May 2013

The Future of Anything

by Victor Lund on May 30, 2013

I would attribute the series of postures on The Future of the MLS to Saul Klein. He may not have been the first to coin the phrase, but he has embraced it and made it his own. It is with due respect that we leave that posturing behind and set forth on a new journey. Our industry is at an inflection point, and my fear is that we are too blinded by current affairs to look beyond the steps in front of us. This morning, I encountered a quote from Antoine de Saint Exupery, a French writer, poet, and aviator who lived from 1900 to 1944. I did not take the time to research the setting for the quote, but it really does not matter because I want to use it to frame a new strategy for our industry leaders. “Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it.” I pecked out an industry overview of the governance of MLSs earlier this week. You can view it here if you like. I did not expect the flow of phone calls and emails. Apparently there are only a few people that are keenly aware of how different or fractured the governance of MLSs can be in America. Most brokers did not even know the governance of their MLS. It is a strange fog. Lets turn now to the key insights gathered in the rethink program. rethink is an organized effort to modify strategic planning at NAR. Here are the key insights presented at NAR Mid-year. I will provide commentary through the lens of enabling the future. Restructure Data and MLS Systems National MLS Take back REALTOR.com Be the Source for Big Data It would be a far reach for a trade association to morph itself into a data services company. This is the providence of brokers, not associations. Brokers are the group that need to enable the future of the MLS, online advertising, and big data. I would love to write the action plan for this. By the way – the action plan would likely retain local MLSs and REALTOR.com – but change them. Most MLSs and REALTOR.com have extraordinary talents at providing their services. It would be a mistake to restructure data and MLS systems without retaining the experience and talents of those service providers today. The real restructuring that needs to occur is broker involvement in […]

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Welcome Back Mr Foley

by Victor Lund on May 29, 2013

What do you do when your $6B company (Fidelity) has an extra $1.5B in cash languishing in your bank accounts? You buy back a company (LPS) that you spun out and you start all over again. If you ever doubted the value of providing software and data services to the financial industry, Mr. Foley just answered it. He is now officially back in the MLS business…. Almost. Deal is not quite done. But wait, there is more. Foley is a self made Billionaire who may perhaps be best known for his personal investing in the wine industry – having purchased more than $200 million in vineyards over the past decade and a half. Here in California, they say that the best way to make a little money in the wine industry is to start out with a lot of money. Regardless, Bill Foley is a legendary and upstanding member of the California and New Zealand wine movements. It just goes to show that you need to drink a lot of wine to appreciate how to offer data and software services to the financial industry that underpins real estate today. There were many hedge funds who suspected that Foley might buy Zillow or Trulia. There was some toe dipping into consumer facing websites with Cyberhomes. Perhaps losing tens of millions on Cyberhomes was enough to teach him that those companies are not attractive to him. Indeed, Zillow, Trulia, and MOVE have all learned that they need to diversify into other services to make money providing software services (becoming more like LPS). The consumer sites, even at scale, do not yield healthy profitability and sustained growth to investors unless they buy them on the way up (which Foley may have done). There was nary a whisper of Fidelity buying CoreLogic. Historically, Fidelity’s chief competitor First American would have poisoned such a trade. But they are out of the picture now and CoreLogic has a comparable valuation to LPS. In many ways, LPS was to Fidelity exactly what CoreLogic was to First American. These companies have been on parallel course for years and years and are vicious competitors. It would be a hoot to see First American buy back CoreLogic or even put in a bid for LPS. There is a “go shop” period of 90 days in the offer that allows LPS to find a better price. Place your bets boys! The […]

