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Fighting the good fight: Supporting legislation on customer reviews

The Consumer Review Freedom Act bill cracks down on so-called gag clauses that businesses can place in their terms of service that allow them to take legal action against customers who post negative Internet reviews.

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If I’m a business owner, obviously I want to get glowing reviews. Positive feedback spreads good word-of-mouth which is good for the bottom line. In a perfect world everyone would be happy with whatever is my latest product or service. But the world is not perfect so there is bound to be someone who just doesn’t grasp what I’m promoting.

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The flip side of this coin is that if I’m a consumer and I just don’t like you’re selling I should be able to voice my opinion in public and online. I mean, the Constitution protects me, right? Freedom of Speech and all that?

I’ll teach you…

Well not exactly and I’ve written about this very thing: So-called gag clauses that businesses can place in their terms-of-service that allow them to take legal action against customers who post negative Internet reviews.

Fortunately smarter heads have prevailed with the proposal of the Consumer Review Freedom Act (CRFA) which most recently was passed by the Senate in Mid December 2015 and now goes before the House.

I can’t begin to tell you how important this bill is. The bill cracks down on so-called gag clauses that businesses can place in their terms of service that allow them to take legal action against customers who post negative Internet reviews.

Banning the gag clauses

More specifically, as pointed out in an online article on marketingprofs.com, the CRFA will provide:

  • A nationwide ban on the use of “anti-review,” “gag,” or “non-disparagement” clauses
  • Empowerment of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and states to take action against businesses that attempt to keep consumers from posting negative reviews

Important for all businesses

For business owners this proposed legislation will guarantee a number of things that many of us may take for granted:

  • Freedom of speech in online reviews
  • Access to honest information from customers
  • The chance to learn from constructive criticism
  • The chance to turn negative reviews into positive experiences
  • An opportunity to work together against fabricated reviews

Living and dying by the review

It doesn’t really matter if you sell hotdogs or you sell real estate because you should stand by the validity of what you sell. Real estate in particular is filled with practitioners that live and die by ratings and reviews of their services, and therefore, in my humble opinion, this legislation needs to be supported by all industries.

And guess what? If you get negative reviews (as opposed to fake fabricated reviews) then learn from it and use the opportunity as a perfect chance to put everything you’ve ever (hopefully) learned about customer service into practice.

#CustomerReviewFreedomAct

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

Real Estate Brokerage

7 red flags that could scare off potential home buyers

(BROKERAGE) While houses are selling quickly right now, there are some things that will almost definitely turn a home buyer off.

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Open home and kitchen that home buyers will be considering.

The process of buying a home is incredibly overwhelming – as is the process of selling a house. There are so many aspects that potential home buyers are investigating when they enter a spot that’s for sale.

Without realizing it, many sellers can be hurting their chances of selling by overlooking simple things. The Ascent recently determined seven things that scare away potential buyers. Let’s dive in.

We all know the market is hot right now and houses are selling like crazy, but there are certain things that just cannot be ignored.

  1. Listing an unrealistic price: Be realistic about what your house is worth and don’t be misleading. People can easily search the worth of the houses around yours and do some digging to find out if what you’re listing is representative of what the house is worth.
  2. Skipping the deep clean: This is never a good idea – especially this year. The cleanliness of your house is akin in the buyer’s mind to the overall upkeep and maintenance of the house. They assume that if you don’t clean, you don’t care.
  3. Personalization: Since you’re moving, try and pack up some of your family photos and leave up less “personal” items (or color choices) to better help the potential buyer envision themselves living there.
  4. Expecting payment for features that are high maintenance: Things like pools and hot tubs don’t always return their value. Many home buyers aren’t interested in keeping up with that maintenance and it’s unreasonable to charge them for the assumption that they’ll keep up with it.
  5. Believing “It’s okay if this doesn’t work”: If your shower head is broken, the A/C is messed up, or a ceiling is cracked, you should do all you can to replace or repair it before listing your house. If you can’t, don’t expect anyone to pay the full listing price.
  6. Being nose-blind: Like those Febreeze commercials tell us, it’s common that we go nose-blind to our surroundings simply because we’re so used to them (i.e. a smoker doesn’t notice their house or clothes smell like smoke). Go back and check off deep cleaning, and then ask someone you really trust to come in and tell you how the house smells to an outsider. Trust me, this will be one of the first things a buyer notices.
  7. Leaving pets home during showings: Due to the unpredictability with strangers – or the potential allergies the strangers may have – it’s best to make arrangements for your pets to be elsewhere during showings.

