Author Archives: Todd Carpenter

About Todd Carpenter

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REALTOR® Influence; This is for effect

 

Rumor has it that Pierre L’Enfant designed Washington D.C.’s network of streets to disorient foreign leaders (or their troops) as they moved throughout the city. Of course, once they got to the Capitol, there were all those stairs to walk up as well. This is for effect. By the time a foreign leader has made his or her way to the offices of a senator or house rep, the city and its buildings have already begun to influence, impress, or even intimidate that leader.

tcardcFor years, the National Association of REALTORS® rented an office on K Street to accommodate their government advocacy staff. This neighborhood is where most lobbyists can be found, so it made sense at the time. But NAR wanted to own, and they also wanted to build a landmark that would give NAR a higher profile and better visibility (literally) from the halls of Congress. They eventually found a small, triangular lot by the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and First Street. The location is literally steps from the Capitol. So close in fact, that the Secret Service has closed the office’s roof deck during high profile events.

D.C. has various building codes that limit the height of office buildings, essentially guaranteeing that the Capitol overshadows all. NAR built right up to the limit. In addition the primary conference/event room within the building is located on the top floor, facing the Capitol. When you walk into this room it actually feels like you are looking down on the Capitol. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t help thinking,

“this is for effect.”

NAR hosts networking parties and meetings in this space all the time. Members of congress often attend. When the conference table is set up, those congressmen and women have seats reserved that face the window. Imagine sitting in NAR’s office and looking down on your own. It’s all very impressive, but a member of congress doesn’t even have to visit the building to be impressed by it. It’s so close that you can see it from the grounds of the Capitol. NAR discreetly etched the block R into the glass of the building. There is no doubt who owns it.

All of this to leave one very deliberate impression: We are here.

The building is a symbol of NAR’s commitment to defending the agenda of homeowners and the real estate industry. Want to advance a bill that cuts the MID? We’re here to talk to you about that. Want to impede on homeowner property rights? We’re here for that too. Want to talk about GSE reform? You whoo, we’re right over here. Every day, NAR’s government affairs team meets with congressional leaders and executive administration staff. Most of what they do is behind the scenes, but don’t mistake it for doing nothing. Because NAR’s agenda is bipartisan, they find themselves aligning with different sides of the aisle at different times. Grandstanding about a bill they just killed is not an option when they know they will need to work with the sponsors of that bill in the future.

Because they don’t talk about this stuff, they get more done. Unfortunately, the lack of communication about NAR’s lobbying activities also leads members and industry pundits to question the association’s effectiveness. This criticism has come to a boil of late as Zillow has made some very impressive moves in the public sector.

I think it’s awesome that Zillow is doing events like these. It’s one of those differentiating factors that separates them from their competition. But the competition is Trulia, not NAR. Zillow is doing a public service by hosting these events, but don’t mistake the events as a serious policy discussion. Serious policy discussions never happen in public. I hope Zillow continues to hold these events, but I also hope NAR continues to do the heavy lifting, even if it is behind the scenes.

What is the value of a real estate listing?

There’s a lot of talk lately about monetizing real estate listings as a new income stream for MLSes. It’s an interesting concept built on the populist notion that “Zillow should pay us for our listings.” On the surface, it makes a lot of sense, right? Especially on days like yesterday:

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 5.35.43 PMIt’s hard not to think that Zillow is making money on the backs of listing agents, but does that mean Zillow should pay for listings? Sam DeBord recently inked a great opinion piece over at Inman News where he called for brokerages to come together and let MLSes lead:

 “Brokerages need to allow the MLS the ability to negotiate on our behalf from a position of power. Whether that means negotiating a revenue model for listing syndication, restricting that dissemination, or creating new and creative ways to improve our processes, the MLS needs the flexibility to work as our voice in the industry. Mistakes will be made, but as MLS organizations across the country collaborate over the most effective processes, the efforts will become streamlined and our ability to direct industry momentum will continue to strengthen.”

Here’s my problem with this idea, and all ideas that revolve around monetizing listing data. No one seems to be able to tell me what a single listing is worth. How much should Zillow pay for it? One hundred dollars? Ten dollars? Five? One dollar? And who gets paid for said listing? The MLS? The broker? The agent? Is there a split of some sort?

Nobody wants to answer these questions with real numbers because, no matter how you slice it, the agent’s cut is just a tiny fraction of what they will earn as a commission on the sale of the home. So what’s more important to them? The potential to earn $5 on a listing syndication deal, or the potential to lose thousands of dollars because they refused to list a property on the nation’s largest real estate portal?

