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Op/Ed

Does Zillow acquiring Trulia doom real estate professionals?

As Zillow announces plans to acquire Trulia, boots on the ground gnash teeth and wail, but is it misguided?

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By now, if you’re in the real estate industry, you know what could be THE news story of 2014 broke the morning of July 28: number one real estate portal Zillow announced its intentions to buy number two Trulia in a $3.5 billion stock purchase. Last week, rumors leaked that a merger might be in the works, but I don’t think anyone expected to wake up this morning to an early morning email such as the one Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff sent to Premier Agents announcing the deal is in the works: “Because of your importance as a Premier Agent, I wanted you to be among the first to learn we have just announced that Zillow has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Trulia.”

Reading real estate tech boards and industry insider groups the discussions typically become heated (to say the least) when Zillow and Trulia are concerned. It seems the only agents or brokers who have neutral or no opinion on the listing aggregator sites are those who don’t understand how listing syndication works. Many scoffed at the rumors as mere gossip while others on social media sites predicted it’d be the end of the industry as we know it. If you logged onto Facebook today and read some of the posts in the real estate groups, you’d think the Apocalypse is here.

This piece is an editorial – not a summary of the proposed purchase – so I won’t rehash the morning’s news. You can read the official press release for yourself, and go over the details on industry newsites such as Realuoso to Inman. Here I will give my opinion of what this deal means to the industry in general, and why it’s not the End of Days scenario agents may fear.

Do We Need Two Sites?

Rascoff says the two brands will remain distinct (at least for now). I find that hard to believe that in the long run there is a need for one company to run two separate sites that basically do the same thing. Some analysts compare operating the two sites to the online dating model where one corporation (IAC) owns multiple dating sites (Match.com and OkCupid), each targeting their own niche.

I don’t think this argument is valid, as the two sites sell the same products (advertising to real estate brokers and agents as a way to connect to consumers), and attract the same consumers (buyers, sellers, renters). On both sites, consumers can search for homes for sale, find an agent to help them through the process, and see what home values are in their neighborhood. While I find Zillow to be more seller-friendly, and the leads in my in-box tell me that Trulia is attracting more renter eyeballs, for the most part I don’t see the sites as fundamentally that different in who their customers are.

Zillow has stated that two-thirds of their users do not use Trulia, and that half of Trulia users don’t use Zillow. What that says to me is that consumers use (or don’t use) a particular portal based on their own particular preferences. They’re choosing one or the other and not really hopping onto every available site. I think hard core, urgent buyers are indeed exploring multiple sites, in an (sometimes desperate) attempt to ferret out more homes for sale. They think by searching on Trulia, then Zillow, then Realtor.com, then a big corporate franchise IDX site, somehow they will find secret or hidden listings that meet their needs.

For the most part, casual shoppers seem to stick to their favorite sites and not hunt furiously for more and more inventory. I don’t see two independent portals being necessary to serve the consumers efficiently and effectively. If both have the same listings, both share data sources, and both are soliciting the same broker/agent pool for marketing dollars, what else is there to differentiate?

Get Over the Zillow = Evil Bias

The ability of sales staff to cross-sell agents on either Zillow or Trulia, or a package deal perhaps for marketing on both sites, is a plus for the company but not necessarily brokers. I find brokers/agents to be one of three mindsets when it comes to Z/T: those who staunchly refuse to pay money to be “sold” leads on their own listings; those who grudgingly buy zip codes or cities in order to compete; and those who see their monthly fees as no different than any other media buy – necessary to do business and part of their marketing plan.

Zillow and Trulia are media companies. They exist not to benevolently provide listing information to consumers. They exist to make money from brokers and agents – same as the local newspaper or real estate homes book. Agents need to get over the affront that somehow the aggregators are “stealing” our data and selling it back to us. If brokers don’t like their houses marketed on these sites, they have the power to cut the feed (and some big ones have). I cannot image explaining to a seller why I am NOT marketing their house for sale on the largest real estate portal – plus AOL.com and Yahoo.com and their other partner sites – especially when that marketing does not cost me a dime.

So given that purely syndicating my listings out to Zillow and Trulia does not cost me anything, why not do it? If my argument is because I want my own face displayed next to my listings, then go ahead and pay for upgraded marketing on the sites. It should be noted that both sites also do note who the listing agent is, to the right of the screen. If a consumer really only wants to contact the listing agent, he can. If he just wants an answer to a question, or to schedule a showing, he can contact any of the spotlighted agents who pop up. And isn’t that the point? Sell the listing. Be happy someone is looking at my property online, even if another agent “gets” that buyer lead.

