Tag Archives: zillow

NAR politics, Instant Offers and a noisy week in real estate

This article was originally published on Inman News:

  • Credit unions are buying brokerages and bundling services.
  • Zillow isn’t a broker but its toes are deeper in the transaction.
  • Alexa’s going to serve you listings.
  • Upstream’s pragmatic pivot is causing a stir.
  • Your choice of MLS may be growing in the future.

NAR’s midyear meetings took place in Washington, D.C., last week. I was just finishing up a recap when two other big stories dropped.

Credit unions are buying up brokerages

Banks are prohibited from opening real estate brokerages. Credit unions, on the other hand, are not. Steve Murray of Real Trends says credit unions are rapidly purchasing brokerages and bundling services.

“Buy from us. Borrow from us. We’ll rebate 20 percent of the commission to you, and we’ll give you 20 basis points off your mortgage’s interest rate. Oh, and we’ll also make your agent whole on the rebate.”

To me, that’s the biggest news of the week. On to that other story you may have heard about:

Zillow Instant Offers

Zillow’s pitch to agents: We’ll facilitate direct purchase offers from our identified investors/venture capital firms/flippers to potential sellers. We’ll let you deliver a CMA to the same folks.

C’est la vie; it’s a business decision. Consumers are given options to work with agents, but some agent-free transactions will occur via Zillow initiation. Offers and transactions are managed in Zillow’s transaction management software.

Zillow’s not technically becoming a broker with this move, but it’s taking on every activity it can that doesn’t require a license — smart. Some agents are screaming. Some are yawning. Let’s just not pretend that initiating a purchase offer for a buyer, providing the forms for the contract, and directing the services upon which it will be transacted isn’t a big shift.

Some agents will love the seller leads. Some are just fed up with the long-running tap dance act of Zillow’s messaging to the industry. Brian Boero distilled it perfectly.

In the latest scene, we’re told, “It’s just a test.” This is apparently supposed to educate us that transactions happening in the real world are none of our concern until the “test” label is removed by the marketing department.

Of course it’s a test, one that management approved, to see if it’s worth expanding nationwide and monetizing. Just tell us, “Shareholders want profits so we’re looking for new revenue streams, and dipping our toes a little further into the transaction looks like a good direction.” We already know.

The Opendoor in the room

Opendoor is the Instant Offers precursor you’re probably most familiar with. While it was reported on Inman that I “chided” Opendoor previously, I’ll note that I commended Opendoor’s leaders and technology. I merely chided the media fawning over a supposed huge new value to consumers.

Flippers are not new, they’re just better financed with better tools, and now they’re getting better access to sellers.

Opendoor’s folks are genius, just as are Moneytree’s founders. They’re doing transactions with massive short-term fees and significant time savings, and putting their services in front of people who may want them. My opinion that these transactions make financial sense for a scarce few doesn’t preclude the businesses from selling them to whoever will buy them.

Alexa’s hawking listings

Back to NAR midyear: voice activated systems (like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home) became officially approved technologies for brokers to use for delivery of IDX listing data.

While there was some concern about the ramifications, brokers are already using this technology in the field. We want to ensure that the spirit of IDX cooperation and attribution continues, but not hold back innovative brokers.

Will this tech become popular? Spencer Rascoff said at the T3 Summit that he didn’t think it would be a big deal in real estate search. It’s difficult to say, but imagine what it could do to help folks with visual disabilities interact with brokers and agents.

The technology will change by the day. So maybe Rascoff’s right, or maybe brokers have an opportunity. He does have a lot of other things on his plate.

Upstream

Upstream had two big stories last week. First, more NAR funding was approved for RPR to build out the project. Second, instead of only allowing broker/agent listing input at Upstream’s interface, it will now accept a broker’s feed of listing data from the MLS itself.

Spending a week with much of the industry in one place reminds you how much you don’t know. The politics surrounding this initiative are staggering. There are plenty of folks proclaiming Upstream’s “pivot” as a sign of failure.

