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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

How can you prevent deepfakes trickery?

(EDITORIAL) It’s hard enough to get a complete story about anything, but the use of deepfakes makes that process harder. How can you prevent from being tricked?

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facial recognition deepfakes

Deepfakes are some the latest content entering social media and digital news outlets. Deepfakes are false photos and videos created by artificial intelligence, that at first glance, can pass off as authentic imagery.

Deepfake content appears as a person in a real picture or video that is replaced by someone else’s appearance. The deepfake can then go on to pose as the real person doing or saying things that never happened. As one can imagine, it’s possible the Internet can take one joke too far and unleash a deepfake with insidious motives.

So what are some ways to spot one of these fake videos? One of the telltale signs is the mismatched lighting or discoloration on the person’s face. Another tip is to check for blurring edges around the lips, jawline, chin, and neck where the AI is trying to superimpose the fake image atop the real one. Lip-synching can be tricky, but it helps to watch and listen to how the audio is matching up.

To some, these tips may be pretty obvious, but not everyone is familiar with editing techniques and deepfakes can pop up many places online. As of now there are no reliable programs available to catch these inconsistencies so it’s up to us to pay attention to the media we consume (the zoom tool is a BFF). With AI and software development, this fake content will only become more convincing. Fortunately, companies and even states are taking action to ban deepfakes online.

Some companies are tiptoeing the line of normalizing this kind of technology, and many people seem to be fine with that, so long as it’s for a laugh. The problem with laughing at something that looks real, but is fake, is that that can conversely cause someone to minimize something that is real because the viewer thinks it’s fake. This mentality helps no one, and can only hurt our understanding of the events that happen around us.

Ultimately, and for now, viewers should keep our heads up while online to spot the seams in our reality.

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Op/Ed

Reminisce on the joy of learning in these uncertain times

(EDITORIAL) Many have had to learn new ways of doing their jobs recently and while it can be frustrating, there can also be a lot of joy in adding to your skillset

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learning on the job

There are so many different types of learning in so many stages of life. Some we may not quite remember like learning how to walk in a time in our life that we didn’t even consider giving up. We have other capabilities that still seem clear as day like learning to swim and after several lessons you beg the lifeguard to watch you swim an entire lap across the pool so you could go on the diving board. There was also that time the training wheels came off and Grandma finally let go of the back of the banana seat on your pink bike with white wheels and you were on your first bike ride.

There are easy lessons and some really hard ones. No doubt, there were school subjects that lit us up inside and others that we dreaded – all the while feeling like we were alone and no one else quite knew what we were going through. As an adult, there have been lessons that have to be learned over and over again.

If you went to college and can think back to your senior year, do you remember wondering how you were going to demonstrate you had the skills necessary for someone to hire you and pay you for work? Did you worry that you didn’t really know all the ins and outs and how could you share in an interview that you were the perfect candidate?

Now fast forward ten years or so and hopefully you can stand really proud on all the things you have learned while being in the workforce or a business owner. It seems fair to assume you are familiar with a new software program. You likely have found ways to please customers and/or communicate with your team or boss. In this time, you probably are PC and Mac Proficient as well as now you can lead a webinar on Zoom like the next guy.

Joyful learning is a precious gift in times of boom or bust. As adults and professionals we make too little use of it. While the joy is a worthwhile end in its own right, joyful learning can also be used to ignite individual careers and collective productivity. Sparking learning joy, earning flexibly, and contributing productively are timelessly valuable pursuits, and are being felt especially acutely now.”

This is great advice from the article “The Simple Joy of Learning on the Job” from the Harvard Business Review and there is no better time to really challenge our personal efforts on creating joy at work than in the current climate. There is a lot out of our control but something that we can consider – what would bring us more joy in the daily grind?

Ideas:

  • Make sure everyone in your meetings knows how to create a virtual background on Zoom (because those are way more entertaining than you would ever expect).
  • Give yourself a chance maybe once per week to watch a TedTalk on a creative process around art, film, music, entertainment (or any industry that you go to for comfort).
  • Log in and click around to see if there is anything you want to learn more about on LinkedIn Learning, Udemy or Dabble.
  • Try to attend at least one webinar every six months from the professional organization you are in and have on your LinkedIn profile but honestly just haven’t made the time for it.
  • Consider taking Adobe up on their offer for two months free of Creative Cloud.
  • If you’ve had entrepreneurial desires, is now a time to ask a family or friend if you can help them with anything as they may be shifting their business to include more (or all) virtual offerings?
  • Consider ways to cheer up colleagues by themed dress code for meetings (Hat Day, Team Sports sweatshirt, Halloween costume day) or consider starting/ending meeting with music.

