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Op/Ed

The Zillow/ListHub breakup adds third dysfunction to the real estate industry

With Zillow and ListHub parting ways, we can add listing syndication to the list of disorderly services that agents will face.

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dysfunction in real estate

For years there have been two consistently dysfunctional and inefficient segments of the real estate industry – MLS and Lockboxes. After the widely discussed breakup between Zillow and ListHub, we can now add listing syndication as the third rail of stupidity in the practice of real estate.

It is important to note that none of this affects buyers and sellers, at least for the long-term. Agents and brokers, on the other hand, just added one more head shaking, what in the hell were they thinking, can’t somebody just fix this, item to their everyday job. Now that the efficiencies of ListHub have been greatly diminished, a key service that was working very well for Realtors® is now a long-term problem.

The problem this creates for agents is a duplication of effort/cost. Despite some progress over the years, the MLS is still a fractured marketplace that requires duplicate entry and fees for many. In geek speak, that is referred to as overlapping market disorder.

The lockboxes agents need to safely and easily access properties are not much better. In many markets, listings have to have two or more different lockboxes on them to make sure everyone who needs to get in can access the property.

Now, we can add listing syndication to the list of disorderly services that agents will face. Instead of negotiating with one company to get the job done, now there are two. Instead of one user interface, now there will be two. Instead of one set of rules, there will be two. An already complicated, yet functional service, just became the latest hassle for Realtors®.

So Who’s to Blame?

This question is more intriguing than it is important. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Frankly, the relationship was doomed to fall apart at some point, but the timing was advanced due to bad communications and lack of trust.

From the beginning, this was a shotgun marriage and that is generally a bad foundation for building success. Zillow never wanted to be bound by the restrictive rules of ListHub, but needed the data of the number one syndicator.

Combine that poor foundation with Move Inc.’s purchase of ListHub (and then Point2, the seconding leading syndicator) and you can see the dilemma Zillow faced. Most of us would not like it if our main supplier was owned by our chief competitor.

The timing of the break-up is a bit odd and seems to conflict with what the parties are saying. For instance, ListHub claims that the timing of the breakup was just coincidental and not related to the arrival of the new CEO. That may be the truth, but talk about bad timing.

Zillow, on the other hand, claims they made a strategic decision to stop doing business with ListHub, but they hardly seemed ready to make that bold move. By their own admission, this will cause a drop in data until they can negotiate with the 800 MLSs in the country. That could take months or even years.

Again, all of this is intriguing, but not really important. What’s important is that syndication just got more complicated for everyone, including ListHub, Zillow, and Realtors®. ListHub loses the largest client in the market, Zillow has to negotiate 800 different deals, and Realtors® have to figure out how to navigate yet another dysfunction in the marketplace.

And the Winner is…

MLSs could be the only winners in this deal. For the first time in many years, there is a war on to get data feeds. This could be financially beneficial to MLSs. If history repeats itself, this financial benefit will be lucrative, but short lived.

The history of this goes back to the mid 90s when Realtor.com and listing aggregation was new. Originally, the business model by aggregators was to charge Realtors® up to $7 per listing to display on their site. In the course of two weeks surrounding the NAR Annual Convention, competitive forces drove the charge down to zero by the end of the Convention, and a week later, aggregators, including Realtor®.com were paying up to $3 per listing.

We don’t know what aggregators will pay now, but suddenly MLSs are, once again, sitting on a pot of gold. It is probably a much smaller pot than it was in the 90s, but Zillow is likely to have to pay MLSs something to set up direct feeds. If not, it will take them much longer to ramp the data levels back to normal.

Can’t We Just All Get Along?

“No,” was the answer Spencer Rascoff gave when asked via Twitter if Zillow would prefer, all things being balanced, to continue to get listings from ListHub. That doesn’t bode well for any chance of reconciliation. ListHub officials agree that it is unlikely the two companies will work together again.

To outsiders, that makes little sense. While it could be argued that Zillow may emerge stronger in the end, it will be a very painful (and probably expensive) process negotiating directly with all of the MLSs and brokers. Just ask the staff at Realtor® Property Resource (RPR) how easy it has been coming to terms with MLSs. They’ve been at it for years and still only have 80 percent on board.

ListHub is also in a weaker position because the largest portal in their space is no longer a client. ListHub may or may not be willing to soften the terms and concessions they want from Zillow to reach a new agreement – if that even becomes an option.

