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.