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NJ real estate team to ask clients to sign “Zillow Disclosure” form due to ongoing inaccuracies

With data inaccuracies lingering in the real estate industry, regardless of the source, one brokerage is taking action to help consumers better understand the chain of data.

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Real estate syndication should be a science, but with all of the pipes and tubes and chutes and ladders every listing goes through before being presented to the public, inaccuracies remain, whether the problem lies with the real estate search site, how the brand set up their feeds in ListHub, or how the data is syndicated. Zillow has long been the target of criticism for this inaccuracy problem, and others have weighed in saying that Trulia (now owned by Zillow) has similar issues (although less frequently). They’ve been working for years to fine tune the process, and it is admittedly better than just a few short years ago, but problems remain in the chain of data.

Anyone in the field knows that whether they’re the listing agent or a buyer’s agent, they’re the ones that get the angry phone calls about homes that are shown as on the market that have really been off-market for months, and vice versa.

The Baldwin Dream Team at Keller Williams NJ Metro Group in Montclair NJ ($45M in volume in 2014) has decided to do more than just complain online about it, rather, they’re working on a disclosure for their clients to sign addressing this very problem of data inaccuracy.

About the potential “Zillow Disclosures” form

In the Closed Facebook Group, Lab Coat Agents, Nick Baldwin at the aforementioned brokerage posted:

“This is the second time in 30 days when this listing of mine has appeared “off market” when it is very much “ON market.” Zillow does not know what is causing this, so it takes them upwards of a week to fix. So, due to instances like this (and a few others) my team is now having our sellers sign “Zillow Disclosures.” This disclosure will say, in a nut shell, that The Baldwin Dream Team at Keller Williams Realty cannot be held responsible for how Zillow displays the listing on their site. After we upload the listing to our MLS, seller approves or suggests changes, then we are not liable for what Zillow decides to do with it.”

Is this the answer?

Some practitioners felt that the potential disclaimer should cover all real estate search sites, or that it could be a simple addition to existing forms so that clients don’t have to sign even more papers. But overall, the reaction from practitioners was positive.

In the Facebook group, Nick Baldwin was clear that this was not a Zillow rant, and Zillow Industry Outreach Director, Jay Thompson addressed the specific listing used as an example and said, “I can assure you there’s 2,000+ employees at Zillow that do care and are concerned. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t care, and they didn’t care.”

Zillow’s efforts have room for improvement

“On a regular basis lately, we’re receiving all sorts of missives from Zillow about all their advances,” Roberta Baldwin, Team Leader at The Baldwin Dream Team notes. “While I’m grateful for the leads through the Premier Agent conduit, which I pay for, as I do on Trulia, it doesn’t make me feel special at all when I spend a Saturday night trying to hand upload a listing that should be there, as I did this weekend, while on vacation. Or worry on a Sunday that the public open house tag we uploaded hasn’t shown up in timely fashion.”

She points to a recent email to agents from Zillow CRO Greg Schwartz wherein he states, “Our coverage of active listings is the strongest we’ve ever had and continues to grow. More MLS listings means faster price and status updates and more complete coverage for your advertising efforts.”

The email is described by Baldwin as “premature, given the daily issues we all seem to be having.”

How did the “Zillow Disclosure” come to be?

Roberta Baldwin tells us, “We’ve been instructing our sellers for some time to allow these portals time to position their new listings, but when it runs to several days without satisfaction, no seller wants to feel his property is the only one that’s not up and running and correctly positioned. Savvy sellers also don’t understand why they have to wait for uploads and they don’t want to erroneous information pulled from sources out of our control. For instance, right now, Zillow programs a multi-family home listing as an “Apartment for Sale.” We have a seller who is livid about this – he doesn’t understand it because he has a 2-unit building for sale, not an apartment (which conjures up a condo) – and so we’ve spent a good deal of time discussing this with Zillow but have been told there’s nothing they can do, their programmers are working on it, they don’t know when it will change, etc.”

She adds, “Another example is a luxury home we had recently where the listing and photos came up in disarray and weren’t corrected until after the house sold! Today, alone, I already noticed a listing that suddenly came up as active with no photos but is actually under contract, another with the old price that we changed days ago. Keeps us on our toes!”

Therefore, they decided this week to prepare a disclaimer which is still in the works and expected to be completed next week, which states that “when Zillow and Trulia upload listings, make corrections and process open houses is out of [The Baldwin Dream Team’s] control, although we will work with these portals to make sure the listings are there online, complete and accurate.”

Will other brokers follow suit?

