Tag Archives: Real Estate Agents

real estate agents

Culling the lazy, bloodsucker real estate agents

This article was originally posted on The Real Daily:
by Sam DeBord

Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year.

“The consultants are like bloodsuckers. They’re ten times worse than a real estate salesman or broker, ten times, which is saying pretty bad stuff.” This was the biting yet confusing commentary from Donald Trump, a real estate salesman himself, at a recent political rally.

Inside the industry

The shots at real estate agents are coming from within the industry as well. Keller Williams’ Chairman Gary Keller recently said that agents who buy leads from Zillow “are lazy and don’t want to do the work.” Surely many of his top agents and teams who effectively use the leads would disagree.

Zillow’s CEO Spencer Rascoff recently told CNBC that the company no longer wanted to work with agents who weren’t “great” (they don’t spend a lot of money on advertising). So they’ll be “culling” those agents who aren’t up to snuff. While a practical business move, avoiding a term associated with slaughtering inferior or surplus animals might be item #1 for the PR team’s next executive media coaching session.

Real estate classism

Before we get self-righteous about these leaders’ word choices, though, it’s worth noting that this kind of language pervades much of the industry’s conversations on the quality of real estate agents.

There’s no shortage of snobbery and classist speech among agents and brokers.

Just ask a high volume agent how we should raise the bar of professionalism in the industry:
“Raise Realtor dues by 1000% and we’ll lose 90% of the deadbeats who bring us down.”

Talk to boutique brokers about their counterparts:
“That head shop will hire anyone who can fog a mirror. Their agents are bottom feeders who don’t sell anything and make us all look bad.”

You hear it from speakers at industry conferences:
“Let’s use the 80/20 rule. We need to get rid of the 80% of crappy agents who are making us look bad, so that the good agents who do 80% of the volume are the only ones left.”

There are some really important conversations to be had about the quality of real estate agents in our industry. We want clear answers as to how we fix them problem. We want the answers to be simple.

Unfortunately, big answers are often necessarily complex. When we group real estate agents into simplistic silos to try to fix our issues, we do a disservice to ourselves.

Volume does not equal quality

We can all agree that there are real estate licensees without the experience, ethics, education, or conscience necessary to serve their clients well. There are bad apples in our midst. They’re a poison on our reputation and should not be allowed to sell real estate.

Let’s not overreach with our reaction, though. This rhetorical journey usually ends with lower producing agents or those with non-traditional business models being given the scarlet letter and pronounced as a scourge on the industry.

Volume does not equal professionalism or quality. We’ve seen sweatshop practitioners become real estate celebrities, only to later lose their businesses and licenses when their practices came under scrutiny.

On the other hand, some of the lowest-volume agents often have the most experience to with which to guide their clients. Agents who are nearing retirement will often shrink their active client base significantly. The buyers and sellers who work with them are afforded all of the benefits of an agent with decades of experience and insight, as well as a greater share of that agent’s attention.

The client who works with an agent who has only one client at the moment may be the client who is receiving the most comprehensive personal service possible.

Then there are those “lazy” agents who buy leads, or pay fees/splits to others who prospect for them.  Since when was specialization of skill and division of labor a sign of laziness?

Selling vs. lead generation

Admittedly, this comes from my position of personal bias. We’ve brought agents on to our team who were low volume producers before they joined. Most had experience, but didn’t want to prospect anymore. They just wanted to work with clients and sell.

Meet “Jane”. She sold for 30 years before joining us. She is one of the smartest, most dependable, respectful, and effective agents we’ve worked with.

By many counts, she should have been tossed from the industry the year before because she only sold two homes. She sold 15 homes last year, a healthy business in a market like Seattle. It still probably wasn’t enough for the sales police to label her volume sufficient. She’s “lazy” because she’s relying on others to generate leads and focusing on her core skills of selling. She might just be “culled” with the other low-rung agents who provide outstanding service and consistently receive raving reviews from their clients.

It’s more complex than that

To be fair, we’re in an industry that has an unhealthy obsession with sales numbers. I’ve stopped counting the number of times someone asked me, “What kind of volume do you do?” within the first two minutes of a conversation (It almost sounds like “How much do you bench, bro?”). So it’s not surprising that an agent’s volume is often the first metric many look to for a frame of reference. Volume makes a big difference in finding out whether or not an agent is good for your team, your office, and your business model.

Let’s just not let it creep so far into the conversation about who deserves to belong within the greater industry. There are a lot of different business models, and different roles that fit within them. Not everyone needs to be a solo, door-knocking, cold-calling top producer to provide great service to clients.

“Jane” isn’t. Her clients will scoff if you tell them that her volume and prospecting system make her a bad agent. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications.

The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

It’s about education, experience, dedication, and professionalism. Those are difficult things to measure, but improving an industry isn’t supposed to be easy.

Let’s skip the simple labels. They’re part of the problem.

Don’t Go Solo, Tech Bro: Do Your Homework

This article was originally published on Inman News:
by Sam DeBord

  • Someone else already failed at it. Why will you succeed?
  • Real estate is a collaborative business.
  • Look to profitable precedents for true tech investment opportunities.

Picture the scene: “Tech bros” with money to burn surround the table. The disruptor-in-chief is rallying the troops to the tune of nine figures. The pitch is some variation of a model that has failed repeatedly and without exception for decades. “Today,” he states, “we will finally change real estate because we have — technology!”

