Steve Jobs has stuck out his tongue at me again — figuratively speaking, of course — and it was this little act of defiance that inspired this article. The iPad may or may not be the best thing since the takeout carton, but the one thing I know for certain is that I won’t be able to use it for real estate in my market.
We have a little compatibility issue, and after a year of committee meetings and product evaluations, our MLS has cast its vote yet again for the status quo.
In all fairness, this is not an indictment of our national or local associations, nor is it a criticism of the hard-working men and women who serve. Rather, it is about a problem at the root of the industry. Ours is a system whose goals remain inherently at odds.
On the one hand, the profitability of our associations (and yes, the traditional brokerage model) is dependent on increasing our agent numbers. And with the barriers to entry so embarrassingly low, their recruit pool is limited only by the birth rate.
In the other corner, we have the little issue of training this agent population, a diverse group reminiscent of a very big one-room schoolhouse. The associations (and, yes, the brokers) are charged with policing and enforcing laws and ethical conduct, and of training the agents in everything from contracts to salesmanship, from long division to technology.
With these competing demands, the temptation is too great to design the lesson plan with the least competent students in mind. To do anything else would be exclusionary, and ours is a system all about inclusion. But by perpetuating this open-door policy, it becomes increasingly difficult to raise the bar. Our "no agent left behind" approach threatens to leave an entire industry behind. That’s the conundrum.
The following letter, from an unnamed Realtor association, is fictitious (though portions may bear some resemblance to reality, which may not be purely accidental):
Dear Realtor member:
As your trusted voice in real estate, we are pleased to announce that we are once again taking steps to better serve you.
Here at your association, we have a long and rich history of bringing you the tools you need to succeed in your business. On the national level, we have continued to collaborate to position you in the forefront of the consumer search experience.
Remember Realtor.com, your official site? OK, that one was NAR’s idea, but our participation enables your buyers to view all area homes for sale — and then call the listing agent or their cousin Frank to write the offer and throw them a little something toward their closing costs. This, in turn, leaves you one client lighter and with more time to tweet.
The best part is that Realor.com is free — unless, of course, you want intelligible text, the full complement of photos, or prominent positioning for your postings so as not to appear loser-like at your next listing appointment. Trivia aside, what’s important is that we give you the choice!
We continue to provide valuable education and support accreditation to help you stand out in the crowd of licensees, an elite crowd consisting of only those who were able to find their car keys on the morning of the exam. Thanks to your time commitment last Tuesday and your generous pledge to make an annual payment in perpetuity, you are now an ePro, ABR, SRS, RSPS, AHWD, RSVP, BYOB and, most recently, an Agent Specializing in Representing Buyers on Sundays During Leap Years in Which the Padres Win the World Series.
Admit it — the most important thing to your clients after your fee is the number of letters in the alphabet you have conquered.
On the local level, we continue to police and enforce the rules of conduct to ensure the highest degrees of professionalism among members. Last month alone, while you were out serving your clients by taking photos of the bathroom doorjamb in the dark with your cell phone while wearing your ski mask backwards, we issued 3,801 nasty-grams to agents who failed to tattoo their state Department of Real Estate numbers to their foreheads.
And another 672 letters were sent to agents who neglected to display their broker’s logo in the proper size and font on their Web pages. As Realtors, after all, we must all be held to a higher standard. …CONTINUED
Arguably, though, our crown jewel is the multiple listing service. This is where our real value comes in. We (er, you) own the data, darn it, and through the miracle of Internet Data Exchange and a lot of really smart people who know how to reconfigure our feeds into something actually useful and sell it back to you, you now have access to the data in a format that has some practical application. Or you can just tell your clients to visit Redfin’s site; it’s pretty cool.
Of course, the true test of any software application is the ease of use. Here, we deliver in spades. In fact, we offer eight (or is it 10?) free training courses in which our instructors will "teach" you just how easy it is!
At the completion of the series, we guarantee you will be able to prepare a simple comparative market analysis with only a few of the fields truncated and with at least one property mapped "in the ballpark" before you toss your laptop onto the Interstate or find that your clients have lost interest and moved to a commune outside of Placerville, Calif.
A proprietary system such as this is nothing if it isn’t secure, and rest assured your MLS secret remains safe with us! Yet, security comes with a price.
While you are sitting in front of a yard sign trying to find your special members-only key fob in order to complete the triple-sequence initiation code to gain access to showing instructions, your client has already found the listing agent’s name and number on his iPhone, completed his private showing, opened escrow and written you off as a complete techno-reject.
What your client doesn’t know, however, is that you are literally dripping technological savvy. Zillow may have great mapping and neighborhood data, but thanks to our (uh, your) MLS, you have gotten a crash course in ActiveX controls, 404 errors, and the importance of the little swirling icon in the connectivity process. It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago most of you couldn’t have told us what a browser is, much less which one you are using! (Answer: The one that doesn’t work with our — we mean, your — MLS.)
This week you may have heard that a company called Apple released a new product called the iPad. Reviews are mixed. Some call it a personal data assistant on steroids, while others call it a better productivity tool. Regardless, you needn’t worry about these things. Our (oops — your) MLS won’t work with it. This will leave you more time to head down to FedEx Kinko’s to bind your listing presentation — or to work on that old Facebook page! You’re welcome.
The reality is that this iPad announcement may seem like news now, but tomorrow Apple or someone else will just come out with something better. It’s like spitting in the wind, really. You could worry about keeping up with the consumer, but this would just be a distraction. The fact that every 14-year-old in America is, right now, simultaneously sharing a photo on Flickr, leaving a review of the local yogurt shop on Yelp, searching the local tax records for Nick Jonas’s address, and embedding a video on their own blog (all, by the way, while using a Mac) is immaterial.
Yours is a people business, dang it! Modern rules of professional productivity, information sharing, and commerce don’t apply to you.
Which brings us back to the big announcement. Our industry continues to be under indictment as being evolutionarily challenged, clinging to old ways of doing business that date back to the zoot suit. Some have even suggested that we are politically motivated, intentionally catering to the least proficient, equipped and capable just to keep the membership numbers up, and all at the expense of our agent members with functioning frontal lobes — and Macs.
This is simply not true. And to prove it, we are now proud to offer a new member benefit. We call it the "legalPad." Our members will no longer have to worry about cross-browser incompatibilities, long load times, reports that appear to have been formatted by a vision impaired Labradoodle, or time-consuming learning curves involving complex software like spell-check.
LegalPad is a calendar: when an agent calls to schedule an appointment, you can write the time down — directly — on the legalPad. It has a to-do list application that allows you to make notations (such as "check Redfin.com for new listings and then find key fob") that will be clearly displayed for future reference. It has graphics capabilities complete with horizontal positioning indicators, and it even allows gaming (Tic-Tac-Toe and Hangman being among the most popular).
Contract signing? It’s a snap. Simply lay the contract atop the legalPad, and your clients can sign away! Signing styluses are sold separately and available at your member store.
We believe that this tool is so revolutionary that it will change the face of our industry. The only thing it can’t do is give you access to the same property information your clients have. But, face it — you don’t really have that now. Leave the search and research to the customer, which will in turn leave you more time to get another designation or think up a new synonym for "Top Producer."
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.