Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
It’s that time of year again. Fall is in the air. The kids are back at school, football is starting to take over the weekend, and we’re beginning to see trappings of holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving and, soon enough, Christmas.
Another thing tends to happen around this time every year — business slows down for real estate agents. Sure, real estate is local, and some markets actually enjoy a surge in the fall, but for most agents, it’s the beginning of the slow period.
Although a slowing business period would be an ideal time to refocus your efforts, to fill that prospecting pipeline and to revisit and establish goals for next year, basic human nature often takes over.
That basic human nature likes to look for excuses to explain and justify what’s happening in our lives. Selling real estate is hard. Working on a commission-based income is even harder. You wake up every day unemployed. If you have nothing in escrow, you have no potential for a paycheck, and that’s a scary and disturbing thought.
Our fundamental nature means we look for excuses to answer some of life’s biggest problems. We certainly can’t blame ourselves for our business slowing down. We need a target, an excuse and answer to why our productivity has dropped, why the pipeline is running dry. “Work harder!” just doesn’t cut it sometimes.
Every year around mid-September, the complaining and excuses offered in the social space seem to ramp up. My guess is you haven’t noticed this timing trend.
Hopefully, your head is down, and you’re focused on your business, paying little to no attention to the spin, gyrations and complaints stemming from your fellow professionals.
But the angst is real, and it’s ratcheted up during the fall and winter. Just ask anyone who has to deal with the negative waves on a regular basis. They’ll tell you it’s true — the complaint level reaches new heights this time of year. Every single year. You can set your watch to it.
Go take a look in the larger real estate-focused Facebook groups. Read the comments on Inman articles. There’s no question that the angst level is rising, the excuses are flowing, the “woe is me, life just isn’t fair” attitude is a little more prevalent every day.
The issues change. Well, sometimes the issues change. Sometimes people complain about and blame the same things over and over and over for years. Decades even. Other times, there are new developments and changes that take over the conversation.
This year’s season blame-fest seems to be focused on two things, one is a long-term, never-ending source of frustration for many, the other is a relatively new development.
The NAR isn’t coming to the rescue
Pop over to the National Association of Realtors Facebook group, and it won’t take long to find posts complaining about what the NAR is (or isn’t) doing about third-party search sites.
Zillow, of course, is a frequent target. However the seasonal flavor of abuse this year seems to be more focused on realtor.com.
You know, that website that News Corp. acquired almost five years ago. The one that was operated by Move, not the National Association of Realtors for many years before that. The website once operated by Homestore, which rebranded into Move after some folks wound up in Federal prison.
That nonsense occurred over two decades ago, yet here we are today, lamenting the fact that realtor.com was “lost,” that the NAR “sold us out,” that something should be done to “take back what is rightfully ours!”
It’s been decades folks. Rupert Murdoch isn’t selling realtor.com back to NAR. At least partially because NAR:
- Can’t afford to buy it
- Isn’t in any position to run a site of that scope on a daily basis
Please stop propagating the fantasy that NAR should just build a website like Zillow, realtor.com or Redfin.
Build a site that will have no agent advertising, that will funnel all leads to the listing agent.
Create a site that consumers will love, and that will drive Zillow and Murdock and Redfin out of business!
Just build another website! Sure, hire a developer or two, give ‘em a PC, and let the coding commence. That’s all it takes.
Any time I ask a simple question: “Who will pay for this site the NAR needs to build?” I get all sorts of answers.
“We can pay for it with our dues,” seems to be the most popular, albeit completely unthought unsupportable response.
Sure, just raise the dues to pay for it! That will go over well. Have people forgotten about the outcry, the revolt, that happened the last time NAR raised dues (a whopping $30 a year) in 2018? The collective lost its mind.
Then there was the 2011 dues increase. This time $40, same backlash as the 2018 increase. If just a fraction of the people who claimed they would “never give the NAR another dime” actually did what they said they would, the NAR would have folded.
Yet, here we are, eight years later, the NAR still exists, with more members than it had before it had the nerve to increase dues.
