Tag Archives: Realtors

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.

The Millenial Mortgage Myth

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

Millenial Mortgage MythMillenials, if we’re to believe media revelations, are an information-empowered generation that seek less human interaction. They don’t need a real person to guide them through financial transactions. They simply want devices and software to automate the processes for them.

There’s plenty of truth in the cavalcade of hype surrounding technology’s influence on consumer behavior. The connectedness of our devices causes us to become more disconnected from the need for interpersonal service. Young consumers who grew up in an atmosphere where it was easier to ask Google than grandma have been trained to seek the efficiency of an application over the advice of a trusted advisor.

The fascination with this mindset, though, becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. Millenials crave efficiency via technology, the media locks in on that generational persona, and businesses cater more and more to removing the human interaction from their services. The snowball keeps rolling downhill, growing in size and speed.

Not All Technology Is Gain

Sometimes, though, everyone loses when we cater to the preconceived notion of efficiency through automation. There are many processes that are improved by diminishing the level of personal interaction. In other cases, the human experience, knowledge, and flexibility that’s only possible through direct interaction is necessary to deliver a quality experience.

That has been our experience in the mortgage financing world. As real estate agents, throughout our careers, we’ve interacted with mortgage lenders. They’ve proven to us, and our clients, that they have the skills and responsiveness necessary to make our transactions run smoothly. We’ve built up a level of trust with our most qualified lenders and those of our associates.

We recommend a list of these professionals to our clients because we understand the alternatives. We’ve seen the bad actors in lending. We’ve watched transactions go sideways. We’ve experienced fly-by-night operators and inexperienced rookies who botch transactions that put home buyers and sellers out in the cold. We know how expensive, painful, and inconvenient mistakes in the mortgage lending experience can be.

Technology has improved much of the processing and underwriting functions of modern mortgage companies. But as much as we love technology’s influence on the efficiency of our industry, we often cringe at attempts to use its influence on the selection of a mortgage lender.

Online Reviews: A Risky Selection Criteria

We’ve been told that millennials trust reviews as much as they trust advice from their friends. While online reviews are great for easily described products on Amazon, in today’s climate, they’re a poor way to judge a mortgage professional. Much like how real estate agents game the online review system for oodles of five-star reviews, mortgage lender reviews are a wasteland of trumped up data. The vast majority of lenders have no reviews on any given platform, so consumers are choosing between a select number of marketing-driven review profiles.

Most consumers don’t know this, though. Younger consumers trust reviews, so they trust Yelp. They trust Zillow and LendingTree. They trust whichever app has helped them buy the best bike accessory or webcam. It doesn’t work out as well for mortgage providers.

Anecdotally, we’ve had three recent transactions where our young buyers did their own research online and selected a lender of whom we’ve never heard before. These lenders came highly recommended from online review sites, so they were selected over our preferred lenders.

None of them closed on time. Twice, we had to “save” the transaction with one of our preferred lenders at the last second.

Our situation isn’t unique. Sit down at a real estate conference and ask a group of agents how they feel when a client selects a lender based on online reviews. The overwhelming response will be a groan. We’re not suggesting lenders to our clients for any sort of financial reward or kickback. We make money, and we make our clients happy, when transactions close according to plan. That’s our only incentive in guiding the lender selection process.

So the next time an app developer, industry consultant, or mortgage company owner says that we need to distance the personal connection of the lending process more to enable millennials, push back. That may be what they say they want, but we know better. Sometimes the best referral is done with a phone call to a trusted adviser.

Don’t believe the myth that millennials don’t need our personal advice. Get in front of your clients’ lending education process early, and explain the gaps in the information available to them online. Reinforce the importance of working with someone who has a track record and level of experience that everyone involved in the transaction can trust. Don’t give in when your clients say “I found a great lender on Yelp.” They’ll thank you for it later.

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.


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.

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.

Justify Your Existence

This post was originally published on Realtor.org:

Changes in technology are creating questions about the future roles of real estate associations, MLSs, and brokerages. As a result, REALTOR® association leaders have been increasingly focused on defining our value to members.

A good friend of mine, who was an engineer at Apple, used to recount Steve Jobs’ version of this value-seeking process. He’d walk into a room of employees and yell, “Justify your existence!”

Maniacal as his temperament was, his goal was focused and strategic. If an employee or an organization can’t succinctly state the value it creates, it won’t be able to justify its existence to its constituents.

Building Justification for REALTOR® Membership

Here in Washington, we’ve been working at the local and state level, along with NAR support, to create a framework for delivering concise messaging that sells the value of REALTOR® membership to real estate licensees. The tacit compulsion of membership for MLS access is a benefit to some markets, but every association needs a non-MLS value proposition as well.

Seattle King County REALTORS® have been working with a communications consultant and creative agency for the past two years to develop a messaging platform for REALTOR® value. Our work may be of value to other boards seeking to improve their engagement with membership, so we’d like to share it with any of our interested counterparts nationwide.

