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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

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

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.

This story was first published in May 2018.

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Real Estate Brokerage

Why real estate brokerages are NOT startups

(BROKERAGE) Brokerages are popping up nationwide that are sleek and modern, but also misinformed as they call themselves startups. Let’s talk about the technical definition.

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Businesses that are just starting out often refer to themselves as startups (which is inappropriate given that startups are funded differently, scale differently, and have completely different KPIs). Take real estate brokerages, for example. An increasing number call themselves startups, but when you look at the definition of a startup, can you really call yourself one?

Small businesses and startups have very different definitions (and there’s no shame in being a small business or an “innovative brokerage”). Let’s discuss.

1. Startups have a different goal altogether.

Typically, startups are about growth. They’re designed from day one to scale extremely quickly. Small businesses are often limited by a target market or geographic location. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they aren’t scalable the same way an international software brand is. Think about scaling in terms of a beauty salon versus MatchCo, an app that uses technology to create a foundation just for you. A franchise does not a startup make.

2. Startups generally seek outside funding to accelerate growth.

Startup founders often give up equity shares to generate funds before becoming profitable. Small businesses are typically self-funded, bootstrapped into profitability, and owned by one or a select few. A small business venture is typically less risky than a startup, too. The idea behind a small business venture is profit, and you want the business to last. Startups are structured to be sold or acquired once it hits critical mass – a “startup” is temporary.

3. Startups disrupt the industry.

Think about these companies – AirBnB, Google, Dropbox, Facebook, even Apple, a long time ago. In their early days, they were startups. It was risky to invest in these companies as they were trying something new (not iterating on something like the real estate practice which is one of the oldest professions in America), but they have outshone their competitors. They disrupted the marketplace. That’s what a startup does.

And it doesn’t always work. Sonitus Medical attempted to disrupt the hearing aid market. They raised almost $90 million in funding before the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services decided the product wouldn’t be covered. The company held an auction and closed its doors. Brokerages have experimented with paying salaries, going paperless, or having all agents working remotely – these are all fabulous innovations and iterations, not disruptions.

The takeaway

We’ve been on the forefront for over a decade of ushering in the era of indie brokerages, paperless real estate brands, and counter-culture companies, but brokerages are simply not startups, and this is not up for debate. Iteration is not innovation.

Don’t call yourself something you’re not – be an “innovative broker” and rock it, because you’re not a temporary company seeking to scale so rapidly that you’re acquired for your indisputable disruption.

And finally, don’t fall for real estate brokerages pitching themselves as “startups” when they’re misinformed and really mean they’re simply, and beautifully “modern.”

This story was first published here in March of 2018.

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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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