It’s a pragmatic swallowing of pride. Many insiders will tell you that the divide created by the unfortunate tone of UpstreamRE’s ancestors’ original messaging to the MLS community made this move a necessity. It’s also a big shift from the ideologically pure original intent.

At the same time, it removes the most significant hurdle to access for nearly every broker/agent in the country. There’s no retraining on listing input. You want Upstream? You got it.

The Upstream direct input (which is necessary in its system to solve multi-MLS overlap) requires technical development at the MLS level to accept the listings.

If multi-market brokers like what they see in the Upstream hybrid input product, they may eventually work with their MLSs and vendors to employ the single input solution. In the meantime, vendors may proactively develop software updates that provide faster Upstream implementation options on the most common MLS software platforms.

RPR in the mirror

It seems that someone whispers “National MLS” nearly every time RPR (Realtors Property Resource) is mentioned. If you’ve done the committee circuit for a few years, you know the routine.

Competitors have reason to keep looking over their shoulders, but this particular fear is tiresome. It’s as if we’re in the horror flick where the victims chant, “Candyman…Candyman…Candyman…” into the mirror to summon the Bogeyman.

Only in this version, the bogeyman RPR comes crashing through the mirror to take our cooperation and compensation agreements if we don’t keep whispering “National MLS…National MLS…National MLS…” to keep it at bay.

RPR has contractually agreed to never become an MLS. MLSs have been consuming each other at the rate of around one every four days. 100 have disappeared in one year. How many has RPR replaced?

‘Coming soon’ listings

MLSs across the country are trying to develop “coming soon” statuses. It seems like a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist, but agents want another marketing angle. So MLSs are obliging.

Currently, any MLS could accept an active listing, allow for a restriction on showings for two weeks while the seller fixes things up (with a seller’s signed consent), and create the “coming soon” buzz without adding a new status for MLSs and standards developers to deploy.

If a new status is the hoop everyone wants us to jump through, though, we’ll probably do it. So let’s define it.

If the property is shown, it’s not “coming soon,” it’s active. If it starts as “coming soon,” then goes active, and one minute later goes pending, it probably wasn’t ever “coming soon.” It was active.

We can do “coming soon,” but only if we’re going to be honest about it — not to promote double-sides, in-house sales or preferred buyers.

Politics at midyear

There’s a lot of talk about tax reform. As we hit the hill in D.C., our message was as clear as ever. No matter the tax policy coming forward, it should incentivize investment in homeownership, much like we incentivize investment in health care, retirement and education. That’s a tough message in a D.C. atmosphere that’s very loud, but we’re still carrying it.

Some members want us out of politics, but today’s reality is that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. We’ll be at the table for our industry.

Can the Voice for Real Estate come through a revolving door?

I’m a local association president. Our board’s CEO relays media calls and interviews to me. I appreciate the deference and the recognition it creates, but I can see how it weakens the continuity of our voice as an organization. The tradeoff is difficult to swallow.

At NAR, we hoist a new name up for the media once per year and hope that it sticks. This is our tradition, and it’s a great gift to our presidents, but it’s probably time to take a hard look this practice’s effect.

Our voice needs to recognizable to stay on top. Our new CEO, or someone she/he hires, needs to be consistently in front of the media.

Is the board too big?

Most dare not even whisper these words, as a position on the board of directors is a sacred cow, not to be touched. NAR has about 900 directors on its board. What’s the ideal size of the board? Maybe it’s exactly what it is today, but it shouldn’t be heresy to ask.

Our volunteer members do amazing work supporting leadership from the committee levels. Can we have a real, effective debate at our current board of directors’ meetings with our current size?

Our data divisions make us vulnerable

Realtor members have less than ideal access to our data. Between NAR data, nationwide MLS data and RPR data, we have the opportunity to meld these resources into an incomparable asset for use by our membership. Yet we let it sit in artificial silos to protect our territories.

Meanwhile, innovative data companies create tools to aggregate and repurpose such data while we sit on our hands and watch or, better yet, cut them a check to buy it back.