Roberta Baldwin notes that the wording is being run past a lawyer, and that their intent is not to libel any company, just to “just to create a discussion point of importance to sellers in a way that sticks with them.”

“Just mentioning syndication problems in conversation doesn’t have the impact, we’ve found,” she expounds. “We always want the best for our sellers – that, in fact, is out biggest motivator – and to protect them from worry that we aren’t doing our job, that their listing is not being taken seriously, because that is usually their instant concern.”

The idea has “hit a nerve,” Roberta Baldwin said. “It has definitely hit a nerve. Any agent focusing on listings is bound to find massive discrepancies in the syndication upload process, so we think this could catch on and perhaps could act as a catalyst for Zillow and Trulia corporate and, of course, their programmers, to really look at the impact on busy Realtors.”

She opines that agents with the most business are apt to be the most understanding. “Spending hours a week tracking down listings, monitoring their whereabouts day to day, trying to claim listings that are, in fact, our own and are branded as such by our MLS, is tedious, time-consuming, and costly. I hear new agents in our office express wonder that their first listings are missing. Many of them are incredibly savvy about marketing and just don’t get why this should be happening.”

What practitioners should know about this move

“Protecting the integrity of our business is paramount,” concludes Roberta Baldwin. “There is nothing we do when we list a home that is intentionally arbitrary. So when the listings become impossible to track on these portals, when we get different opinions on how to upload these listings – whether we should wait til [sic] they appear or hand upload, whether to use Postlets or not to use Postlets – when we question why some listings simply don’t register with their systems in timely fashion or when we get the old, fuzzy version of a listing from 3 years ago, or even the “for sale by owner” version with a horrible stamp across the photos – it’s hard to accept when we’ve done everything right from our end. And when Zillow and Trulia service departments then send us canned directions back in response to real problems we have that we are asking them to fix, as if we’ve never had any experience with their systems before, and when we need fast and accurate help – it is really upsetting to us as well as to our sellers.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as she clarifies, “I will say that we have very nice, helpful service people over at Zillow and Trulia who have done what they can when we are truly desperate. That does help, but doesn’t alleviate root causes of the glitches we face.”

#ZillowDisclosure

UPDATE: video chat on the topic

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Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Real Estate Brokerage

The game doesn’t matter until you keep score

(BROKERAGE) How you collect feedback can determine whether your service actually improves or not. #science

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Every significant endeavor utilizes measurements and scorekeeping to record activities and progress. The most trivial of human pursuits often involves record keeping and statistical analysis.

While the sales and production side of real estate services are measured in-depth, the service side of the business enjoys less measurement, scorekeeping, and analysis than one might find associated with the performance of a neighborhood Little League team.

What does this truly say then about the importance many brokers, owners or managers place on service delivery, customer satisfaction, consistency and service performance?

It’s true that a few organizations do attempt to measure service performance by means of a customer satisfaction survey. Most of these programs are produced and administered internally. The surveys are sent under the company banner and the company tabulates the results.

First, when a customer is asked directly by the professional or the company for performance/satisfaction feedback, that feedback is always more positive than what is obtained by an independent, third-party asking the same questions.

This is known as the halo effect. Consumers are more diplomatic in their response to the person or company that provided the service.

Second, internal service/satisfaction assessment programs typically develop standards and objectives to validate the belief that good service is already being delivered. Thus this positively biased feedback data suits the objectives of the internal program just fine.

It’s just that measurement of those areas of service performance that sellers and buyers feel are important is not taking place.

For those more serious about customer service satisfaction and service performance assessment, there is recognition that the halo effect lessens the value of the data for internal use, and that keeping score of one’s own results has less credibility externally.

Instead, they seek the objectivity and credibility that third party validation of service assessment can provide.

Ironically, even without expert resources and objectivity the attention that measurement brings to the organization will effect positive results and performance improvement. This phenomenon is known as the Hawthorne effect.

The effect was first noticed in the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric. Production increased not as a consequence of actual changes in working conditions introduced by the plant’s management, but because management demonstrated interest in such improvements.

Unfortunately, this phase of initial improvement is not sustainable. Sustaining improvement requires more than measurement and leadership interest. Action steps that result in the actual improvement of the situation must follow collection of data.

Measuring service results and satisfaction in the real estate organization is an important first step. It will certainly gain the attention of the organization and send a serious signal.

Sustaining organizational interest and performance improvement requires more.

It requires systematic and timely feedback, objectivity, systems and service delivery processes, coaching and recognition/awards. But it really all does start by keeping score.

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Real Estate Brokerage

Best ways to handle stressed-to-the-max clients

(BROKERAGE NEWS) Moving can make even your calmest clients nightmare wackadoos. Here’s how to manage them.