SoloPro’s enticement of a $1.6 million investment from Lowe’s is just another data point in a long line of over-funded, soon-to-be-failed commission-busters.

That’s not broker-centric hubris speaking. It’s history.

The company’s “nod to the traditional real estate model” by bundling services this week wasn’t just a slide toward traditional commissions. It was the first step in admitting its model doesn’t work. The bluster of “blowing up” agent commissions is a tiresome, thin smokescreen to the seasoned observer.

Tech money is pouring into real estate, but some techpreneurs seem more interested in spending than doing their homework. Many of them need a Real Estate 101 course, with a significant portion dedicated to the history of failed ventures.

Don’t be offended, tech bros — I used to be one of you

I was a techie know-it-all who was appalled by the broker-agent model that dominates the industry. Agents were overpaid and commissions were overblown. We knew tech disruption would rid us of real estate’s high costs and inefficient labor. Then I spent 10 years in the trenches with real brokers and agents, and I saw how wrong we were.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to hear Sean Carpenter speak, you’ve heard that in real estate, “Everything you need to know, you learned in kindergarten.” Having taught a significant number of kindergarten classes myself, I’d like to deliver a few of those lessons.

Let’s sit on the reading rug, clear our minds and start with the basics:

1. Read — read a lot

Find out if your business plan is just a carbon copy of something that’s already been done. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Many smart people have probably already tried it.

You’re saving consumers money by cutting commission costs? See Help-U-Sell since 1976. See the litany of competitors already entrenched in the marketplace and the graveyard of imitators in their wake.

You’re adding technology to increase the commission discount value proposition? See Redfin. Is $200 million in funding enough to reach 3 percent coverage in your primary market? That’s what it took them, along with continually shrinking the discount model.

The vast majority of that money came after the company changed its tone from adversarial to cooperative. So….

2. Play nice in our sandbox

Real estate is a relationship business. Abrasive characters usually find themselves a new attitude or find themselves out of the industry.

You’re not Steve Jobs. You don’t get to be a sociopath in this industry and get away with it. Real estate’s leaders are intelligent, savvy and financially motivated. They also make a lot of decisions based on long-term relationships. That’s not just the old boys’ club. It’s an acknowledgement that being amicable is profitable.

Many of our leaders were once real estate agents and brokers themselves — the smiling, anything-for-my-clients kind of folks. You’re going to have to shake a lot of hands, listen to a lot of different viewpoints and make a lot of friends to survive long term.

3. Build things. Don’t break things.

Disruption conjures images of broken models. Changing the way real estate works doesn’t have to mean tearing things down, though. It’s usually not the best path to profitability.

Our disruptive friends who are hell-bent on breaking everything in sight are often the fastest ones to the exit when it comes to earnings time. We love innovation in our industry, but don’t walk in, kick down the sand castle and tell us how smart you are.

Rather, build innovative tools that help us do business. Look at who’s actually generating revenue in this industry — listing advertising portals, productivity app developers, transaction management platforms, e-signature providers and so on.

Although some of these companies are still operating in the red, they’re at least hanging around with revenue long enough to establish themselves.

Brokers and agents have money, and they’ll spend it. Innovate and bring us a product we want to buy.

4. Follow the rules (as much as possible)

You’re entrepreneurs, so you’re naturally inclined to break the rules. Feel free to bend the rules of formality, tradition and stagnant thought. Just don’t ask to join the group and then pretend that you didn’t read the rules.

You can be a unique snowflake, but if you stand on your desk and throw rocks, you’re probably going to fail.

You could prove me wrong.

One of you will break all of the rules and be successful. I’ll let you buy me a drink and tell me all about it when you get there. But for most of you, building cooperatively is an easier path to profits in this industry. It has lower hurdles and more successful precedents to follow.

Innovate, but research first. Ask a broker why it won’t work. Take the advice seriously.

Then get busy building something that will loosen up our pocketbooks. History, and your investors, will look favorably upon you.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth and President-Elect of Seattle King County Realtors. You can find his team at SeattleHomes.com and BellevueHomes.com.

Lenders: How To Meet More Realtors (Without Making Us Cringe)

This article was originally published on The National Real Estate Post:

Lenders and Realtors are salespeople. Most of us are paid on commission. We need to do two things to be successful:

  • Meet new clients to broaden our customer base
  • Provide superior service to retain those clients and their referrals

Lenders need to meet Realtors and attract the business of their clients. The methods most use to do so are antiquated:

“Check out my rates and programs!” “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” “Let’s grab lunch and talk about your goals.”

Talk to any Realtor who has been in the business for a few years and they’ll cringe when they hear these pitches. It’s not that we don’t like lenders. It’s just that we don’t have time to waste on repetitive requests for business with no reciprocal payoff. We get them almost daily and they rarely have any differentiation or offer of new value.

Do you want Realtors to see you as a partner and a respected expert? Join your local Realtor board.

You want Realtors to see you as a peer, a knowledgeable professional in the industry. By joining the Realtor board, supporting its committees, and showing your dedication to the profession, you’ll gain acceptance with your local Realtors.

Teach classes through your Realtor association’s offices. Write articles for their websites, newsletters, or magazines. We need to know what’s happening in the lending world, and you need to be connected to the issues we’re facing every day.

