I managed to carve out a little time for a run yesterday. It’s a ritual I used to perform three to four times a week. Now, I seem to look for excuses.
"Wait! Isn’t this the day that we honor the union of Eastern Rumelia with the Bulgarian Principality? I’ll run tomorrow." So, running for me has become more of a seasonal thing.
And while I was at an intersection hunched over a utility box, praying the signal would stay red just a little bit longer so that the respiration process could resume, I was thinking about my client who had completed a marathon the previous weekend.
When I asked her how she had done, she beamed, "I won in my age class. But then, there were only two of us old gals."
Winning is still winning. She gets props from me. The only way I could have completed the 26.2-mile course would have been on the back of a reasonably sturdy mule.
Enjoying the good fortune of a poorly timed traffic light, and with a heart rate still suggesting that I was returning from the summit of Everest rather than a 4-mile "fun" run, I started thinking about the practice of having runners compete by age. If it is really a race, why should I be measured only against others in the "people who were born in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis with a couple of years to spare" category?
Because, where running is concerned, age matters.
You see, I could train every day until Zambia’s Farmer’s Day (Aug. 12th), and I could still not outrun a single 18-year-old, even if he were wearing bowling shoes and a tool belt.
In any competition, training and drive will get you only so far. Ultimately, there is something that matters above all else in order to succeed.
What ultimately matters in real estate? There are many answers, but I will tell you what the answer is not. It’s not Twitter.
Stay with me here. My segue could be about the personal traits that make for a great agent — things like drive, business acumen, discernable brain-wave activity, and discipline in keeping the car washed — but it’s not. Instead, I’ll make it about the tools that are most important to us so that we might have the opportunity to achieve our personal best. …CONTINUED
And it’s related to a little task force meeting I attended this week — a meeting that again had me thinking about the future of real estate and the "big vs. small" broker debate.
A group of us have been meeting for close to a year now, I think. Our mission has been to consider and test alternatives to our current multiple listing service system. The task force is purposely a mixed bag. We are large brokers and small independents; agents who were born with the geek gene and those who were not; Realtor association representatives; and accidental volunteers — like me.
This was to be our last meeting, and we would be making a recommendation to a more powerful committee, one with real authority — the "deciders." What would be our ultimate recommendation is not important so much as some of the sentiments expressed during our discussions. Where I could see we might be heading was not nearly as important as why.
This is when I realized Rob Hahn may be right about the 1,000-pound brokerages ultimately holding the collective independents at bay and winning the market share war. This is also when I realized that he may be right for the wrong reasons. If it happens, it won’t be because they used their vast resources to out-innovate, but because they control the room.
What started countless meetings ago as a noble pursuit to find the best, most stable blend of user-friendly and technologically progressive platform for disseminating listing information and offers of compensation to Realtor members ended as a full-contact debate on the pros and cons of change.
And as the lines were drawn, I began to feel like I had accidentally wandered into some back room on Capitol Hill.
Considerations, valid considerations, were raised about cost and the wisdom of remapping data for a new system with CARETS (California Real Estate Technology Services, a statewide MLS data-sharing effort now on the horizon). Forget that these arguments would have been just as valid a year ago before we put a lot of well-meaning MLS vendors, not to mention committee members, through the wringer.
Many observed that people just aren’t whining about our current MLS system anymore, at least not in the same numbers. With 18 months of field training under our belts now, did the system suddenly get better? Or is it that a pervasive sense of "fait accompli" (French for "previously decided fact") and resignation snuffed out the noise from the malcontents? Arguments fell on both sides.
What about technology itself? It’s moving ahead so quickly, I heard, that to settle on one new system today would be impulsive; something better and more advanced would undoubtedly come along in a month or a year. Good point. No need to wash the dishes; they’re just going to get dirty again. Smarter to do nothing.
And then, almost as a throwaway, the real issue came home to roost. One person representing a very big brokerage said, "Now is not the time to upset the apple cart. We are too busy teaching our agents how to use Facebook and Twitter." The last time I saw that many heads bobbing, I was looking at a tub of floating apples. I learned that this was a sentiment that had been expressed by other movers and shakers on the street. "Don’t you dare start any trouble."
So, what is it that really matters above all else to a real estate agent? Access to the data! Shouldn’t this be the most important detail in dressing us for our sport? Think of Twitter as our iPod, and Facebook as our cute running shorts. They enhance my appearance, and may even enhance my experience, but I can run without them. …CONTINUED
At this moment, my clients have access to better, more complete information than do I — unless I play consumer, which I often do. So, I use one third-party site for their better mapping, another for their mashup of past area sales, and I pay yet another to take the feed from my own MLS and provide me with the statistical data and trends that my clients want and I need. All of the data starts at the MLS. Shouldn’t our site be better? Shouldn’t that pursuit trump all others?
But, back to the issue of size. On the one hand, what I was hearing supported my belief that "lean" is most synonymous with "innovative," and that a small ski boat is better equipped to swiftly adjust to changing currents than is the battleship, particularly when the decision of which direction to point the helm of the latter has to go through committee.
Then again, maybe we should file this under the "naivete of youth" heading, and the one thing that matters most is not social media or the MLS. Maybe it’s that one thing that the large brokerages have and I never will: awe-inspiring numbers.
Our associations, from the national level down to the local, rely on numbers. More members mean more dues, more authority and more power. So, where I like to make a case for the power of the people, I might have to concede that it all comes down to the real elephant in the room: politics. Each association is comprised of a thousand little lobbies, and bigger lobbies are in a position to make more noise.
How my little local saga ends is anybody’s guess, and that’s not the point. The point is that we don’t have a true democracy, but a representative democracy, and the lobbyists who represent the largest number of "We the People" are going to drown out any voice I might have. This is where the big shops have the advantage, and this is where I worry. The direction we head as a profession is in their upper hands.
In writing about a "brave new world" scenario for IDX (Internet Data Exchange, or that thing that feeds our Web sites and most third-party search solutions out there), Rob Hahn spoke of the potential advantages of essentially killing the whole practice.
And it involved the big brokers opting out. The idea is that the brokers would then just set up their own Virtual Office Web sites (VOWs, a data-sharing system like IDX but with richer data) and lobby their MLS to set up a public-facing VOW, a public MLS that would drive "traffic to brokerage/agent Web sites proportionally — he who has the listings gets the traffic."
In other words, the big brokers have the power to take their listings and go home. He explained, "The Big Brokerages have all sorts of incentives to do this: beat the stuffing out of the little guys, get proportionally larger percentage of traffic (and therefore leads), which then enables a far stronger recruiting/retention pitch for its agents. The Little Guys have no incentive whatsoever, but … they don’t really have much of a choice. They don’t have the market power to set up a new MLS, and can’t leave the MLS unless they’d really like to cut off their noses to spite their faces."
Maybe Rob was right. It could be that ultimately, it’s all about politics, and my vote doesn’t really count. Perhaps I can mount a grassroots campaign. I’ll Tweet about it, or I’ll start a new fan page. After all, some pretty influential people seem to think that those are our priorities. Who am I to argue?
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.