There’s a lot of distrust within our organization. While there are many reasons for it, they make us weak relative to outside forces.

Legacy

Multi-generational Realtors are often the most devoted and knowledgeable leaders. I’m continually impressed when I travel to events at the percentage of committed volunteers who are second, third or even fourth-generation Realtors.

Our incoming president, Elizabeth Mendenhall, is a sixth generation Realtor. There’s no replacing that institutional knowledge. Kudos to those of you who carry that torch.

MLS of Choice

I’ll introduce this topic with the moniker it has taken on in the media, but this issue’s logistics are significantly different than Board of Choice. Yet, its intent is similar: to serve broker and agent members with a better, more flexible service model. Giving brokers and agents more choices in the MLS services they pay for is the path forward.

We’re looking into ways to incentivize brokers to grow and join MLSs without cost prohibitive policies holding them back.

The issue is complex and I won’t attempt to define all of the parameters here. Just know that we’re working with all of the stakeholders — MLSs, brokers, agents, associations — and trying to find a policy solution that positions all groups to be prepared to thrive in a changing marketplace.

You can contact us with your stories, concerns, and suggestions at mls@realtors.org. We’d love your feedback.

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

Shortcuts: Zillow Group’s power play, actual intelligence, and NAR’s next move

This article was originally published on Inman News: 

  • Zillow Group’s agent input ban will improve accuracy and squeeze brokers.
  • Its Premier Broker program and data management tools are taking aim at teams and Upstream.
  • Redfin uses agents to create better Zestimates, and no one should be surprised.
  • “Realtor” has immense value. NAR’s CEO search should keep D.C. in mind.

Zillow Group has been using its leverage in more dramatic fashion recently. The headline this week is an upcoming moratorium on agent-posted listings.

Beginning May 1, agents’ listings will only be allowed on the company’s portals if they come via a broker or MLS feed.

This is a power play, and one that the company has every right to make in its quest for a better product. Zillow Group is willing to crack a few eggs to make this omelet.

It’s being sold as an improvement to accuracy, and that checks out. Manually input listings are notoriously error-prone. (Of course, that’s not the only benefit.)

800-pound strategy

The ban creates an immediate friction point for agents whose brokerages and MLSs don’t feed to portals. It puts a wedge between agents and clients, and ergo, agents and brokers.

When clients find out that their agent literally cannot put their listing on Zillow, and their broker can’t fix it before open house weekend, the situation is going to get white hot.

A little message for Jay Thompson, Zillow’s director of industry outreach — please take some vacation and rest up now. May is going to be the season of 1,000 wildfires.

The move will create more feeds for Zillow, and some resentment. Strategically, though, it makes sense.

The big brokers won’t squawk. Most of the country has already signed on. Only the stragglers and iconoclasts will feel the squeeze.

Some agents will continue to be indifferent, some will demand their brokers create a feed — and those whose needs go unmet will find a new brokerage.

The 800-pound gorilla is tired of asking. Independent and holdout brokers: You’re going to feel the weight of its thumb coming down soon.

Premier Broker vs. hiring a team

Meanwhile, the concierge service for the Zillow Premier Broker program is the back end of a team in a box.

Lead generation, text/email/phone conversion, distribution, tracking and management — it’s done. Just answer the phone when your concierge wants to hand off a live one, and you, the solo agent, now have team support.

The program has huge upside. It’s not perfect. Many Zillow consumers have a bad habit of contacting a new agent for every listing and rerouting themselves into spirals of increasing contacts and annoyance from lead converters and concierges.

Those leads are not happy campers when they get an agent on the phone.

The back end works well, though. It affords brokers some shortcuts to team efficiency without all of the hiring and testing of products.

I’m surprised that Zillow Group is using a third-party CRM for tracking; they’ll probably have their own soon.

This program will be popular as long the pricing keeps brokers’ ROI (return on investment) in the black.

The data management arms race

Somebody recently told me to stop writing so much about Zillow. I will when ESPN stops covering the Patriots.

