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Op/Ed

Top takeaways from the RESO conference we must all understand

This year’s RESO conference was intense and unveils precisely how complicated real estate data is, and why you should get involved.

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Note from the Editor: The recent 2015 Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) Fall Conference dealt with the very complex real estate data issues, and it was quite the illuminating event.

We urge anyone that cares about the flow of real estate data, its reliability, and its accuracy, to read Matt Cohen’s 2015 recap in his own words below (an excerpt from his much longer summary) and consider getting involved in RESO.

2015 was an intensely busy year for RESO

The RESO Fall Conference in Austin, Texas was intensely busy this year, as the pace of both standards development and certification has accelerated. In 2015, RESO delivered the Data Dictionary v1.4, a data dictionary wiki, a Data Dictionary certification program and MLS Data Dictionary certifications, the Web API v1.0.2, updated transport certification platforms, vendor transport certifications, and an organizational unique ID.

In addition, RESO worked on industry leadership presence and outreach, and membership growth. Those are a lot of accomplishments, and the pace will continue in 2016!

RESO now has 227 members, up from 126 members in 2014. That’s 80% membership growth for the year to date! 58% of member organizations are MLSs, 31% are vendors, 9% brokerage, other associations are 1%, and NAR itself is 1%.

Jeremy Crawford, RESO’s Executive Director, provided attendees with a crash course in the RESO organization, and explained how RESO members can get involved with standards development.

Jeremy laid out the path for getting new ideas funneled through the Research & Development group, into an existing work group (e.g. Dictionary, Transport, RETS 1.x, PUID, Internet Tracking), through review of the Technical Committee, through the Board of Directors, to publication and compliance. If you want standards to improve, there is plenty of opportunity to get involved.

Great presentation by CRT

Chad Curry, Chris Coté and Dave Conroy from CRT presented about the Internet of Things in real estate and their new “CRTLabs” project, which will enable CRT to experiment with “things” rather than just with software and technical practices.

The Internet of Things will enable NAR members to improve the quality of life for everyone. Using sensors for CO2, temperature, energy, and light, people can monitor and create better living environments. This type of dynamic data could supplement the static data that is input into the MLS.

Perhaps as a closing gift agents could provide an environmental sensor system and other smart items that improve the buyer’s quality of life. Such gifts could help redefine the relationship of agents with buyers, outside of the transaction.

CRT-presentation-RESO

CRT is partnering with universities, NGOs, and vendors on its Internet of Things initiative. Ideally some of these items could become member benefits, and members could act as a focus group around some of these products. CRT is also working on security initiatives to help both vendors and homeowners manage security around the Internet of Things.

Chris Cote described OpenADR (automated device response) – a system under development that will help utilities maintain grid reliability and help customers control their energy future.

He also gave us a peek at “Rosetta Home” – open source software that CRT is developing to gather data from various sensors and give a consumer a dashboard view into all the different kinds of data that can be created about their home environment.

Finally, Chris described the “Array of Things” – city wide networks to measure air quality, traffic counting, heat, standing water, and so much more. Dave Conroy demonstrated “Rosetta Home,” showing how the Internet of Things data could be powerfully integrated into an MLS listing report. Hopefully, members can become a resource on home environment and monitoring for homeowners and homebuyers, and thereby help enhance their communities.

The Department of Energy

The Information Exchange Models Working Group met to track concepts and clarify common definitions, data sets, and transfer methods for applying home energy information to real estate use cases.

The group discussed how to overlay the Building Energy Data Exchange Specification (BEDES, pronounced “beads”) overlay on top of RESO’s standards.

The Data Access and Security Working Group met to identify barriers and seek joint solutions related to permissions and legal issues in sharing home energy information and best practices in keeping data secure.

There are three approaches to leveraging BEDES, and RESO can evaluate using one or more of the following: including BEDES energy related fields in the RESO Data Dictionary, mapping our terms and BEDES’s terms, and/or using BEDES terms as “synonyms” in our data exchange formats.

