Challenge for Positive Change

by Marilyn Wilson on June 12, 2013

RoadToChangeI have been reflecting on what I observed at NAR’s Mid-year conference and I have to tell you that I am more than a bit disheartened.

While there is more optimism than there was even a few months ago about the health of the market, there is more dysfunction than ever in “organized” real estate.

Concern #1 – The Large Broker/MLS Conflict

Since I’ve been involved in real estate I have observed tensions between large brokers and MLSs at least in some markets. The negativity and disillusionment shown between these two groups, particularly at the MLS Policy meeting, was epic.  Instead of trying to work together to solve challenges for real estate consumers, there was more blame gaming happening than I’ve ever seen.  Brokers expressed their serious concerns about the motivations, focus and service quality of the MLSs they work with around the country.  The most disappointing thing to me was that there is a lot of truth underlying their concerns.

While I would like to say that every MLS does whatever it can to serve the needs of its brokers, the truth is that there are MLSs out there that do not provide the service and support they need to.  Some won’t supply data to brokers so they can fuel their own back office management systems, for example. Some MLS takes MONTHS to approve a new data feed, when it should take days or even hours to accomplish the task.

Others have Boards that are dominated by agents, more concerned with fixing their favorite pet problem with the MLS system than they are with protecting the interests of even their own broker, never mind all brokers.

At WAV Group, we are lucky to work with those MLS organizations that respect their brokers and do whatever they can to build productive, collaborative relationships, supplying technologies that are relevant, up to date and easy to use.  Even those organizations, however, still sometimes suffer from misunderstandings leading to mistrust with their customer base.

Concern #2 – The Agent/Broker Conflict

In other conversations at the NAR Mid-Year meetings, I heard about how agents don’t trust their brokers. Some agents refuse to use the technologies offered by their broker simply because they don’t believe that they can differentiate themselves if they use the same technologies as their peers. What many fail to realize is that it is not the technology that helps you break away from the pack. It’s how effectively you use the technologies.  But what continues to happen?  Agents continue to be “independent” in thinking that the path to success is to use their own technologies and to ignore the training and support provided by their broker.

Still other agents don’t believe they need their broker at all.  They believe that the home buyers and sellers they work with are “their” customers, NOT the brokers. They do not appreciate the broker’s role in preparing them to be better sales professionals. They don’t respect the broker’s role in protecting them from litigation and transaction difficulties. Many will not even provide the broker with the email address of the consumer that has bought or sold a home under the broker’s license.

Concern #3 – The Association/MLS Conflict

Associations are not free of conflict, either.  Many regional MLSs are experiencing tensions with their shareholder associations.   Some associations believe their regional MLS is trying to somehow weaken their relationship with their association members.

At the same time, regional MLSs believe that associations are not supporting their members effectively. MLSs are frustrated because they believe that associations are not communicating technology updates as well as they should and are not offering as much technology training as their subscribers need. Underlying this tension is usually a belief that MLSs should be sharing larger dividends with their shareholders like they did in the “good old days.”

Concern #4  – Third party sites and just about everyone else!

And let’s not forget just about every group’s concern with third party property search sites. These are the companies that just about everyone in organized real estate is concerned about.  Many are talking about ways to put the “horse back in the barn.”  Good luck with that. These companies are some of the best run and most consumer-centric firms in the industry today. They will likely be here long after many of the other groups may die out.

Have a headache yet?  I certainly did when I left Mid-Year.

So what do we do about it?   Do we just continue to fight with each other, weakening the industry to a point where new players come in and take it over completely?

I sure hope that’s not the answer we all settle for.

Here’s what I would like to strongly suggest to every real estate organization in the industry today:

1. Lay down the swords – Instead of trying to kill off each other, what if we stopped for a second and tried to understand the role and  value that we each can play.  Instead of being blindly competitive with one another, what if we took a different stance and tried to find a way to work together.

2. Fix the deal killers

  • MLSs/Associations – Just about every organization has something that is not working anymore. Some MLSs, for example, have governance structures that are not working anymore. Instead of recruiting well-informed, open-minded, confident people to govern, their structure forces political appointments to the table. Many of the people appointed to the board do not have the experience, skills and even interest to run a nimble, flexible technology organization. Only a handful of MLSs have had the foresight to bring in outside talent and perspective to their boards.

