Tag Archives: national broker public portal

Will RPR fears hold back industry vision for Upstream?

This article was originally published on Inman News:

  • Upstream provides the model for broker-led data management, but the expense of RPR worries brokers.
  • Data management isn’t free. Brokers need to spend to keep up with portals.
  • Inaction based on past failures will only deepen brokers’ loss of control.

Broker conversations about data today usually take on a grim tone. That was the case when I recently moderated an industry panel of MLS and broker executives. The topic was the future of organized real estate, and the conversation was filled with worry that we (the broker-centric world) had lost the ability to manage and profit from our data.

Brokers and agents create the bulk of real estate’s valuable data sources, and then promptly give them away. Technology companies use the data, with few rules attached, and drive the majority of their revenue with it. They charge brokers to advertise adjacent to it.

This sentiment isn’t new, nor is it unique. It’s been around since the first portal website started charging for advertising. The message’s volume has been steadily growing, though. Its simple truths haven’t become any less true.

So when our panel’s conversation moved to the potential of Upstream to right the power structure in the world of real estate data, one would imagine the tone would turn aspirational, hopeful, or determined. It did not. While the concept clearly addressed our biggest concerns and drew significant approval in theory, the outlook was met with skepticism and distrust.

Skepticism’s roots

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a rare instance. Many of the industry folks whom I speak with about Project Upstream begin their conversations with wariness. There are well-founded concerns about the ability to bring such a diverse group of real estate companies together to make the project work.

By and large, though, the fears keep coming back to RPR.

Let’s get the bogeyman out of the way: RPR has cost the National Association of Realtors more than $120 million since its inception. That’s about $120 per member over its lifetime.

New annual expenses for RPR are around $22 million. They’re included in members’ dues (the Second Century Initiatives include RPR, HouseLogic, Real Estate Today Radio, .realtor domain, and eProperty data, at a cost of about $25 per member annually).

Maintaining RPR is a significant expense, one which many brokers feel is too large. It was built to be a revenue-producing tool, and it hasn’t become that. Although many Realtors across the country love and use the tool, adoption rates are still far too low.

Lack of access to MLS data in certain markets hamstrings its ability to provide profitable analytics products (its initial revenue model). Border wars between MLSs, brokers and vendors have created a maze of roadblocks to its adoption.

Moving forward

That $120 million is a sunk cost. It’s gone. RPR has been a failure so far as a revenue producer.

But it’s pivoting. We built a powerful tool, not realizing at the time what its most useful application would be: It’s ready to plug in to the data dashboard that brokers have been clamoring for.

The hottest topic at industry conferences is the desire to take back the management of our data. Unfortunately, many of the speakers get gun-shy when the tools are laid out on the table.

Ignoring how conspicuously RPR fits in to the model of broker-led real estate data management is playing the small game. Brokers are emotionally scarred by past ventures that didn’t go as expected, but we can’t let that drive us into a perpetual state of stagnation. If there’s one thing we can guarantee, it’s that marketing portals won’t be sitting still.

We must demand that RPR is run efficiently in the future as a facet of Upstream. The $20 million a year price tag is a big ticket, though it pales in comparison to the $50 million quarterly losses that advertising portals are taking on to secure a larger portion of the digital real estate pie.

The opportunity to shift the landscape of the industry’s data management isn’t free. Our leaders have to be aware of past mistakes, but not let them paralyze our will to take strategic risks.

After venting fears about RPR, our industry panel had one final related question:

“Considering that data management is the primary concern we’re voicing at the moment, is downplaying Upstream because of questions about RPR a signal that we’re OK doing nothing? Will we be sitting here next year with the same issues, or worse, if we don’t at least attempt to support Upstream?”

There was no answer. That’s because, frankly, we all knew it was the case. Our industry has many intelligent leaders with legitimate concerns about the path going forward. But the inertia of inaction in real estate is often scarier than the uncertainty of change.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth and 2016 president-elect of Seattle King County Realtors. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.

Zillow’s Agent Finder, Winter Lull, and The Wide-Open Future of Online Real Estate

This article was originally published on Inman News:

I had just finished writing a post about the lack of interesting consumer innovation this winter in real estate. Then, along came Zillow’s Agent Finder. It’s exactly what you’d expect: an attractive, easy-to-use interface that lets consumers see agents in a geographic location based on reviews, listings and past sales. Of course, there are also some spots up top for agents who are paid advertisers.

Are there holes in the data? Absolutely. Will consumers care? Probably not. Agent Finder feels like Yelp for real estate; it allows for positive and negative reviews, without interpreting the company’s financial success. Yelp makes consumers feel comfortable that even though they might not have all of the available information, they have enough to make a good decision. That’s the feeling Agent Finder might give to real estate consumers — comfort that they’ve been able to make a good choice, even if all of the choices might not have been present.

