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Posts by Sam DeBord on Inman News and Inman Next

6 quick and inexpensive ways to turn real estate technology excuses into solutions

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Homebuyers and sellers today make inferences about real estate agents’ professionalism based on their ability to use current technology. The image we project to the public is heavily influenced by whether or not we keep up with the level of technological service they have come to expect from other industries.

This isn’t about being the most advanced and tech-savvy agent in your city.It’s about adopting the common-sense technology practices that make your business, and your relationship with your clients, more professional. Using technology responsibly and proactively allows us to enhance our outward business persona, as opposed to continually making excuses for why we’re not on board.

We often focus on the cutting edge of technology, but for those who may need a bit of sharpening up, there are a few quick and inexpensive ways to get past objections and move on to a stronger technology reputation:

1. Adjust Your Smartphone Attitude.

Statistically, it appears a fair number agents still don’t have a smartphone. There’s not much to say here. $99 — do it. Today.

2. Mobile Communication Is Still Business Communication.

“Please excuse any spelling errors – sent from my mobile. …” Erase this from your mobile email signatures. Remove it from every device you own. It shows a lack of care. Here is what it says to your clients/associates:

“I am too lazy to properly use this handheld device that has more computing power than the first Space Shuttle. I’m going to send you a garbled message because you’re not worth the 10 seconds it would have taken to fix it. LOL CUL8R K?”

This applies to email from your smartphone, business-centric social media interaction, and text messaging. Yes, there are reasons for shortened messages in mediums like text messaging and Twitter, but short doesn’t mean sloppy. You’re in business, so write like you mean business.

3. Speaking Of Your Signature …Where Is It?

While you’re busily removing that spelling excuse from your phone or tablet, take a second to create a real business signature on every one of those devices. If you’re using a native mail application on your phone/tablet, or a Web-based app like Gmail, it’s likely that you need to go into your device’s settings or the app’s settings. Add your name, title, and all appropriate phone numbers to that device or app’s email signatures. No matter what device you’re using, your email recipients who want to contact you back quickly need this info at their fingertips. Let them just click on your phone number instead of having to search it out on the Web.

Speaking of signatures, even your desktop email should be adjusted to add a signature at the bottom of every email, whether or not it’s a reply or forward. Again, you don’t know what device your recipients are using, and forcing a smartphone user to go back to Google and find your phone number is less than optimal. Make it easy on everyone.

4. Texting Is Here. If You Think It’s A Pain, You’re Missing The Point.

Remember back when agents in your office said they’d never send a contract by fax? Remember how you rolled your eyes and what you thought of them? Guess what your clients think when they try to send you a text and you call back every time?

Texting is not an inconvenience. It is a huge time-saver for your business. Text messages fill the gap between phone calls and email, and are an integral business tool. They don’t require the receiver to drop everything and answer a call, but they do get their attention in a faster time frame than email. Texts allow you to convey a concise message without committing to a conversation about the day’s weather. They’re also documented and recoverable, as opposed to a phone conversation, which can be harder to recall later.

The ability to reach another agent who happens to be in a busy/loud location or a client who doesn’t necessarily want to chat with you at the moment can make text messaging a highly beneficial tool for an agent. Use it professionally, though. No matter what the kids “r txting 2u,” your responses need to be in the manner of a business. Again, it takes only 10 extra seconds to write out full words in a text message and recheck the spelling. Your clients’ impressions of you as a professional are worth the time.

5. The Fax Is Dead. There Are Easier Solutions.

The fax machine creates an ultra-slow landline phone connection to another machine, and must maintain that pristine connection through the transfer of a large file from start to finish or else it has to start over from the beginning. If the other machine is turned off or it malfunctions, there’s nothing the sender can do but wait.

In terms of technology, that’s like the old phone operators plugging wires into holes to get your call to another city. It’s terribly inefficient. Luckily there are inexpensive solutions that provide far more accountability, speed and efficiency.

There are a wide range of multisheet document scanners that not only allow agents to scan and send a contract off quickly, but also create an immediate digital copy of the document for their files. For around $300, a laser printer with multisheet scanner and wireless capability is available from many companies. Frankly, if you use it correctly, you’ll rarely even have to print anything.

Plan on spending a few hours to set up the system correctly. Used haphazardly, new technology can create frustration. Take your time going through the settings, and figure out how to scan at a low-enough resolution to keep the file size small but the quality acceptable. Set it up to automatically save the files to your computer in a standard location. Print a page of a scanned document to make sure it is legible.

The efficiency of creating your filing system on your computer, or in an online repository, will set you free from the towering file drawers. Even if you must print a paper copy for your records, the ability to email your contracts to other agents and have documented proof of timely delivery is a huge benefit. There’s no need to match fax machine time stamps. It settles disputes quickly, reduces the need for printing, and helps to organize your business.

6. E-Signatures: Spend 2 Hours Learning To Show Clients And Agents That You Respect Their Time.

Plenty of agents will say that they don’t use e-signatures because their clients value the in-person time that their agent spends with them. In reality, there is no requirement that an agent using e-signatures spend any less time with the client. It merely allows you to spend less time if and when appropriate.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we real estate folks think we’re a little bit more fun to be around than our clients do. When we’re needed, they’re happy to have us. Upon the third visit to their home for another counteroffer signature, we become a bit of an unwanted guest. At 8 p.m. on a Friday night when we need another initial, we’re a real pain in their backside.

Don’t think that the agents on the other side of your transaction aren’t forming an opinion of your abilities as well. “My clients are out of town so I can’t get signatures for you until they come back in three days.” Meanwhile, the buyers who just signed the entire offer on their iPhones are expecting a response. I’ll let you imagine how that conversation goes.

Spend as much time as necessary with a client in person to educate them, but also spend a couple of hours learning how e-signatures work. It’s very simple once you take the time.

Don’t equate e-signatures with any reduction in client service. Respecting clients’ time, and the privacy of their home, is increasingly important with our ever more independent client population.

The reduction in wasted paper, gasoline and your personal free time should be enough to push you to spend the time to get on board. Even more importantly, the expectations of clients and their resulting impressions of your business demand it.

Technology Upgrades Don’t Have To Be Dramatic

Often the simplest of changes to the technologies we use can have large effects on our businesses and the impression we make on others. None of these items represent a particularly large investment of time or money. They simply require us to make a commitment to staying on top the technologies that will gain our clients’ respect and increase our businesses’ efficiency.

Buyer beware: the real estate technology prognosticator

This article was originally posted on Inman News:

For agents hoping to incorporate more technology into their real estate businesses, the wide-ranging advice can be overwhelming. Brokers, agents, vendors, coaches, and technology celebrities all have different ideas on how you should focus your efforts and the expectations that you should have for your success.