Combined Efficiencies & Higher Prices

The press release states the merged entity hopes to realize $100 million in “annualized cost avoidances” by 2016. This is one positive effect — economies of scale — where the company can combine people, technology, infrastructure, share data pools, make better use of a single sales staff able to sell packages on either or both platforms, etc. Combining/streamlining duplicative departments (marketing, human resources, administrative) makes sense and only a fool would think that a certain number of jobs will not be lost at one or both companies.

Besides lower operating costs, less choice in portals could lead to higher prices for agents. Especially if the two sites physically become one, agents will have less choices for online marketin. Realtor.com is such a distant third place that it doesn’t even rank in my marketing matrix right now. So if Realtor.com remains ineffective for me, that leads me to spend the bulk of my money online at Zillow and Trulia. And if they become one they’ll practically have a monopoly on the market, and the ability to increase prices as high as the market will bear.

Where I see this as especially problematic becomes in the large firm vs. small firm. Larger firms with lots of listings and/or agents may be able to negotiate better deals than small firms, which may be priced out of the market. Large firms may be able to buy zip codes or cities because of their larger budgets, while smaller boutique firms won’t be able to spend those kinds of dollars. Less choice, higher prices – it’s the classic argument against a monopoly.

Zillow’s Plan to World Domination

Another fear amongst brokers is that Zillow is plotting to become a Super Broker, wiping out the rest of us in a giant power move to control the data, the listings, and steal our commissions too. I don’t buy this. Zillow makes money off of agents/brokers. Why would a company that profits from brokers try to wipe brokers out? The logic escapes me. As long as we are willing to pay Zillow to market our agents and help sell our houses, why would they want to be in the brokerage business? I don’t see little Zillow kiosks popping up around the country, “click here” to buy a house and be connected to your own Zillow Agent. It just doesn’t make sense – why would they want to kill the goose that is laying their golden egg?

As I wasted way too much time today reading news sites and lurking on Facebook groups (the tearing of garments and doomsday predictions were quite amusing) I keep coming back to one thought: our industry – the buying and selling of homes – is so much more than a data feed. We’re not going to suck all that data back into the old county courthouse, it’s all online and public record. We’re not going to pull back all our listings and hide them in secret MLS books branded with the words “$300 fine for use by non MLS participant” across the front. It’s out there. Too late.

It’s Not Just Data – It’s Relationships

The statistics, the photos, the MLS data, all of that is one component of our business. We are so much more important to the process than that. Buyers don’t need us to put them in a car and drive them to houses using a printed MLS book as our guide. They can find their own dream houses online at midnight. They still need us – to get inside, to show them comparables to justify an offer, to help guide them through financing, inspections, and more. Sellers need us to set an asking price, market the house, prequalify buyers, negotiate like a pro and more to get them to the desired result.

Our value proposition has shifted to their guide throughout the process. We need to prove our value by giving customers and clients the highest level of customer service. Return calls. Provide information. Educate. Communicate. Build your relationship during the transaction and nurture it afterward. Connect. The real estate agent is still the center of the transaction. We won’t be eliminated by this power play.

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

Op/Ed

10 Productivity tips to get the most out of yourself and your team

(EDITORIAL) Keeping up productivity can be a hard goal to shoot for, so sometimes It helps to see what others are doing. Here’s our list of 10 ways to stay productive

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productivity in a team

Funny thing about inverse relationships, they are so counterintuitive. Like working hard. That is an example of doing what you think will be beneficial, but usually just makes the job what you expected, hard. When it comes to productivity, harder isn’t smarter, as the saying goes.

And, if you are sick of the word “hack” we hear you. But, finding ease in work will allow you to be more productive and with better results.

We offer you this list of stories to meet your productivity needs. Here’s to finding work-life balance, seeking ease in the moment and rocking out a productive day!

1. If you’re trying to be more productive, don’t focus so much on time management. Instead, consider energy management to get more out of less effort.

2. Meetings suck, wait I mean they are a time suck. Yeah, that’s it. Everyone knows some meetings are unnecessary and could easily be handled through an email. Yet, many supervisors are hesitant. But, there’s an app for that now. Here’s to meeting less and actually getting work done.

3. Kondo your desk, for God’s sake. If you say you are more productive with a messy desk, yet you have a sandwich from last week and those TPS reports you were supposed to turn in weeks ago somewhere under a pile of crap, you need to clean up your act. Nobody wants to get a report covered in coffee, chocolate and mustard.

4. Are you agile? I mean, really. Is your team as productive as it could be? Whether you are a PM or a real estate agent, if you need a tool that helps your team stay agile and nimble, this will help you and your crew kick ass and take names.

5. Cut the team some slack. Too many messages and you forget what you were originally doing. Slack thought about that and has a way to make the app work for your team so you can be more effective and keep the workflow moving.