Build or buy? Zillow Group has clearly been leaning toward buying for its data management platform. Paul Hagey (of Inman fame) and I took a deep dive on the developments in this year’s Swanepoel Trends Report.

Jack Miller, president and CTO of the Swanepoel T3 Group, did an outstanding job fleshing out the entire industry’s competitive data management tools.

Bridge Interactive, Retsly and dotloop, when combined with Zillow Group’s in-house tools, could satisfy a wide range of broker demands. The real estate behemoth is buying up a set of tools that cross paths in major ways with Upstream.

Whether that’s the intention, the positioning, or the marketing angle doesn’t matter. The tools being purchased by Zillow Group are designed to solve some of the problems that Upstream solves — albeit perhaps in a way that’s less logistically elegant.

The company is shortening its timeline to a user base by spending instead of creating. We will see quickly whether or not that pays off.

AI (Actual Intelligence)

Inman reporter Teke Wiggin’s piece on a study of Redfin vs. Zillow online valuations sparked some interesting debate.

Wouldn’t every valuation improve with a human-derived “condition” factor added to the algorithm? Forget artificial intelligence, this is actual intelligence in the machine.

A real person’s insights about current condition would be an invaluable addition to an otherwise computer-driven model.

Redfin took the shortcut. Agents are already scoring these homes based on today’s condition. They even have market knowledge. Redfin simply leverages their insights via list prices and adds context to current data.

The results of the study were clear. When listing prices are available, Redfin incorporates them, and its estimates become significantly more accurate than Zillow’s. But Zillow’s estimates for unlisted properties are still more accurate than Redfin’s.

It seems obvious that Zillow could win in both categories by incorporating list prices on listed homes’ Zestimates.

Zillow argues that consumers don’t want that. They want “independence” in their estimates.

No, they don’t. Consumers want the right price — remember that accuracy we were striving for earlier? It’s right in front of you.

Save our CRM

Vendors at Inman Connect New York repeated a phrase to me that I don’t hear often enough: “We integrate with your CRM.”

For all of the tools offered to agents, too many are built as standalone or loosely connected functions. CRMs with APIs, and vendors willing to use them, are taking away major pain points.

Brokers want our agents focused on their database, in their CRM. Some vendors are getting this.

Aiva, the AI-powered assistant by Deckspire; “First,” featuring predictive analytics (guys, you’re killing our searches with that name); and Cloud Attract from W + R Studios were just some of the product folks I talked to that understood this concept as a core issue.

Don’t build another CRM. Build something that works with our current CRM.

Goggling vs. feeling

News Corp. has helped realtor.com do some leapfrogging in the virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) world. Their work with Matterport and REA Group has provided the foundation for VR and AR in apps for goggles or the good old-fashioned mobile device in your hands.

They are a nice step forward, if VR’s where you think the industry is headed. Some of the hype is overblown, but it will be a nice a supplemental tool to increase conversions of internet traffic to in-person showings.

Buyers will love VR for property introductions. But when you think about downsizing mom and dad into a condo for their “final home,” or buying that first bungalow to raise children in, goggle-and-buy rings hollow. We want to smell how that home feels.

What’s in a name?

Marc Davison took us on an entertaining creative journey about the name “Realtor.” What’s the value? It depends on your audience.

When I go to Washington, D.C., in May and walk into a Senator’s office, you can be sure they understand it.

When our state’s legislative leadership calls us for insights on a policy negotiation, it’s clear that they know who we are.

Broker-owners ask us to come talk to their agents about what we do because they understand the value.

There is a disconnect with the public. It’s clear that they don’t distinguish between a licensee and a Realtor. But that in no way diminishes their knowledge of a Realtor’s value.

This isn’t a term that grew organically out of a need to describe a category of professions, like a doctor. It’s a trade organization being so effective with its label that its name has superseded the commonplace occupational designation.

The Realtor moniker being indistinguishable from a real estate salesperson makes us victims of our own success.

There’s clearly some frustration about the lack of distinction from consumers. We can continue to work to improve and distinguish Realtor members. But this is not such a bad problem to have.