At the end of the day, you have to look at your house from an outsider’s perspective. Getting feedback and opinions from friends and family can help this process.

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Real Estate Brokerage

Why women don’t self-promote at work as often as men

(CAREER) Being visible and owning well done work continues to be a conundrum for women in the workplace. So stand up and be heard!

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Ladies, if you recently met with your broker (or corporate) for an end-of-the-year review and you failed to share all of your successes and the ways you shined over the last year, you aren’t alone.

A recent study revealed that regardless of the situation, women do not promote themselves in the workplace as much as their male colleagues.

What is clear from the information gathered – women need to realize they are badasses in the workplace and be unwavering in their belief in themselves. And, be ready to share this information with their supervisors or clients if they wish to earn more.

The study, conducted by Christine Exley, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and Judd Kessler, an associate professor at Wharton, found there is a broad (no pun intended) gender gap when it comes to self-promotion in the workplace.

As many raises and promotions to higher level roles are dependent upon an employee’s self-evaluation, women are more at risk of missing out on getting hired or higher earning opportunities. In real estate, this quality limits earning potential and can have rippling long-term effects.

The pair considered multiple hypotheses from whether women were less confident and men more, to whether it was a matter of taking advantage of systems where self-promotion leads to incentives, to whether a boss would eventually find out the truth about a worker’s ability.

“In every setting we explored, we observed a substantial gender gap in self-promotion: Women systematically provided less favorable assessments of their own past performance and potential future ability than equally performing men. And our various study versions revealed that this gender gap was not driven by confidence or by strategic incentives, and that it was robust both in the face of ambiguity and under increased transparency,” the pair stated.

What could be at play? If women are punished for excessive self-promotion in the workplace more than men, they are more likely to keep their successes to themselves, the researchers speculate. Prior research into self-promotion in the workplace found that excessive self-promotion suggested gender differences in backlash.

As if we were still living in the 1950s, women often face backlash for being too vocal about their abilities, and risk losing out on promotions because being visible and self-promotional goes against the idea of how a woman should behave. So, while being visible and taking ownership is the way to get ahead in the workplace, for many women the risk of backlash means they sit and remain quiet, being passed over because they fear being labeled “a bitch,” as the study found.

What Exley and Judd determined is there is the need for more research into they “why” of this conundrum.

Meanwhile, the pair’s message is this: Employers (and brokers), don’t overlook women on your team. They may not be as vocal about how good they are, but that doesn’t mean their performance is inferior. And to women out their busting ass and closing deals – take note of your accomplishments and promote your worth when in the field and in the office!

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Real Estate Brokerage

How do you know it’s time to become a broker?

(BROKERAGE) It sounds dreamy to open your own brokerage and be your own boss, but when is it TRULY time become a broker?

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Everyone joins the real estate workforce for a different reason. Some to flip houses, others to represent buyers, and so forth. And most are happy with their broker of choice, but for others, the itch to become a broker becomes so great that it cannot be ignored.

But how do you know when it’s time to become a broker? Maybe it’s time for a new broker because you’re unhappy, but it’s also possible that you have the skills and drive to lead your own company.

To find out, we asked three brokers with thriving businesses:

Jennifer Archambeault is the Broker/Owner of Urban Provision, REALTORS®, a growing Texas brokerage.

We asked her how to know when it’s time to create your own brokerage:

It is time to create your own brokerage when the limitations of your current brokerage restricts your personal or professional growth, hinders your ability to serve your clientele at the highest level or you are no longer able to see the value your current broker brings to the table.

Regardless of the reason, it is important to be mindful of your competency and ability to handle the responsibilities involved with running a brokerage and/or managing or mentoring agents.

Is there a tipping point?

There are often many tipping points causing an agent/broker to dream about having their own brokerage, but they often only clue in on one when they are parting ways. A lack of respect or dissatisfaction within your current company, the inability to come to terms on differences with management, not seeing eye to eye on the company’s mission or vision and not being able to serve clients to the desired standard often top the list of tipping points if the agent leaves disgruntled.

However, there are times it is purely a natural transition having nothing to do with any reason mentioned above and solely taking your career and income to the next level.

Is it better to do so because of a gap in the market or because someone’s independent streak is unavoidable?

