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Op/Ed

How the three historic issues in the real estate industry are now converging

The real estate industry is currently experiencing a shift that can be felt by all boots on the ground, but what moving parts make up this shift and where are we headed?

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converging rivers

The city of Pittsburgh has three rivers (Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio) that converge in the middle of town. These rivers all have a glorious history and they are the true foundation of this great city. Steel mills may have come and gone, but the rivers have been and always will be part of Pittsburgh.

Like Pittsburgh, the real estate industry has three historic rivers of thought that are converging. The three rivers of thought in real estate are automated agent selection, agent demographics, and agent professionalism.

1. Automated Agent Selection

There is a renewed effort in the real estate space to find an electronic way to connect buyers and sellers with Realtors®. We’ve been talking about this for years and still there has been no successful/effective way to fully automate the find a Realtor® process. Many see this as the great battleground/goldmine in real estate today. If someone gains control of this process, they will have successfully inserted technology between Realtors® and their clients.

Frankly, this seems unlikely to happen, at least on a grand scale. According to a survey by the Illinois Association of Realtors®, less than 10% of homebuyers found their agent through technology while 50% relied on a recommendation from friends or family.

Someone may gain a small foothold with automated agent selections, but real estate is still a people business despite the massive influx of technology in the past 20 years. In addition, the other two rivers of thought are problematic to the automated agent selection process.

2. Realtor® Demographics

We have talked for years about the increasing average age of Realtors® and the lack of a diversity in the membership. The general worry is that buyers are getting younger and more diverse while Realtors® get older and remain predominantly white. Will Realtors® become “out of touch” as this trend continues, or is this irrelevant?

First, it should be noted that the average age of a Realtor® actually dropped to 56 years old this year (from 57). This is the first drop since 2007, according to NAR’s 2014 Member Profile. A decade ago, the report showed an average age of 52.

The increase in average age is easy to explain – Realtors® don’t retire. As the saying goes, “Realtors® don’t retire, they just become listless.” Forty percent of NAR’s members are 60+ years old. That mass of above average members pulls the overall age of members up naturally. The fact that the average age actually went down in 2014 indicates a strong surge of younger members.

The lack of diversity in the Realtor® world has always been surprising. The organization is dedicated to fair housing practices and has no underlying prejudice that I have detected in the past 20 years. Despite this, 85% of members qualify themselves as “white” on the NAR survey and that number goes to 91% for the over 60 crowd. The younger section of the membership (under 40) is a little better at 75%.

This lack of diversity makes automated agent selection more difficult. Realtors® demographics simply do not automatically match with typical buyers and sellers.

3. Agent Professionalism

And then there is agent professionalism… another topic we have discussed (complained about) for years. In 2009, NAR developed some strategies aimed at improving the professionalism of members. Required training, testing, and agent reviews were all part of a proposal that never saw the light of day.

NAR is taking on the topic again and we can expect some action this time. Only time will tell if the NAR Board has the boldness to approve major changes, but NAR leadership has shown a willingness to embrace change in the last two years (for example, Realtor.com and the new Core Standards).

Research, however, shows that the problem is more of a lack of self-confidence within the Realtor® ranks than it is in the public’s eye. A 2010 survey by the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® showed that 48% of homebuyers strongly agreed that Realtors® are professional, but only 33% of members thought the same. In addition, that same survey showed that the public strongly considers Realtors® more knowledgeable (58% to 43%) and more ethical (39% to 33%) than members.

Will NAR finally take action on defining professionalism and requiring members to live up to that standard? If they do, how will this help the process of automating agent selection?

What Will This Convergence Look Like?

What the Realtor® organization does in the coming months about professionalism will be interesting, but how this concept converges with demographics and automated agent selection will be compelling. If we actually define what is meant by “professional” and we can figure out a way around the lack of Realtor® diversity, someone may be able to move forward with automated agent selection. But, is that what we really want?