It’s tempting to try to do a little bit of everything.

The low-hanging fruit is the latest online product, app or social media craze. With a new prognosticator stating that “this is the one thing every agent should be doing” every week, it can be difficult to resist dipping your toe into all of the newest technological ventures. Since many of them are free, the low barrier to entry encourages a “try everything” approach.

Technology is important

A lot of great real estate companies and teams have leveraged it for huge successes. It’s the foundation of my team’s business model. The infatuation with new technology can create problems for our businesses, though, when we allow the buzz of a popular medium to distract us from what we’re ultimately trying to do: sell more homes.

Technology is useful to our business only when it creates relationships, brand identity recognition or process efficiency, all of which result in more sales and profits. Jumping on every tech bandwagon that rolls through town is easy because it’s interesting. Starting a new project every month is exciting. Doing the same thing over and over, and improving, on the other hand, is boring but effective. The newest model is not always the best.

The same could be said for the kinds of figures we trust for the advice that shapes our careers. Gary Keller preaches a focus on doing the one thing that makes you more successful. That doesn’t have a lot of flash and variety to it, but it clearly leads to great business outcomes. Coaches like Tom Ferry produce successful real estate protégés over and over. The message: Meet people, be organized, have systems.That’s not nearly as much fun as a 90-day business plan to grow an Instagram following, but the track record is clear.

There are a lot of great ways to use technology in real estate and grow a long-term business, but it takes the discipline to stay focused on what the technology will bring to your business model, and not how much you’ll enjoy using that technology. We’re all guilty of getting distracted at times. My own business strays toward online interactions and neglects the real-life connections we have too often. It’s something that real estate pros ought to ask themselves regularly: How will this affect my bottom line?

The frenzy of technology advice for agents can be seen at its best and its worst in the latest conferences and online discussion groups. I recently attended a great tech conference for the real estate industry where a lot of high-quality speakers brought truly insightful tools for us. Some have cut down the time it takes our business to do some menial transactional tasks. Others have allowed us to more quickly make connections with consumers online, and are generating new clients and sales.

Still, other technology speakers drift into Steve Jobs land when we’re looking for a Bob Vila. We’ve all heard speeches that implore us to become a “thought leader,” “disruptive,” or to “curate the scent of our brand.” While refocusing on high-level ideas is useful, the vast majority of real estate agents are looking for a concrete business plan to close sales. The stage at a big venue can sometimes allow us to deviate from our goals and overstate the actual impact this advice will have on our businesses.

The rumble of technology advice on social media is much the same

There are a handful of groups that continually share valuable business-building conversations, technology tips and “best practices.” These are discussions that many of us would not be able to take part in, or even observe, without the social media collaboration tools used to support them, and our businesses are far better for it.

Unfortunately, we also have to filter through the endless comments by the chattering class who freely admit to doing very little business online, but also profess to know which technologies will work best and which ones are worthless. The information is often verifiably incorrect, but it can be hard to see through the frenzied discussions.

There are new media stars telling us every day in which new direction we should take our businesses. Some are truly visionary. Others have no real track record or vision for translating success to our businesses whatsoever.

If you needed advice on how to build a referral network, you’d go to the most successful referral-based agent in your office. Too often, though, when seeking technology advice, we listen to the cacophony of voices coming from folks who haven’t a clue about how to use technology to generate sales. Everyone has an opinion on technology. Only a fraction of those opinions have the credibility to be worth your time.

How can you tell if you’re talking to the right people about your technology strategy?

Ask them how many leads and sales they, or their clients, are generating through their online business. Without evidence of successful sales numbers, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Find someone who is translating technology into clients and sales, not celebrity. Ask about the amount of time and money a long-term campaign will actually take to produce those results for your own business. If it’s not a long-term campaign, it’s probably too good to be true.

In the end, you may find that technology is actually not the direction you’ll take to make your real estate career work. There are still more successful agents knocking on doors, networking, getting on the phone and farming with mailers than those who are truly successful with a primary technology focus. Great success can be found online, but your bottom line happens offline. Stay focused on your goal of selling real estate and find successful processes to model. If technology happens to be the road to fulfilling that business plan, find credible advisers first, then develop the plan to be long-term and specific in scope. All that’s left, online or offline, is to repeat daily.

Shooting quality real estate video on the go with your smartphone

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Video seems to be one of the most difficult mediums for real estate pros to master. While it’s probably also the most effective way to present unique, high-quality content online, the technological barriers and time constraints required to regularly shoot and edit video have always stopped busy real estate pros from taking up the task in earnest.

The value of video to a real estate company or agent with an online brand should be clear

This may be the one format where an individual in a single location is actually more powerful than a national or global company. A portal website with millions of dollars in investor backing can always create bigger websites, more complex graphs, and more in-depth statistical analysis of a neighborhood’s real estate market. “Big data” is clearly the realm of the big portals. What their servers, programmers and salespeople can’t do is walk through your neighborhood, highlight the most important places and sights in your community, and effectively speak to the importance of those locations to local homeowners. A single agent can shoot a video explaining the significance of a new farmers market to traffic and parking in a certain development, and why one neighborhood’s school board seems to be favoring Montessori education while another is trending toward Waldorf. Big data can’t do that.

Recent technology upgrades have made the process of creating quality real estate videos much simpler for busy professionals. While there are certainly instances where a professional video shoot with high-end equipment and editing is appropriate, there are also many instances where a quick, good-quality video will suffice to get informational content out to potential clients on the Web. Since virtually every agent today uses a smartphone, it becomes an easily accessible tool to save time creating quick videos of neighborhoods, tips and educations for clients, testimonials and listings, where appropriate. Video on smartphones has been upgraded radically in the past two years.  Shooting HD video is available on nearly every new smartphone available.

Drawbacks to smartphone videos

The most obvious is the stabilization of the video. A user’s shaky hand is very easy to pick up on a smartphone video. There have been some big advancements in this arena, however, and to effectively shoot stable videos, one of the newest smartphones is necessary. The iPhone 5 has significant stabilization software onboard, which reduces much of the shakiness. The newest Android and Windows phones have developed similar software.

There are add-on apps to take the stabilization further. Luma is one of a few apps that add cinema-style stabilization to your video. The results are dramatic when you consider the source of the video. Shooting video with an extra stabilizer has its drawbacks as well, as moving shots that pan up and down or side to side require the user to move the camera extremely slowly to let the stabilization software keep up with the corrections it’s making. You may want to shoot some faster-moving videos without the extra stabilization, but it really adds a professional touch when used correctly.

Considering that real estate pros are not trained as videographers, there are a few quick things you can do to improve your steadiness when shooting video.  They sound a lot like sports coaching. 