Realtor boards are looking for unified support from the real estate industry. Realtors themselves are looking for serious, professional lenders who will educate their clients and be trustworthy partners in their businesses.

So stop trying to get Realtors in their cars, one at a time, to meet you at a coffee shop or café. Go meet them en masse, on their turf, at their request.

The relationship you make will be based on respect. We’re salespeople, too. We know a pitch when we hear it, and we’ll choose a valuable partnership proposition over an “ask” for business every time.

Open Door PartnersInvite Us Into Your Offices For A Safety Check-in

Getting us into your office might be difficult. We do everything virtually these days. There is a way to get agents to stop by your office, though, without even having to ask.

Sign up your office with Open Door Partners. You’ve probably heard a handful of stories in the past year about agents being assaulted, kidnapped, and murdered on the job. That’s because they go meet unidentified prospects at vacant property locations.

They need convenient offices near properties to meet these unknown clients. If their broker’s office isn’t nearby, maybe your office is.

Agents are using our nationwide online map of lenders, title companies, and broker offices as locations for quick safety check-ins. Sign your office up at Open Door Partners, and if an agent in your area needs to meet a new client in your area, they can stop in at your front desk for the meeting.

It provides you an opportunity to give something of value to a real estate agent, and meet them face-to-face while they’re working in the field. It costs you nothing, but creates and opportunity for business—and improves the safety of your industry partners.


Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord is a managing broker with Seattle Homes Group and Coldwell Banker Danforth. He is 2016 President-Elect of Seattle King County REALTORS® and has been featured in Inman News’s Top 101 In Real Estate and the T3 Swanepoel Group’s Top 20 Social Influencers. His team sells homes and condos in Seattle and Bellevue.

Raising the NAR: Sink ships or float boats?

Lack of real estate agent professional competence: it’s a perpetual topic of industry conversation. Marginal agents have been called the #1 threat to the agent sphere in the recently-released D.A.N.G.E.R. Report. “Raising the bar” in real estate is the prime focus of one of the largest agent-led groups online.

bar

Missing the mark on raising the bar

While the industry professes to want improvements in agent competency, tangible progress is inconsistent. Franchisers, brokers, associations, MLS’s, and licensing boards control the barriers to entry and sustaining licensure in real estate. These organizations are primarily driven by the inertia of their need to sustain revenue.

Raising the bar for the industry is widely accepted as a necessary goal, but few have the motivation to fund it.

This paradox was particularly evident at NAR Annual this year, with the debate over making ZipLogix a nationwide member benefit. NAR would spend $12 million per year to provide the transaction management platform to all of its members. The funds would come from NAR reserves.

ZipLogix for all agents?

Proponents of the deal spoke of the long-term benefits to Realtors:

  • Keeping the real estate agent at the center of the transaction
  • Protecting the data of Realtors from outside vendors
  • Recruiting the almost 1 million non-Realtor licensees into NAR

These were all important points in guiding the financial and technological strategy for the organization. There was also a significant undercurrent in the discussion, though, about raising the level of membership professionalism. Financial and competitive issues aside, it was implied that this service could improve the competence of the members who currently don’t use transaction management software.


 

Efficiency and professionalism increase

There’s an argument in favor of the deal, simply for this cause. By getting the vast majority of real estate agents on board with a platform that will increase their efficiency, it could improve the professionalism of their interactions with clients. Theoretically, better tools could boost the image of a Realtor in the eyes of consumers, one transaction at a time. Each time a client closed an efficiently-managed transaction with a tech-savvy agent, NAR’s broader image would be enhanced to the buying and selling public.

That’s a lofty goal, but one that shouldn’t be dismissed simply because of its difficulty.

Spending money on the lower rung

The flipside is that most successful agents are already using software that improves their transaction management, document management, and e-signature processing. There are a plethora of tools that competent agents already pay for on a monthly basis and use consistently in their businesses.

This is a clear duplication of costs for this group. The implication for them, and their brokers, is that money is being spent on those members who aren’t willing to step up and commit themselves to better tools and service. They see NAR spending money to raise the level of competence of its lowest-performing members. The top performers will continue to use the tools they currently have, while carrying the water for the rest of membership.

We often hear in these circles that this strategy doesn’t actually improve the image of the organization, but preserves its lowest rungs. It focuses on those who can’t, instead of embracing those who can and do, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

There are strong arguments for both sides. Does a rising tide really lift all ships? Can we raise the bar in real estate by bringing up the baseline of all agents?

Taking out the weakest links

Or, should NAR be torpedoing everything that’s a drag on the top line of our industry? Does the industry, and NAR, ultimately only improve when focusing resources on those who can lead a smaller successful core of agents toward a higher level? There is plenty of rhetoric about significantly increasing the costs associated with membership and shrinking the population to put more business in the hands of the purportedly more capable bigger producers.

A board divided

With the stated goal of recruiting many of the 1 million non-Realtor licensees into the fold with the ZipLogix deal, it seems that the current leadership is leaning toward the rising tide. NAR’s directors voted two-to-one for the proposal. But that is a highly divided board, compared to the nearly unanimous approval that most proposals receive by the time they get to the directors.

This is a discussion that has to be central in the search for NAR’s ideological future. Is it in our best interests to focus our resources on increasing the population of members from its current slate of 1.2 million? Will that increased membership have the resources to improve the level of real estate agency services nationwide, or will it dilute the organization’s focus and lend less resources to its best and brightest?