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The MLS Battleground

by Victor Lund on May 28, 2013

The National Association of REALTORS® Midyear Legislative meetings may have reached a tipping point on the role of the MLS in real estate. To be sure, it is the battleground of our industry where brokers and associations struggle for power within the oversight of the Department of Justice. Competing MLS entities develop their operating philosophy that draws the boundaries of how everyone coexists without behaving like a monopoly. To be sure, the MLS is a common use term that takes on a lot of different definitions. Here are the top 5 governance models that define the operating philosophy. Association Owned, Broker Governance Association Owned, Agent Governance Association Owned, Association Governance Broker Owned, Agent Governance Broker Owned, Broker Governance At the heart of any MLS is the governance. It is the single most important determinate of what products constitute the MLS service and how those services are divided between Core, Basic, and Optional. Today, there are many self-interested parties within our industry that compete in the battle to control the services of the MLS – Agents, Brokers, and Associations. Agents want everything for nothing. Small brokers are similar to agents and also want a low cost full service MLS. Big brokers just want the data. Associations just want non-dues revenue to maximize their investment in the MLS. There is nothing at all unnatural about this. An endeavor to shape your MLS to optimize your benefit is not only normal, but it would be irresponsible not to. Get involved! MLSs compete too. Neighboring MLSs do as much to recruit, acquire, or merge as anyone. To do this, they frequently endeavor to optimize their offer – the most services for the lowest price. The more MLSs compete with one another, the more services they offer, and usually the more they begin to compete with brokers. Like MLSs, brokers also try to offer the most services with the most attractive splits for agents. As such, brokers are constantly at odds with the mls for leveling the playing field. Again, this is very natural and probably adds a healthy pressure that powers the industry forward. There is really no such thing as a level playing ground. The bigger you are, the more power you have. The more power you have, the more money you make. There is no advantage to being small in this industry, nor is it a benefit to be thrifty. The agent, […]

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Your Elected Friend

by Victor Lund on May 13, 2013

Chairman

MLS and Association leadership brings forth an unusual ‘changing of friends’ on an annual basis. It is in the spring of each year that we begin to see these friendships take hold as CEOs arrive at NAR Midyear with their new Board Chairman in tow. It is all part of an important synthesis that takes place in our industry – one that often goes unappreciated. For five or more weeks each year, CEOs are on the road with their Chairman, building a friendship that is pivotal to a successful year, and in some cases, lasting a lifetime. WAV Group strategic planning appreciates the culture of leadership in real estate. We recognize that each year, the Board Chairman takes aim at challenges for the organization, balancing goals for the year with long range planning. The National Association of REALTORS® is even more specific about this paradigm. Each year, the NAR leader is explicit about their charge. In many ways, success comes from energizing the State leaders and local leaders to adopt the mission. Adoption by the nation’s Mega Boards plays a significant role in that success. Similar extension happens on MLS boards also. Continuity plays a key role in the long-term success of any MLS or Association. If the company were to dramatically change course each year with the churn of the Chairman of the Board of Directors, the disruption would erode the effectiveness of the company and undermine the services offered to the members. It is more common for the Chairman to pick a cause each year, but also play a sustaining role in moving along the long-range goals of the company. Great CEOs of Associations and MLSs recognize this. It is critical that they bring the past chairman, chairman elect, and standing chairman to industry conferences. Conferences are important conveyors of business strategy for these companies. These conferences provide two key references. One is the conference content itself, offering sessions about the topics of our day. The sessions also allow similar organizations to share strategic information and case studies about how they are moving their business forward. The second key reference is more informal. It is the conference behind the conference – the coffee breaks, and meals with peers where fellow chairman and executives commune with their peers about the goals of their organizations. When you add up the conferences that shape the direction of our industry, you recognize […]

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LoopNet chases dotloop into Court

by Victor Lund on May 13, 2013

LoopNet and dotloop are to appear in Los Angles court on Monday, July 22ed to settle their differences around the use of the word Loop. LoopNet has a registered trademark and claims that they are the sole user and owner of trademarks containing the term Loop. In the answer to the complaint, dotloop admits that the company was founded as MLS Contracts in 2008 and that its name was changed to dotloop in 2009. The company filed for a trademark registration for dotloop in September 2011, an action that LoopNet claims they opposed at that time. Registered trademarks are managed by the Patent and Trademark Office. When a violation of any right of the registrant of a mark is recognized, the trademark owner has the opportunity to recover the defendants profits, any damages sustained by the markholder, and the costs of the action. DotLoop is a pretty young, privately held, venture funded growth company. I cannot imagine that there are significant profits that LoopNet could claim if they win this battle. Moreover, damages to LoopNet will need to be demonstrated to the court. Perhaps the only award of any substance in this case may be the recovery of legal fees and an injunction which bars dotloop from using the term Loop at all. Clearly that would be the most damaging impact to dotloop, a company which has invested heavily in marketing their brand. I did a quick search for loop using the ever popular Google. I found a few other companies using the name loop in their brand including The Loop Magazine, Blue Loop, Flagstaff Loop Trail, Smart Loops and so forth. Lots of companies in Chicago play off the famous Chicago Loop. I have no clue how this case will turn out, or if LoopNet has tried to protect against the usage of Loop by other companies.