The only hope for this situation is that investors put pressure on Zillow because the data loss is having a negative effect. That may not even happen, but if it does, egos may have to be set aside to keep the investors happy. There’s no clear resolution to this situation, but it will be fun to watch… except for agents who have to deal with the dysfunction.

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

The negative impacts that have stemmed from severe social isolation

(EDITORIAL) Having social connections online is not enough to prevent true isolation. Meeting face-to-face is vital to living a fulfilling life.

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woman sitting on a bench alone representing that we need face-to-face interaction, not isolation.

Can isolation kill you?

Starling birds are often considered a pest because these birds are abundant and usually come in mobs.

Researchers studied the effect of isolation on common starlings and found that when the birds were separated from the flock, it caused increases of the stress hormone, corticosterone. These gregarious birds did not handle isolation very well.

“We live in a society bloated with data yet starved for wisdom. We’re connected 24/7, yet anxiety, fear, depression and loneliness is at an all-time high. We must course-correct,“ said Dr. Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey.

We need other people.

Loneliness and isolation have the same effect on humans. Researchers from Brigham Young University found that loneliness increases the risk of mortality by about 26 percent. Social isolation has a little higher risk, 29 to 32 percent.

Most people tend to feel lonely or become more socially isolated as they age.

Some experts believe that middle-aged men are most susceptible to loneliness and isolation.

Loneliness is a subjective feeling, and it’s just as damaging as being socially isolated.

The researchers pointed out that someone who is happy to be alone still suffers from social isolation and thus, the increased risk of death.

On the other end of the spectrum is a person with a lot of social connections, but who does not actually connect with another person face-to-face. This loneliness is not good for people.

When you’re feeling lonely, it’s not enough simply to interact with others. You have to make an emotional connection. People cannot read your mind.

When you’re lonely, you have to let others know.

If you have a support group, reach out. If you don’t have a network of friends and family, you are going to have to create one. For me, it’s my church and community organizations.

You might find friends at the gym, in a theater group, or through volunteering at your local animal shelter.

Go and play cards with a person in a nursing home or just talk. You might be saving their life through your connection by keeping them from feeling alone while also helping yourself.

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Op/Ed

Working from home has changed what perks we value

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Sure, the little perks of a snazzy workplace with snacks and neon chairs are, but if we’re all working from home, who cares?

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Empty startup office with open floor plan, abandoned while working from home.

So at this point, people are starting to adjust to a new reality (nothing normal about it, so maybe standard is the better word here, and leaves it room to grow and encompass a type of normal) of working from home, learning the ins and outs of Zoom, being hired without ever meeting your future team face to face, and all the other changes and challenges that have been revealed, reviewed, and revised in a connected and digital world.

Which is all a fancy way of saying that certain things that were – at one time – considered incredibly important are sliding down the priority scale at a scary and fast rate. It makes sense that a parking spot and transportation stipends might make less sense if everyone is stuck at home. That could kill an entire bullet point on a company’s list of perks. I wonder how many beer taps have cobwebs on them right now?

You know what is trending? A lack of interest in trendy offices. Which should only make sense, I suppose – who really cares how high up the windows are downtown if we’re all stuck working from home anyway? After all, if no one is in the office to enjoy them, why does it matter who has rock climbing walls and ping pong tables?

As Josh Wand – founder and CEO of recruiting agency ForceBrands – states, “When the pandemic hit and everyone decentralized, what I heard from hundreds of my clients is that people don’t care about those perks. People want to feel connected. They want to feel valued. The little things become the big things. It’s not about the free lunch or the extra perks — it’s about growth opportunities, visibility and transparency.”

Instead of focusing on things like a well designed physical space as a draw for talent, it’s all about a company fostering a sense of belonging while working from home. This has always been a concern when it comes to retaining talent, but now there’s an added degree of difficulty in resolving this issue given the distance and virtual nature of teams scattered across towns, cities, states, and nations.

One way to look at this is to see how a company’s culture can be adopted and applied, as now – more than ever before while working from home – this is falling directly on every employee to build, apply, and celebrate. Instead of the physical constructs and perks that could have been seen as a way to define and measure the vibe, it’s entirely on the shoulders of the C-suite, executive teams, and employees themselves. I.e., work with cool people, then it’s still cool even when you can’t be around them. And that is huge.