Setting aside the complete and utter disdain the membership has for dues increases, it’s well past time to realize these $30-$40 increases wouldn’t fund a “Zillow-killer” site for three months, much less allow for the creation, development, ongoing maintenance, upgrades and everything else required to develop a nationwide listings site.
Take a look at any quarterly earnings statement from Zillow. Know what you’ll see? You’ll see that Zillow spends almost a million dollars a day on R&D and marketing.
Do the math. That kind of spin, divided by the number of NAR members, means you’re looking at a dues increase on the order of $350 per year, per member, just to keep a national site up and running. I can see it now:
Dear NAR member,
We are pleased to announce that to build a Zillow-killer website, we’ll be increasing your dues $350 this year. This increase will remain in effect for the rest of time. Please be patient while we spend even more of your money attracting an audience to this website.
That should go over well.
And that’s just the tip of the “just build another site” iceberg. NAR would also have to attract developers, and all the other staff, needed to develop and maintain such a site. They’d need to build support infrastructure. It would take years and cost a ton of money.
NAR’s core competency isn’t website development. So it would need to make that shift — more years and more dollars.
In short, it’s not happening. NAR isn’t going to build yet another listing portal. It doesn’t have the skills or the funds to do it, and its membership isn’t going to write the checks or exercise the patience it would require.
It’s not NAR’s job to build websites. And if it did, you know what you’d have?
Another listing site. One that isn’t going to make Zillow, and realtor.com, and Redfin, and Estately, and Homes.com, or any of the other dozens of listing sites just fold up and say, “Ooooh, NAR is building a site? That does it, we’re out.”
IBuyers won’t be the demise of the real estate industrial complex
Let’s set aside some little things like antitrust and restraint of trade laws. Let’s make the ridiculous assumption that those things don’t matter and aren’t applicable. So why doesn’t the NAR “do something” about iBuyers?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s because so many Realtors — NAR members — are rolling out their own iBuying programs?
While it’s mind-boggling to consider, it seems there’s a significant portion of agents out there who are unaware that their very own franchise or brokerage is offering or working on an iBuyer product.
- Keller Williams is doing it. It’s even partnering with Offerpad.
- Realogy is doing it.
- Redfin is doing it.
- Agents with big brokerages are doing it.
- Independents are doing it.
Of course, one can’t just toss aside things like antitrust and restraint of trade laws And before some armchair attorney with a law degree from Facebook University chimes in with, “There are no laws against the NAR taking action against an iBuyer, take note of the NAR’s own words from 2017:
“NAR cannot sponsor or encourage a boycott of Zillow. It would be unlawful for NAR to discourage members from using any product or service provider. Those decisions are made independently by MLSs, brokers and agents. Likewise, it would be unlawful for local or state Realtors associations to encourage members to withhold listings or business from any third party, such as Zillow, or adopt policies that would preclude members from doing so.” (Emphasis on unlawful.)
So stop. Stop with the expectations for NAR to come charging over the hill in full-blown “we will save you!” mode. It’s not happening. It shouldn’t happen. It can’t happen.
The NAR isn’t building a listing portal. It isn’t going to violate antitrust laws and dive into putting its own membership out of business. On what planet does that make any sense?
Rather than lament what can’t happen, why not learn how these portals and iBuyers work and leverage them to help your business? Watch, observe and learn what the iBuyers are doing to give consumers what they want. Incorporate things into your business that will reduce the hassle and stress for buyers and sellers.
Yes, selling real estate is hard. Selling it in the slow season is even harder. Rather than spend time, effort and energy wishing for things that aren’t going to happen, focus on what you can control.
Work on filling that prospect pipeline. Work on meeting consumer wants, needs and demands. Stop spending energy on things that you have no control over. Think critically. Technology isn’t going to replace you. IBuyers aren’t going away, learn from them.
You aren’t going away either. Go forth and prospect. Focus and direct your energy into things you can control or improve. The seasons will change, business will pick up, work now to better position yourself, and stop wishing and hoping for someone, something or some entity to save you.
Save yourself, you do you, and stop the incessant worrying about the future.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.