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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

5 little ‘lies’ HGTV has been telling viewers that affect the market big time

(OPINION) HGTV has long been a fan favorite for renovations and home searches, but is the information they portray accurately?

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Man watching HGTV show on tablet device.

It’s no secret that reality television very often does not, in fact, depict reality. One of the most frequently viewed “reality” television networks is HGTV, which features a wide range of home renovation and DIY shows that cater to a variety of home improvement enthusiasts.

While HGTV wants you to get lost in the latest episode of House Hunters, you may be surprised to know that these episodes are in fact, at least partially scripted.

Although there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good home improvement show, especially those ever-addicting home flipping shows like Fixer Uppers, there are a few things HGTV portrays that are less than accurate. Here are five of those things you may want to consider, or have your clients consider before embarking in the home ownership process yourself (or with a client).

Consider the following…

1. Realtors work a lot harder/longer than people think

Unfortunately, HGTV often portrays real estate agents as people who do the bare minimum for their clients, when in fact most Realtors® go above and beyond for their clients.

According to CheatSheet, Sissy Lapin, author and co-founder of ListingDoor, stated shows like House Hunters “make the agent look like they’re just these lazy people who show two houses and negotiate $1,000 off the asking price,” rather than showing the whole host of duties a good agent performs for their clients.

Good agents tackle the whole home buying process; informing clients about what they should consider when selecting a home, negotiating a better deal, and making sure that they do their very best to ensure nothing goes wrong throughout the entire process from start to close.

This is not the impression a potential homebuyer would get from HGTV alone. Realtors are an amazing asset to have on your team when you’re considering buying or selling a home, and they do a lot more than HGTV portrays.

2. Over-emphasizing the importance of new features

HGTV shows make a production out of showing homeowners frantically searching for the “perfect home” with all the “must have” features. In all fairness, sponsorship from the latest and greatest in home innovations is how they make some of their money. While it’s certainly understandable that most homeowners have a list of things they want in a new home, worrying sellers into thinking they won’t be able to sell their home unless they have these highly coveted features is an entirely different thing.

Lapin commented, “I can’t tell you how many times that I go into a house and they’re like, do you think it would add more value, or do you think it would sell faster if I put in granite countertops?” In fact, like many other trends in homes, consumers are moving away from granite to other sustainable materials. But you would never guess this if you believe everything HGTV is promoting on their shows. Again, the key is to do your own research. Consult a professional and inquire as to what would increase your home’s value.

3. Downplaying the expense of renovations

If you took what HGTV shows to heart, you’d be inclined to believe that major home renovations can be completed in mere hours for a few hundred dollars. If you’ve ever seen Property Brothers, you know the brothers function on extremely fast renovations schedules and very low budgets. This is likely not the situation you’ll encounter if you decide to renovate your own home (or a project home). Even contractors have complained that these types of shows are giving people an inaccurate picture about renovation expectations.

“Remodelers say that shows such as Love It or List It and Property Brothers, which often cram whole-house remodeling projects into too-small budgets, give clients the wrong impression regarding pricing and time constraints,” notes Tim Regan, writer for Remodeling.com. Also, according to CheatSheet, some renovations may not even be up to code.

One couple who appeared on Love It or List It are suing the show’s production company stating their home was “irreparably damaged” and a that a licensed architect was not hired.

To ensure your next project goes smoothly the best thing you can do is consult with a licensed, bonded, and insured contractor. They will be able to give you a time table and price range that is more realistic than what you see on HGTV.

4. Location, location, location

While not as important as the other factors on this list, in my opinion, it is certainly something to be considered. HGTV shows like House Hunters very rarely focus on the importance of location with the home buyer.

Lapin stated in one episode, she watched as a couple chose a home because of its stylish features even though it meant they would have to make a 45 minute commute to work. While everyone is entitled to make their own choices, Lapin makes a good point in stating that she would have “made [her] client make that drive to work three days in a row” to see if they would still enjoy the location of their new home.

This is one of the many benefits to having a Realtor® on your side: they know the ins and outs of home values, location, and more. Getting your information from a Realtor® will take you a lot further (and very likely save you money) than the information you can get from HGTV programming.

5. Buyers know more than some think

Contrary to what HGTV would like you to believe, buyers are not naïve. For the most part, buyers are real-world savvy and have a good idea about what they need and the price range they can afford. This is the age of digital technology, and most buyers are putting that technology to use, researching before they set out to buy something.

Sites like Zillow give buyers an idea of what’s available for how much, and they can even see what the home looks like without getting out and driving to the location. HGTV tends to show buyers that don’t know what they want or how much they can spend.

This is likely done to make their professionals seem more knowledgeable, but in reality, as Lapin states, “the buyer, the consumer, is very savvy and I feel like that’s not portrayed. Buyers have a lot of confidence now.” This isn’t to say most buyers don’t still welcome guidance from a professional, but they do have a general idea of what they want and what they can spend, by and large.

Instead of viewing HGTV as an example to follow, or representative of the market as a whole, it should be treated as entertainment.

While there are some aspects of the show that may be useful to some viewers, such as window replacement and selecting new flooring, it definitely shouldn’t be held as the gold standard for service or the home buying experience.

Consumers’ best bet is to consult an industry professional who can give you a more realistic picture of cost and time.

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Op/Ed

To-do list tips & tricks to maximize productivity and lower stress levels

(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

How minimizing your clutter will help you with time management

(EDITORIAL) If you’re a clutter queen that tends to wait until your inbox has more than 500 emails in it or your closet can’t shut, read this…please.

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Woman carrying boxes representing minimizing clutter.

Rethinking your clutter habits

Are you one of those people who has an endless to-do list of mindless tasks like emptying your inbox, decluttering your entryway, or balancing your checkbook? Think about these tasks for just a minute.


In each case, the longer you put it off, the more time it takes to get it back to a manageable amount. If you’re a procrastinator that tends to wait until your inbox has more than 500 emails in it or your closet can’t shut, maybe it’s time to look at this clutter through a different lens.

Busyness is like a debt

When you have a credit card, it’s recommended to pay off the balance each month to get to zero. You would never let your bill go unpaid month after month. Once you get your credit card balance paid off, you’re probably more cautious about taking on more debt.

Consider your inbox a debt you have to take care of each week. The idea is to get it down to zero.

Delete it or file it, just get it out of your inbox so that it doesn’t get back up to 25, 100, or 500 to reduce the clutter in your life. Same thing with your entryway. The idea is to minimize the clutter. Once you keep this clutter at zero, it’s much less work to manage it.

Minimalism as a lifestyle

You may have to spend some time cleaning up your inbox or tidying up the kitchen to find your zero, but it’s time well spent. Don’t try to tackle every job in one week, but think about some of the things that have gotten out of hand in your life.

Routine work is manageable, but you have to make a commitment to it. If you need more inspiration, check out Zeromalist, a manifesto of living simply and embracing minimalism.

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