Our associations need an elevator pitch that quickly and succinctly educates members as to why they are REALTORS®. That requires boiling down all that we do into soundbites that are relevant to members.

Segmenting the Value Pitch

While a general elevator pitch for membership can be a good starting point, a more focused set of pitches segmented by audience improves engagement. Our members are diverse in their backgrounds and their roles. They’re also bombarded by advertising messages every day. Crafting narratives that specifically address each of their needs has been the focus of our rebranding (see nwrealtor.com).

segmenting the value pitch


Government affairs and political advocacy are arguably the most important roles that the REALTOR® association serves in the industry. Brokerage owners and managers usually agree. They’re focused on the big picture of a healthy real estate market for their agents.

Delivering news about legislative wins, as well as legal or political threats, is an effective way to engage to this constituency. Company owners regularly tell us that they simply want to hear about how much money we spend on advocacy, and how well we’re doing. They want us involved, and focused, on government affairs.


Example: “Through advocacy, the REALTOR® Association protects brokers and their agents from onerous financial, legislative, or legal barriers and allows them to build their businesses.”


Real estate agents, on the other hand, are much less likely to be swayed by the value of political advocacy, and I’ve found they’re often turned off by it. The engaged faithful of our REALTOR® associations are, of course, dedicated to these causes, but most agents are simply focused on sales. It’s our job as involved association leaders to keep our focus on their sales as well.

Real estate salespeople want to sell more homes and take home larger paychecks. An association has to be able to show them how we help them do that. If that’s through advocacy, it has to be directly and visibly linked to the agent’s paycheck.

Member benefits, education, and legal guidance are all services that improve an agent’s bottom line, and that’s how they need to be messaged to the member. If it makes the member more money, state succinctly how it does.


Example: “Our association provides the business support tools and financial protections that allow REALTORS® to sell more homes.”

Seasoned vs. New Agents

The services we promote to our members can be focused on those who will be most likely to use them. New agents need business building education and informational support for learning the framework of the industry. We’re focusing messaging for new members on just those items.

seasoned vs new

The classes that are most valuable to them should be specifically offered to them when they join the organization. Benefits like discounted services, technical support, and a legal hotline need to be immediately promoted to new members to create the first impression of value. An explanation of the direct financial impact of our advocacy efforts on their paychecks will set the tone for their view of REALTOR® membership for the long-term.

Seasoned agents, on the other hand, may need to be reminded of these services, but are also seeking a deeper level of knowledge. They need education about expanding a successful business, building a support team, selling a business for retirement, or becoming involved in leadership.

seasoned vs new 2

Messaging to this group should be significantly different than to a brand new member. Seasoned agents are more likely to have been through an upturn-downturn cycle and be more receptive to the advocacy pitch. It will still need to be focused on their bottom line.

Selling, Not Telling

The overriding theme of the communications audit and creative agency work we’ve done is that we are a sales organization. Seattle King County REALTORS® is selling membership.

selling not tellingAssociations often fall into the mode of telling membership what we’re doing. We talk about our organizational processes. We give annual reports and committee updates. These rarely break through the rest of the marketing noise that our members are faced with every day.

Every time we touch a member, it should be with a sales mindset. Each phone call reinforces value. Every e-mail subject line says, “Open me up because it will benefit your business.” Every dues billing says, “This is why you’ve chosen the value of membership.”

That mindset has been a shift for our board and our staff, but it’s one we’re embracing because it focuses us on our future viability. No matter what technological changes face our industry, if the REALTOR® association is providing clear benefits that our members can see, we’ll continue to thrive as a trade organization.

Our board has spent a lot of time and resources going through this process, but we believe it has been well worth it for our members and the organization as a whole. If your board is going through the same process or would like to engage in it, feel free to contact us. Refocusing our communications by engaging membership with segmented, sales-oriented messaging can benefit any local or state organization.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth. He is 2016 president-elect of Seattle King County REALTORS® and vice-chairman of legislative steering for Washington REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHomes.com and BellevueHomes.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.

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.

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.


Is it possible to fully protect your name in the digital age?

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Zillow ad with Realtor's name

As a Realtor, if you aren’t protecting your business’s name, it can be used competitively against you. This week gave us a poignant reminder of the potential. It was also an opportunity to prepare ourselves for more competition and the Realtors code of ethics for the future.

The latest hubbub was Zillow using real estate businesses’ names in pay-per-click ads. A couple of agents just stumbled upon the ads. When a consumer searched Google for a company’s name (ex: Cooper Jacobs real estate), Zillow had an ad placed at the top of the page.

The first link’s text had the company’s name and was supposed to go to that agent’s profile page on Zillow. The next four links in the ad went to “Homes for Sale,” “Condos for Sale,” “Find a Local Agent” and “Open Houses” — none of which landed the user on anything related to the company’s name that was advertised.