Agent Finder will still present an inaccurate profile of some agents because of the lack of comprehensive sales data, but it will do so with less antagonism than the stark ranking via production data that we saw in the past with Redfin’s Scouting Reports or NeighborCity’s scoring system. Much of the agents’ past sales data has to be manually input, ensuring that we’ll have a picture that’s skewed toward the Zillow-friendly agent. That will likely boost agent adoption of the platform. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Agent Finder will draw out the agent pitchforks in the way past ratings systems did. It will still have some agents justifiably upset at the way they’re portrayed.

Having been on the advisory board for realtor.com’s AgentMatch, Find A Realtor and NAR’s Realtor Ratings Committee, there’s a simultaneous feeling of frustration and admiration watching Zillow build a tool like this. We have the membership and the data to make it happen through NAR, but we move cautiously for our membership. Most tech companies ask forgiveness instead of permission.

There’s still an opportunity for NAR to build a more comprehensive, broker/agent-supported platform for Realtor reviews. A more robust database can win in the long run, but the consumer mind share for reviews is hard to get back after a certain threshold has been reached. Zillow is climbing that ladder quickly.

The business rundown

The business side of the real estate Web has been volatile. In just a few months, Zillow swallowed Trulia, realtor.com upended the new Z-appendage for the No. 2 traffic spot, and NRT started unearthing its much-misinterpreted Flanker project. Upstream and the National Broker Public Portal are gaining steam.

In 2015, if you utter any version of “Company X is here to stay” or “You can’t compete with Y,” you’re voted off the island. That mindset is so not real estate. Real estaters are the fiercely independent, never-stop-striving, scrappy Rocky Balboas of sales. The day our industry becomes pacified followers is the day a website should take our jobs away from us.

Captain Obvious: “Remember when we used to wear watches? And when realtor.com and brokerage sites dominated search rankings? Hahaha. That’ll never happen again … unless by some crazy chance there are genius billionaires who invest in technology and real estate.”

The strange thing with all of these investors making it rain in the real estate club is that the true innovation on behalf of consumers has felt somewhat stagnant for months (the new spring exception being Zillow’s Agent Finder). Everyone is increasing their ad spending, but few are building something that will make the average consumer say, “Wow! I bought/sold a home in a measurably faster and better way.”

The more traditional, complex and investment-heavy these top real estate outfits get, the more difficult they’ll be to overcome by joining the financial arms race. There’s so much good money being thrown after bad right now, though, that there seems to be plenty of space for smaller investors to do something unique and succinct at a reasonable price for consumers without trying to out-gorilla the big boys.

Project Upstream and the data integrity projects under the same idea umbrella have serious legs now. The non-geek crowd seems to finally be noticing that fair display guidelines and feed agreements are important. Unfortunately, many boards and brokers have been so deafened by their screaming agents that they missed out on this opportunity for real guidance when they signed the first portal feed agreements that were thrown in front of them. If you don’t know whether you’ve signed away the rights to your clients’ interior home photos in perpetuity to a marketing portal, you need to go freshen up on these topics.

The cultural reach

“Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate” was the best consumer real estate entertainment this winter, and it’s being quoted every 1.3 seconds by a real estate reporter. It’s strategic genius in terms of marketing and public relations. If there’s one thing Zillow knows, it’s consumer attention.

The book’s takeaways are pop culture shareable trivia like those in “Freakonomics.” There are a mix of interesting insights, such as how to pick the next up-and-coming neighborhood. There are also some cringeworthy statistics-turned-sound bites that you’re going to undoubtedly hear at cocktail parties in the future.

One such revelation: The words you use in your listing description can cost you money. “Luxurious,” “impeccable” or “spotless” in a listing description results in a higher-than-expected sale price on average, while “fixer,” “TLC” and “investor” point to a lower-than-expected price. The Zestimate is the “expected price” that you’re probably asking yourself about, which is as appropriate as calling a child with an American Girl doll an “expectant mother” — but I digress.

Captain Obvious: “So you’re telling me that when the real estate agents, who actually saw the property, specifically tell us what condition the homes are in and use words that mean good condition, it will result in higher values than words that mean poor condition? Genius!”

You can’t fault Zillow for playing the statistical click-bait game with the consumer entertainment topics. The reusable content is pure gold for media relations and will drive traffic and brand building. Just ask Buzzfeed. It’s less attractive when easily refutable statistical analyses are lazily used to suggest policy changes, such as restricting the mortgage interest deduction.

The hopeful future

The National Broker Public Portal hit its initial funding goal of $250,000. The prognosticators will say it’s an insignificant number; that if the portal can’t match Zillow or Move in funding, it can’t compete — poppycock.

