Let me tell you a story. It may be fiction, it may be nonfiction. It’s about a man, who may or may not be a Ivy League-educated lawyer who is the chief counsel for a Democrat Congresswoman with enormous power in the House. Let’s say his name is Dave. He may or may not be a law school friend of mine from NYU, who has now been a DC insider for a couple of decades. All kinds of names and facts and circumstances may have been changed to protect the innocent.
Earlier today, the Massachusetts Supreme Court handed down its decision on Monell v. Boston Pads, one of two independent contractor status lawsuits that the real estate industry has been watching with baited breath. (The other one, still being litigated, is Bararsani v. Coldwell Banker in California.)
Bottomline: the brokerages and the REALTOR Associations that backed them won. I can almost hear the champagne corks popping from my house in Houston. Here’s the press release from MAR (Massachusetts Association of REALTORS):
This decision is a win for consumers and the entire real estate industry because real estate brokers and salespersons will still be able to work as independent contractors. Affiliating as an independent contractor has been the backbone of the profession for more than 100 years.
“We are pleased that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the pro-consumer choice by real estate professionals to affiliate as either independent contractors or employees.” said 2015 MAR President Corinne Fitzgerald, broker-owner of FITZGERALD Real Estate in Greenfield. “This relationship has worked for generations and it is what consumers have come to expect regarding agent entrepreneurship and availability. We’re glad the choice will continue.”
Inman News headline on the story looks like this:
And on Facebook and elsewhere, the celebrations continue.
First of all, I’m glad the case came out the way it did, and I can get behind the whole “this is a win for consumers” angle on the decision.
But might I suggest tapping the brakes on this joyride a touch? I’ve read the actual opinion itself, and while this is not legal advice, it is advice to consult your attorney when looking at how you’ve structured your brokerage operations.
This ruling is not an epic win. The ruling does not confirm that real estate agents are considered independent contractors. In fact, it is not a clear-cut victory for the brokerages at all. As Mos Def says, “Relax, pump the brakes. You’re speeding, money.”
The talk within the industry these days is all about technology. Well, by “these days” I suppose I mean the last ten years or more. Sometimes I honestly wonder who talks about technology more: REALTORS or venture capitalists. Go look on any of the social media channels frequented by real estate folks, and all the hubbub is about AMP, RPR, Upstream, Zillow, mobile apps, etc. etc.
Well, I just got home from an important engagement — one of the most important I’ve undertaken in my (comparatively brief) career as a consultant to the industry — and I wanted to jot some thoughts down that has nothing to do with technology but everything to do with the shape of the industry going forward.
The question is, what does membership mean?
Over on Facebook, Sam Debord (regular readers are familiar with Sam) asked a really, really good question:
AMP, of course, stands for RPR’s Advanced Multi-List Platform, a project with which I’ve been intimately and personally involved. Since I didn’t immediately know what I thought about it, I figured I should write this post. I often don’t know what I think about something until I’ve read what I’ve written about it. So here goes.
Without question, the big topics coming out of NAR
Midyear Legislative Meetings were about RPR-AMP, Upstream, and the future of the MLS. I’ve already written a few posts about them, and expect to write more in the future. But lost in all of that was a big rebrand and relaunch by Move of Realtor.com. For what it’s worth, I really like the new logo and the rebrand. As Ryan O’Hara says in the Inman article:
“Everything’s about real — real knowledge, real data, real insight,” said Move CEO Ryan O’Hara.
We shall see whether Move can live up to that brand promise, given that it does not control the one million plus local touchpoints of their Realtor brand, many of whom are only distantly acquainted with concepts like “real knowledge” and “real insight”.
But this post isn’t about the rebrand. It’s about the ideas that appear in Realtor.com’s Open Letter to the Industry that was distributed at the MLS sessions. Here’s a PDF of the letter, courtesy of BayEast. The three bullet points are:
- Respecting the economic interests of the industry by not commingling FSBO listings with brokerage firm listings;
- Not displaying value estimates on “for-sale” properties because the local real estate professional is the best person to determine the value of a listed property; and
- Displaying the online reputation of brokers and agents in a way that both meets consumers’ needs to find the “right” professional while also being done in a fair way for the industry.
I wonder if these goals are even achievable. Can this balance between consumer interests and the industry’s interests really be struck?