There were plenty of opinions as to the intent, strategy and propriety of the program. In this case, the net effect was that Cooper Jacobs would lose significant traffic if the ad continued to run.

Courtney Cooper is a friend and competitor (more on that later). She has almost every link on the first page of search results for her company going to one of her curated websites and review platforms.

Zillow’s ad bumped those down and inserted four links that diverted traffic away from her business. Competitively, it was a good move. To the premier agent in the ad who likes the company and vocally supported it for years, it was ham-handed at best. The ads are currently on hold.

Competition and cooperation

There are two distinct learning opportunities from this episode. The first is regarding unrestrained competitors, and the second pertains to those that we cooperate with in a standardized fashion.

Business is business. Someone else will probably try to use your name against you in the future.

Zillow has temporarily paused the ads because its revenue source (agents) squawked at the practice, but even if they never run them again, another company probably will. For-profit companies will run ads against you the moment the return on investment is positive. It’s what investors demand.

Businesses can combat this by paying for their own PPC (pay-per-click) campaign on their company names. It’s inexpensive, but it’s also a hassle most probably think they shouldn’t have to handle. In reality, it might be necessary.

Companies can also register their business name as a trademark — it might not prevent competitors from using it in their ads (see previously mentioned ad), but it does provide some immediate ammo to ask an advertiser to take down an offending ad. Google also has a trademark complaint form that might help in stopping an ad using your trademark.

We’ve followed tech companies building ads, ratings, rankings and online profiles of real estate agents over the past few years, and it’s clear that there’s very little concern about using your name competitively against you. Asking forgiveness is preferable to permission, so it’s called a “test” or a “beta version.” But that’s just marketing if it’s live on the Web.

Code of ethics

Getting past the unrestrained competition, we also have competitors within our real estate world. Realtors’ interactions with one another are governed by a code of ethics. It speaks specifically to the need for us to present a true picture in advertising, without misleading consumers.

Its overall tone would lead one to believe that an ad similar to Zillow’s, but placed by one Realtor versus another, would be a violation of the code. Clearly, most of that ad was designed to take traffic away from the company whose name was being advertised.

The great value in the code of ethics is specificity. Standards of practice are included to help Realtors abide by the code in their daily routines and help boards make concrete decisions on violations. A twist on the Zillow ads might call for an update of Standard of Practice 12-10 to help those boards clearly define proper use of AdWords and search engine ads for members.

Article 12
Realtors shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing and other representations. Realtors shall ensure that their status as real estate professionals is readily apparent in their advertising, marketing and other representations, and that the recipients of all real estate communications are, or have been, notified that those communications are from a real estate professional. (Amended 1/08)

  • Standard of Practice 12-10

Realtors’ obligation to present a true picture in their advertising and representations to the public includes Internet content posted, and the URLs and domain names they use, and prohibits Realtors from:

  1. Engaging in deceptive or unauthorized framing of real estate brokerage websites;
  2. Manipulating (e.g., presenting content developed by others) listing and other content in any way that produces a deceptive or misleading result;
  3. Deceptively using metatags, keywords or other devices/methods to direct, drive, or divert Internet traffic; or
  4. Presenting content developed by others without either attribution or without permission, or
  5. To otherwise mislead consumers. (Adopted 1/07, Amended 1/13)

This standard of practice would probably prohibit one Realtor from placing an ad like Zillow’s, advertising another Realtor’s name in the ad and using it to divert Internet traffic in a misleading way.

What if Realtor A simply bought Realtor B’s name as a search term, though, and then placed a standard, truthful ad about Realtor A every time a consumer searched for the Realtor B’s name? Would purchasing the AdWord “Realtor B” itself constitute manipulation or misleading results?

Realtor B would probably think so. Ethics violations have been filed for much less.

It could be argued, though, that the practice is the same as Realtor A asking the Yellow Pages to place an ad for his company next to every instance where Realtor B is displayed. If the ad itself is truthful, is advertising specifically targeted to be close to a competitor’s name just a strategic tactic?

That’s what PPC advertising at its core is — proximity targeting.

Whatever the right answer is, it should be defined in the code. Clarity can reduce violations of the code and shorten deliberation over perceived violations. PPC advertising isn’t new, but it’s evolving and growing quickly. For our members, we should have a clear guide as to its ethical use.

Cooperative competitors

I won’t be running an ad based on Courtney’s name anytime soon, nor do I expect she will with mine. We compete every day for the top search engine results in our market. We do so with a healthy level of competitive respect.

Still, it would be helpful if we had a bit more clarity in our Realtors’ code so that all of our competitors know which side of the code they are on if they decide to use our names in their AdWord campaigns. Fences make good neighbors.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth and a director for Washington Realtors and Seattle King County Realtors. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com andSeattleCondo.com.