A few weeks ago, I again found myself doing time at a committee meeting for our local multiple listing service. I call it "doing time" because, well, let’s just say it’s time consuming, this "getting involved" thing.
The mission of this particular committee is to evaluate and recommend alternatives to our current MLS software. This has been a long process and promises to be longer yet. Alas, that is how committees work. So I find myself vacillating between a plumage-puffed sense of pride ("Look at me! I’m giving back!"), to one of deep regret ("If I write, ‘I’m sorry I said mean things about our member organizations‘ 100 times on the blackboard, can I go home?"). But, I’m not a quitter, so I keep coming back.
Forget Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. A room of Realtors is like gumbo. If you have ever attempted to make gumbo, you know there are no rules. Take everything you have in the kitchen, a bunch of random items of food origin, and suddenly soup’s on. Sometimes it works. Most times it’s just a messed-up stew, and you find that the only thing the ingredients really have in common is that they now share the same pot.
So our particular pot is as varied as they come. Some agents are concerned only with how pretty the reports are, while others just want plug-and-play ease of use. Some agents are primarily focused on the contract management modules (the guys who call these the "prospecting" or "lead generation" components should be thumped upside their noggins with a cross-directory).
And then there are the agents who are committed to adopting the most cutting-edge technology available but sometimes confuse cutting-edge with mere complexity. For the record, I like both of those guys.
At our most recent gathering, I was chatting with local broker and Inman member Drew Burks of Dream Design Realty about what our MLS platform really wants to be when it grows up, the one that for the moment is still very much in its terrible teens. Unlike me, Drew has volunteered countless hours toward bettering our industry and even managed to be named 2008 San Diego Association of Realtors "Broker of the Year" while I was out meeting the termite guy. And, since I tend to think of him as an industry insider, I was a little surprised by his perspective:
"We need to embrace the most forward-thinking, technologically advanced platform at our disposal in order to stay relevant," he said.
This is where I challenged that, politically, I couldn’t see it happening. Our member organizations have to serve the entire membership. Give the membership a Ferrari, and 12 agents may jump right in and drive away, but you will have left tens of thousands scratching their heads and looking for the backseat.
He explained, "Either they figure it out, or they find a new career."
Let them eat cake? …CONTINUED
It was Marc Davison’s closer in his most recent column that inspired me to revisit this dilemma. He said, "As long as multiple listing services, associations, brokers and vendors continue to cater to the stagnant inclinations of their constituents — agents — rather than pushing them forward into new mediums, others outside the industry will."
So I asked Drew to expand on what I called the "no agent left behind" policies of our member associations.
"To be honest, I am not really sure what the ‘no agents left behind’ is. Are you referring to the attitude of our industry? If so, I would describe it more accurately as the ‘no agent shall be denied’ policy. It seems that anyone can get a license, and keeping it is no more difficult than keeping a driver’s license," he stated.
"Realtor organizations and association committees are made up of Realtor members and, unfortunately, the majority of these members are what I consider of the ‘committee type.’ The committee type is usually an agent who has an agenda or is completely ambivalent regarding the future of real estate, sometimes both. To make matters worse, the Realtors who don’t volunteer with their local associations really have no idea the power they actually have, or maybe most just don’t care. Either way, the root of the problem is the complacent attitude of our members, especially those members leading our industry. Real estate doesn’t do a great job at encouraging a team environment; everyone seems to be looking out for themselves only.
"Our industry-leading members care enough to volunteer but not enough to establish modern-day standards at the risk of losing the traditional-thinking membership. The general attitude in most of the committees I am involved with seems to be, ‘Don’t disturb the herd. Don’t force Realtors to increase their level of professionalism or standards, and don’t force them learn to anything new.’ This is very sad to me. In my opinion, we need to be on the cutting edge of technology and comfortable with bleeding-edge ideas and mindsets. We often hear that our industry has a bad rap in the eyes of the public, but rather than change or adapt to the new way of doing things, Realtors defend their position to what I can only hope will be the death of what they know as their job today.
"Realtor associations and members are so afraid of upsetting the traditional-thinking Realtors that they refuse to move forward at the speed required by today’s consumer and next-generation Realtors. The associations and members are happy in their comfort zone. Yes, there may be a better way, a more effective way, a more profitable way, but it may backfire, so they don’t want to try it.
"I find it very exciting to know that the real estate community has a chance to reinvent itself right now. In fact, I would say now may be the greatest time in history to be a Realtor. Realtors can make a positive impact in millions of lives and an enormous amount of money in the process if they choose to adapt to the next-generation way of thinking and working. However, we need the support from our national, state and local associations, and currently their vision seems to be blinded by the old real estate mentality of, ‘We have to control the information.’ This vision is hurting our members and the consumer more than they will ever acknowledge.
"Here is something to consider: Would you rather have heart surgery by a surgeon who adopts new technology or a surgeon using 20-year-old technology? It seems our industry prefers the latter," he offered.
He’s right, of course. The problem I continue to see is motivation, and this goes back to the ol’ food chain. It was also Marc Davison who once noted that agents are the plankton in our little real estate ecosystem. Brokers need the agents, and the member associations need the brokers. It takes a lot of plankton to feed a broker and a lot of brokers to feed an association. How do you motivate the hungry, bigger fish to cut off a large part of their food source in the short-term even though we know climate change may kill the whole species if they don’t? Or, put another way, what will it take for our industry to stop making some really bad gumbo?
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