Name whichever company you’ve attached the term “disruptive” to this week, and ask yourself if it became successful by outspending gigantic traditional competitors on advertising. It’s true that the NBPP has a long way to go in attracting consumers, but outspending others on advertising is a lost cause. Delivering a proprietary, crystal-clear tool to consumers, on the other hand, makes organic growth just one good idea away.

Ask Homesnap. With what looks like less than $10 million in total funding, it’s a top five consumer app that wants to drive its growth by joining with brokers and MLSs — much like NBPP would like to do. Homesnap is leveraging agent/broker/MLS connections to build support from the industry floor upward. In the markets where it has signed up seven of the nation’s 20 largest MLSs, as far as consumers and agents on mobile are concerned, Homesnap’s MLS app is the MLS.

The silly little tool that lets consumers snap a picture of a home and pull up its data is just a gimmick based on GPS and a gyroscope, right? It couldn’t be that Homesnap is building an unmatched database of millions upon millions of photos, taken by consumers, of real estate with GPS coordinates and public records data attached. There’s no way to compete with the biggest boys without hundreds of millions of dollars. Nothing to see here, move along.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth and a director for Washington Realtors and Seattle King County Realtors.

Upstream & The National Broker Public Portal: Unearthing, Creating Super-MLS Data Layers

This article was originally published on Geek Estate Blog:

Upstream, Broker Portal, and MLS DataProject Upstream aims to become the defender and gatekeeper of brokers’ real estate listings nationwide.  The National Broker Public Portal intends to provide a nationwide display of data that puts brokers at the controls.  The former is not intended to exclusively fuel the latter (though it seems like a match made in heaven–more on that later).

Upstream is not an MLS and will not replace the MLS’s co-broker, commission, and professional standards roles.  Its creators do not intend for it to be public-facing on its own.  It’s intended to feed many portals with standardized data.

Upstream and the National Broker Public Portal are projects about advertising online to the real estate consumer. Accurate data and fair display guidelines are important to brokers.  Based on consumer traffic numbers to certain portal sites, consumers don’t seem to care as much about the same issues.

Brokers need to achieve their goals by creating their own vision of perfected data display, while simultaneously building an attractive platform that consumers will not only approve of, but proactively search out.

Differentiation on a level that consumers can easily and quickly understand will be key to gaining a significant market share at a price that’s attainable.

To differentiate in the consumer space broker projects need unique data layers that are only available to brokers.  They can create them by:

1) Reworking the proprietary data they already have, or

2) Generating entirely new layers of data that accompany any new listing that enters the marketplace through their gateway.

Unearthing another layer of current listing data

When we say the portals have “access to MLS listings”, we’re really talking about just a small subset of listing data.  Portal advertisers show the basic listing data, and surround it with other data from publicly available sources.

An Upstream-type gateway could require its members to give broader access to their listing data fields in return for being a part of this new unique consortium of data providers.  By allowing more data fields into this sole repository to become publicly displayed, a preferred portal that is allowed to display this data can claim a truly unique identity.

Just one example of data that might be leveraged for unique consumer content:  keybox history.  The preferred portal might be able to display:

  • The number of showings for a property
  • The rate of showings
  • The days in which the property gets the most activity
  • Aggregated showing data across neighborhoods and cities
  • Heat maps on Sunday traffic for house hunting
  • Which neighborhoods are trending upward
  • Which ones are lagging and have better potential for discounts on prices

That’s just one facet of listing data that’s currently behind a shroud.  We could think of another half dozen in an hour.  An initiative to expose this kind of data on a single website would have immediate consumer impact.

Creating a New Layer of Super-MLS Data

If an Upstream-style project really gained ground as the starting point for listing input, why not give the option, or potentially the requirement, that new listings on this data source add new fields that might not have existed at the MLS level before?

Imagine requiring every single listing entered on Upstream to include a legal description, a floorplan, a permit history, or a 3D-model of the home.  Think of the value of a Super-MLS layer of data that added the kind of consumer-viewable documents and features that can’t be found anywhere else online and can’t be reproduced through public data sources.

Of course these things would have legal and financial ramifications, but the point is not that the examples given are the specific answers.  The answer itself might not be apparent today, but the ability to provide a listing with a totally unique display layer, one that isn’t available to any other advertiser, is riveting.

Why would it work?  The company inputting the data has 1 million data entry staff members.  

Agents are the data creators.  Even a well-funded portal’s engineering army is a fraction of the size of the agent masses creating unique content on a property-by-property basis.