Manuel Bordé is the global chief creative officer at Geometry, and offers this insight: “What makes an agency culture amazing is the talent the agency has. If you lose that talent, or fail to replace the outgoing talent with equally amazing ones, then the agency culture is gone.” In short: everyone has to pull together more than ever before.

Maybe there’s a way to preserve such relationships virtually, or maybe tried-and-true options such as one-on-one meetings can help mitigate and preserve the feeling of a cohesive team. Andrea Diquez, CEO of Saatchi NY, relies on nearly thirty of these a week to keep close with employees and “feel the pulse of the agency.” Certainly, there will be a push to take this kind of interaction and communication much more seriously in order to bolster connections while working from home.

This could be me sounding selfish, but I am definitely on board with companies that have realized at-home stipends are a huge draw, and I absolutely champion that route. Helping to cover costs for employees in their home offices is definitely helpful, if not outright necessary.

Taking this a step further – could money that was previously allocated to certain perks be redirected to workers? Instead of paying for soda delivery, take those funds and use them for different benefits – added healthcare options (mental health would be amazing), additional days off, or the occasional happy hour with delivered treats? You can keep the swag – I’ve used my company issued hoodie a LOT recently.

Years ago, I went to a coding bootcamp here in Austin called Makersquare (which became Hack Reactor, and ultimately part of Galvanize). We talked about startup culture a lot, and several of us had experience from prior jobs. I remember that one person gave a presentation about one of their previous ventures, and his slide show included a picture of a ping pong table, “so that you could tell we were a startup.”

Everyone laughed. It’s funny because it was true at the time. Who knows if it’ll stay true now? I guess we’ll find out once offices open back up (if they do, let’s all hope we can stay working from home).

Speaking personally, I’d already seen a decline of interest in office perks at some jobs I’ve worked at – surveys that specifically pointed out that there was lower emphasis on endless snacks and more on lower commutes. This makes me think that the pandemic is just accelerating a shift toward incentives that return time and energy to employees while also decreasing daily stress.

I’m all for that. I know that I definitely love that my commute is twenty feet of walking, and I’m usually in comfy house slippers when I do that. I’d take that over the once-every-three-months game of ping pong any day. I do miss my coworkers, and I look forward to seeing them, of course, but seeing the big picture makes me reevaluate.

In the end, this could represent another movement and evolution of the American workplace, especially in the tech world. It still remains to be seen if this will be a sea change, a transformation away from the hip cultures that Google and Facebook gave us to fuel our dreams of endless donuts and caffeine, and instead settling into something cozier and dependent on creating truly national (global?) teams that get by on the strength of their cooperation and desire to work separately yet together.

It’s like how I’ve got my best friend living in Japan – the few times we chat each year, it’s like no time has passed. That’s what we’re going to strive for in the new age.

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Op/Ed

Technology gurus are marketing you bullshit, here’s what really works

(OP/ED) Technology gurus have fun tools to sell you and tricks to teach you, but I can tell you firsthand that it’s mostly bullshit.

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woman holding phone representing technology

I am known as a technologist. An avowed geek. An unapologetic adopter of shiny new objects. My passion is finding out how technology – specifically the internet, can make my job better, faster, and more profitable. It is also figuring out how the consumer intersects with the internet and how I can leverage this to create more business.

In years past, I bet heavily on internet lead generation, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and video email marketing. I researched the best platforms and practices, sought the counsel of the foremost experts and hired the best talent.

I had some great wins and surprising losses this year. I’ll get into that in a bit… but I realized that the real estate industry often markets tech on the internet as a replacement for human connection, as a convenience for the agent, and as a crutch for a basic lack of knowledge and expertise. In the real estate industry, technology is marketed as a shortcut to profits and that is complete bullshit.

Fair warning- this post is likely to get you riled up and deny that any of it applies to you. That’s cool. It probably doesn’t, so move along. I am not trying to derail your successful train. But this category of business tools creates stress for a lot of agents who feel left behind or “less than.”

About those gurus on stage at your favorite conferences

Listen to the gurus on stage and the vendors hawking their wares. According to them, the internet can provide a never-ending source of people who want to buy and sell (leads). It can eliminate the need to chase signatures or show homes. It can sell homes without the need to open it to strangers or tell you a home’s value instantly and automatically.

Wow. Get clients without dealing with real-time rejection. Show and sell homes with no physical effort. Find values with no expertise or local knowledge. Makes you wonder what human Realtors are going to do. Flip burgers, maybe?