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Contact Sync

by Victor Lund on May 9, 2013

Over the past few years, we have seen a shift in professional technology solutions for real estate that has been mostly characterized by “the move to mobile.” Generally speaking, applications that do not work on mobile devices, either using a mobile browser or using a mobile app, are being cast aside. But there are secondary realities about the shift that many software companies seem to have neglected, namely, contact record sync. Everyone who has a mobile device understands that contact records that are created on any device need to be synchronized across all devices. Having some contacts in one location and not another is paralyzing to any professional who needs to communicate with anyone, anytime. Given the rapid changes in contact records, it is too difficult to manually keep records synchronized, so it is fully automated today. In the old Palm Pilot days, contact record sync was a challenging and broken experience. Now it happens easily by leveraging the cloud. Understanding this, one would imagine that companies offering software as a service would tap into contact record sync in every application that requires or manages contact records. Looking to real estate, there are plenty. Here is a list of solutions that should have contact record sync that are largely missing that basic functionality. Agent Ratings, Back Office, CMA, CRM, contracts/forms, digital signature, floor scheduling, IDX, listing presentation, mobile applications, Transaction management, etc. All of these applications are about sharing information between people, and sadly you must open up your contact data base and cut and paste contact information over and over and over, as a real estate agent. Not having contact management sync with Exchange, Gmail and other standards is a huge gap in today’s brokerage and MLS systems. It is astonishing that we have not solved this problem in our industry. While you are at it, sync the calendar too. It is astonishing that so many technology developers in our industry have been so short sighted for so long. If you are in a position to influence change in our industry – add contact and calendar sync to your basic requirements. Be sure to protect the privacy of those contact records while you are at it.  

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customer-centric

I can’t tell you the number of times I have had a conversation with someone in the real estate industry where they tell me that the consumer is NOT their client.  We prefer to think of the agent as the primary audience and simply ignore the fact that agents do not provide the checks. As the saying goes…follow the money…If you want to succeed in real estate, you have to address the needs of those that secure mortgages to buy and sell homes, not simply those that get a commission check from the sale. That seems like a simple concept, doesn’t it?  But a consumer focus simply eludes us in real estate.  Every business model in the industry helps us justify the fact that it is all about the agent.  Associations need members for advocacy so they focus on agents. MLSs need agents to fuel investment in technology so they focus on agents.  Brokers need sales associates and technology fees so they focus their energies on recruiting agents. Is it any wonder that the industry’s reputation with consumers is not as stellar as it could be when we focus more on our own needs than theirs? As many of you know I come from the world of consumer products and I am passionate about trying to change this very dangerous and potentially lethal belief system we cling to. It’s more than time for us to open up our eyes and realize that when you ignore the needs of the buying public, it’s only a matter of time before you get replaced….Oh wait, isn’t that already happening?  When you ask consumers what brand they think of when you say real estate they say Zillow.  When you ask consumers where to find an agent they tell you Yelp. We’re already losing a ton of ground because we refuse to believe that the needs of the consumer have to be considered and responded to, even when their requests are uncomfortable to us. Why does Zillow exist? Because the industry refused to provide AVM’s. Why does Yelp exist?  Because we believe consumers are not well-equipped to provide feedback on the transaction so why give them any transparency into customer feedback from past transactions? So what do we do to change this life-threatening trend? Well here’s one small step that brokerages, associations and MLSs can take on to begin to stem the tide of this […]

