The Future of Anything

by Victor Lund on May 30, 2013

TheFutureI 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 the MLS. The MLS is there to serve cooperation and compensation between brokers. Somehow this covenant has been blurred.

You should probably stop reading here. The rest of this post is a recital of the other 6 elements of the rethink findings along with a brief comment. You would really need to be a WAV Group fan to wade through it. I could probably write a book about each of these missions.

Bold Leadership to Drive Change & Stay Relevant

  • Advocate for REALTORS and Consumer
  • Leverage the power of the Consumer
  • Broaden our views on housing choice, homeownership
  • Drive change to remove barriers to meeting consumer housing needs and preferences

Leadership in Associations and MLSs is very static. WAV Group has not researched the average tenure of CEOs across these groups, but from my own accord I will tell you that most leaders of the top organizations have been in the same position for more than 10 years. Seasoned business analysts recognize that leaders hit their peak stride three years into their position. From then on, they become very complacent in the pursuit of their key initiatives, then rinse and repeat. Without more accountability for driving change, change will not be enabled.

If by advocate you mean lobby – NAR is expert at that. If by leverage the consumer you mean getting them to vote for NAR sponsored legislation, you would need a consumer database for that. I have no clue how to broaden our views on housing choice, homeownership. A tent city is not a housing choice. I also see no barrier to meeting consumer housing needs or preferences. If you have the money, we have the house or land to build it on, just don’t get crazy (Bon Qui Qui).

Collaborate from a position of strength

  • Collaborate with confidence in the unique value/asset of REALTORS
  • Strengthen Alliances inside and outside the industry
  • Embrace big data
  • Share Consolidate and improve data

These are pretty vague objectives. I am not sure who else we need to collaborate with, or build alliances with. I think we do embrace big data and we constantly strive to improve data. Certainly there is data sharing with RPR, a national tax data base and on its way to becoming a national active listing data base. RPR provides two key features that satisfy the needs of our industry today. It creates a data sharing bridge across contiguous markets to meet the research needs in those boarder markets where MLSs do not share. Secondly, it supports REALTORS® in researching properties beyond their local market to service their relocation and referral business. I think that the REALTOR forms products have demonstrated collaboration in our industry, but I think they need to be free to REALTORS® and only REALTORS®, not a profit center. Let everyone else hire a lawyer or buy forms online and see how that goes.

Engage Members

  • Methods for ongoing dialog and opportunity for input
  • Direct connection with members that streamlines communication channels
  • Open leadership ranks
  • Special focus on engaging younger members

This is a strange one for me. My experience has always been that if a member wants engagement, the Association and the MLS are always there. I believe that the researchers interpreted their focus groups incorrectly. The groups were saying “let me in,” but that has never been the issue. The true takeaway is that they want the Associations and MLSs to pull them in. The door has always been open, but there needs to be greater outreach to get members to the door. Excellent organizations in real estate constantly survey members by electronic survey, telephone survey, and focus groups. I know this because we help about 40 of the largest companies in our industry do this each year or even with higher frequency. The real issue is boring meetings.

Restructure the three way agreement

The three way agreement is elegant. I would love to understand what is broken about it. I fundamentally expect that each entity in the agreement (local, state, national) wants a higher share of the dues money. Heck, who doesn’t want more money? Any restructuring of the three way agreement would lead to the weakening or detriment of one of the tree groups.

Restructure NAR Leadership

  • Streamline the pathway to leadership
  • Provide a variety of ways to serve
  • Leadership that reflects the membership and rapidly evolving industry
  • Create a structure that empowers dynamic decision-making

NAR leadership is a beautiful old vessel, constantly at sea, providing safe heaven for its flock thorough treacherous waters. It will take an enormous event to alter its course. Our Republicans are brokers. Our democrats are agents. Today, the democrats far outnumber the Republicans.

Raise the Standards of Professionalism

  • Criteria for entry into profession
  • Criteria to obtain/retain REALTOR designation
  • Continuing education requirements
  • Enforcement of professional standards

I love this mission. However, to envision the future realistically there needs to be one fundamental building blocks which must be assembled. Build one REALTOR® database that contains the facts about every professional REALTOR® – a photo, a phone number, a bio, a link to their broker website/agent website, years of service, designations and dates of designations, AND AGENT RATINGS. I would like to see transaction history on the buy side and sell side too, but I dare ask too much. If you want to raise the standards of professionalism, you must lift the veil and expose those who are amateur, weak, and underserving the needs of the customers they represent. We would need to resurrect the great futurist, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to imagine such a world in all of its existentialism. This is a fantasy for sure. You see, brokers, associations, and MLSs thrive on volume, not on excellence.

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