Personally, I think it is the latter more than the former. Gaps in the market will change over time but often the desire to be independent doesn’t ebb and flow as easily. If someone’s independent streak is unavoidable they often exude qualities that allow extreme focus to continuously keeping their eyes on a prize.

There are benefits of having your own brokerage, but there are also limitations as well. Some people’s independence can be a hindrance to their business especially when they want to start their own brokerage because they simply do not like or cannot continually follow the rules.

I believe it is better to part ways to build your own brokerage or brand because it satisfies a personal or professional growth need rather than leaving your previous company disgruntled. The latter generally allows for a flawed mindset.

What do you wish you had known before starting a brokerage?

Do not always focus on Plan A because often you’ll end up with the most perfect fit with Plan D.

Being nimble is a must-have quality for anyone in the real estate industry, but owning a brokerage often requires stretching far beyond being nimble and reaching for superhero status. Initially, I believed every agent could be molded into a specific model or a way of doing business but quickly realized that there is a not a one size fits all brokerage regardless of someone with decades of experience said so.

The perception of a brokerage with a large number of agents on the surface implies success. However, the old saying quality over quantity rings very true in a brokerage setting. Stop worrying about what others are doing – be different because that’s how you get noticed. Do what you do well and what works with your clients, for your personality or in your marketplace.

Tyler Forte, Co-Founder & CEO of Felix Homes saw a need to marry technology and real estate.

Here is his take on starting a brokerage:

Prior to starting Felix, I was a venture capital investor and I can tell you that any successful business, whether or not it’s a brokerage, is started because the status quo does not solve the market’s distinct needs.

Speaking specifically to why we started Felix, home sellers are facing a number of challenges that the traditional brokerage model does not address. When I sold my home last year, I saw firsthand how the home selling process is broken. I knew that starting a disruptive real estate brokerage was what I needed to do in order to make the experience of selling a home better.

The challenges homeowners currently face include hiring an agent who does not have their best interest in mind, to the uncertainty of not knowing if their home will be sold and for what price. At Felix, we are looking to provide consumers with the best home-selling experience period.

As far as the challenges we faced when starting a new brokerage, there are many. For one, the real estate industry is slow to adopt new innovative models. This is because current incumbents have built moats around the data and distribution of homes all at the consumer’s expense. In addition, because real estate is governed on a state-by-state basis, educating ourselves on the laws and regulations of each state was a challenge.

Jeff Brown, Owner of BawldGuy Investing has been a broker for decades and is never ever EVER shy about telling it like it is.

How do you know when it’s time to create your own brokerage?

I’ve always contended Dad was right, as you always thought most folks didn’t know when to create their own firm. Over the years I’ve spoken with countless brokerage owners about this very question.

Roughly a third of ‘em actually thought they knew the right time. Me? I did it WAY to soon, though in my defense, I had my dad’s infinite brokerage experience IN the office daily to back my rookie play, stop mistakes BEFORE I made ‘em, and generally mentor the crud outa me.

Most brokers told me they knew when decisions made by their broker bosses just were not what they would’ve done. They usually came a tipping point, where the decision made itself. But again, that was just a third of those with whom I talked. The rest just did what I did, rush in willy nilly. The huge advantage I had was a decades experienced brokerage owner mentoring me daily, in real time, and who, you know, actually gave a damn about me.

So what is that tipping point?

The most often heard tipping point was the feeling of being constrained by their boss’s operating policies. For example, and a gigantic tipping point, was a friend of mine who wanted to run his own office using the Broker-Centric model, not the Agent-Centric model run by the broker for whom he worked.

Is it better to do so because of a gap in the market or because someone’s independent streak is unavoidable?

The latter is merely personality. Sometimes it works to breakaway, and sometimes it’s been catastrophic. Being independent has nothing whatsoever to do with knowing what you’re doing as the person in charge.

The whole ‘gap in the market’ thing has always puzzled me as a reason to open a brokerage. The exception clearly would be that the policies of operation under which you’d run your own office would substantially improve your chances of taking advantage of whatever market gap you perceived. I find that to be uncommon, at least in my experience.

What do you wish you had known before starting a brokerage?

Without even a hint of maybe having a doubt, I wish I’d understood the good news/bad news joke that says: “Well, Jeff, the good news is you’re now the Go-To Guy. The bad news? See the good news.” 🙂

The difference between signing the backs of checks and the front of those checks cannot be overstated. Every single buck stops at your desk, period, end of sentence, over ’n out. Some folks find that to be too daunting.

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