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Looking for an easy way to help prepare your Technology Committees before they head to NAR Mid-Year next week?  Check out RE Technology’s third annual Technology Guide! Just released today, this free resource helps them identify technology solutions that can be considered for your organization. Every product in the guide features a list of conferences and trade shows that each company will be attending. View a live demo or speak face-to-face with company representatives to learn more about their solutions. Trying to navigate the crowded sea of available tech tools can be a daunting task for technology committees and real estate professionals. With so many options to choose from, things can get confusing fast. By providing detailed information and points of contact for 127 products in 23 categories, the 2013 Technology Guide is a valuable reference during your research process. Use it as your starting point whenever you’re considering a new tech purchase! This guide can be sent to all of your members free of charge to help them even if you are not a registered user of RETechnology.com. How to Use the Guide The guide is simple to use, and this year we’ve made it even easier for readers to navigate. You can download the entire guide as a PDF or thumb through it right from your browser. Below are a few ways you can navigate the web-based version. Choose whatever method is most comfortable for you! Turn pages like a book: Love the feel of turning pages in a book? You can do that with the guide, too! Just click and drag the top or bottom page corners to move forward or back. Use the arrows: Click the arrows on either side of the guide to move forward or back. Click to turn: Double click the top or bottom of any page to go to the next. Jump to a specific page: Know exactly where you want to go? Just type the page number in the input field to view it instantly. Use the Table of Contents: If you’re looking for a specific product or category of products, use our handy table of contents to find it. From there, just click on the page you’re looking for and you’ll be sent there immediately. We’ve made the guide as easy to view as possible, so if the text is too big or too small, just use our handy zoom […]

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How to Succeed with eCommerce

by Marilyn Wilson on May 8, 2013

Many MLSs are now considering offering additional products and service to their members. MLS leaders like MRIS, Metrolist and IRES have made forays into the eCommerce space and are leading the industry to figure out the best methods and promotional paths to success with eCommerce. While the concept of generating more revenue per member is an attractive concept, it is not nearly as easy as one might think. The most successful programs are borne out of constant offer, copy and pricing testing.  Like every eCommerce site online today, customers don’t simply show up and push the “buy now” button. They like to read reviews from customers. Members like to do their homework and read about the features of a variety of products, comparing many options and lining up their own unique individual needs before making a purchase. They may talk to friends, attend a webinar or read a white paper. The bottomline….an MLS cannot expect an agent or broker to go to their online store site and immediately buy a product without information, promotions, education and insights that will reassure them that they are making a sound purchase decision. In my days at SVP Marketing at Fisher-Price, I launched an eCommerce business, working with one of the best in the direct marketing business – the founder of American Girl.  For those that have young girls, you are probably well aware of that brand. They are one of the best direct marketers in the country. I was honored and privileged to have worked side by side with the founder of the company Pleasant Rowland. She taught me the eCommerce business from the ground up. She started her company with a $1mm investment and sold it 10 years later for $750mm to Mattel. She’s a pro. Using proven direct marketing techniques and the support of Pleasant, I was able to create a multi-million eCommerce success story for Fisher-Price. We had never before ventured beyond the shelves of Wal-mart and Target so generating online sales was a very profitable win for the company. I’m really excited to be able to share the knowledge I gained from my days working with Pleasant so that I can help every MLS to short circuit the often expensive and unproductive learning curve. MLSs can be successful in eCommerce, but not if they follow the “build it and they will come” philosophy. It takes hard work, merchandising, offer […]