  • Stand tall.
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart or wider.
  • Use two hands.
  • The smartphone should be held horizontally.
  • With both hands holding the outsides of the phone, “pull” the camera slowly with your leading hand in the direction you want the shot to move, while keeping your body still from the waist down. (You’ll find this reduces a lot of your natural tendencies to make other movements.)

Now that you’ve shot a few videos, you need to get them online. Most phones will let you upload them directly to your own YouTube channel with an app. Most pros, though, will want to add voice-overs, music or some sort of editing to the videos. There are a handful of apps available to do this, including Videolicious, which is a simplified video production tool. The app allows you to select a few video clips on your phone, compile them into one video with fade in/out transitions, voice-over the video if you’d like, and add music. There are other editing programs for higher-end production, but the barrier to most agents’ use of video is just the complexity. Videolicious gets you from video clips to a smooth, voiced-over video montage, uploaded to YouTube within a couple of minutes — no need to work on anything but your smartphone.

After uploading to your YouTube channel, you can simply get the embedding code from YouTube’s “Share” options. Add a few hyperlocal videos to your neighborhood page, and see how consumers like it compared to a data-driven page on a portal. Numbers and data are important for research. Emotions, however, drive the actions that people take when buying a home. A neighborhood video, created and voiced by a local agent who truly understands the neighborhood, will generate far more emotional attachment than the next flashy chart.

Personalized buyer letters: deliver to home sellers or toss them out?

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Inventory is scarce. Multiple-offer situations are commonplace. Homebuyers are looking for a way to stand out against their competition.

Most recent advice from the real estate industry to homebuyers pushes personalization. Buyers are told to deliver a nice letter to the seller along with their offer including who they are, how much they love the home, and why they’re the best candidate for a home in this neighborhood. This is all well and good for a buyer whose sole intention is securing the home.

From a listing agent’s perspective, however, the propriety is not so clear. Let’s start at the most basic principle of representing a seller. The listing agent’s primary duty is to act in the seller’s interests, and that means securing the highest financial return while selecting the buyer most likely to complete the transaction and fulfill the seller’s goals.

How does delivering a personalized letter from a buyer to a seller align with those goals?

A buyer’s letter is a piece of marketing, written by another agent’s client (or sometimes by the buyer’s agent). It is an attempt to entice the seller into accepting an offer based on factors that probably have nothing to do with the seller’s needs. The letter is an emotional pull, a tactic to make the seller forget about their bank account for a moment, and make a potentially irrational decision based on a “feeling” about someone they’ve never met.

The listing agent’s job, as an experienced professional, is to clear unnecessary static out of the home sellers’ decision-making process. By delivering these marketing pieces to their sellers, aren’t listing agents creating an undue burden of anxiety and guilt as they overpersonalize the financial decision being made?

When was the last time that you gave $5 at the grocery store cash register to a charitable cause? It was only when the cause was brought up by the store employee and, at that moment, it seemed like a nice thing to do. Either that, or you felt a little bit guilty saying “no.” Nobody just offers up an extra $5 at checkout and asks, “Any good causes you could put this toward?”

It’s the same with the overpersonalization of the home-selling process. A buyer’s letter might make them more attractive because they went to the same university as the seller, it is their first home purchase, or they have a cute baby. Unless the sellers have specifically asked the listing agent to find them a first-time homebuyer, however, this is information the sellers should have not been forced to consider. Selling a home is not a charity act, unless the sellers have specifically asked for it to be so.

The moment a home seller is weighing these new personalized factors, the listing agent has led them astray. While the initial goal of financial return was clear, the confusion of the buyers’ letters multiplies the guilt of the grocery store cashier’s donation request into a potential six-figure decision.

This isn’t to say that a homebuyer’s situation isn’t important. There are all kinds of factors pertaining to a buyer that can influence whether or not they are the best candidate for the home: employment; financial strength; commitment to this particular home; etc.

However, these items can be personally translated by the listing agent to the seller in a clear and concise fashion. Any relevant information that the buyer, or the buyer’s agent, delivers to the listing agent can be broken down and explained to the seller, with the marketing and extraneous information removed. Listing agents have a duty to present all offers to their home sellers — but not all of the attached marketing materials.

To take it a step further, a listing agent might be opening up potential legal issues by delivering certain letters to their clients. A letter may inadvertently suggest a superior candidate for this home or location in a way that seems to identify the buyer as a specific race, religion, gender, familial status, etc. While the buyer may have no liability in this case, by delivering the letter to a seller, the listing agent has now become a party to the dissemination of that material. It can open up the potential for steering or other fair housing violations. At the very least, it is a distraction from the contractual terms that are actually being negotiated, which diminishes the value of the agent’s representation.

To put it simply, the duty of a listing agent is to the sellers’ pocketbooks, and their mental well-being. Listing agents should focus on removing unnecessary emotional hurdles in the process of selling a home. Buyers are welcome to submit personalized letters with their offers (and probably should, as many listing agents won’t heed this advice). In the meantime, a good listing agent should read those buyer letters, and relate only the relevant and appropriate portions to the sellers. This streamlines the home-selling process, allows for clear-headed decision making, and focuses on the home sellers’ ultimate goal of financial return.

Gmail’s spam filter is killing your drip campaign

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Businesses that sell directly to consumers love to automate their work.  Whether it’s a regular postcard blast, outsourced call center, or an email drip campaign, staying “in contact” with a company’s sphere of connections has always been easier when it is scheduled, standardized, and managed in a way that takes as little custom interaction with individuals as possible.

While the lack of unique, personal interaction could certainly be criticized, it’s indisputable that many companies have been very successful at reaching a large audience at a low cost with email drip campaigns.  The “set it and forget it” mentality is attractive to a busy marketing department, and even if it only creates a marginal return on investment, it allows salespeople to feel that they’re keeping in touch with their client base.  Email drip campaigns allow us to reach a larger audience, at a faster rate, with much lower labor and financial costs than nearly any other marketing.

Enter Gmail And Its Ever-Encroaching Spam Filter
Google’s Gmail products are quickly taking over the email ecosystem.  In less than ten years, Gmail went from an invitation-only beta product to the most popular web-based email in the world.  With over 400 million users. the product is becoming ubiquitous for personal email accounts.  It is also the fastest-growing business-class email platform.

In short, Gmail is the prevailing platform for consumers, and any business marketing to consumers must craft their contact plans around the parameters that Google creates.  When Gmail first started, it had a spam filter like most other email platforms.  It picked up a fair percentage of spam, but it erred on the side of caution, letting plenty of bulk mailers and generic content through to the user’s inbox.

