Tag Archives: Real Estate

Initial Thoughts on the Listhub-Zillow Divorce

By now, any reader of mine has heard about Listhub and Zillow waving goodbye to each other. As the great American philosopher Louis CK once observed, “No good marriage ever ends in divorce.” Clearly, this divorce was coming for years and years.

I’m writing this in large part to figure out what I think about it. The overwhelming impression within the real estate industry appears to be that this is bad news for Zillow. Inman’s headline is “Rupert Murdoch Playing Hardball With Zillow” (Subscription Required) after all.

If this is playing hardball, it comes a few days late and more than a few dollars short. We’ll see how it plays out, but I wonder if this isn’t worse news for Listhub/Move than it is for Zillow.

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So, About This “Our Listings” Business…

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I saw a post on a Facebook group that references this Inman News story about Zillow having no plans to raise prices. The Facebook author (Miriam Bernstein) thought the key graf from the story was this:

“As long as we’re partners in success, we’re happy,” Liniger [CEO of REMAX] told Rascoff in front of the audience of approximately 1,000 Re/Max broker-owners, predominantly from the U.S. and Canada. “If we become competitors (if Zillow starts making moves as a real estate firm rather than a media company), you won’t get any more of our listings.”

“I hear you loud and clear,” Rascoff said. [Emphasis mine]

Then of course, like most things on Facebook, the rest of the commentary quickly dissolved into various “I R Hate da Zillow” stuff. But that phrase by Dave Liniger makes me wonder about something.

When Liniger says “our listings”… what exactly does he mean by that?

I mean, yes, I understand that it’s a figure of speech referring to the feed that REMAX corporate, the franchise company, sends to Zillow. So if Zillow pisses REMAX off, REMAX will stop sending that feed. Okay, that’s obvious. But we hear brokers and franchise leaders say these types of things — our listings, our data, our, our, our — all the time.

Three reasons why I’m asking.

1. REMAX is a franchise; its customers are brokerages. It has no copyright or ownership over any listing of its franchisee brokerages (unless such a thing is written into the franchise agreement, which it may be).

(If the answer is, Yes, those copyright assignments do exist, then my followup question is whether every franchise has such assignments, and if they do, whether those are nonexclusive licenses or actual transfer of ownership. But now we’re entering legalese land.)

2. Even if such an assignment did exist, we have the Edina Realty issue. No one denies that Edina Realty is a brokerage, with full copyright ownership over all of its listings. We also know that Edina pulled out of syndication a couple of years ago. But roughly 50% of its listings are still on Zillow, because Edina agents can choose to post listings themselves. Allowing agents to make that decision is actually Edina’s policy.

Does REMAX have more control than the actual brokerage does?

3. Perhaps the usage of “our listings” here means something like: “We have so much influence over our franchisees and their agents that they will do what we tell them to do.”

In fact, think of the issue this way: imagine for a moment that every single agent and broker affiliated with REMAX decides not to advertise their listings on Zillow. It seems obvious that REMAX corporate could not still keep sending a feed to Zillow. Those listings are not “ours” to send over the objections of the agents and brokers, who actually own and control the listing, right?

So… I’m inclined to think that the actual translation of that phrase is #3: REMAX has so much influence over its brokers and agents that they will do what REMAX tells them to do. It isn’t so much that Dave Liniger decides one day to kill the feed to Zillow, and overnight, every REMAX listing would disappear. No, rather, it must mean that REMAX is so influential with the brokers and agents affiliated with REMAX that they would cease advertising on Zillow.

If this is the correct interpretation, then there are all kinds of odd dichotomies in our industry. Because on the one hand, it seems that brokers and franchises exercise so much influence that they can direct listing agents to send or not send listings to one website or another. On the other hand, how often do we hear brokers saying they can’t get agents to show up to training, or take better photographs of listings, or stay in touch with past clients, or return phone calls promptly, or… well, a hundred other things… because the agents are 1099 independent contractors?

Do brokerages and franchises exercise enormous influence on agents or do they not? Do they, in fact, more or less control those agents or do they not?

These are the times when I feel like this industry suffers from multiple personality disorder. Either REMAX (and other brands and big brokerages) exercises such control, in which case many of the ills of the industry that’s all over Raise The Bar and elsewhere can be laid at their feet, or they do not have such control, because agents are independent contractors who don’t have to listen to the broker or the brand, in which case this talk of “our listings” seems a bit overblown.

But it can’t be both… can it?

So which way do you lean? Do they have control? Or do they not have control?

-rsh

Brokerages and Customer Service: Show Me the Money

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Some of the most powerful men and women in real estate at T3 Summit.

This will be brief, as I am in Las Vegas and both the dinner reservation and the craps table are calling me. But if I don’t write this now, I’m afraid it’ll never see the light of day.

At Stefan Swanepoel’s T3 Summit event that just finished yesterday (a wonderful couple of days of really high-level conversations), I got up to ask a question to a panel discussing consumer experience. The panelists were Grier Allen of Boomtown, Austin Allison of Dotloop, Steve Berkowitz of Move, Lawrence Flick of BHHS Fox & Roach, Steve Ozonian of Carrington, and Phil Soper of Royal LePage. In other words, heavy hitters, big time decision makers at big time companies. Of course, in the audience were CEO’s of practically every major franchise company and numerous bigtime brokerages.