Realtors® certainly do not want a computer to decide which clients select them. You only have to look at the malaise over Realtor.com’s AgentMatch for proof… and that was a friendly attempt. Firms don’t want a computer to make such a decision, unless, of course, they own that computer. NAR might secretly want to own the automated agent selection process, but it is not the type of competitive issue they generally pursue.

So, that leaves third parties vendors like Zillow, Trulia, and Google as the most likely suspects. Good luck, because even with the convergence of these three issues, this is going to be a tough paradigm to shift. Realtors®, unlike books and hotel rooms, are not a commodity to catalog and index. Despite their lack of racial/ethnic diversity, NAR members are not generally similar. They come in all shapes and sizes, all types and categories, and from all parts of the country. In other words, they’re humans.

Designing a computer program to match clients and agents goes against the fundamentals of the real estate business. Can it be done? Sure. Will it be widely adopted? I doubt it, but matching humans seems to work in the dating business, so maybe I’m wrong. It will be interesting to see how this all works out.

Note from the Editor: The image above is not in Pittsburgh, rather a depiction of converging rivers.

Dave is a 20+ year veteran in Realtor® association management and leadership and is currently the CEO of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®. He is a writer, speaker, strategic planner, and life-long learner with a passion for creative thinking. Dave has published his first novel For Reasons Unknown and will be publishing his second by the end of the year.

Op/Ed

To-do list tips to maximize productivity and lower stress

(EDITORIAL) Even if you have a to-do list, the weight of your tasks might be overwhelming. Here’s advice on how to fix the overwhelm.

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To-do list in a journal with gold rings.

If you ask me, there’s no better way to unwind and ease everyday stress by making a to-do list. Like they said in the movie, Clueless, “It gives [you] a sense of control in a world full of chaos.”

While that quote was specific to a makeover, it certainly applies here. When you have too many things on your plate, making a to-do list is a quick way to get yourself in order. Typically, this does the trick for organizing your upcoming tasks.

It’s important to determine what method of listmaking works for you. I personally like to use sticky notes around my computer monitor to keep me in check for what’s needed to be done work-wise or by use of my computer. Other personal task items will either be kept in a list on my phone, or in my paper planner.

For work, I have a roster of clients I work with everyday. They each have their own list containing tasks I have to complete for them. I also use Google Calendar to keep these tasks in order if they have a specific deadline.

For personal use, I create a to-do list at the start of each week to determine what needs to be accomplished over the next seven days. I also have a monthly overview for big-picture items that need to be tackled (like an oil change).

This form of organization can be a lot and it can still be overwhelming, even if I have my ducks in a row. And, every once in a while, those tasks can really pile up on those lists and a whole new kind of overwhelm develops.

Fear not, as there are still ways to break it down from here. Let me explain.

First, what I’d recommend is going through all of your tasks and categorizing them (i.e. a work list, a personal list, a family list, etc.) From there, go through each subsequent list and determine priority.

You can do this by setting a deadline for each task, and then put every task in order based on what deadline is coming up first. From there, pieces start to fall into place and tasks begin to be eliminated. I do recognize that this is what works for my brain, and may not be what works for yours.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has some interesting insight on the topic and examines the importance of how you relate to your tasks. The concept is, instead of letting the tasks be some sort of scary stress, find ways to make them more relatable. Here are some examples that Babauta shares:

  • I’m fully committed to this task because it’s incredibly important to me, so I’m going to create a sacred space of 30 minutes today to be fully present with it.
  • This task is an opportunity for me to serve someone I care deeply about, with love.
  • These tasks are training ground for me to practice presence, devotion, getting comfortable with uncertainty.
  • These tasks are an adventure! An exploration of new ground, a learning space, a way to grow and discover and create and be curious.
  • This task list is a huge playground, full of ways for me to play today!

Finding the best method of creating your to-do list or your task list and the best method for accomplishing those tasks is all about how you relate and work best. It can be trial and error, but there is certainly a method for everyone. What are your methods?

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Op/Ed

Why delegation of work doesn’t always lead to productivity

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Delegation is tricky, and can end up creating more work for yourself if it isn’t done well. Here’s how to fix that.