I implore those that are suffering from these issues to have the guts and leadership to make the changes you know are necessary to position you to lead effectively and serve the needs of your brokers effectively.

  • Brokers – Before you trash your local MLS – Get involved…See if you can fix your MLS from the inside out. If not, then you will need to spend the time to fix it, merge it with a better MLS or, if all else fails, take it over and run it yourself.  I would highly recommend against the third option. Running an MLS is not nearly as easy as it looks from the outside. I was a “shadow CEO” in one of the nation’s largest MLSs and I can tell you first hand that it is a LOT of work!   It can be a REAL distraction from your “real” business.

3. Remember who pays the bills- I feel like a broken record about this, but why is it that we’re so opposed to reinventing our business to meet the needs of the people who drive the revenues – the consumer?

Instead of finding ways for all of us to work together to address the needs of home buyers and sellers, we keep fighting with each other about whose job it is.  In the meantime, few are actually satisfying their needs.

Here’s a novel idea – It’s ALL of our jobs to serve the needs of those that buy the products we sell.   Why is it a bad thing for an MLS to send leads to its brokers while a broker also provides valuable information for consumers?   Why can’t brokers work together to provide their own aggregated online presence?   Why can’t we support REALTOR®.com to be THE third party website? After all it does carry THE industry brand, doesn’t it?  Why can’t REALTOR®.com help every agent, broker AND MLS to provide THE best mobile experience and let them brand it to their own organizations?   If we could just think logically for one minute instead of trying to beat each other, we would ALL be a LOT better off.

Setting Industry Standards of Excellence

What if we worked together to set a new standard of service quality that would improve consumer relationships? What if we built and enforced service standards that helped reinforce the reason why consumers pay dearly for the services they receive from their real estate professional?

MLS Best Practices

Why can’t MLS leaders get together and create a set of standards for best practices? Instead of MLS regulations that deal with the lowest common denominator, what if we set standards for customer service with members?  What if MLSs were “accredited” like private schools? If an MLS did not deliver services, support and responsiveness up to par, they would lose their accreditation leading to a loss of their “charter.” What if those that lost their accreditation were strongly encouraged to improve quickly or merge with a neighboring MLS that did meet the standards required by their members?

Brokerage Best Practices

We all know that there are great agents and that there are incompetent agents selling real estate today. The weaker ones are weakening the consumer’s perception of the industry.  Why do we continue to protect those that do not do the right thing for their clients? What are we doing to identify who those weak performers are? Most brokerages do not even have the email address of those that bought a home from one of their agents.  Few brokerages actually measure customer satisfaction. Even fewer enforce negative repercussions for those that do offer sub-par customer service.

How can we ensure the success of our industry when we don’t even know what the home buying public thinks of our agents?

When I ask this question, this is the disappointing answer I get: “Even the worst producers are still producing profits for my company. As long as they keep selling, I’ll keep them around.”  While I appreciate a profit motive, I do believe it is very short-sighted. That kind of attitude is what is weakening our position with consumers, especially younger consumers every day.

Where am I going with all of this?  I’m imploring that each of you that read this and internalize it. Take a minute and think about the areas of conflict with the industry that you are participating in.  Where are you condoning conflict by your LACK of involvement?

It’s raining out there and we’re so busy infighting that we’re missing the huge storm clouds overhead. It’s time to think about ways to work together for the greater good. Let’s create amazing, lasting relationships with each other.  Let’s commit to doggedly serving the needs of homebuyers and sellers, recognizing their ever-changing needs. Let’s be the first to give them what they want…not the LAST.   Let’s assure consumers they will receive incredible life-changing service.  I want the industry to have the most responsive professionals blowing away the expectations of our clients.

Is change easy?  No.  But if you’re a REAL leader, you will take on those difficult challenges. Leave a legacy on your firm, your association, your MLS.  You’ll feel great about it and the industry will be better off because of your hard work and tenacity.