Internet-based tools are an amazing enhancement to traditional skills and techniques, but it is often promoted as the miracle cure and wholesale replacement of skills and knowledge. I call this bullshit – but our industry is buying it.

The enticement of internet lead generation

Let’s start with internet lead generation. The surface promise is very enticing. Write a check and get a never-ending stream of people interested in real estate who have given up their contact information. No physical effort. No skill is required. No face-to-face rejection. Who wouldn’t sign up for that program?

But here is the problem. It takes a lot of money to do internet lead generation effectively. It takes a lot of resources to follow up and it generally takes time to create a sale. When you factor in all of these resources, internet lead generation is far sexier on paper than in practice.

Now, this does not mean lead generation isn’t a viable way to run a business. But it is best done in a team setting with proper resources to handle these leads effectively. In a team setting, internet lead generation is less likely to divert attention away from relationship building. And, for a single agent, it is a very dangerous place to “bet the farm”.

So I can pay more but get the same results?

The number of portals and agents competing for attention increases every month, so the resources required to stay level will also increase. This means it continually takes more money to get the same result… and this is where I call bullshit. The average agent is only seeing the tiny fraction of people making a profit from internet lead generation and they have no clue how costly internet lead generation actually is.

And that is another problem. How many agents use internet lead generation as a replacement for the much less “sexier” work of face-to-face prospecting? My guess is quite a few. I’ll confess. I tried replacing my traditional prospecting with a lead generation site. It was bullshit.

Another bullshit problem: social media

Here’s another technology coming between the consumer and the agent. Facebook, Twitter, and email marketing- loosely categorized as social media. When used as an easy, thoughtless, broadcast machine (as most agents do) the agent is following the idea that being seen- frequently- is the way to make the phones ring.

Agents have been doing this sort of “look at me!” advertising with postcards and print advertising for years. However, print costs lots of money and most will give some thought and attention before doing each piece. Social media is essentially free and nearly effortless, allowing agents to completely alienate their audience with their avalanche of tone-deaf posts and emails.

Now, at least this stuff is nearly free and the agent has resources left over for traditional relationship building. But, how much damage is done to potential real-life relationships with poor and uninformed social media tactics? The bullshit part is that free and easy should not mean tacky, thoughtless, and loud.

E-sigs aren’t the next coming of Christ

Here’s another thing. I thought electronic contracts and e-signatures were the best technology tool since sliced bread. And, used properly, it still is. Contracts can be signed at the consumer’s convenience and that can be a huge benefit for busy lives. All too often, though, e-signatures serve the agent or brokerage more than the client. There are situations where the client is best served with an in-depth explanation of the documents, but they are given an e-signature package instead.

This was one of my hardest realizations – I was completely guilty of choosing convenience over great representation. I told myself it was for the convenience of the client, but it really made my job a lot easier. This is not cool, it is bullshit.

I love technology, but…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still the technology fan girl you know and love. But with each passing day, I am convinced that a lasting and enduring business is made with an authentic connection to the people in my community. Technology simply gives me the opportunity to make more of those connections.

I meet and interact with hundreds of people on local Facebook groups and these interactions have led to wonderful real-life meetings and lasting relationships. It is an amazing and efficient layer to my traditional community building and prospecting. But it is a layer. Nattering on Facebook all day long does NOT create enough engagement to create a business.

So, what were my wins?

I used technology to publish my internal checklists to my clients, bringing a new level of transparency and accountability to our transactions.

I went deep on an unreasonable number of CRM systems and I am getting close to having a system that enhances both the creation of business as well as the transaction.

I went even deeper into the concept of the paperless office. There are a lot of benefits to a paperless office, but for the consumer, it means anyone on my team can answer any question, anytime, anywhere.

And my losses?

What were my losses? The biggest loss was my investment in internet lead generation, and that was a real surprise. I invested heavily in the platform, in the tools, and in the human resources necessary to make a profit.

I learned what it takes to make this business strategy work, but I also learned that I would rather use my resources to build a local community.

Another “loss” was the lesson learned on e-signatures. I have retooled my process to make sure that certain critical points in the process- the purchase contract, escrow instructions, and going over disclosures, are no longer a simple e-signature packet.

Moving forward – join me?

As I enter the next year, I am focused on a few principles. Belly to belly rules. Technology done right is invisible. Build a community to build long-term trust. Make a difference.

Wanna join me?

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