6. Working remotely has some serious benefits, notwithstanding working in your PJ’s. Convincing your boss you will actually work and not binge on Netflix may be the challenge. And, for many folks, working from home is a much more productive option. Yet, anyone who has worked remotely also knows it can be easy to get caught up in work and miss human interactions, leading to burnout. Here’s how to make the remote transition work for you.

7. Sometimes more is less. That is the truth when it comes to work where quality beats quantity all day long. Our 9-5 workdays may be good for some, but not for all. And, putting in 80-hour weeks may seem righteous dude, but what do you really accomplish? Kick productivity in the butt and consider are you using your hours wisely.

8. Want to be a baller in the workplace? Then get focused. According to the experts, those at the top of their game aren’t necessarily working harder or smarter, they are just hyper-focused. Here are some good habits to have if you want to get ahead.

9. If it seems everyone has a podcast, you are correct! Some of those podcasts are useful, especially if you are trying to get ahead and find ways to use your productivity to the fullest. Here’s a list of podcasts that will fill your free time with useful information.

10. Creative folks love to start new projects. They can be like kids in the candy store any time they have a new idea they must explore. The problem is that whether you are an artist, writer, graphic/web/software designer or developer, you may start a lot of projects and finish few. Here’s how to finish what you start!

By now, you know what information to keep and you are ready to get your rear in gear. We wish you all the success with your future projects. We know you will be diligent and hyper-productive!

This article was first published in February 2020.

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Op/Ed

Processing emotions during COVID-19: It may be grief you’re feeling

(EDITORIAL) During a global pandemic, there is a rollercoaster of emotions and these two things may help people process some of their feelings which may be grief.

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Is part of what we have all been feeling these past couple of months grief? Some say yes, so let’s take a look at what we have been doing and feeling.

I don’t know about you but the first few weeks of March I went in to productive overdrive but not the self-care kind like making new recipes, starting new work outs or painting for creativity and fun. I was trying to complete my work priorities, side business client work and co-host free webinars (via Zoom of course and one even on Webinar Ninja) for my small business community and followers.

I also suddenly had to figure out to be productive while my husband was home and our toddler was with us with not much notice of her daycare being closed. The first two weeks felt hellacious – high anxiety, never feeling like I was doing enough or was present enough.

I woke up and got right to work in my t-shirt and yoga pants, some days forgetting if I had brushed my teeth or washed my face. Taking a shower felt like a luxury but also sometimes a nuisance to try to fit one in. That was strange. I saw my daughter as needing attention as something I had to sort out -also with a guilty feeling that I knew she should be priority but “if I could just get this last project wrapped up or email sent out” or “after I jump on this Zoom call”, I can then take a break and be with her.

Albeit the break was filled with anxious thoughts of how I had to get back to work. My husband was dealing with his own shift in work having many clients pause and see when/how he could work from home. He was grappling with all the general unknown as well as both of us wondering what did this mean for our finances.

This has been an absolute conflict of emotions:

  • Gratitude that we were able to be home – safe and healthy at least for now
  • Scared and grappling with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety
  • Blessed for having some income we could rely on
  • Sadness for having lost some income but not quite sure how much or for how long
  • Worry for others that have lost everything – their livelihoods, their day to days, their LIVES?!
  • Worry for our older parents that live far away and are immunocompromised (not sure we had ever used this word to refer to them) but also happiness that they seem to be doing okay
  • Excitement to have “extra time” with our daughter and dogs
  • Delight to not have to drive in our regular 1-hour each way commute leaving the house around 7:30am and getting home after 6:30pm

I was looking all over for silver linings but not understanding how people are so good at finding new ways to manage their time: organizing their pantries, working out at home, trying new and healthy recipes, painting new masterpieces, etc. It felt a little bit overwhelming that I wasn’t taking advantage of this quick shift in schedule. I also felt fatigued by all the articles telling us to be ok and don’t be an idiot about going out (like we were supposed to just know how to never leave home). I really just wanted permission to not be ok for a bit.

I read this HBS article about the feelings above of discomfort were actually considered grief. The article suggests that if we can just understand the stages of grief, and especially accept that they are not linear, then maybe we can figure out our own path forward. I saw it circulated among many of my friends and truthfully, found it to be the permission I needed to be ok with not being ok.

Keep trying. There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through. One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we’re the first generation to have feelings about our feelings.”

This YouTube video was also shared with me about How do you help a grieving friend? and I think you will all also enjoy it and a quote in the beginning, “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed, exactly as it is.” – Parker Palmer

So, the message I was looking for (to be ok with not being ok) has been found and now it’s up to me with how to move forward. I know that drinking cider and eating cake aren’t quite cutting it so I journaled this morning with ideas for me that would excite me about getting more exercise in my day (dancing, strength training, walking).