Getting off the fence

We certainly have the ability to provide different services to distinct groups within our membership. But choosing to bifurcate our mission to both a bottom-up and top-down approach means we’ll be less successful at both.

Float more boats or sink more ships? Let’s decide, let’s say it out loud, and let’s put it on our flag, so everyone on board knows where we’re headed.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 president-elect of Seattle King Country REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and BellevueHomes.com.

Could the Supreme Court put an end to open house signs?

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Key Takeaways
  • A recent Supreme Court ruling threatens agents’ ability to display open house signs.
  • Municipalities will be reviewing sign codes and may remove real estate exemptions for expediency.
  • The ruling allows exemptions for compelling state interests, and real estate signage has been cited as supporting Fair Housing laws.

Open house signs dot the sidewalks on a weekend morning — it’s a sight of familiarity for our clients and our businesses.

Based on a recent legal ruling, those signs might disappear in short order.

That’s unless Realtor associations nationwide step up quickly to help their local governments identify the language in the ruling that supports open house sign exemptions in sign codes.

The town of Gilbert, Arizona, recently took a sign code case all the way to the Supreme Court. The town’s ability to regulate the content and manner in which temporary directional signs are displayed is at issue.

The Supreme Court ruling

In short, the court ruled that any sign regulation must be content-neutral so as not to deny free speech. A city can impose restrictions on size, type and placement of a sign — but not the message.

If a city employee has to read the sign to determine whether it complies with municipal regulations, then the regulations are not content-neutral. Therefore, the regulations are unconstitutional.

What does this mean for municipalities?

For decades, Realtor organizations have worked with local communities to craft reasonable sign codes. These regulations allow for responsible placement of open house signs that support consumers, real estate practitioners and their communities.

The Supreme Court ruling will force every municipality with a sign code to re-evaluate their regulations and decide whether they’ve granted exemptions that don’t pass the content-neutral sniff test.

If they currently grant content-based exemptions, they’ll likely see two basic choices:

  • Grant the right to place directional signs to everyone, regardless of content. This means the hardware store, the adult novelty shop and the liquor store can all place A-boards wherever an open house sign can be displayed.
  • Throw out all of the sign exemptions. Don’t allow any businesses to display any directional signs, including open house signs.

The second choice will likely be viewed as the easier, cleaner solution. Legal advice is currently going out to towns across the country asking them to review their policies, and many will lean toward the fastest solution.

There’s one caveat in the ruling, though, and it applies directly to real estate signs. If the content regulation is being applied in pursuit of a compelling governmental interest — and narrowly tailored to that end — some content exemptions are allowed.

The Supreme Court and Federal Trade Commission have, in the past, cited real estate signage as an asset to federal fair housing. These signs create non-discriminating access to housing and are supportive of the Fair Housing Amendments to the federal Civil Rights Act.

Why sign codes for real estate?

Cities create sign codes to limit sign sprawl. If every shop on every street is allowed to drop A-board signs around the block, a city’s rights-of-way quickly become cluttered and unmanageable.

Sensible sign regulations allow for business advertising while still keeping to the community’s desire for an attractive image.

Most businesses don’t require directional signs. They’re in a static physical location, with a permanent address, and they can be found fairly easily by consumers searching them out.

Real estate open houses, on the other hand, are dynamic in location. Each weekend they change, and consumers are led by temporary directional signs to properties that might otherwise not be located on residential streets.

One could say that Internet advertising and GPS-enabled apps have all but removed the need for open house signs, and most consumers find the homes they’re searching for on their computer or phone.

That’s a bit of a myopic big-city view, however. There are still many people who find homes through traditional means, and there are also those who don’t have regular access to online resources.

What would real estate look like without open house signs?

Would the lack of these signs significantly affect the industry? The first and most obvious change would be the reduction of the marketing opportunity to agents.

Agents often base their businesses on the ability to meet new buyers at their listings as well as neighbors who will be future sellers. Without signs on the street, the casual open house visitor might never stop in.

Serious homebuyers will usually find a way to view the properties they are most interested in — open house or not.

But agents who’ve used open houses as a significant source of new clients via the lookie-loos who happen across a sign in the neighborhood would see a drop in business.

And there are still plenty of home sales that happen when buyers walk into a home that they had no idea they’d love until they stepped inside at an open house.

FSBOs vs. sign codes

There would also be a potential benefit to organized real estate. Licensed real estate agents who belong to an MLS might take a firmer grasp on the volume of listing inventory. The open house sign is currently a neutral marketing platform, open to homesellers — licensed or not.

With FSBOs unable to advertise their own open houses through neighborhood open house signs, market exposure of properties on the MLS might become a much bigger value proposition. The FSBO seller would have fewer ways to garner consumer attention and likely be more inclined to list property with a licensed real estate broker.

Safety and fair housing

Realtor safety and homeowner safety might increase with fewer unknown open house visitors. The idea of the open house itself is bizarre to most outside of the industry.

Professionals invite complete strangers into the home of a client who isn’t present. There is a multitude of opportunities in these situations for bad things to happen to the agents or their clients’ property. Fewer open houses might result in better security in general.

On the other hand, fair housing efforts are supported by open house signs. Protected classes and groups who might not have access to certain real estate marketing information cannot be discriminated against when a physical sign invites all comers in a geographic location into a home for sale.

