Behind the gray curtain

Hear the broker cries from behind the gray curtain

 

This article was originally published on Inman News:

You can’t hear James Dwiggins’s screams. We all need to hear them.

Dwiggins is the head of NextHome, a company that works in over 100 MLS marketplaces. Like so many brokerage companies that span numerous states, NextHome’s brokers and agents need similar data and services everywhere they work. They’ll join as many associations and MLSs as is necessary.

In many locations, this isn’t a problem. Standards have been adopted. Data is translatable. Feeds are accessible. Policies are clear.

Then, there are the others.

They reside behind a gray curtain. Here, standards are just a suggestion. There is no black and white, only local discretion. Few on the outside of the curtain ever see what’s behind it.

When Dwiggins’s company enters a new market, he’s often told: “We don’t do it that way. We’re unique in our location. This is how we’ve always done it, and it works just fine.”

So, once again, Dwiggins swallows his frustration and gets to work. He pays people to write new code and get access to the data he needs. He spends time and money getting permissions, setting up custom feeds, translating messy sets of data and tweaking his company’s systems to accept it.

Instead of focusing on growing his company, he’s cleaning up another unnecessary mess.

Much of the industry is unaware of the situation. Most brokers and agents work in a market with one or maybe a small handful of MLSs. The experience is somewhere between “great,” “good” and “good enough.”

Things work OK, and what’s happening in other markets seems irrelevant. So the lack of standards adoption behind the curtain, and the pain it causes for some brokers, goes largely unnoticed.

Don’t tune out

This isn’t a sexy topic. The lack of minimum standards in our organizations, though, is sapping the industry’s efficiency, and your company’s bottom line, every day.

Whether it’s RESO data standards or IDX/VOW policy, when our organizations don’t adopt standards, our vendors are slower. Our tools are less effective. Our information is dated. Our public voice is scattered and ineffective.

Piercing the veil

It’s not just Dwiggins. There are many other brokers whose pain isn’t visible to us. Victor Lund, of the WAV Group, took us on a rare trip behind the curtain recently. It was like a clandestine journey into another place in time, where the faces have been obscured, but the poverty can’t be unseen. Lund wrote:

“I am just completing a project for a large firm who was being denied sales data in 12 markets — all Association managed MLSs with fewer than 500 subscribers. For most of them, a phone call or two cleared up the misunderstanding. The last 4 have been an issue. Two of them do not have full time staff running the MLS or the Association.

“I had to chase down the agent who was the president, educate them on the MLS policy that they have in place (yes, their rules clearly allow for sold data), and help them connect with their MLS vendor to add sold data to the feed (he did not know who to contact or their phone number).

“As it turns out, our broker client will be the first in those markets to have a sold data feed. This is an inexcusable environment for brokerage companies, their agents, and the consumers they serve.” 

Against that backdrop, it would be easy to turn this storyline into a public flogging, to blame the small MLSs and attach some nefarious, self-serving motivations to them. It would also be unfair and counter-productive.

These are good people. They run proud organizations and have dedicated themselves to serving Realtor members for many years. Their intentions are not to stymie brokers.

In many cases, though, as we’ve just heard, the organizations are holding brokers and agents back. Through lack of funding, staffing or organizational directive, they’re impeding not just innovation but sometimes also basic day-to-day operations. They can’t keep up.

We hear it every year. Brokers can’t get the most basic of services from an MLS. They go through every avenue they can, but even their local association doesn’t seem to hear their concerns or understand them. They come to NAR as a last resort, feeling that no one else understands their pain.

Realtor association leaders: We must do better

Technology companies are coming into the industry and outpacing organized real estate with better tools and data. Their focus is exacting and clear, while ours often resides behind a resistance to change, buffeted by this gray curtain of complacency.

“Don’t rock the boat too much. Things are going just fine with the way we do it here,” we say. Dwiggins screams. No one behind the curtain reacts. Few outside hear it.

Selfless reflection

NAR has mandated core standards for Realtor boards. Our association leaders must, in turn, have open-minded, regular assessments of our MLSs and any other services we provide to our brokers and agents.

Start with Dwiggins. It’s the responsibility of a Realtor association to ensure that it is serving its customers efficiently. That means adopting standards, staying current with technology, being aware of policy requirements and implementing them.

If we cannot do that, it’s our responsibility to our customers and members to join forces with an organization that can. Some will flinch at the thought of Realtor leadership actively pursuing consolidation. It’s true that some great consolidation efforts are already happening today.

Consolidation, though, has been happening since at least the 1980s. We still have almost 700 MLSs. There’s no one arguing that an efficient marketplace should have anywhere near that number.

The leaders of our associations and MLSs need to be willing to have a frank annual assessment and ask, “Do we exist to maintain our organization or to serve our members?”

Realtor leaders, from national, to state, to local, have to put that customer-first philosophy in place and take an honest look at whether or not our organizations can live up to it.

There are solutions, through mergers and consolidation, that can keep your association financially strong, while putting your brokers and agents in a more favorable business atmosphere.

Put it on your strategic planning calendar. Talk with those organizations that have gone through the process already. Start the conversation with neighboring associations, with no preconceived expectations, and see where it leads.

The outcome can be beneficial to all. Be open to the possibility of change because it’s the only way we’ll innovate and become more successful for our members. That will be critical in the long-term for helping Realtors see their trade associations and MLSs not as restrictive hindrances — but as beneficial partners.

Sam DeBord is Managing Broker/VP of Strategic Growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth, and President of Seattle King County Realtors. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com