your company actually impact people.

So here’s a challenge for you. Gather the data, but leave your office more.

Take the time to call or talk to your team face-to-face rather than just relying on emails or texts to communicate. Write a hand-written note of appreciation when things are going well, or more importantly, a word of encouragement when things aren’t. Ask your customers and staff for input, but only when their input actually matters, and ask them for their support when you need it, with logical reasons why they should care.

Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was in public office for nearly five decades, partially because of a lesson that he learned in his first campaign in 1937. Walking outside of his house on election eve, O’Neill was stopped by a Mrs. Elizabeth O’Brien. Mrs. O’Brien was O’Neill’s high school elocution and drama teacher, and a neighbor who lived across the street from him, and had for years.

“Tom, I’m going to vote for you tomorrow even though you didn’t ask me,” Mrs. O’Brien said, looking up at the politician. Her statement shook him; he’d had a neighborly relationship with the woman for years, and had helped her around the house with small chores from time to time

“I didn’t think I had to ask for your vote,” he said.

She replied, “Tom, let me tell you something: People like to be asked.”

People like to be asked, included, and made to feel welcome, customers and employees alike. We all want to feel as if we have value to our workplace, and to the places we brand ourselves with by being a customer of.

Relying only on an impersonal touch doesn’t give you that same level of intimacy, nor does it make anyone feel as if they actually matter. The data collected isn’t as important as the soul welcomed, nor is the ability of your company to make a predictive guess as what’s going to come next as vital as making people feel integrated to your company

Make a customer experience so strong at both the interaction and the heart level, and people will flock to work or buy from you. Ignore that in implementation, and all the data in the world won’t be able to rectify what you’ve broken.

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Op/Ed

Sadly, the tiny home movement has morphed into an elitist badge of honor

(EDITORIAL) Prepare to roll your eyes all the way back into your head, because the latest tiny home project in Cali puts the movement even more out of reach of the average American.

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Though they probably didn’t intend the correlation at the time, whomever first said “Less is more” could have easily been referring to the tiny home movement in America.

We’ve cultivated a strange fascination with small things in grandiose settings, and the latest gimmick to grace the “tiny home” movement is no exception – it’s a 3D printed tiny home in California that’s merely 300 square feet in size and sells for $250,000 on land valued at over $5M.

The land in question serves as a refuge for tech giants who just want to get back to nature, albeit inside of a tiny air-conditioned property. They’re marketing the “Sleeping Pod” as an efficient place that runs exclusively on Tesla batteries (ooh), and it’s a final nail in the coffin of a movement that started as a means of efficiency and sustainability, now morphing into catering to the mega wealthy.

Bucking the city in favor of no light pollution and agricultural-themed living is understandable, and no one needs that kind of respite like the people this site attracts.

But, like… y’all know that tents are a thing, right?

We’re past the point of being wildly confused that someone would ever pay a premium to live in a significantly smaller house; in fact, millennials and their parents alike seem to idolize the notion — one that, absent its public allure, might still be viable as an affordable, sustainable, comfortable alternative to traditional living.

Unfortunately, it seems like you’ll need to own a social media service or three if you want a shot at America’s latest frugal fascination.

It’s worth pointing out that sustainable, cheap tiny housing does exist — just not here. In other areas of the world, 3D-printed homes made from recycled materials can be built for under $10,000 in less than a week, and sustainable sources of energy such as solar- and wind-based power (while not initially cheap to implement) are investments which easily pay for themselves once they’ve been installed.

In an ironic twist, the ability to afford significantly less room for the opportunity to experience minimalism at its dumbest is now one reserved only for the rich.

While the technology powering Monterey Peninsula’s Galini Sleeping Pod, dubbed the “sustainable airstream of our time” is inspiring, the elitist price tag attached to it is not.

The bottom line resides in common sense: sustainability shouldn’t be a privilege, and it shouldn’t be marketed as a luxury.

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