There is still a sizable portion of the population that does not regularly engage in online activities or does not have regular access to the Internet. Physical signs can engage these consumers no matter their social and economic status.

Saving the signs

The fix for the real estate industry is straightforward, though it will require much legwork and expediency. Municipalities don’t like to open up their sign codes. It’s a tedious process.

Their inclination when faced with the SCOTUS ruling will be to throw their hands up and throw all of the signs out. Rather than let their communities be cluttered, they’ll toss out the exemptions.

Education now, before the decision-making processes come about, is necessary to let these municipalities understand their options. The key is to engage local officials before the fear of lawsuits arises.

City councils and their counsel need to know that there is a compelling interest in allowing exemptions for real estate signage:

  • Open house signs increase local home sales, the rate of sales and revenue collection for municipalities.
  • Open house signs improve access for all citizens to housing and support fair housing and non-discrimination efforts.
  • Municipalities can continue their narrowly tailored exemptions based on this content.

City and county governments don’t want to be tied up in lawsuits, which is why their first inclination might be to take all exemptions away. Unfortunately, that will likely create more litigation from real estate organizations that rightfully wish to keep their current signage rights.

By pre-emptively engaging and educating local leaders with this information early, we can preserve the ability to advertise open houses without opening the floodgates of rampant right-of-way signage.

Many thanks to our Realtor staff, volunteer leaders and housing specialists in providing the background for this post.

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.

Make Connections, Reduce Risk

This article was originally published in REALTOR Magazine:

Our guest editor Sam DeBord looks at how today’s hyperconnectivity has widened business opportunities and created networks of spaces to keep agents safe on the job.
SEPTEMBER 2015 | BY SAM DEBORD

Connections are the currency of our industry. Our professional development and financial success depend on our ability to connect with customers and industry friends. I had the honor of serving as guest editor for this issue of REALTOR® Magazine and learning how the staff links so many of us with the information we need to stay relevant. For years, I’ve contributed online pieces to the magazine working remotely (I’m a managing broker with Seattle Homes Group-Coldwell Banker Danforth in Seattle). Spending time with the team helped me develop a deeper understanding of the publication and a more solid camaraderie with the people behind it.

Technology has allowed us to develop global online connections at breakneck speed. We discuss, argue about, and laugh at our industry with peers we may never have met in person. By the time we share a beverage at a convention together, we’re old friends. I’m excited to build on those connections when I attend my first NAR conference in November. In the convention preview, you’ll find compelling ideas from several conference speakers about how to always be innovating in our business—a kind of sneak preview of the San Diego meeting’s educational highlights.

While today’s hyperconnectivity has vastly broadened our business opportunities, the exposure may also be making our work more dangerous. Our characteristics, habits, and daily routines are available online to anyone who would profile and target us.

This reality hit home when Arkansas agent Beverly Carter was murdered a year ago. In recent years, real estate practitioners have also been murdered in Washington, California, Michigan, Texas, and Ohio. Assaults on our colleagues are being reported regularly. These events snap us collectively back to the reality of our occupational risks, but the concern doesn’t last long enough to instigate broad action.

But some initiatives are underway to change the mindset. The REALTOR® Safe Harbor program is growing in Arkansas, with members sharing their office spaces so people can meet safely. Iowa REALTORS® are taking a safety pledge committing to checking IDs before every showing. At Open Door Partners, we’re compiling a nationwide map of broker, lender, and title offices to make safe agent check-ins easy. Learn more at MeetMeHereFirst.com. These are in addition to NAR’s expanded safety resources available at realtor.org/safety. But all these efforts will be merely lip service if we don’t commit to them.

Let’s go to this year’s conference ready to learn, to be challenged, and to be inspired. Let’s focus on making connections and sharing, not on brand rivalries and office politics. Let’s keep the well-being of our friends and colleagues top of mind. Then, of course, let’s have fun. The REALTOR® Magazine team and I will see you in San Diego.

Sam DeBord

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

Trulia-Zillow fiasco reveals disjoint, opportunities in real estate agent reviews

This article was originally published on The Real Daily:

Remember when there was no MLS? Neither do I, but legends of those real estate dark ages paint a grim picture. Brokerages each held their listings closely, and consumers had to go meet with each of them individually at their offices to try to cobble together a mental picture of the total market.

It was disjointed, full of misinformation, and detrimental to not only the consumers’ needs but also the efficiency of the market.

That’s where we are today with agent reviews

There are no standards, no structured cooperation, and little overlap or sharing. Plenty of companies are building their own review platforms, but they’re almost all proprietary boutiques. The platform builder wants the consumer to use its review tools, but doesn’t want its competitors to have access to those reviews.

Home buyers and sellers are asked by their agents to write reviews for them—on Yelp, Realtor.com, Zillow, (formerly) Trulia, and any agent matching service where the agent would like to appear relevant. Our clients don’t want to jump through these hoops, and they shouldn’t have to. It’s inefficient.

A clumsy attempt to clean up reviews

Zillow is flexing its muscle in the review space because it currently has the best single-location, quick, verified review platform. When it merged Trulia’s reviews into its own platform, it decided that a large portion of Trulia’s reviews had not been verified, and likely could have been gamed by the agents. They were tossed out without notice to the agents.