More recently, though, Gmail’s spam filters have become aggressive.  Google’s goal is clearly to keep a user’s inbox as clean as possible.  The company has decided that a few casualties along the way are justified when the overall outcome is less spam in the inbox.  This means that a far higher percentage of newsletters, customer update emails, and other drip campaigns are finding their way directly into Gmail users’ spam folders, never to be seen by the intended recipient.

Gmail even obscures the Spam folder from view, far more than an average email platform.  Savvy users will certainly find and check their spam folders intermittently, but it’s sensible to believe that a large percentage of consumers will never take the time to check what Gmail’s filters have deemed unworthy of their inbox.

My company has experienced this directly, as we converted to Google Apps and Gmail for business this year.  My personal inbox is cleaner than ever, but I have over 300 emails in my spam folder from just the past seven days.  A few of those emails were actually useful emails that I wanted to read.  We’ve been sending marketing emails out to a wide range of email platforms for years, but recently it seems that Gmail recipients are finding them in their Spam folders more often than not.

If Your Drip Campaign Isn’t Personalized, It’s As Good As Dead
There are a lot of reasons why a marketer’s drip campaign might end up in Gmail’s spam folder, but one stands out significantly.  Any time a Gmail user opens your email and feels it is a waste of their time, they’re likely to mark it as spam, which sends a report to Google.  It’s the quickest way for a user to know they won’t receive another email from the same address.  The sender’s email address becomes part of a list that is being analyzed by Google for spam tendencies.  If a certain number of Gmail users mark that sender’s email as Spam, those emails begin to get “Spammed” automatically, not just in that user’s account, but in Gmail accounts across the entire network.

That should be enough to scare any email marketer.  It’s not that every spam report will automatically get an email campaign banned, but an email campaign that is likely to drive a high percentage of spam clicks is also likely to be on the auto-spam short list.  As Gmail’s market coverage continues to increase, that’s not a position that any salesperson or marketer wants to be in.

The Customized Drip Campaign
The next logical step for most marketers is to find a way to make a drip campaign send customized information to each email recipient, but also find a way to automate it.  While automation can often be the biggest enemy of personalization, those companies with enough resources and computing power can create highly customized campaigns that will engage customers.  Before starting to create content, the strategy should be framed in a simple way:

Don’t send customers anything that you wouldn’t read yourself.
Ask yourself: “If I send this email to ten of my friends, would nine of them read it?”

In most cases it is too difficult to create standardized content that will appeal to 90 percent of a large customer database.  Drip campaign content needs to be customized based on individual users.  This can come from the recipients’ geographic locations, previous interactions, purchases, or preferences retained in a database.

Real estate listing campaigns are a great example of an easily-customized drip campaign.  Recipients only get new listings, in the neighborhood they prefer, at the price point they’ve specified.  There is virtually zero chance that a potential home buyer will mark their new listing email as spam.  On the other hand, the drip campaign emails titled “Great interest rates”, “Your Real Estate Consultant For Life”, or “Five Star Agent”, are likely headed to the trash bin before the recipient ever sees them.

The same could be said for companies in other industries that send email pitches for products, vacations, or services that the buyer has previously purchased or expressed interest in.  I’m much more likely to open an email on Friday afternoon that advertises a Seattle happy hour for wings and beer than a discount on a spa in Las Vegas.  Larger companies have the ability to generate highly-customized product pitches and deliver them in a short time frame, catering to their recipients’ particular tastes or needs at a distinct moment in time.  This is a huge advantage over the traditional email marketer.

If You Don’t Have A Budget Like Amazon’s, You Need To Truly Interact
Most small businesses don’t have a marketing budget like the companies that create these sophisticated, highly-customized drip campaigns.  The personalization, though, is really the only thing that makes those campaigns superior.

For a small business person, matching that engagement requires a change in mindset.  The goal of a drip campaign is to create contact with your sphere.  The effectiveness of that campaign is only measured in the number of recipients that actually respond, or recognize that you’re attempting to stay in touch with them.

The focus of your emails may need to shift from volume to quality.  Does a potential customer really want to receive a canned statement every 15 days for the next 5 years?  Would they be much more likely to prefer a short personal email at those intervals, or even half that often?

How likely would your customer base be to respond to you if you asked a quick question about their home, their neighborhood, their children, or a vacation they took?  A good salesperson could write 30+ of these emails in an hour.  That’s not as fast as a standard drip, but its effectiveness at generating personal contact would be exponentially higher.  Even asking a person you don’t know well, “How are you holding up with all of this November rain?” is a reminder that you’re a real person, not a computer, and you’re interested in what they’re doing.

It’s Google’s World, We’re Just Selling In It
As technology continues to frame the parameters of our marketing abilities, we have to adapt our tactics to fit the ever-changing structure.  More and more, we’re seeing that consumers don’t like generic marketing, and technology companies are adapting their tactics to fit consumers’ preferences.

Rather than trying to slightly tweak a traditional system, or “get around” the new rules being created, sales and marketing professionals should focus on being one step ahead of the next rule change.  The more custom, unique, and personal our communication with potential customers or clients can be, the more likely we won’t be in the crosshairs of the next algorithm change.

Google Authorship: Get your picture in search results and drive more traffic

This article was originally published on Inman News:

You’ve probably seen more and more pictures of writers showing up next to search results.  Google has implemented an Authorship Markup tool that allows writers to identify themselves to the search engine by linking their online works to their Google+ profiles.  This allows for a blog, article, or website to stand out from the crowded search results with a picture of the writer inserted next to its description.

SamDGoogle

There are a few ways to implement your Google Authorship (Google’s official instructions here):

Method #1:  Use a verified email address with your Google+ account

If you’re publishing content on the same domain as your email address, you can use this method.  For example, if your email is johndoe@mywebsite.com and you’re blogging on mywebsite.com, then the domains match and you can use the verified email tool.  If not, skip to method #2.

Log in to your Google+ account, and then to verify your email, visithttps://plus.google.com/authorship.  Add your matching-domain email address (johndoe@mywebsite.com).  Google will send you a confirmation email, and then add it to your Google+ account’s Work section.

Now, you can just add an Author byline to any content you publish on mywebsite.com.  Simply write “By John Doe”, or “Author: John Doe” in the content, and Google will recognize your name and begin displaying your Google+ photo next to the content in search results.  Every piece of content you publish on that domain going forward will automatically display your photo as long as you add your “By John Doe” author line.

Method #2: Link inside your content to your Google+ profile

Often you’ll be publishing content on someone else’s website or domain.  This post, for example, is hosted on InmanNEXT’s website, which I don’t own, and I don’t have an @inman.com email address, so I can’t use the verified email address method.  I’d still like to be recognized by Google as the author, however.