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Man talking on virtual meeting, using delegation to get more work done.

Delegating work is a logical step in the process of attaining peak efficiency. It’s also a step that, when executed incorrectly, leads to a huge headache and a lot of extra work for whomever is delegating tasks—not to mention frustration on the part of those asked to complete said tasks. Here is how you can assign work with the confidence that it will be done quickly and effectively.

Firstly, realizing that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work can be a bit of a blow. It’s certainly easier to assign tasks across the board and wait for them to be completed; however, when you consider how much clean-up work you have to do when those tasks don’t end the way you expect them to, it’s actually simpler to assign tasks according to employees’ strengths and weaknesses, providing appropriate supports along the way.

In education, this process is called “differentiation”, and it’s the same idea: If you assign 30 students the exact same work, you’ll see pretty close to 30 different answers. Assigning that same piece with the accommodations each student needs to succeed—or giving them different parameters according to their strengths—means more consistency overall. You can apply that same concept to your delegation.

Another weak point in many people’s management models revolves around how employees see their superiors. In part, this isn’t your fault; American authority paradigms mandate that employees fear their bosses, bend over backward to impress them, and refrain from communicating concerns. However, it is ultimately your job to make sure that your employees feel both supported and capable.

To wit, assign your employees open-ended questions and thought-provoking problems early on to allow them to foster critical thinking skills. The more you solve their problems for them, the more they will begin to rely on you in a crisis—and the more work you’ll take home despite all of your delegation efforts. Molding employees into problem-solvers can certainly take time, but it’s worth the wait.

Finally, your employees may lack strength in the areas of quality and initiative. That sounds a lot worse than it actually is—basically, employees may not know what you expect, and in the absence of certainty, they will flounder. You can solve this by providing employees with the aforementioned supports; in this case, those look like a list of things to avoid, a bulleted list of priorities for a given project, or even a demo of how to complete their work.

Again, this sounds like a lot of effort upfront for your delegation, but you’ll find your patience rewarded come deadline time.

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Op/Ed

5 things your home office may not need

(EDITORIAL) Since many of us are working entirely from home now, we are probably getting annoyed at a messy desk, let’s take a crack at minimalism!

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desk minimalism

COVID-19 is changing our behaviors. As more people stay home, they’re seeing (and having to deal with) the clutter in their home. Many people are turning to minimalism to reduce clutter and find more joy. There are many ways to define minimalism. Some people define it as the number of items you own. Others think of it as only owning items that you actually need.

I prefer to think of minimalism as intentionality of possessions. I have a couple of dishes that are not practical, nor do I use them very often. But they belonged to my grandma, and out of sentimentality, I keep them. Most minimalists probably wouldn’t.

They say a messy desk is a sign of creativity. Unfortunately, that same messy desk limits productivity. Harvard Business Review reports that cluttered spaces have negative effects on us. Keep your messy desk, but get rid of the clutter. Take a minimalistic approach to your home office. Here are 5 things to clean up:

  1. Old technology – When was the last time you printed something for work? Most of us don’t print much anymore. Get rid of the old printers, computer parts, and other pieces of hardware that are collecting dust.
  2. Papers and documents – Go digital, or just save the documents that absolutely matter. Of course, this may vary by industry, but take a hard look at the paper you’ve saved over the past month or so. Then ask yourself whether you will really ever look at it again.
  3. Filing cabinets – If you’re not saving paper, you don’t need filing cabinets.
  4. Trade magazines and journals – Go digital, and keep your magazines on your Kindle, or pass down the print versions to colleagues who may be interested.
  5. Anything unrelated to work – Ok, save the picture of your family and coffee mug, but clean off your desk of things that aren’t required for work. It’s easy for home and work to get mixed up when you’re working and living in one place. Keep it separate for your own peace of mind and better workflow. If space is tight and you’re sharing a dining room table with work, get a laundry basket or box. At the start of the workday, remove home items and put them in the box. Transfer work items to another box at the end of the day.

This might seem like a little more work, but all these practices will give you some boundaries.

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