The act was clumsy, and the backlash from agents who’d lost their reviews was swift. The mea culpa came almost as quickly as Zillow offered to retrieve the purged reviews for any agent who requested them directly. They would not, however, be appearing on the newly merged Zillow/Trulia review platform.

All sites should verify legitimacy of reviews

While the company tripped over its industry relations in the conversion, the strategy of the purge is still a step in the right direction for real estate agent review standards going forward.

Every review platform should be following guidelines that, at a minimum, verify that the client and agent actually worked together. A company that intends to inform the public on the quality of real estate agents’ services should be intently focused on making sure those reviews are real, via mutual admission, property identification, and other means.

Zillow should be praised

Zillow should be commended for pursuing that verification. While real estate listings are gaining nationwide structural standards with RETS, reviews are just beginning the process of setting standards. Just as big of an issue, though, is that portal reviews are just that—single location reviews. Realtor.com reviews can’t be exported or integrated into Zillow’s review platform. Reviews on Homes.com can’t be integrated into the Yelp profile. It’s the same situation on almost every other portal or agent rating website. They don’t speak to each other.

Ironically, the technology companies who built portals to egalitarianize the consumer listing space are now building walled gardens of reviews to bring back the disjoint of the pre-MLS era.

Each proprietary system hopes to force more consumers into its own custom sandbox. They’re funneling buyers and sellers back into the “meet me at my office to see our exclusive listings” mode.

Good for competition, bad for the consumer

While that may be a good business decision in terms of competition, it blunts the progress toward true consumer visibility of broad agent reviews. Buyers and sellers see a small, skewed version of an agent’s reviews on portal websites, with each one portraying a different picture than the last.

Consumers won’t review us on all of the sites necessary, so we get a sprinkling of reviews here, and a dash of reviews there.

All hope is not lost

There is hope, though. As portals up the bar in terms of review verification, companies likeRealSatisfied and Quality Service Certification continue to deepen our view of the kinds of quality standards that are possible on a brand-agnostic level. If standardized requirements for legitimate reviews become common practice, we may be able to cross-reference reviews on different platforms.

Each website could combine reviews as a whole, or at least reference the agent’s reviews from multiple platforms, side-by-side. The ability for a consumer to see our reviews on Yelp, Realtor.com, Zillow, RealSatisifed, etc, in one place, would be a huge boon to consumers’ ability to see who’s really keeping their clients happy.

I hope NAR will lead the charge

I’ve written before than NAR should be the driving force to make this allegiance happen. Even if it doesn’t take shape that way, tech companies in the review space should continue to develop products with these standards in mind for the good of consumers as a whole.

Agents may have experienced some hassle with the Trulia review losses, but that’s nothing compared to many more years of asking clients to do us a favor in a disjointed, time-intensive manner.

If we can improve the verification requirements for reviews, and agree to communicate cross-platform with those who adhere to those standards, we’ll be doing a great favor for ourselves and our clients.

#AgentReviews

It’s REALTOR® Safety Year, and there are no more excuses

This article was originally posted on The Real Daily.

September is Realtor Safety Month. It’s traditionally a time for us to reflect on the physical dangers of our occupation, and then get too busy to make any changes in our businesses. We forget about the issue until the next year, when we’ll reflect again on our associates who were robbed, assaulted, and murdered.

2015 has been different, though. There are a number of brand new causes making real headway for Realtor safety that have the potential to logistically transform how we do real estate sales.

This year, we’re going to remember

So let’s get to the point with what you can do, and why you can’t ignore it any longer:

Remember when Vivian Martin was murdered in Ohio showing her listing?

If you have broker friends like Vivian, they’d benefit from everyone signing on to a policy like that of Iowa Realtors. The Realtor safety pledge, to always meet new clients at an office or verify ID, could alter consumers’ view of how we do business. If it becomes standard practice, it could keep many of our associates out of harm’s way.

Remember when Mike Emert was murdered showing a vacant home in WA?

If you had a friend like Mike, you would’ve wanted your Realtor board to join a cause like Realtor Safe Harbor. State boards across the country are starting to endorse this idea of sharing our office spaces for the mutual safety benefit of our members. It’s putting safety before competition.

Remember when Ashley Oakland was murdered in a model home in Iowa?

You probably have agents in your office who could benefit from safety awareness training. Create a supervised environment for agents like Ashley to work in, and give them the training necessary to avoid dangerous situations.

Remember when Sarah Anne Walker was murdered at a home in Texas?

Agents like Sarah Anne who work with buyers would benefit from a number of smartphone safety apps. She could have gotten a scan of her murderer’s ID and known if he was a long-time criminal before going to that home. Better yet, she could have scared him off by just asking him to text over a picture of his ID before going to the appointment.

Remember when Ann Nelson was murdered in Wisconsin showing a home?

If you have co-workers like Ann, they could use any of NAR’s recommended safety timers, devices, and even jewelry that alert others when they are in distress. At the first signs of trouble, these devices save valuable minutes in getting help to our friends.

Of course, we all remember Beverly Carter’s murder in Arkansas.

You can do something as an individual business to prevent that kind of crime from happening to an agent you know. Sign up your team for Open Door Partners and let agents use your lobby, instead of an empty home, to meet unknown clients.

Realtor safety is a difficult topic to sustain. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not driving dollars into our businesses. It is, though, at the heart of what we do. Real estate is a people business, and if we don’t make our agents’ and brokers’ safety our top priority, we’re just burying our heads in the sand.