The group will continue to publish new mappings to serve as a “Rosetta stone” for BEDES and our standards to encourage adoption, and it will continue to support mashups of the data. Click for more information on BEDES.

R&D Work Group

This work group examines the business cases for RESO taking on new work and, at least to some extent, vets the technical aspects of those potential projects. As described earlier, R&D is the “funnel” for getting big new ideas into RESO standards. Following are some of the items we discussed:

Multifamily Information and Transaction Standards (MITS Standards). The MITS standards mostly relate to apartment and multi-family properties, especially property management. It could be an interesting supplement to RETS efforts.

RESO has been asked if it is interested in bringing this set of standards under the RESO organization. The work group believes this is a good idea and has suggested that additional legal and other diligence be performed. Click for more about the MITS standards.

Organizational Unique ID (OUID). This effort is about having a consistent way to refer to organizations in our industry, especially data sources such as MLSs, vendors, boards, and associations. It could be extended to franchisors, brokers, content providers, appointment systems, lockbox companies and more.

It could be a valuable part of helping listing aggregators de-duping or stacking listings. From a systems integrator perspective, having multiple parties referring to MLSs and other parties the same way is also useful.

Such an identifier could also be used to manage the chain of listing provenance documentation – to know the true source of data and steps between them and an aggregator/portal, especially if the aggregator/portal gets it from several sources.

RESO has collected vendor/MLS organizational information in a spreadsheet and is working on creating a unique ID for each.

The group discussed how to make it more manageable and how to best expose this data in a more programmatically useful format. Perhaps a push notification of changes? Or a way to pull it via RETS? The primary action item recommended is that the OUID become a part of the data dictionary and certification. Second, it must be made manageable online. Third, RESO must create a better way to consume the information than the current spreadsheet.

Media. Creating additional information around the images transported by RESO standards could enable consumers of those images to use them more easily and effectively.

There is some interest in creating standards for tagging images by size (e.g. thumbnail, medium, large, best…), as well as a more standardized way of describing what part of the property is being portrayed in an image. Other possible fields include orientation, aspect ratio, white padded, cropped, branded and more.

Most of these ideas have not been prioritized by the workgroup, but there is definitely a desire to send information around copyright and licensing along with the image. That initiative may be taken further by the data dictionary workgroup, considered in consultation with RESO’s attorney, Mitch Skinner. In the future we might look at how to address video and stitched image formats (walkthroughs, etc.).

Using One Login for Multiple Feeds. There’s a need to promote a best practice to expose active user-ids and statuses to vendors so they can ensure they don’t misuse data across their customers, when for efficiency’s sake they download data once for multiple MLS-approved customers and uses.

Since there seems to be sensitivity at some MLSs to providing the roster resources to some vendors, potentially the group could recommend creating a subset of the roster resource that is more limited than the roster – just agent ID / name, office identifier, and status.

I suggested that we could create a system for vendors to use a ‘vendor account’ associated with non-interactive accounts with their associated privileges (as unpacked better in my 2014 blog that initiated this whole topic) – but this adds complexity.

There’s also a discussion of providing a way for someone pulling RETS data to know what’s usable for different usages (IDX, VOW, back office, etc.), which is a bit of a different issue that requires more discussion.

At the work group meeting I brought up the need to re-engage on the subject of creating a means for RESO standards to document and transmit MLS data business rules, so that vendors can easily obtain all of the more complex business rules from an MLS to facilitate data updates and system transitions.

This is something I documented thoroughly for the group in 2010 and have brought up a few times since. The need for it continues to grow and become more urgent. The new work group chair, Greg Moore, understands the need to get this going, so I have some hope that RESO will move forward on this initiative.

RESO fall meeting

Property Unique Identifier (PUID) Work Group

Having a Property Unique Identifier (PUID) for each property is useful for all sorts of reasons – de-duplication (for MLSs vendors, websites, etc.), aggregation (tying to mash up multiple sources), fraud prevention (uniqueness of mortgage contracts), property history reports / CDOM (even if the address has a “typo” in it), and Internet Tracking (providing value to MLSs, vendors, brokers, agents…).