Top job

National Association of Realtors CEO, Dale Stinton, responded to a reader letter on Inman. Read that twice.

Going forward for NAR, getting the right mix of transparency, accessibility, focus and resoluteness won’t be easy.

Kudos to Dale for being a leader willing to engage membership in an introspective and stout discussion about the association’s outlook.

Choosing the next CEO will be difficult. The right candidate needs a keen understanding of technology, communications, public policy and — most importantly — organized real estate’s multifaceted bureaucracy.

Somebody who knows D.C. pretty well just stepped aside from an MLS CEO position to allow the formation of a better marketplace for members.

That kind of leadership deserves a spot on the interview short list.

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.

The broker-driven future of the MLS

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

  • Brokers need to understand the new initiatives changing the way we work with MLSs.
  • New tools can create efficiency and improved data storage and analytics for brokers and vendors.
  • Consumers will have access to broader, more accurate information and tools.

New technology initiatives are reshaping the future of broker relationships with MLSs. The sheer magnitude of the changes coming to the MLS portion of our industry is creating uncertainty for some and unease for others.

These initiatives are complex. That’s why many agents, and even brokers, simply avoid them. It’s what we were taught: If the MLS is working, there’s no need to investigate further. Get back to business.

That focus is not selfish or small-minded — it’s a virtue to salespeople.

These are historic times, though. Brokers and vendors are driving the creation of tools that will radically change our industry’s data delivery system — streamlining and enhancing it significantly. These efforts will require not only understanding, but broad, demonstrative support by the broker community to come to fruition.

If we’re going to make intelligent decisions about the future of the MLS, we need to understand it. Many agents don’t know how their MLS works, let alone Upstream. Here’s a start, from one broker’s perspective:

The future of real estate data

 

To be clear, this is not a technical data flow chart. It’s merely a visualization of how the MLS world could fit together in the future. The intent is to illustrate the players involved and how they are connected. Many technical details will be glossed over in an attempt to provide brevity and clarity.

The players:

MLS service providers

Core MLS service providers handle the MLS’s listings and office information database. These could be Corelogic, FBS, Black KnightRappatoni, a custom solution, another vendor, or in the near future, RPR AMP. These companies provide the back end for the MLS and deliver data to some vendors for brokers.

They usually also provide a front-end interface for MLS users. This could be Matrix, Paragon, etc. In the case of RPR AMP, it could be multiple front-end interfaces for MLS users simultaneously sitting on top of the AMP database.

Secondary MLS interface providers

There are also secondary interfaces available to MLS users. Homesnap MLSand CloudMLX are optional enhancements to an MLS’s user interface options. They are built on top of any core MLS provider’s database. They don’t affect the primary MLS interface but provide a different (and sometimes more streamlined) way for a user to interact directly with the MLS database.

Upstream

Upstream is the database that would streamline brokers’ data output. Brokers who join Upstream would no longer send listing and office data to dozens of unconnected outlets. They would use the Upstream database to store and update all of their information.

All of their data could then flow downstream to their providers (including MLSs) at the individual broker’s discretion. This would increase efficiency and improve data storage and analytics for brokers.

Those brokers who do not join Upstream would continue the current process of listing and office data distribution on their own. They would send separate data feeds to multiple MLSs, office tools, vendors, portals, etc.

Aggregators

Aggregation products allow access to IDX data across multiple MLSs for brokers. They provide a feed that brokers can use with their office tools and vendors. The breadth of the data is dependent upon the aggregator’s MLS reach.

Some aggregators have additional data. Zillow’s Retsly Connect adds public records data for broker use. Trestle from CoreLogic adds consumer-facing public records data and AVM data. It’s far and away the largest with 100 MLSs already signed up, but it won’t be available until late 2016.

Broker office tools and vendors

One of the misunderstandings about Upstream is that it’s only about listings. Brokers are currently feeding different kinds of data to a wide range of office tools. Company records, office addresses and photos, agent rosters and photos, staff information, accounting, transactions, and customer records are all uploaded to disparate databases that don’t talk to one another.