I admittedly haven’t started this new work out routine but by allowing myself some grace to grieve, I plan to get the momentum going. I hope you are also ok with wherever you are and slowly or surely adjusting what you need to keep your sanity.

How do you help a grieving friend?

(sharing this video? using it in a training! Great! Tag or email us and let us know, and be sure to give proper attribution.) It’s so hard to know what to do…

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Op/Ed

A guide on how to nail your next video presentation

(EDITORIAL) While the tools themselves tend to be user-friendly, preparing an online video presentation requires some extra steps you need to be aware of.

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video presentation

Pretty much everyone who can work from home is working from home now, to stop the spread of COVID-19. It’s a good thing, but may take some getting used to. The learning curve can be steep. Working from home means using new tools and expanding their tech experience to include video calls or a video presentation.

Fear of public speaking is already a common anxiety. Throw in being forced to use new technology to create a video presentation, and the challenge grows. Never fear, though, because just like with any other type of presentation, following best practices and consulting helpful tips will make your presentation go more smoothly.

First, as with any presentation, the twin pillars of success are preparation and practice. Over-prepare everything, from your research to your outline, notes, slides, speech, and–very crucial–your technology and your team. Here are several more video presentation tips we’ve rounded up to ease your pain.

Tech prep tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with your video conferencing tool before the presentation. Most companies will have a mandatory tool they use. Popular options are Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts, but there are other options, too, WebEx, Join.me, GoToMeeting, or Zoho Meetings.
  • Make sure your audience or team is familiar with the technology tools, too, by sending out download/log on steps in advance of the meeting. Send the instructions out twice if possible.
  • Keep the visual aspects clean and straightforward. No Death By Power Point, please. You can keep your speech and/or notes on your desk during the actual presentation, so avoid overloading your slides (if using slides at all). Participants will want some documented key points, but save the supporting details for the spoken aspect of the presentation.
  • In an ideal world, you’ll have some help, a team member to serve as a moderator, recording the presentation and taking charge of the participants’ options. The “Mute All” button, for example, is a presenter’s best friend.

Setting the scene:

  • Find a quiet room, one that will stay quiet throughout the presentation. Ideally, you’ll have a door that locks (with TVs, kids, partners, and pets on the other side).
  • Check the lighting before the actual presentation begins. Harsh overhead lights cast a ghoulish light, while sunlight or otherwise bright backlights make you difficult to see. Do a practice run with a friend or colleague to make sure your lighting works.
  • Choose a clean, simple backdrop and verify that nothing questionable shows up. While a bookshelf may serve as a nice backdrop, try not to have the Kama Sutra or Lady Chatterly’s Lover prominently displayed. The same rule goes for background art–if you wouldn’t put it up in your actual office, then it doesn’t belong in a work video.
  • Better yet, if you’re using Zoom, you can choose a custom backdrop to avoid any overlooked, embarrassing personal objects in the frame.

Presentation day checklist:

  • Practice! Whether you do this the day before or the day of, you need to practice your presentation. Some prefer the mirror, others a real, live, accommodating person, still others a sofa full of stuffed animals. Whatever works for you, make sure you practice. It matters.
  • Wear something you feel powerful in. If you feel you look professional, you will be that much more confident when presenting.
  • Lock that door if at all possible. If you can’t, make sure other household residents know you’re giving a presentation.
  • Close out all unnecessary browser windows. Emails popping up in the corner of your screen are super distracting, and you have zero control over their content. I once was in a training where the presenter hadn’t closed his email, and a coworker emailed him complaining about the clients–to whom he was presenting. The email popped up on the screen for a second or two before he could close it. Disaster!
  • I said it before, but am repeating this, because it’s important. Double check that the participants are muted. The background noise of several people logging in is excruciating and wastes time.
  • Begin the meeting with a quick overview of the agenda. Participants need to know when and how they can ask questions.
  • Start the meeting on time. After the agenda, dive into the goals of the presentation and then the body of the presentation itself. We have to assume the participants are grown up and professional enough to call in on time. If they miss a point or two, they will have to figure it out. Plus, starting punctually lets your audience know you are aware and respectful of their time.
  • Similarly, finish on time. If you cannot answer all the questions during the presentation, assure them you’ll answer them afterward.
  • Let participants know you’ll follow up and how. Tell them how to reach you with questions or additional information.
  • Follow up as promised!

Shifting gears from an office environment to a home office takes some adjusting. It can be tricky, as shown by Poor Jennifer and others. Adding video conference tools into the mix is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, with some preparation, practice, and consideration of the above tips, we can all ace our video presentations. Break a leg!

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