Real Estate Forms are falling apart

by Victor Lund on January 21, 2011

As a consulting firm, we see the best and the worst sides of our industry. We see cooperation among likeminded people moving the industry forward, and we see what happens when those same likeminded people begin to disagree.

It is not our station to pick sides, but rather like an attorney or a doctor, we advise our clients on the best way to win or get well. On the issue of forms, WAV Group is not on either side – but a mess is a foot; and profit may come in the way of progress.

There are a couple of “for profit” companies around the country that were launched by Associations of REALTORS to support the needs of REALTORS to overcome the burden of filling out the mountain of forms involved in a real estate transaction. The problem they addressed was painful and significant. Thanks to the investment by these Associations, they are solved today – but new problems with the “for profit” component have surfaced. Investors want to get paid back for their investment. I am a capitalist, and it makes sense – but it blurs the line between Associations providing solutions for the benefit of membership; and Associations profiting on the backs of membership.

Background

Gracefully, some rather innovative Association technologists, attorneys, and business folks, conjured and built a solution for paper forms – the electronic form. Practitioners welcomed these electronic forms with glee and fan fare. Imagine the first day an agent sat in front of a computer, rather than a typewriter. Entered client names, addresses, and property addresses just once, then presto – every form complete, perfectly typed, ready to print. Oops! A misspelling. No Worries! Backspace, fix, and again Presto! Ready to print.

Wait! Print you say? Back they went to the innovators workbench. A wrench here and a bolt there – and even print went away. No long waits at the Xerox BizHub machine, no more curriers rushing papers across town, no more sending 5 faxes, 25 pages at a time. The technologists had done it again. Don’t print – just email. Let the client print. Or better yet, let the client e-sign. That’s right! With the click of a mouse and a few keystrokes, the electronic signature saves all of the trees in Oregon.

Blessed is he who comes with such magic – standardized forms and e-signatures. The best part, in most cases, this offering was provided as a member benefit to every REALTOR – or in parlance – it was free thanks to the efforts and investment of member dollars by some State Associations of REALTORS.

Agents from California (sea) to Florida (shining sea) moved with speed to adopt this new process. Soon every agent across the nation would have access to the electronic forms and e-signature systems. It took a while, and much learning was required, but today – we have a standard. Hurray for the State Association – they delivered a core service as an outstanding benefit for their members.

Other enterprising companies went to work building solutions to store these documents electronically, and share them more efficiently. They begin to understand broker concerns about documents, consumer concerns, agent concerns. Some even thought to add every piece of a transaction into one software solution. Again, adoption occurred, but at a slower pace.

A new Age

This era of innovation was called the Document Management and Transaction Management Age. Again, from Sea to Shining Sea – these perfect forms were transported into products like DocCentral, Transaction Desk, Relay, SureClose, DotLoop, DocBox, Transaction Manager, Document Manager, GoPaperless and so on…. (out of breath) a new process was adopted by the professional REALTOR and sales associate. Real Estate turned green!

The Dark Age emerges in 2011

But alas, all great innovations have their switchback turns. Those early pioneers of electronic forms have decided to take their toys and move to their own sandbox. Any kids who want to play with the free toys offered as a member benefit must come along. No more playing with the Document Management and Transaction management unless you want to pay a license fee for the forms.

“Wait just one second,” screams the REALTOR! “You built those forms companies with our money and now you want us to pay for the right to use them?”

REALTOR Associations in Florida are battling against the State Association of Florida (FAR) who will no longer offer Transaction Desk with forms as a member benefit. There has been no reduction in dues as a result of the repeal of this benefit. If members want to continue to have access to the forms, they either need to switch away from Transaction Desk and learn FAR’s Forms Simplicity – or they can keep Transaction Desk, but the vendor must license the forms from the Florida State Association and charge the REALTOR.

It does not end in Florida, this issue of forms licensing spans the country. Keller Williams is trying to launch a document management platform nationwide for their 70-80,000 agents. They too are battling with State Associations for access to the use of the forms in their document management platform. Again, form solutions that were funded by member dues and provided by the State Association of REALTORS must be licensed and paid for if they are being used in a third party application.

What lies ahead

To the State Associations, we say “Good for you!” You prospected and drilled for oil. Now that you are pumping those forms to the industry, it makes sense for you to get a return on your investment.

To the Document Management companies, we say “That’s just awful!” Why should your customer pay to access a product through your solution that the same customer would otherwise get for free elsewhere? Sounds like you have an unfair business environment.

To the REALTOR – “To bad, so sad.” Once again, politics and greed are coming in the way of you providing services to your customer. You have two options. Either become an activist to fight for what you believe is right, or step aside and let others work it out for you.

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