With this method, you’ll simply insert a link to your Google+ profile with a small bit of extra code.  Most authors will link their name with the author code.  For this article, we’ve inserted the following code:

<a href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/101669415833397825384/?rel=author“>Sam DeBord</a>

This makes the name, Sam DeBord, appear as a link. 

“https://plus.google.com/u/0/101669415833397825384/” is just the URL of my Google+ profile.  What turns it into an authorship tag is adding “?rel=author” to the end of it.  Now, Google knows that the Google+ profile being linked to is actually this page’s author’s profile.

The second step in this method is to add a reciprocal link in your Google+ profile to the same domain.  Go to your profile, select “About”, and then in the lower-right box title “Links”, select “Edit”.  Add a new link in the “Contributors to” section.  In this case, I would add “http://next.inman.com” and Save, since that is the website where I’m contributing content.

Now, the Google+ profile says I contribute to the Inman Next website, and the rel=author code within the Inman Next article confirms that an individual article was written by me.  Those specific articles by me will begin to show my picture next to them in search results.

 

What kind of picture should you use for your Google Authorship photo?

Your Google+ profile photo will show up in search results as your Google Author photo.  Obviously, a photo that will draw attention and attract users to click on the content would be best.

Your picture must be a photo of your face.

Logos, products, scenery, or group shots are strongly discouraged by Google.  Not only that, but Google can tell if you don’t upload a picture of your face.  It’s a bit creepy, but Google will scan your photo when you upload it, and will present a warning message to you if it can’t find a face in the photo.  If you disregard that message and post a logo or other photo anyway, it will not displayed as an author photo.  Change the photo back to a person’s face, and it will quickly reappear as your author photo in search results again.

Since the photo needs to be a face, find a very professional photo that shows up well in a small format.  If you just crop yourself out of your last company picnic photo, your traffic results will be as unenticing as your picture.  Make sure the contrast is high, so your face stands out against the background.  Anything more than head and shoulders is likely to be very unrecognizable in the small size of the search result photos.

Cyrus Shepard at SEOMoz had a great post if you’d like to over-analyze your photo for  all of the different ways you can tweak it to get better click-through rates.  In general, to pick the best photo to get more clicks, you need to think about your audience.  For real estate pros, this probably means that a photo which looks authoritative yet also approachable would be a good choice.

Will the Google Author picture increase my traffic?

In most cases, having Google Authorship photos will increase the click-through rate of search results.  Pictures stand out and add credibility to the content.  In rare cases, though, there is a possibility that a poorly-chosen picture could actually lessen the credibility of the content it is associated with, and decrease traffic.  Choose your photo wisely.

Google likes to know who its authors are.  There are millions of people publishing content every day, and it seems like there are just as many spammers as real writers.  As you build credibility with your Google+ profile and your author tag, Google will begin to recognize you as a reputable, long-standing content producer.

Google has an associated “Author Rank” that will contribute to higher rankings in the search engine’s results as authors become more recognized.  The credibility that you establish, as more and more content is published under your author tag, allows you to get faster and better search engine placement..   This is a tool that should be adopted by anyone who has a long-term strategy of driving traffic by publishing online content.

Diversify your real estate lead sources, or buckle up

This article was originally published on Inman News:

We talk a lot in our industry about the fastest path to real estate leads

Traditional methods of farming one’s sphere of influence and prospecting to increase that sphere are still highly successful when done correctly.  We just don’t talk about them as often as we should, because they require two very un-sexy ingredients:  planning and hard work.  One could say that building a website or a social media identity requires much of the same–there is no shortcut to organically becoming a well-respected entity online.

Far too often, our conversations about lead sources are focused on the easiest and least labor-intensive ways to generate real estate leads.  This, of course, almost always leads to internet lead sources.

 

There is nothing wrong with trying to decrease the amount of labor required to generate a new lead.  Businesses strive for efficiency, and ROI is directly affected by the amount of capital and labor that must be invested into a system to generate a certain number of leads.  The problem that seems to arise more and more often, is that the goal of short-term savings seems to blind businesses to the necessity of having a long-term strategy.  This is especially prevalent in discussions of online real estate leads today.

Your real estate “team” is not involved in professional sports or gambling

Professional sports organizations are highly incentivized to win quickly.  This causes a strategy within many teams that focuses only on having the best possible team on the field right now, no matter the long-term cost.  Some teams will sacrifice the training of younger players and backups, and put all of their emphasis in one bucket:  funding players who are ready to win right now, even if they are older players who only have one or two seasons left in their careers.

This gamble works for some teams.  They win a championship and get the glory.  But even for the teams that win in this fashion, there is a harsh reality waiting around the corner.  They’ll soon be the aging/retiring team with no young stars in-the-making, and no backups with experience to take over.  They’re likely to be one of the famous first-to-worst teams that fall flat on their faces when their short-term gamble runs out.

That’s just the winners.  Other teams’ high stakes bets don’t pan out at all.  The veteran experienced quarterback who was acquired in an expensive transaction blows out his knee.  The team had already cut their best backup QB to make room in the budget. This team’s plan was to ride one single horse to victory, and now there is no one waiting in the wings to lead them.  It will likely take many years, or far more money, to rebuild.

The reason sports teams can make this gamble over and over is that they’re financed by billionaires who can afford to make a lot of huge mistakes.  Coming in last place for them means trying again next year.  You, on the other hand, are not a billionaire.  Coming in last place means pulling your children out of private school or selling your spouse’s new vehicle.  Most real estate agents’ financial well-being is on the hook for another good season, year in and year out.  That’s probably why many of us keep making the mistake of confusing a short-term tactic with a long term strategy.

 

Buying Leads From Online Sources – A Tactic, Not a Strategy

To be clear, I don’t believe that buying some leads from online sources is a mistake.  Frankly, for some businesses, it is highly profitable.  There are a plethora of lead sources, all with varying degrees of quality depending on the agent and the location.  Buying leads can fill a temporary seasonal gap, create a boost for a new business, or be a long-term tactic as a side business to supplement the leads coming from your website, social media, your sphere, and your prospecting.

The problem appears when a business decides that all of its business will be purchased from an online source.  This business has decided that it has no need for a sustainable lead generation model with a predictable cost and ROI, because its current income source is paying the bills.

A business, or agent, that produces no leads on its own, is a business that is crossing a long, narrow bridge in the fog.  The bridge seems strong at the moment, and it is supporting the business’s needs, but the other end of the bridge can’t be seen.  The business person has no idea when it ends, if it ends, or what kind of condition the bridge will be in after travelling further.  If the bridge gets a little narrower, a little more unstable, or starts showing some cracks, there aren’t any contingency plans in place.  Without any other way to continue, the business becomes a powerless passenger who simply hopes that everything will continue in its current state in perpetuity.