The original thinking was that, to solve this problem, we could simply “slap a few fields together” to generate an identifier. It’s still a possibility. But, that might only work for 95% of the cases.

There are lots of cases where we don’t all have the data at hand reliably, and even APNs (tax IDs) are sometimes re-used or never assigned to begin with. Could we step back and use other pieces of information – things that MLSs have in their database?

For example: formula fields (tax fields, unit number, etc.), geography (i.e. lat, long, elevation, entry level, etc.) and address information (city, country, county or parish, postal, street related fields, lot size, etc.)?

Rather than generating a simple unique ID – or in addition to it – we could create one field where we concatenate a bunch of other fields and we can create a “compare PUID” function, where even if a property is missing one part of the field or has some parts that are not quite the same, we could determine how likely it is that the properties are one and the same.

We need to consider what the algorithm for this might be; then we can create pseudo-code and potentially a reference implementation. Perhaps there could be a web API that calls this implementation, although there is a concern that this latter approach is too “Rube Goldberg.”

Theoretically we could also then generate a smaller PUID that refers to this concatenated field in some way. Mark Lesswing also suggested we look at the financial industry’s use of “block chaining”, and employ it as a PUID mechanism.

Internet Tracking Work Group

This is a brand new work group that is focused on creating standards for moving data related to online activity – for example, how many people have viewed a listing, on what sites, how they got to that listing, and how they interacted with that listing.

Once standards are created, it will be far easier to compile a better and comprehensive picture of what is happening around listings online.

This group’s main activity during this meeting was to start to lay out some of the business cases for the different kinds of information that should be standardized. Chris Lambrou, the chair of this group, made a presentation to the technical track attendees to describe what the group is doing.

The group has identified stakeholders: who will take this data and how will they use it (i.e., what are the business use cases)? This drives what fields are needed to support those use cases.

The group will also look at current solutions, from Zillow to SourceMLS, to find a standard that will work for everyone.

Transport Work Group

The main activity for the group during this meeting was to discuss compliance requirements for the new Web API under development. No doubt the output of this meeting will be documented for wider release, as we are quickly moving toward a time when MLSs and their vendors will need to know a lot more about transport compliance, since it is NAR-mandated for mid-2016.

RETS 1x

A panel presented its experience with RETS 1x data dictionary compliance. The question was whether to do a native mapping, rename existing fields to the data dictionary names, or map through a proxy to avoid making local changes.

Rob Larson said that he’s using both: a proxy that “gets him in the door” – that allows people to use the new while he transitions the current database and forms to the new dictionary terms, and while he transitions RETS users to native dictionary use.

Rick Trevino is changing what’s happening in the background to use the dictionary, but is not changing input forms or reports.

Richard Renton is using CoreLogic Trestle as a proxy, which gave him instant certification, but he’s also working with Bridge Interactive as well. Richard brought up some of the complexity that can attend compliance – for example, his MLS doesn’t – by rule – publish square footage, which is a core field in the data dictionary. So, compliance can be more than a technical endeavor.

Nonetheless, Rob made a great point: that if you don’t have data for a field – even a “core” field – you don’t have to add the field to be compliant. Paul Stusiak presented further about RETS 1.x to the larger meeting, explaining the history of 1.x all the way to the current version, 1.8.1, along with the changes made in each version.  

In closing:

This was a busy conference and it was great to see such great participation this year from over 230 attendees. If you’re not already a RESO member, I would strongly recommend becoming one and attending the conference!

#RESO

Matt Cohen has been with Clareity Consulting for over 17 years, consulting for many of the real estate industry’s top Associations, MLSs, franchises, large brokerages and technology companies. Many clients look to Matt for help with system selection and negotiation. Technology providers look to Matt for assistance with product planning, software design, quality assurance, usability, and information security assessments. Matt has spoken at many industry events, has been published as an author in Stefan Swanepoel’s “Trends” report and many other publications, and has been honored by Inman News, being listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders.

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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money for transactions

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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