Is it fair that Zillow is making all this money? Is it fair that listing agents feel obligated to put their listings on Zillow? No. But who said capitalism was fair? If, as an MLS, you think you are ready to cut off your syndication feed to Zillow over a revenue deal, make sure it’s not a bluff. Zillow already knows what the current market price is (their massive exposure), and isn’t likely to pay more. Agents don’t need the MLS to post listings on Zillow. What’s the carrot you intend to provide that will keep them from doing it without you? Which brings me back to the question at hand: what is a real estate listing really worth?

How to be perceived as a thought leader

From Wikipedia:

A thought leader is an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded. The term was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz Allen Hamilton magazine Strategy & Business, and used to designate interview subjects for that magazine who had business ideas which merited attention.

thoughtleaderBefore moving forward, I think it’s important to concede that being a thought leader doesn’t necessarily translate into being a successful leader in general. This is a post about influence, not leadership. For those who want to influence decision makers, here’s my advice:

Stick your neck out.

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life. – Winston Churchill

In whatever arena you wish to be seen as a thought leader, you have to express your own opinions. You don’t need to be argumentative for the sake of arguing, but you do need to express opinions that you know some people are going to disagree with. You have to take sides on popular issues, encourage discourse, and predict the future.

Don’t try to win every argument.

Perhaps you made a speech, or wrote a blog post that espoused a certain opinion that generated some public disagreement. You may choose to engage in discourse with those who disagree with you, but the longer you go back and forth with them, the more everyone else watching the discussion will feel you are being defensive. Confidence in your own opinion is often best expressed when you stand by your original statement in the face of dessent.

Focus on the ‘why,’ not the ‘how.’

The leaders you are trying to influence probably didn’t become leaders by doing everything themselves. Most of the time, they farm out the ‘how’ to middle management. What they need is your expert opinion on ‘why’ things they are the way they are. Let them develop their own strategy to address it. How-tos (like this post) have their place, but should not be the focus of your communications.

Refuse to be the face of your sales team.

As your company launches new products and services, they may ask you to be the one to personally evangelize them. Try not to do this. Make the sales manager the face of the sales team and elevate your public role in the company as more of a big picture thinker. Write about the ‘why’ for potential future products before they launch, then let your sales team reference those visionary statements when the actual solution goes to market.

Make sure your employer or board is comfortable with your status as a thought leader.

If you want to be viewed as a thought leader, you will also need to convince your boss it’s in the best interest of the company. Build a strategy that aligns your goals with the needs of the organization. Sell your own company on your value as a thought leader before you take that message to the public.

Photo: Creative Commons license via Flickr user: Dell’s Official Flickr Page

Three ways MLSes can leverage Trulia and Zillow.

Fact: most listing agents choose maximum exposure for their listings and publish them to the nation’s largest real estate portals. Maybe these agents love the portals. Maybe they hate them. But overwhelmingly, they choose to work with them.

Today, most MLSes that choose to promote syndication as a value added service are basically farming it out to ListHub or Point2. Both syndicators provide a dashboard to help brokers opt-in/opt-out of syndication (most brokerdirects opt-in for every listing) and then handle the transfer of data to publishers multiple times a day. This service is free to the MLS, and very reliable, so many MLSes are hesitant to syndicate directly to Zillow, Trulia, etc.

I think that for many MLSes, they are missing out on a good opportunity. These syndication services are free, but remember if you’re not paying for it; you’re the product.

ListHub requires that Zillow, Trulia, Homes and realtor.com (which is owned by the same company that owns ListHub) provide reporting data on the performance of each listing that it then compiles and sells back to MLS participants. Why not ask the portals to give you this data directly (in exchange for a direct, opt-in listing feed) and then sell the reports yourself? ListHub has already done the heavy lifting of requiring all the publishers to report the data in the same format, so just use their data-set. I imagine that Trulia and Zillow might even help you set that up if you made it a condition of direct syndication.

In addition to reporting, MLSes have the opportunity to drive traffic from publishers, to the MLS’s own public facing web site. For instance, Trulia links to the “listing source” for every listing they publish. Most of the time, the listing agent has provided enough information for Trulia to link to the broker’s website. However, when no other URL is available they link to pages set up by the feed provider. ListHub receives these links in most cases, but they could be going to your MLS.

Finally, there’s another missed opportunity that might go in the crazy ideas folder, but still deserves consideration. Make Trulia or Zillow one of your technology providers. You know who builds awesome real estate websites and mobile apps? Those guys. Zillow is already willing to build real estate search sites for agents on the cheap, I bet Zillow, Homes, or Trulia could build one heck of an awesome MLS site (or mobile app) for you. They may even do it for free if you’re willing to deliver listings direct.

Crazy? Maybe. But while Zillow and Trulia aren’t about to pay for listings, they really, really don’t want to be so dependent on syndicators like Point2 and ListHub. Going direct doesn’t have to mean you are giving it all away. Let me know if you’d like learn more about the pros and cons of direct listing syndication.

Photo: Creative Commons license via Flickr user gabriel amadeus