 

 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

George Percel June 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Here is a quote that I keep in front of me and read every day:

” If you don’t like change, you’re going to to like irrelevance even less.” David F. Jakielo

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Gerhard June 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Concern #5
As a real estate agent I’m not a member of my local MLS but just a “subscriber” with no influence over anything my MLS does. If my brokerage is a member of NAR then, again, I only belong due to the membership of my brokerage. After nearly 12 years in this business I’ve concluded that this is the only profession were you have all the constraints an employee has (even if you are not) with all the obligations of running your own business. I’m not complaining, mind you, just stating the facts.

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Marilyn Wilson June 13, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Actually in most cases the agent is a member of the MLS and if the broker is a member of MLS, you are as well. You do have opportunities to influence both your local MLS, local board, state association as well as the national association. You might want to talk to your broker about this because you might be pleasantly surprised that you have opportunities to influence the process more than you think you do. Good luck!

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Coni Meyers June 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Bravo Marilyn!!! I couldn’t agree with you more!

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Marilyn Wilson June 13, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Thanks Coni! Let’s see if we can influence some positive change this year!

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Wes June 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Marilyn, your observations are spot on. Unfortunately, we as an industry continue the finger pointing and senseless power struggles as the rafts gets ever closer to the waterfall. These problems aren’t new; where will the catalyst come from to break the cycle? We can’t even unify against the supposed ‘enemy’, the aggregators.

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Marc Davison June 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Wes,

The finger pointing is going in the wrong direction. These aggregators who you refer to as enemies couldn’t aggregate anything if the data wasn’t handed to them to aggregate. But are they really enemies?

Really?

Last time I checked, these so called enemies, advertise every real estate brokers listings to a world of consumers who really enjoy shopping on their websites. That makes them your friends.

These so called enemies pass every lead they get back to any agent or broker who advertises on their site. That makes them your partners.

These so called enemies also list all your inventory for free and do it ten times better than you and your peers do it providing consumers a far better and more enjoyable experience in which to view real estate. That keeps people coming back to view more and more often. That makes them your saviors.

These so called enemies have invested so much money into creating websites that rank, enjoyed, trafficked and talked about that if every broker would stop fighting them and instead invest with them, they would spend a 10th of the money they do all year trying to out develop them, out rank them and out them from the industry.

The only enemy in real estate is whatever exists that prevents everyone from seeing this truth. And the only finger pointing that should occur is back at oneself for getting so mired in this destructive mindset.

Marilyn is trying to guide you folks someplace. I think that place is where we stop the pointing fingers all together and see the bigger picture.

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Wes June 15, 2013 at 5:29 am

Marc, I used the term ‘supposed enemy’ on purpose. The point I was trying to make is that even when aggregators 1st made a presence and everyone thought they were ‘bad’, the industry collective was still unable to unify.

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Veronica Mullenix June 13, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Excellent Marilyn!!
My sleeves are all rolled up, ready to do what needs to be done!!
Let’s get started and turn this titanic around!
(^_^)b

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Marilyn Wilson June 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

Love it!

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Leslea Knauff June 16, 2013 at 1:01 am

Gosh, I didn’t know I had more things to worry about than I thought I did! My MLS seems pretty reasonable by comparison. They are helpful on the phone when I need them–and by email as well. They haven’t raised the quarterly dues in a while (shhhh! don’t let them hear me say that!) and seem to be continually trying to improve the process. They even withdrew one of their recent “improvements” because most agents were not happy with it. My only issue is that they roll out their new, improved versions right before major holidays. The last thing most agents want to do is attend a “class” on the new way to search for properties the week before Thanksgiving when we’re just trying to keep our heads above water and get our fall sales to settlement before the end of the year.
As far as my listings appearing on other websites….just a few months ago listing agents were on their knees every night just praying for a “needle in the haystack” buyer to come forward and please, please make an offer on this property where I have been doing open houses for the last 4 months. Did we really care that the buyer saw it on ABCD website and called some other agent to show and sell it to them? I WANT my listing’s buyers to be represented by their own agent so I am fine with that. When I list a property, my primary purpose is to market and sell the property for my seller–not to troll the internet looking for random buyers.

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