This article is not meant to imply that everyone needs to learn a new coding language or how to pull insights on big data (albeit those things may interest you too). The idea here is to find our joy again and bring it in to our new workspaces which for some of us, that means at home.

If you feel you may have lost your sense of joy, this Design Your Life Workbook has really user-friendly design thinking prompts to help you journal and think through what brings you joy – or even remind you what were things that brought you joy that didn’t necessarily equate to work. It was created for a Career Exploration class at Stanford. The authors also just published this book: Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work.

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Op/Ed

You lost a rockstar employee – don’t lose the band too

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Bands lose lead singers all the time, and sometimes are the better for it. Your business can rally too in the wake of losing a star employee.

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Smiling rockstar employee accepting paper from off screen.

Turnover is one of the largest expenses a business may have to prepare for; a study by Employee Benefits News estimates that the dollar amount is equivalent to a third of an employee’s annual salary. Indirect costs arrive alongside this, which can include the loss of employee knowledge and added expenses to invest in searching for a replacement. The recruitment process can be lengthy and has many steps and phases, and hiring may require paying bonuses, higher salaries, or providing additional benefits.

As many as 40% of employees quit in their first year, and when all is said and done, it might be 50-70% of that employee’s salary might suddenly be lost.

This can present a large problem if a top performing and well liked employee – what some recruiters might call a rockstar employee – leaves. Under the worst scenarios, it can cause a domino effect; remaining employees might begin to question why that person chose to make their exit, and this may manifest as a series of departures. From a management standpoint, this is catastrophic, and can lead to missed deadlines, an increased burden on the remaining staff, and generally result in less quality output.

Contingency plans should be in place to help mitigate this situation, and all companies should – at some point – consider what their best options are to stop a destructive downward spiral. Jokingly – if a little morbid – this is sometimes referred to as the bus factor, which literally confronts this question by asking what happens if ____ were hit by a bus tomorrow? After all, if your critically vital employee suddenly could not show up again – literally never again – what can you do to prevent cascading effects?

Let’s consider the best things to do in this situation in order to prevent insert-your-favorite-natural-disaster-term-here when you suddenly learn your unicorn is on their way out.

Ask Questions and Listen

First and foremost, it’s best to ask the rockstar employee why they are leaving and make a sincere effort to understand their decision. The benefits of exit interviewing are known and can help immensely in this area. Even under the best circumstances and with an employee leaving without any negative reasons, there is likely still something they’d like to see improved, and this can be applied to those who remain.

Speaking of those remaining employees, it’s best to talk with them as well. Be transparent and genuine – ask about current moods and morale, get their perspective on the situation, and how they think it might affect their work moving forward. If the exiting employee did give any advice about improving the work environment, you can inject this into these follow-on conversations to see if others share that opinion, and then use those overlapping patterns to understand what to do immediately.

Surveys can be sent out as well, and this might provide a quick response and some metrics to go on. This should be used in conjunction with interviews and one-on-one conversations. During these engagements, listen intently, acknowledge any issues that may have been uncovered, and explain that you are committed to ensuring a smooth transition and will proactively address any problems that have been revealed.

Futureproofing

Reassure employees that their work is meaningful and recognized as vital and important, and commit to finding a replacement in order to prevent concerns that an increased workload will remain in place for an extended period of time. This will require taking introspective looks into the current workplace and its metrics, and then channeling these into efforts outwardly. In other words, the future is still bright, and all the brighter with their contributions.

It’s likely that employees may start to look at their work pessimistically – “Why should I stay if what we’re doing couldn’t keep ___ here?” This is why management must act quickly to assess the situation and provide direct answers. Explain that goals are still attainable and emphasize each employee’s importance.

Happiness

Perhaps the most abstract – yet arguably most significant – thing to worry about is the overall happiness of employees, and how to best continue this in an upward trajectory. There are plenty of ways to do this, with many revolving around frequent check-ins, seeking out ways to improve skillsets through education, and providing – if possible – promotions now that voids exist. After all, if there is an open opportunity within the organization, it will likely bolster the entire team to see someone move into a new position (and provide inspiration).

Engagement is key. There is no substitute for this – employees want to be heard, want to know they matter, and will respond to such efforts positively. In addition to the strategies above, it might be a good time to consider morale boosting events while redoubling efforts to improve the workplace.

Conclusion

Focusing on what to do now with plans in place will help provide a solid head start. Engage and speak with (not just to) employees, understand their concerns, and actively respond to anything that repeatedly emerges from such conversations. Reassure by shifting focus toward the future of the company, and maintain employee happiness by being transparent and considering ways to reorganize hierarchy through promotions.

When a favorite employee leaves, there’s always going to be a rippling effect throughout the office. Turnover cannot be fully avoided, but there are several ways to cushion the blow and continue to move forward in an efficient, agile manner.

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