That is literally the state of a real estate agent whose entire business is being purchased from a 3rd party online.  A lead source can cease to exist in a single day.  It may be purchased by another company.  Competitors could outbid the agent and take over the leads for that agent’s location.  Lead quality may decline.  Prices can be raised at the drop of a hat, with no explanation necessary.  The number of leads received at a certain price could be changed to the number of “impressions” an ad receives, without any correlation to the previous value received.

If your entire business is reliant upon the service of another organization, and you have no controls in place for cost or longevity, your career will live and die at the whim of your servicers.  Even if you’re selling homes like hotcakes with your current lead source, it just means you’re driving a much nicer car along that narrow bridge in the fog.

 

Build a wider bridge, weather the bumps in the road

On the other hand, those businesses that diversify their lead sources have far more options when one source doesn’t seem to be working out as they had planned.  Not everyone is great at social media.  Knocking on doors will not appeal to some.  Postcards, flyers, community events, blogging, networking, and prospecting are all opportunities that may not be every individual agent’s forte, but certainly a handful of them could be employed by any agent.  Much like investing for retirement, the wider net a business casts in its revenue generation model, the less likely their income will disappear all at once.

When businesses build their own lead generation from the ground up, they create a much wider bridge, with a much longer field of vision.  As agents create an identity online, in their business community, and in their social sphere, they generate a broader path to revenue with long-lasting effects.  The business identity doesn’t cease to exist the day that the business stops paying for a single service.  The persona and knowledge of that business grow and filter throughout that community, often on their own, continuing to create opportunities for lead generation even when the business owner’s foot is not on the gas.  This wider, stronger path to revenue provides multiple alternative lanes for relief if any single path fails.  This is a strategy of not only revenue generation, but also of insurance–of which real estate agents have far too little.

 

Build a strategy in the tough times that will be strong in all markets

We’ve all seen enough of the carnage that our associates lived through during the real estate downturn.  High times encourage many to adopt unsustainable business models that reap quick profits but ultimately have no long-term strategy.  As we finally make our way back into a healthier, appreciating real estate environment, it would be wise to focus on building a strategy today the diversifies business income and creates a durable business model to survive the peaks and the valleys of the real estate cycle.

I’ve had the *fortunate* experience of having survived the crashes of three separate industries in my 20 years of work, and it has allowed me to look at long-term business in a much different way.  However, I understand that this will fall on some deaf ears.  I was also once a young brash salesman who had a single outstanding lead source that made me feel invincible.  The money was intoxicating, the ride was wild, and it ended in a spectacular crash.  I’d hope that my own experience could help others avoid making the same mistake.  But, for those that can’t escape the draw of the quick fix and the fast car, good luck.  Hit the gas, head down that narrow bridge, and enjoy the ride–just buckle up for the finish.

SEO and March Madness: Simple steps to get your website in the ‘Big Dance’

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Every year, a few obscure college basketball teams burst onto the national media stage during March.  These previously-unheralded teams can sometimes out shadow even the biggest basketball programs in the nation.  Their journey from unknown to “Cinderella” media darling, however, isn’t based on luck. College basketball’s postseason tournament has some lessons for any small business that is trying to stamp out a big footprint online.  If you want to compete with the big boys for search engine placement and traffic, you must have a plan:

Know who you are.  Play Like it.  Create an Identity.

A few years back, there was a small, scrappy, disciplined team from Princeton that shocked the world by beating the heavily-favored, over-sized, and supremely athletic UCLA Bruins.  They didn’t do it by playing to their larger opponent’s strengths, but instead by ceaselessly employing their unique advantages.  The team’s identity was fundamentals:  organized play, attention to detail, and never making mental mistakes.  That team’s unique image will be been frozen in basketball fans’ minds for years to come (many of you are picturing the last Princeton back-cut for the winning basket right now).

For real estate brokers’ websites, the same is true.  Before doing any SEO marketing, you need to begin with a solid, fundamentally-sound identity.  Define yourself.  If you’re the Tuscaloosa townhome guy, make it clear.  If your niche is Saratoga short sales, make sure every person who lands on your website knows right away who you are.  Take something as focused as single housing development, and own it. Once you’ve identified yourself, build a solid base of high quality content centered around that identity.  Create videos, blog posts, neighborhood pages, and quality content that focus on your identity and assure your readers that you are the most knowledgable person on this subject and worth their recognition.  Drive it home every chance you get:  this is why I am the expert on this unique subject.

Play outside of your normal sphere to get publicity.

Many smaller schools will play games far from home to start off their season.  They know that within the Eastern Wichita Valley conference, they may never play on national TV.  If they schedule non-conference games across the country, however, the risk of stepping out of their comfort zone can reap them much larger rewards in front of a greater media audience.  For the small fish, national recognition can be scarce but is essential to standing out among the traditional giants and earning a spot in the Big Dance.

For real estate professionals, being seen by a wider group of people can only serve to expand your potential impact on others.  Join discussions in real estate forums by professionals and related businesses.  Share your website’s information with them, and share your knowledge on similar topics with their websites’ readers.  See if you can write a guest post for a local business in your neighborhood, even if their business seems unrelated.  Interact with other professionals on social media.

Broadening your horizons will allow your website, and your business, to be exposed to a larger world.  The more people that recognize your business and your value, the more search engines will recognize you as a unique and trusted source for your particular area of business.

Get some “quality wins” for credibility.

Cinderella basketball teams aren’t created by winning 20 games against lesser opponents.  They need to topple a Goliath or two.   For the small school to truly stand out, the team must have a win that shows they can “punch above their weight”, and lend credibility to their claims that they can play with the best.

Likewise, 10 blog posts/month about the current inventory on the market is a nice steady stream of information, but it won’t make a website stand out as a leader. Find a media outlet that has an interesting story related to your field, and write a follow-up piece for them to consider publishing.  Create a community event that publicizes your business but also generates community buzz.  Call the a TV news reporter with a great story you’ve written and see if they’ll run a story on it.

In short, aim high to mix some big things in with your steady stream of information.   You won’t always win, but the times that you do will reap astronomical rewards for your website’s SEO.  The search engines like to know that you have the credibility to step up to a higher level.

Leverage your team and your conference’s assets

Basketball players don’t make the Big Dance on their own.   They need a team that works together.  They need an organized coaching staff.  They rely on trainers, parents, alumni, and even their conference’s administration to organize, manage, and fund their schedules.  Without these larger organizations giving rise to the team’s publicity, a good team might never even be considered for the postseason.

Real estate pros need help from outside to reach the top as well.  If no one is talking about your website, there is no way for the search engines to find it.  As an industry, we have so many organizations that are there to support us, but we sometimes forget to ask for that support.  Share an infographic on Facebook with your local Realtor organization.  Tweet with your MLS to create more visibility.  Write a blog post for your brokerage’s national brand and collaborate with your associates to generate traffic.Working in concert with the organizations that already support you can do wonders for elevating your profile.  Large organizations carry a lot of clout online.