The panel ran out of time before I could ask the question, but… it so happens that I write a blog that many of the people I want to reach read… so…

The issue the panelists were discussing was the importance of delivering consummate consumer experience, coupled to the difficulty of having a group of independent contractors deliver that awesome customer service experience. There was much talk of technology platforms that can help, training that can be delivered to these independent agents, etc. and so on.

My question was, and is, this:

For the brokerage leaders on the panel, I understand the difficulty of trying to get your agents to do anything, whether undergoing training or implementing customer service technology platforms. But here’s what I’m curious about. Are your office managers compensated on the basis of customer service, or on the basis of recruiting and driving affiliated business leads?

Because if it’s the latter… what the hell are we talking about here?

This is obviously a rhetorical question. So here’s what I’d like to recommend to every brokerage CEO, every brand President, and every person in a position of leadership in a real estate organization who wants to talk the talk about customer service.

Show me the money — bonus your office managers based on customer service.

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Dear MLS – Raise Prices, By A Lot

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I have to be on an airplane in the not-too-distant future, but I really wanted to share this with everyone, because I think it’s so interesting. So fascinating.

Recently, I asked a hypothetical question in one of my favorite Facebook groups:

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If you click on over, you can read all the comments. What I was after was whether, in the age of Internet-is-King, the MLS remained relevant to practitioners for the purpose of advertising a property. And if so, just how relevant.

The responses are illuminating.

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Put the Deck Chairs Here, Please!

Am I the only one, while watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the titanic blockbuster movie Titanic, who thought “All these people are about to drown and they don’t know it yet?”DeckChairTitanic

That’s kind of what it felt like during the MLS Issues and Policies Committee meeting this past Saturday in San Francisco. Assembled before the standing room only audience was an august panel of industry thought leaders discussing the crumbling relationships between the brokers of The Realty Alliance (and other large firms) and their Realtor Association MLSs. After about a half hour of listening to repeated platitudes heard ad nauseam in the past I was eagerly anticipating the announcement of Peace in Our Time! Would there be a breakthrough in the shuttle diplomacy that must surely have been going on in the back rooms? Would NAR CEO Dale Stinton tip his hand and let us know that mother NAR was riding to the rescue with a new MLS model of inclusion in governance and a noncompetitive product/service policy?

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Instead we heard, ‘Yes, we talk to large brokerages regularly, but they haven’t told us what they’re planning,’ and ‘No, it isn’t NAR’s place to get involved in the local issues between brokers and their MLS(s).’ (Both of those are paraphrases as I heard them, not direct quotes.)

<Sigh!!!>

I could almost hear the arctic waves washing over the feet of the band members accompanying the frenzied hustle of the ship’s mates as they rearranged the deck chairs on the doomed ocean liner.

Everyone in the room either heard firsthand or read accounts of the presentation by Realty Alliance CEO Craig Cheatham at the CMLS meeting in October. Everyone knew the deadline (imaginary as it turned out to be) ten days later when TRA was to meet and decide what to do next and with whom. Everyone in this room expected something to happen or to be discussed at this meeting. Nothing happened.

The general forum ended and the official committee meeting began. Surely now the sparks would fly. Someone from the major broker contingent must have prepared the motion to rescind the policy adopted in May that allowed MLSs to decide whether to treat their public facing website as a basic service, paid for by general funds rather than individually based on usage. In what may have been the fastest and shortest meeting in recorded NAR history, the matter was dealt with in a matter of seconds, referring the question back to a task force for more study, with nary a comment from the floor for or against before a rather lopsided voice vote.

<Double Sigh!!!>

Admittedly NAR is between a rock and a hard place in this drama. They have the most to lose if either of the two most popular guesses about TRA’s ultimate detection proves to be true. If (a) TRA brokers opt out of IDX and syndication by mounting their own web portal, thereby undermining one of the most productive tools for both listing and selling brokers, or (b) go all the way and withdraw from MLS altogether, the cornerstone of NAR’s local associations, the singular most attractive value proposition that associations have – access to and participation by all in MLS services – goes away, and with it any reason to belong to a Realtor board.

Without MLS, and all the benefits attendant to it, NAR stands to lose a significant portion of its membership and with that goes a similar portion of dues dollars and political clout. By my rough count, the five largest brokerage firms account for nearly half of NAR’s million members. Without the big brokers, NAR becomes a second tier lobbyist with small, disorganized members who are focused more on day to day survival than on the long term prosperity of the industry as a whole. I cannot imagine that they are deferring responsibility to their local MLSs with just advice to “Talk to your brokers and see what they want.”

Yet, NAR walks a thin line in the aftermath of the DOJ settlement, being constantly careful not to be seen as trying to dictate business practices that might be anti-competitive or guiding the MLSs to do so. Still, I have to believe some conversations with some of the major players are happening somewhere, sometime, leading hopefully to something.

If not, then we might indeed have witnessed the rearrangement of the deck chairs on a sinking ship. I, for one, certainly hope not, because I know how that movie ends.

For this post
Cause – Invisible iceberg!
Effect – Glub, glub, glub.