The danger is real, and when it hits home, no amount of sales volume can make up for what we’ve lost.

2015 is Realtor Safety Year. Let’s remember this year. Let’s take action.

#RealtorSafety

Zillow + dotloop: Raising the bar or boiling your data?

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Zillow’s acquisition of dotloop has generated quite a commotion this week. Let me try to summarize the fast-moving conversation:

  1. Zillow’s paying members might get a nice product in dotloop. Initial statements note that Zillow will be “making it available” to agent advertisers (we’ve yet to hear whether that’s at a discount or for free).
  2. Zillow is no longer “just a media company.” I’m sure Zillow Group staff members are as tired of saying it as we are of hearing it. The company’s main revenue source is still advertising, but with dotloop it’s now fully integrated into the real estate transaction from start to finish.
  3. Owning a transaction management platform used by many different brokerages seems to preclude Zillow from becoming a brokerage, unless they either dump that platform or all of its customers.
  4. Dotloop’s data on transactions in nondisclosure states could give Zillow a unique data advantage in those locations.
  5. Big brokers and franchisors are about to get a lot of questions from their agents using dotloop.

Big congratulations are due to Austin Allison, dotloop’s founder. He had the smarts, guts and work ethic to make something huge happen at a young age.

I remember when he called me years ago trying to make connections with our local MLS members. The founder was just Googling brokers and calling. That’s grit.

On to the outlook:

Raising the bar

Agents already have too many vendors to deal with. If Zillow can streamline services and bring more agents into the present with transaction management and e-signatures, it’s good for the industry and consumer experiences. Big money backing a tool can drive down the costs on a per-user basis.

Agents who are buying advertising on a long-term basis are, in one narrative, the agents who have enough money to do so because they’re productive. The more those agents improve their practices, the bigger effect on the transaction pool.

The combined technology could also allow customers to track return on investment (ROI) from lead to closing, something not often seen in a single platform.

Although some brokers track leads from the source to the CRM to the transaction management system, most don’t track it at all because it’s just too time-consuming. The synergy here, from an analytics standpoint, is attractive.

On the other hand, those points are difficult to hear over the dull roar of “Zillow’s going to have my clients’ personal information and all of my transaction data?!”

The data is the deal

When Trulia bought Market Leader, that deal concerned brokers and agents. The advertising portal might have access to their leads, their prospecting lists — their entire CRM database.

A CRM is a pittance of data when compared to a transaction-management platform. The hard data available from a platform like dotloop has not only client names and information, but forms, contracts, signatures, transaction milestones — all the way down to documents that might point to transactional situations that only the key members of the transaction knew existed.

Keller Williams has more than 80 percent of its agents on the dotloop platform. Other big franchisors have massive adoption as well.

Forget for a second about the agents who squawk at anything to do with Zillow.

Every other agent using dotloop will now be asking himself or herself, “What is going to happen to my clients’ data?” They’ll be asking the broker who supplied the system to them.

Dotloop’s terms of service, at the time of a well-publicized conversation about data rights with the California Association of Realtors, looked like this:

“You automatically grant, or warrant that the user content owner has expressly granted, to us (dotloop) a worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable and transferable right to license to use, reproduce, distribute (and) create derivative works …, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, and publish your user content in connection with our services.”

That blank slate should be enough to make you choke on your coffee. That’s not an indictment of dotloop. Your licensing attorney shoots for the moon on the first set of terms, and then waits for the customers to push back.

Many folks signed on to dotloop under these terms and are pointing to this past version of the agreement to say that Zillow will now be able to do anything it wants with your transaction data, but it appears that the concerns of CAR and others warranted changes.

Here’s what the dotloop’s website says today in terms and conditions:

“You own your Content. In connection with your use of our Services you may submit documents and other content (“your Content”) to the Services. Subject to ownership interests of third-parties, you will retain full ownership of your Content. We don’t claim any ownership to any of your Content. These Terms do not grant us any rights to your Content or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services … We will not knowingly share or allow anyone to access your Content other than as we describe in our Privacy Policy. It is yours and we work to keep it that way.”

For those who worry about Zillow seeing your data: Zillow will be able to see your data. It seems that, at least for now, though, Zillow would be limited significantly from using the users’ content in any advertising.

Whether the raw sales data could be melded into the market analytics that Zillow uses to display sales data is a bigger question.

In nondisclosure states including Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, (parts of) Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, public data on real estate sales is primitive, and Zillow could get a leg up on its competition with this new trove of sales data.

Slow boiling the frog

For my cohorts and I in the tinfoil-hat-wearing, we’re-losing-our-data and the get-off-my-lawn crowd, I think there was a simultaneous shaking of the head and a chuckle when the acquisition was announced.

Imagine if CAR hadn’t pushed back and dotloop’s original contract was still in place when Zillow had acquired dotloop’s customer base. All of the users’ data would not only be visible to Zillow, but licensable to the highest bidder for public advertising.

That doesn’t seem to be possible now, but the terms and conditions usually change when ownership changes take place, so this will be something to keep an eye on.

We’ve been here before. Syndication was no big deal because it was easy. A direct data feed from the broker or MLS was faster. “We’re supposed to negotiate Fair Display Guidelines in the data agreement? We just want to get the home sold.”