The recipe for winning is fairly straightforward, but it’s still hard work.

 SEO is not terribly complicated.  Although some might disagree, becoming a winning basketball team isn’t all that complicated either.  They both just require a lot of hard work.  The #1 thing that makes one team or business stand out from its competitors is its willingness to set a goal, stick to a plan, and work tirelessly within a set of guidelines to achieve a specific outcome.

Any small business can carve out a niche and create their unique identity online.  By staking a claim to your expert status, and diligently adhering to your standards and goals, you can beat the big boys for search engine supremacy and successfully defend your unique turf online.

Real estate brokers, fall into line: It’s time to let the MLS lead

This article was originally published on Inman News:

The power balance in the real estate world is shifting faster than ever. Travel titans, search engines, investment oracles and government entities all want to change the way we do business. Most just want to control a larger piece of the pie.

Real estate brokerages are often too focused on their day-to-day business of attracting and retaining agents to give an appropriate share of their attention to the greater direction of real estate. The reasons are fairly simple. Brokerages are deemed successful by their ranking vs. local competitors as opposed to the greater health of all brokers in their region. The ability of a broker or agent to increase sales production and income often comes at the expense of competing agents and brokers, especially in a down market.  This is not necessarily a negative, but the reality of competitive business and our natural motivations in these roles.

Then, there is the MLS. The multiple listing service could be called the referee for our regional activities. Some practitioners love the MLS for its standardization of practices. Some hate it for its plethora of rules impeding their business. Some brokers appreciate the MLS’s creation of a level playing field vs. other companies. Many brokers feel disdain for any organization that seeks to override its regulatory authority.

The nature of these differing opinions exemplifies the strength and value of the MLS to our industry. Whether it’s a parent, teacher, CEO or government regulator, any authoritative entity should wield enough clout to create useful standards. If it lacks the strength to create regulations that benefit its constituents as a whole, it is useless. At the same time, if its decisions lack the support necessary to regulate member policies, it is impotent.

An uncommon position of power

MLS organizations are in a uniquely powerful position in our industry today. The MLS is supported in some way by Realtor organizations, diverse brokerages, volunteer agents, and MLS staff. Their overwhelming strength is the nearly ubiquitous control of our most precious asset in the new media age: the real estate listing.

Think about the biggest names in real estate news today. You’d be hard pressed to name a single one that could drive significant revenue without some attachment to real estate listings. The listing itself is the tangible piece of media that changes an online real estate experience from a puff piece into a consummation.

The primary driving profit factor in real estate-related ventures is the idea of the sale. Interest in real estate media is driven by the current or long-term desire to buy, sell, remodel and live in a home. All other real estate-related media and data is merely window dressing to the sale. Charts, graphs, social interaction and idea boards are just small talk until the real estate listing and the potential of a sale is introduced.

The value of a listing

It’s clear that real estate listings can be used to create great wealth, even for those with no part in the creation of the listing or the sale of the associated property. Publicly traded portals have scraped, copied, subscribed to and been fed listings of every variety to keep their content valuable.  Pioneering brokerages have added every piece of extraneous media possible to their listings to make them stand out. The battle for search engine rankings on individual property addresses highlights the very specific nature of the individual listing’s monetary value.

While investors and technologists have scrambled to gain more and more control over the marketplace for, and dissemination of, real estate listings online, most brokerages have had a less visionary approach. Some have expressed a bit of creativity, but the vast majority have taken a back-seat approach and reacted to the changes as they came. Fearing their competitors more than the changing market, the very nature of brokerage competition seems to have stagnated much of the potential innovative power of the real estate brokerage and its agents.

In the meantime, the technology entrepreneurs within the agent community seem to be leaning more toward unified solutions from MLS organizations. As the power and duties of the MLS have begun to slowly grow, many brokers are balking at the changes out of short-term self-interest. If we are truly being strategic about the long-term agent-centric real estate model, though, all brokerages must take a long look at the need to focus on the strength and value of our listings. We also need to empower the only organization that allows us to provide those listings in a professional and powerful way.

Give the MLS teeth

The MLS needs wider latitude and governance of the creation, display, dissemination and retention of real estate listings. While those responsibilities are technically available to an MLS today, the reality is that large brokerages seek to retain more autonomy by cutting their MLS off at the knees and handicapping its ability to make big decisions.

Brokerages need to allow the MLS the ability to negotiate on our behalf from a position of power. Whether that means negotiating a revenue model for listing syndication, restricting that dissemination, or creating new and creative ways to improve our processes, the MLS needs the flexibility to work as our voice in the industry. Mistakes will be made, but as MLS organizations across the country collaborate over the most effective processes, the efforts will become streamlined and our ability to direct industry momentum will continue to strengthen.

The MLS should be our power broker at the negotiating table with any search engine or portal that wants to profit from our labor but doesn’t feel the need to follow our rules. With all brokerages’ influence behind the same face, we put ourselves in a far better position to negotiate listing standards that benefit the consumer and create reasonable financial concessions where appropriate.

Current listing display agreements with third-party vendors include onerous terms giving full licensing and usage rights in perpetuity to any and all associated companies. Agents and brokers are signing agreements every day that give them no recourse with these marketing “partners” because they believe they have no other other choice. Frankly, because our industry response has been so disorganized, they currently don’t.

The broker must cede more power to the MLS

Brokers will argue that they’re already doing a good job of dealing with listing media on their own. They are wrong.

Multiple brokers forging different agreements with the same portals is like multiple buyers competing for a home. Everyone undercuts everyone else. There is no uniformity of goal. It’s every man for himself.

Brokers provide invaluable services to agents, but those are services of business support, competitive differentiation and regulatory oversight. Whether it’s through marketing, administrative foundation or training, brokers are mercenary business support structures that agents will happily pay to do business with. They are a necessary and hugely beneficial part of our profession. What they are not are unified voices for the betterment of all agents.

Brokers have proven this themselves.  They continue to make private deals with portals to secure advertising positioning over and above competitors.  They’re more interested in usurping their counterparts than creating a clear market picture for the consumer.  That’s a logical business strategy, considering their responsibility is to their agents and their clients.  It also illuminates their inability to be a strong negotiator for the agent community as a whole.

New industry, new rules, new strategy

MLS organizations across the country are beginning to forge new ideas that are good for consumers and profitable for real estate professionals. While brokers grimace, new rules, standards and services offered by MLS organizations are widely appreciated by agents. These organizations have set many regions on the pathway to standardized forms, better consumer advocacy, and liability protections for practitioners.