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iPad and iPhone

I love mobile technology and I have really been enjoying watching the advent of some very cool products finally become real in our industry. We have been talking about it for years and today, finally, there are some excellent mobile tools on the market. Make no mistake, though, mobile is still in the baby step phase in my opinion and we are going to see some big advances in the coming years. Mobile, after all, is destined to become the norm rather than the add on, so rather than just catching up to our MLS desktop tools it will pass them eventually. What is that going to look like? GPS and Mapping I think the key in thinking about mobile and what it can really become for our industry is to think back to what mobile devices bring with them before we even access the MLS information. Mobile devices, for example, have GPS and mapping capabilities. Of course we all think about searching for properties on maps, driving directions and so on, but GPS and mapping have many more uses that have yet to be built into our mobile tools in any serious way. Retailers for one are hugely interested in tapping into location-based ads to both our real estate professionals and their clients. Mapping also take analytics to another level yet we really haven’t seen any serious mobile analytic tools yet on our MLS products, but we will. Every time we move with a smart mobile device we are creating a trail that can be saved and analyzed and that data is very important to understand our patterns and behavior. Huge money is and will be spent to tap into that data. Visualizing Statistics and Trends Being able to represent statistics and trends for customers on mobile devices should be a natural part of telling the real estate story as well. Right now we can search for homes and display homes but we haven’t really seen mobile go to that next level. I am confident we will see layers and layers of strong analytical data get added to these tools as they mature. CRM Tools Our devices also allow for easy integration with contacts, but this has not really been developed yet. True CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is an area that has huge potential but has not been addressed well even in the PC or Mac desktop world for […]

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HAR.com Keeps on Rolling

by Victor Lund on May 8, 2013

har-logo

The Houston Association of REALTORS (HAR) hit a significant milestone this month. They supported their brokers and agents in eclipsing the mark of 1 million transactions representing $190 Billion in real estate sales. I really appreciate the way HAR keeps track of everything, with clear focus on where they started and the progress that they have made on behalf of their members over time. WAV Group partner, Victor Lund discussed this success with Houston Board Chairman, Danny Frank. To begin with, Danny Frank is one of the most genuine, humble, and sincere leaders of any large real estate organization that I have met. Simply stated, he is a great guy. Nevertheless, he takes his role seriously in both his time commitment and his stewardship of the organization, and its professional staff. Like those who preceded him, he shares the vision that the Houston Association of REALTORS can be very best in the world, but it takes a lot of hard work. There are many pundits around the nation that are critical of the successful website operated by the Houston Association of REALTORS – HAR.com. The site has such outstanding success that no other website can compete with reaching the online consumer in any meaningful way. To be sure, some brokers are not very happy about it. They would prefer to have their broker website in the position of being number one. I empathize with those preferences, but they are not very realistic. HAR.com delivers one of the most outstanding value added benefits to its members found anywhere in the nation. Consider the following. Mr. Frank provided me with some of the criteria that they consider as it relates to their continued strategic and financial support of operating HAR.com: “The advertising revenue generated on the website offsets the operational costs.” The site defers online costs that brokers and agents would shoulder if HAR.com did not exist. “The site keeps the HAR agent and brokers at the center of online real estate search by consumers.” Consumers enjoy unfettered access to the most comprehensive, timely, and accurate listing information in the region with direct, unfettered connections to the agents and brokerages that can answer their real estate questions. Those are some great criteria. If you look at agent and broker advertising costs in cities comparable to Houston, you find that brokers and agents are spending somewhere between $20 and $50 per lead. From […]

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Trulia buys Marketleader

by Victor Lund on May 8, 2013

In a release today, Trulia announced that they are buying Marketleader. As a result, Trulia has taken ownership of a brokerage. That means that they can compete with other online brokerages like Redfin, ZipRealty, Sawbuck, Movoto, and others. However, I do not think that is their strategy. There is a persistant paradigm emerging in the portal business whereby these companies combine the portal with technology products and services offered to agents and brokers. Operating a portal that relies on ad spending alone does not seem to be sustainable for the type of growth and stable recurring revenue for investors. Advertising has, and always will be a volatile business. Offering deeper levels of products and services to agents is a classic cross-sell opportunity. Move was the first portal to recognize this strategy, and has a suite of products that begin with Top Producer and expand from there. Zillow has followed the same path with their acquisition strategy of DiverseSolutions. Homes.com offers HomesConnect for agnets and brokers and powers many of the largest franchise sites in America. With Marketleader’s suite of products, Trulia can now provide agents with more leads, offer marketing on RealEstate.com, HouseValues, JustListed, as well as Trulia. They can move that buyer lead directly into agent websites backed by full contact management solution, drip marketing, and excellent market analytic reports. For sellers, they have a full marketing suite with flyers, postcards, virtual tours and of course – the ability to market that seller listing up through the portals – Trulia, realestate.com, etc. One of the advantages that Marketleader has developed in the marketplace is training. They learned years ago that the way to retain agent customers is by making them better sales people. They train and motiviate sales associates everyday. They have excellent coaches that help agent understand how to navigate the treacherous waters of technology. They also have the most active professional social network with ActiveRain, a place where agents help other agents. The Marketleader management and development team also brings significant industry experience to Trulia. Trulia has always excelled at being consumer centric, now they have deeper bench strength at being agnet-centric. This link on RE Technology provides a 360 degree overview of Marketleader – product list, product ratings, product reviews, company announcements, and other articles. Here is the note from Trulia this morning announcing the purchase: Earlier today, we announced that we have entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Market Leader, one of the real estate […]