All the while, brokers were the proverbial frog in the pot. The water was warming just slowly enough that we didn’t jump out with our data. The potential repercussions were ignored in the pursuit of the comfort of another transaction. We were busy selling.

So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise when the data aggregators expanded their reach straight into our transactions. Agents reacted vocally, but our data was already being reused in new and profitable ways by the day.

Zillow used agents’ profile information in advertising campaigns to draw traffic to its website. They’re defending, in court, the position that agents’ photos of sold listings not only don’t belong to the agents, but they can also be used in unrelated marketing campaigns.

Agents or their brokers often probably gave these permissions when they didn’t pay attention to their data agreements.

We’re all guilty of clicking the checkbox and saying “I agree” without reading. It’s not that our service providers are vindictive. They just don’t think that we care, and we usually prove them right. They keep turning the temperature up, and we just sit in the water and hope it doesn’t boil.

Peoplework with boundaries

Our problem in real estate is that we’re so people-oriented that we sometimes allow personal trust to overrule our instincts to verify. We like the people at dotloop and Zillow.

Peoplework is the dotloop mantra, and it’s wonderful, but it can’t exist in a vacuum. We can’t ignore the boundaries that have to be framed around our businesses just because we like the people with whom we work.

Your former clients’ master bedroom can already be used in an unseemly advertising campaign. Something more personal might be next.

Companies change. Management changes. Terms and conditions change.

We need to pay more attention to the protections we give to our clients’ data as an industry. We can forge agreements with vendors without having every modicum of our data rights gutted by their attorneys, but it can’t be done on an individual level. We need leadership to provide a unified voice.

Let’s all take a step back and reset our expectations of data rights with our vendors before diving, head down, into the next transaction.

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.

On-demand showings: Uber-like innovation or bait-and-switch?

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Showings on demand: They’re all the rage in real estate tech innovation right now. Everyone is crying “Uber,” and on-demand is the latest amplifier.Hobizbo and Redfin introduced their pitches this week. Curb Call andAgentPair are already working in this space.

The idea is simple. Consumers want their transportation, their food and their shopping to happen instantly. They have been trained to expect that the best tech companies will deliver the results they want faster. From a tech mindset, home showings are a natural next step.

Connected, organized, integrated showing systems have great appeal to our industry. The marketing of these systems as on-demand showings, however, muddles the picture. Consumers who buy into the marketing might just be swallowing a bait-and-switch — hook, line and sinker.

The hook: On-demand

“Instant appointments, instant offers, instant gratification.” That’s the sales pitch of one on-demand outlet and the allure of the term. The hook makes a consumer think that it might take a few minutes for the agent to get to the house, but on-demand must be faster than calling another agent.

If a company has a lot of agents out in the field who can respond to these showing requests in short order, it could be an improvement for the efficiency of showings.

There’s opportunity here for big brokerages and offices. There are also dozens of reasons why it might not the best way to conduct showings for sellers, brokers — or even the buyers themselves — but that’s a separate conversation.

This is about lead generation and conversion. Getting consumers to believe homes are available on-demand is enough to garner their contact information. That’s goal No. 1 in lead gen.

It’s also enough to make consumers believe they don’t need to call anyone else. Because they’ve already input their on-demand request, they’ll feel comfortable waiting for that company to fulfill their request instead of calling around until someone answers. That’s a big win for lead conversion.

The line: Schedule your showing time

The scheduling feature of showing systems is a step in the right direction — on its own. If we can standardize the systems and make them available to more markets, we’ll be improving our workplaces and consumer satisfaction with the process.

There are some other showing software tools that allow buyers to schedule showing times with agents as well. As long as a consumer is notified responsibly about the likelihood of seller constraints and lead time before a showing is likely, this is good for real estate.

The more we can electronically organize a showing between two agents, two sellers and two buyers, the better all of our experiences will be.

Tech companies should be applauded for their continued improvement of the streamlining of scheduled showings.

The sinker: Reality and consumer trust

Brokers know most homes are not really available on-demand. Listings can have restricted showing hours or require that the listing agent accompany the buyers at the showing.

They have occupants, guests or children who are home. They work night shifts or just don’t pick up the phone to confirm a showing time. Often we have to wait for a listing agent to receive our call, call their client and relay the message back again that the showing time is OK.

Giving consumers the impression that on-demand showings are our standard practice — as opposed to a fortuitous, infrequent occurrence — is more base than innovative.

Like the ads that say, “I’ll sell your home in 90 days, or I’ll buy it!” Let’s not obsess over the questionable sales pitch as if it has changed the dynamics of the transaction.

Anyone who has worked in real estate for a significant amount of time knows that the majority of our showings require more than getting an alert from a buyer and running for the door.

If we’re totally honest with consumers, we can offer them the ability to schedule an appointment with the caveat that it might not be available.

A system that integrates the sellers’ schedules and seamlessly contacts sellers, buyers and their agents to streamline showings would be a huge boon to most real estate markets.

On the other hand, on-demand holds a flashy treat out to the buying public. When consumers order it, half of them get their two-day-shipping Amazon Prime packages delivered four days later.

We know that’s what will happen when we advertise on-demand. The question for brokers is: Are we willing to offer something we can’t deliver for the sake of getting the lead, and then apologize later?

In real estate, there’s no such thing as instant gratification. Let’s not pretend there is and confuse our customers in the process.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of 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.