While thousands of brokerages dangle wide-ranging listing publicity policies around for the nearest takers, our MLS boards are the only organizations that can truly provide a common, consistent voice for the people who actually create those valuable listings — the agent and the client. Whether or not the MLS’s decisions include revenue generation, wide distribution or strategically limited exposure, the MLS needs the support and strength to make these decisions in the name of its members and subscribers.

For our industry’s agents and brokers, we have two clear choices: Concede a bit of our autonomy to strengthen our long-term voice, or continue to claw at each other for that next sale, while our disorganization allows others to determine our direction for us.

Open real estate agent data generates vast new liability for ‘pocket listing’ brokers and agents

This article was originally published on Inman News:

A new twist in the expanding market of pocket listings and private listing associations may start to cause real estate brokers to reconsider their positions on the practices. Scrutiny over “whisper listings” has led to questions of potential financial liability for real estate agents, and their brokers, who regularly involve themselves in these transactions.

A panel last week at Inman News’ Real Estate Connect conference in New York discussing pocket listings showed little difference in opinion on the quality of service being delivered by practitioners who pocket-list homes. The forum participants included many executives from the largest MLSs in the country. The featured broker/agent speakers included Shaun Osher of CORE in New York City, and Danai Mattison of the Mattison Group in Washington, D.C.

Their views on pocket listings were refreshing and unequivocal. Osher was particularly frank. The main takeaway: There is no place for “premarketing” or “coming soon” in an MLS-accessible market. If a home is being marketed in any way, it’s for sale. Limiting its exposure puts an agent’s personal financial gain at odds with a client’s financial return.

Possibly more striking was the conversation with Neil Garfinkel, a partner with the law firm AGMB in New York. In his personal opinion, those who engage in pocket listings are opening themselves up to potential litigation. A former client who felt they were led into a practice that didn’t maximize their financial return, and didn’t fulfill the agent’s standards of duty, will at some point be the bellwether for pocket listing litigation in the industry. Real estate licensee duties can be fiduciary or statutory depending on the state, but almost always call for a high standard of care for a client’s well-being.

While the liability discussion on that day centered on a single former client suing their personal agent, there are a number of much larger issues that seem to collide at this one point. As real estate brokers and agents battle over opening large sets of agent production data to the public, the executives of most of the largest real estate companies seem to be signing on to the idea (Realogy’s and Re/Max’s CEOs concurred at Connect). It’s becoming clear that the dissemination of agent sales data is becoming a question of “how” as opposed to “whether.”

This new look into the practices of real estate agents and their brokerages will allow consumers to see everything their professional service providers do in a new light. Individual sales and practices will be boiled down into averages, probability and patterns.

For the agent or brokerage heavily involved in pocket listings, it may be the biggest liability they’ve ever encountered. The sales production they’ve been touting for years will now be scrutinized against the backdrop of nonexistent MLS-recorded sales. Off-MLS sales, known to be attributed to these agents, will be dredged up from public records and contrasted against similar homes that were exposed to the broader market. Class-action lawsuits and fair housing violations are just the start of the new potential threats that will need to be analyzed by a real estate broker entering this new world of “transparent” production data.

We’ve all heard the flimsy elevator speech as to why certain clients are better served with pocket listings. In reality, anonymity, exclusivity and other past concerns have all been overcome by the newest MLS rules and technologies. Even if those arguments held water for a unique few clients, pocket listings are clearly an unsavory practice when serving the vast majority of home sellers. So what happens when it becomes statistically clear that an agent is advising the majority of his or her clients to limit the exposure of their listing? When a publicly visible pattern of repeatedly pocket listing clients’ homes is now available online, the spotlight on the agent, and the brokerage, will begin to get a bit hotter.

Consider a “boutique” brokerage whose agents, across the board, almost exclusively practice pocket listings. The owner or managing broker of this office will inherently be assumed to approve of, or even encourage, limiting the listings’ exposure. This demonstrably repetitive practice will be available for every disgruntled, poorly served or financially troubled ex-client of the firm. There is a very real opportunity for a group of former clients to bring litigation against a broker, without having to prove the details of an individual transaction. The broker — and its agents — will have digitally written their confession in the form of a long-term record of off-market production statistics.

Fair housing violations have always been considered a potential red flag in pocket listing transactions. When an individual agent pocket-lists, he may or may not be limiting a home from any number of protected classes or groups, but it’s difficult to prove in a one-off transaction.

As open production data surfaces, however, the brokerage that repeatedly limits which groups of the buying public have access to their listings will be under an enormous amount of scrutiny. There will be, without a doubt, organizations dedicated to crunching this data and matching past transactions to buyers and sellers, attempting to determine if a certain class of citizens is being excluded in practice. The potential of being labeled as a fair housing violator should be enough for most brokers to immediately re-evaluate their agents’ policies.

As for financial liability from former clients, the potential runs from painful to career-ending. A single client suing for the refund of commissions paid would be a significant strain on the business. An entire class of clients bringing suit could bankrupt a brokerage in short order.

There’s nothing to say that the financial pitfalls couldn’t be heavier. The amount of equity a homeowner lost in a pocket listing could far-and-above outweigh the agent’s commission. If the client was truly wronged, this loss in equity could reasonably be considered as the amount an agent or broker must recoup for the seller. As the open data pool gets larger, analyses based on neighborhood comps will contrast open market sales and pocket listings, unearthing disparate sale prices and projections of losses (or profits) based on one practice versus the other.

It’s likely that a brokerage with a regular pattern of pocket listings will have a record that shows lower final sale prices than those garnered by comparable homes listed on the MLS. It won’t require a “he said/she said” client vs. agent level of proof. There will be a long-term statistical testimony of a brokerage’s approved practices, the industry’s knowledge of that practice’s deficiencies, and a data-driven picture of the clients’ losses.

Of course, this vast picture of liability could be overblown if the data reveals pocket listings to be a boon to home sellers. While the overwhelming industry consensus casts a great amount of doubt on that scenario, it is possible. Still, there’s far more downside potential to taking that position as a broker. Having your company’s pocket listing practices justified by data merely allows you to continue doing business as usual. If the data turns the other direction, the vultures looking for deep pockets will start circling quickly.

In the end, the publication of agent production data, done in a responsible and ethical way, could force some unintended positive changes on industry practices. If more consumers are advised by their agents and brokers to get full exposure in their local markets, home sellers’ personal financial outcomes will be enhanced. At the same time, an increase in public listings will expand and improve the quality of closed sales data used by brokers, appraisers, banks and others. Raising the level of real estate’s professional practices, improving clients’ returns and increasing overall sales data quality are just a few more reasons the industry is leaning toward a more accessible future.