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Many MLSs are now considering offering additional products and services to their members. Come to the RE Technology webinar on Wednesday, May 8th at 11:00 am and learn how to increase your chances of non-dues revenue success with eCommerce. Learn from Lauren Hansen, CEO of IRES MLS, one of the first MLSs to offer eCommerce who will share her early experiences with eCommerce. Also, get a peek at RE Technology’s affordable solutions for eCommerce. Click here to register now! At this session you will learn: What the fundamentals of eCommerce are and what does it take to be profitable Discuss ways that you can make eCommerce a win/win for your subscribers and the MLS How to avoid the “build it and they will come” trap How to determine what products to sell and at what price Identify ways to attract technology companies and valuable revenue sharing opportunities How to entice subscribers to visit your store frequently and purchase often Criteria you can use to evaluate which approach is right for you You can also learn about RE Technology’s Success Store – A commission-free eCommerce program for MLSs   Industry panelists include:       Lauren Hansen – CEO of IRES MLS, who has launched two eCommerce initiatives             Marilyn Wilson –  Founding Partner of WAV Group and former head of eCommerce for Fisher-Price/Mattel Corporation responsible for launching a $100 Million dollar eCommerce initiative         Date: Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 

Time:  2:00pm EST, 1:00pm CST, 11:00am PST

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Spring From Solid Earth Debuts in Chattanooga

by Mike Audet on May 1, 2013

Spring has sprung in the Greater Chattanooga area. Solid Earth launched a stunning consumer facing MLS website today. It leverages responsive design, providing an optimized user experience across all browsers, all operating systems, and works great on all smart mobile devices. The search is front and center, and agent and broker branding are nicely attributed to listings. They also developed a very clean method for displaying the neighborhood market statistics. Solid Earth is the only vendor that has made a full paradigm shift with their approach to MLS technology.  Spring on MLS is the same interface for Spring for the consumer, with each user getting access to functionality that is appropriate to them.  It doesn’t have an MLS side that is accessed via mobile products.  It is a mobile system first and foremost. Spring was designed with mobile in mind first so that it is device sensitive, or responsive, thus the term “Responsive Design”. The release in Chattanooga is Phase 1, the consumer level product.  What is key in understanding the Solid Earth vision is that they believe the walls have to come down between consumers, brokers and agents and that Spring is the vehicle to do that.  Their mission is to create a consumer centric MLS/agent/consumer technology platform that gives agents the tools they need to engage their clients and to keep them on a platform where they get everything they need to navigate their real estate transactions.   At the same time, agents have outstanding vision into client behavior on Spring in terms of their preferences and search behavior creating a truly interactive agent/client experience. We congratulate Solid Earth and Chattanooga on this release and look forward to following their progress.  While this is exciting news for Solid Earth Chattanooga and the industry we also look forward to reviewing Spring’s MLS component,  which is the true keystone in this new MLS paradigm. The official press release follows: ** Solid Earth Delivers Spring Public Portal in the Chattanooga, TN Market ** Huntsville, Alabama May – 1st, 2013 Solid Earth, Inc has delivered the Spring platform to the Greater Chattanooga Area Association of REALTORS® (GCAR). Spring is a new foundation upon which GCAR will build the next generation of services to support and promote local real estate professionals and their clients. The new software platform will replace the existing publicly accessible real estate search portal. In conjunction with an extensive marketing campaign, […]

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