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Three researchers have published an interesting study on how customer service can be improved by recognizing a customer’s stress level before a connection with your business is made.

For example, a customer can often be anxious over using a particular service, i.e., a funeral home or a lawyer in connection with a divorce. By learning more about how your clients feel when they call your business, you can better manage the customer experience. This offers your business a more effective customer base of referrals and repeat business.

The researchers identified the following steps to manage stressed-out customers:

1. Find out how your customers are feeling when they need your service.

One reason so many breast cancer facilities are free-standing, away from the main hospital complex, is because women voiced their ideas to the healthcare team designing the facilities. Women wanted coordinated care under one roof, but felt like the hospital was not a calming environment. Use your empathy to walk in your customer’s shoes to change the experience.

2. Hire not only for skill, but attitude and personality.

Employees who love their job can’t be trained. The passion and enthusiasm, even for a high-stress career like a cancer nurse or funeral director, cannot be taught. Look to bring on team members who have empathy for your customers and understand that business is all about customer service. It’s far easier to teach someone the skills needed for a job than it is to teach them to be motivated to work.

3. Study your approach to the customer’s journey.

How does your business interact with the client? From the first link online or phone call, to the payment options, what is the customer’s experience? Address the high-stress interactions by providing information about your services. For example, when calling to view a listing, what can your customer expect?

4. Give the customer more control over the service.

Dealing with a mechanic who tells you that your engine is shot is highly stressful. Instead, learn to be more specific and talk to the customer in a language that can be understood by someone without technical knowledge. Make sure your customer has one point-of-contact throughout their experience. Have a plan B in place for when that individual is sick or goes on vacation. Empower your customers through today’s technology, maybe an app that tracks the sale. There’s no excuse today for poor customer service and information.

I would highly recommend that every real estate professional read the research from Harvard Business Review. Leonard L. Berry, Scott W. Davis, and Jody Wilmet packed so much information into their report that there’s no way I could cover it all here.

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Real Estate Brokerage

Iowa police hope new website helps solve Realtor Ashley Okland’s murder

(REAL ESTATE) A tragic end to a young Realtor’s life brought Realtor Safety to the forefront for so many practitioners. While still an unsolved case, police hope a new website will generate interest, tips, and hopefully the missing puzzle pieces.

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Eight years ago this week, Iowa Realtor, Ashley Okland was brutally gunned down in a model townhome while she worked. She was only 27 years old. Open houses in the city were immediately shut down, as it was thought it could be a serial killer targeting agents in the field. That theory has since been put to bed.

But the case continues to plague the officers that have spent nearly a decade investigating, and despite hundreds of leads and interviews, it remains an open case.

Local police say they are still getting tips trickling in, but “It’s like a puzzle that you’re trying to put together and you’re wanting to find those last few pieces to complete it,” West Des Moines Police Department’s (WDMPD) Lt. Anthony Giampolo, told KCCI.

In hopes of finding those final pieces, WDMPD has set up a website called Answers For Ashley where people can submit relevant tips anonymously online.

The site appears to be a work in progress, as only the “submit a tip” feature works, but the wish is that offering an additional outlet for tips could solve this murder.

Okland’s murder inspired the industry to revisit (and establish) safety plans, and several Realtor safety apps were born. Her situation was one that was so relatable, it generated a lot of conversation and idea sharing, making a long-lasting impact on the real estate industry.

Okland is not the first or last Realtor to be murdered – beloved Jacksonville Realtor, Derrick Hartley was gunned down in a road rage incident this month, leaving behind five children. Asheville Realtor, Tina Kessinger was savagely stabbed to death with a screwdriver and tossed into a dumpster. And we’ve lost others – an El Paso Realtor recently died in an ATV accident, a Kentucky Realtor died in a hit and run auto accident, and a Florida Realtor died in a freak accident, falling from a boat. An unnamed Chicago Realtor was recently attacked with a stun gun in what would have been a sexual assault had she not gotten away to call police. The list is far longer, but these recent incidents have scarred the industry.

Okland’s case has always been on the industry’s mind is because it is thought to have happened in conjunction with her career, while she was at work. Potentially similarly to another high-profile case, Beverly Carter’s 2014 murder.

Realtors are often in a vulnerable position, spending time alone in the field, and while Okland’s murder very well could have had nothing to do with her profession and being alone in a model, it is worth considering how your team is educated on the topic of Realtor safety.

The National Association of Realtors offers ample Realtor safety resources and recently launched an alert system, akin to Amber Alerts (read about the Realtor Safety Network and know how to file an incident report).

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