With Upstream, these broker tools and vendors can all go to the single source of that data for the information. The broker merely needs to keep one central set of records with Upstream to ensure uniformity.

Portals

The major consumer-facing real estate portals currently receive listings from many sources. Agents, brokers, MLSs, franchisors, vendors and syndication systems send listings of different levels of quality to be displayed on these platforms. The data rights of the senders also vary widely.

In an Upstream world, a foundation of rights over the listing data and photos would be established for any broker or agent member using the system. Listings delivered by broker consent through Upstream to a portal would have pre-existing rules attached to their usage and display.

Brokers could negotiate different or superior agreements with the portals if they wished to. In short, portals wouldn’t be taking listing photos and recycling them as they please. The broker retains control of them.

Broker Public Portal

The BPP is a totally separate animal. It’s essentially another consumer-facing portal, but it’s broker-owned and managed. Its intention is to deliver an accurate, timely, responsibly displayed database of brokers’ listings to consumers.

BPP recently hired Homesnap to provide the technology for its product.Somebody pinch me. Homesnap has shown an uncanny ability to combine software interfaces that attract consumers, deep connections of MLS data and a cooperative style that works well with associations. If there is a company that fits the mold for this to be a successful venture, Homesnap is probably it.

The environment:

Friction

It seems logical that a broker with access to Upstream at the front end of data distribution and an aggregator such as Trestle at the nexus of multi-MLS data would be significantly more empowered than one using today’s traditional system.

It shouldn’t be surprising, though, that some of these initiatives face pushback from entrenched players. In some cases, they create significant new work and additional complexity for MLSs. MLSs need to be at the table with brokers in the planning and implementation phases. The transition will not be easy.

Action

There will be objections to this new model, some with genuine concern for viability and some self-preserving or self-serving. It will hit road bumps, and there will be growing pains. The rumor mill is already in full churn. That shouldn’t discourage us from seeking long-term improvement in our systems.

The funding is in place to begin the process, and most of the industry’s biggest players are on board. Upstream has five alpha markets already selected to begin testing the program.

Then what becomes of the MLS? I’ve heard intelligent people predict everything from a national MLS to the end of the MLS. Neither is happening nor would they be good for the industry.

Focused MLS

These initiatives are taking items off MLSs’ plates that create controversy. Most brokers don’t want the MLS to make advertising decisions for them. They want fast, inexpensive access to broad MLS data. They want flexible software options.

They want to have their data synchronized across their plethora of tools without having to update it manually in so many locations. Upstream, AMP, aggregators and secondary MLS interface tools take much of this burden away from the MLS.

Brokers also want the MLS to continue doing what it does so well — cooperation and compliance. Brokers are the MLS. Its existence is invaluable to us.

The idea of a compliance arm of a national MLS handling enforcement is frightening. Imagine the federal government replacing all local police forces with the national guard and expecting everything to be OK. “Seattle, you’re OK with people smoking pot in the park. Provo, you’d like to throw ’em in jail for the weekend. We’ve got a single answer for both of you that will please neither. Your papers, please.”

Painting the corners

There are a lot of angles and conspiracies regarding how these initiatives benefit some parties over others. Many have credence. These are businesses trying to make money.

That doesn’t have to be the narrative about these initiatives, though. They also create a picture of an MLS system that effectively serves its brokers, while brokers simultaneously gain back efficiency and control over their data distribution. They remove conflicting territories.

Will some outside platforms lose leverage? It seems that they might, but improving the business for the brokers and agents who actually generate transactions should always be viewed as a benefit to the industry.

And lest we forget, there’s a consumer angle. They’ll simply get more accurate data across consumer-facing outlets, better tools developed at faster rates and access to broader information across markets and MLS territories.

That’s worth a shot.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

This article was originally published on Inman News:

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

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

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

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

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

The business rundown

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cultural reach

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

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

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

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

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

The hopeful future

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

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

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

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

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