When the data gatekeeper becomes the de facto starting point for the industry, whatever new layers of proprietary data have been added to the listing input fields will become the standard of operation.  The listings could still be fed to MLSs for B2B/IDX/co-brokerage functionality, while a single consumer portal which is allowed to be the sole national display vehicle for these new layers would be able to hammer its opponents over their heads with this Super-MLS listing data.

Get To The Point Or Go Back To Work

The conversations we’ve had about portals selling our data back to us have been long on what brokers want.  They’ve always been short on how to realistically get those things in a consumer advertising market, which is far more important.

If brokers want to create better data, and display it in a superior way, they should focus first on who will pay attention.  Ask what new things can be done with the proprietary data they already have.  Add on a layers of new proprietary fields and make them a feature or a bonus for the agents who input them–an opportunity for their listings to stand out, not just to do more work.  Create a reason for consumers to fund the project(s) through traffic going forward.

By unearthing hidden listing data and creating new Super-MLS layers, you might just have the kind of data that consumers can’t get enough of and that a portal could benefit financially from in a big way–and that’s where the data creators start taking their leverage back.

Sam DeBord is a former management consultant and web developer who writes for for Inman News and REALTOR® Magazine. He is Managing Broker for Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and a Director for WA REALTORS® and Seattle King County REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.

The National Broker Public Portal: Simplicity, Differentiation Are the Paths To Success

This article was originally published on Geek Estate Blog:

Simplicity - Broker Public Portal
Image via Heinz Marketing

There has been a lot written about the possibility of a national Broker Public Portal for real estate–probably too much, for a project that’s nowhere near being off the ground yet.  Still, the idea rallies the spirits of many brokers, so it has legs.

The hurdles in front of the project are massive, and they shouldn’t be ignored.  They should become the focus of the project.  Its success will not be driven by trying to overcome them, but finding a way around them.

A member-led organization funded by part-time participants will always be severely hamstrung when competing against investor-fueled public technology companies.

Drew highlighted many of the obstacles to BPP’s success, some of which would call into question whether the project is even worth beginning.  Some of the best (synopsized):

  1. Once the 7.6-12.5 million is invested (initial website build), what is going to be invested going forward and where is the money going to come from?

  2. Is there a defensible moat that would make this an interesting business?  Up to date listings is not enough by itself.

  3. Technology providers in the real estate industry can build technology – but that doesn’t correlate to a great consumer product.

1. Let’s start with the money.  BPP would be best to accept that it will not outfund the Zillow Group.  It won’t outfund News Corp/Move, either.  It has to do something nimble, simple, and creative that doesn’t require building the massive, complex technical project that the big 3 (or 10) already have created.

2 . Up to date listings are a key differentiator, but they are clearly not enough to stand on their own.  They should be a big component of the value proposition, but building the next attractive bauble that draws consumers to the site will be necessary.

3. Real estate industry insiders are not consumer software developers, by and large.  They shouldn’t attempt to become better at building a complex nationwide product than the portals.  They could hire a team to compete but, that again would be oppressively costly if it were done at a competitive level to a Move/Zillow team.

So, don’t start building what has already been built.  Create the next zestimate.  Find that little shiny object that makes a consumer say “I want this.  I’m going to show it to my friends.  They’re going to want it, and we can’t get it anywhere else.”

What do brokers, and real estate insiders, have access to that public portals do not currently?  How can that be molded into an attention-piquing, conversation-starting, unique proprietary product that draws massive consumer-initiated traffic organically over time?

Think Drudge Report.  Think iPhones opening keyboxes.  Think On-Star in your vehicle.  Start out with a wide open mind to what your industry has its tentacles attached to, and then find niches that no one else has yet exploited.  Stick to simplicity, and draw traffic based on the unique assets you create.  Don’t try to build every restaurant in Manhattan at the same time.  Just build the delivery service that gets food to the consumers more quickly.

There must be dozens of great, simple, scalable product ideas that could be derived from a big group of industry trailblazers, based almost wholly on the technology they already own.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t already have my own.  Having access to broad, clean data will be ultimately important.  Continuing to build the structure of the BPP organization will be necessary, but developing a product that’s unique enough to be worthy of such a grand support structure should come very early in the process.

The process of building a national broker public portal will be slow.  For it to get anywhere, the participants need to be motivated by more than fear.  They need a visible, unique, attractive product to unite behind.  They need a project that seems financially viable.

Consumers don’t adopt portals.  They use tools.  Whether those tools provide entertainment, news, education, or efficiency, the brands that provide the tools consumers value get their loyalty.  By developing that simple, nimble idea for a tool or product that differentiates BPP’s brand value first, it just might have the vision that gets brokers and consumers jumping on board in quick order.

Sam DeBord is a former management consultant and web developer who writes for for Inman News and REALTOR® Magazine. He is Managing Broker for Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and a Director for WA REALTORS® and Seattle King County REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.