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Op/Ed

Everything the tech gurus are telling you is bullshit, and here’s why

Tech gurus have fun tools to sell you and tricks to teach you, but I can tell you first hand that it’s mostly bullshit.

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I am known as a technologist. An avowed geek. An unapologetic adopter of shiny new objects. My passion is finding out how technology – specifically the internet, can make my job better, faster, and more profitable. It is also figuring out how the consumer intersects with the internet and how I can leverage this to create more business.

In 2014, I bet heavily on internet lead generation, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and video email marketing. I researched the best platforms and practices, sought the counsel of the foremost experts, and hired the best talent.

I had some great wins and surprising losses this year. I’ll get into that in a bit… but I realized that the real estate industry often markets tech on the internet as a replacement for human connection, as a convenience for the agent, and as a crutch for a basic lack of knowledge and expertise. In the real estate industry, technology is marketed as a shortcut to profits and that is complete bullshit.

Fair warning- this post is likely to get you riled up and deny that any of it applies to you. That’s cool. It probably doesn’t, so move along. I am not trying to derail your successful train. But this category of business tools creates stress for a lot of agents who feel left behind or “less than.”

About those gurus on stage at your favorite conferences

Listen to the gurus on stage and the vendors hawking their wares. According to them, the internet can provide a never ending source of people who want to buy and sell (leads). It can eliminate the need to chase signatures or show homes. It can sell homes without the need to open it to strangers or tell you a home’s value instantly and automatically.

Wow. Get clients without dealing with real time rejection. Show and sell homes with no physical effort. Find values with no expertise or local knowledge. Makes you wonder what human Realtors are going to do. Flip burgers, maybe?

Internet-based tools are an amazing enhancement to traditional skills and techniques, but it is often promoted as the miracle cure and wholesale replacement of skills and knowledge. I call this bullshit – but our industry is buying it.

The enticement of internet lead generation

Let’s start with internet lead generation. The surface promise is very enticing. Write a check and get a never ending stream of people interested in real estate who have given up their contact information. No physical effort. No skill required. No face to face rejection. Who wouldn’t sign up for that program?

But here is the problem. It takes a lot of money to do internet lead generation effectively. It takes a lot of resources to follow up and it generally takes time to create a sale. When you factor in all of these resources, internet lead generation is far sexier on paper than in practice.

Now, this does not mean lead generation isn’t a viable way to run a business. But it is best done in a team setting with proper resources to handle these leads effectively. In a team setting, internet lead generation is less likely to divert attention away from relationship building. And, for a single agent it is a very dangerous place to “bet the farm”.

So I can pay more but get the same results?

The number of portals and agents competing for attention increases every month, so the resources required to stay level will also increase. This means it continually takes more money to get the same result… and this is where I call bullshit. The average agent is only seeing the tiny fraction of people making a profit from internet lead generation and they have no clue how costly internet lead generation actually is.

And that is another problem. How many agents use internet lead generation as a replacement for the much less “sexier” work of face to face prospecting? My guess is quite a few. I’ll confess. I tried replacing my traditional prospecting in 2014 with a lead generation site. It was bullshit.

Another bullshit problem: social media

Here’s another technology coming between the consumer and the agent. Facebook, Twitter, and email marketing- loosely categorized as social media. When used as an easy, thoughtless, broadcast machine (as most agents do) the agent is following the idea that being seen- frequently- is the way to make the phones ring.

Agents have been doing this sort of “look at me!” advertising with postcards and print advertising for years. However, print cost lots of money and most will give some thought and attention before doing each piece. Social media is essentially free and nearly effortless, allowing agents to completely alienate their audience with their avalanche of tone deaf posts and emails.

Now, at least this stuff is nearly free and the agent has resources left over for traditional relationship building. But, how much damage is done to potential real life relationships with poor and uninformed social media tactics? The bullshit part is that free and easy should not mean tacky, thoughtless and loud.

E-sigs aren’t the next coming of Christ

Here’s another thing. I thought electronic contracts and e-signatures were the best technology tool since sliced bread. And, used properly, it still is. Contracts can be signed at the consumer’s convenience and that can be a huge benefit for busy lives. All too often, though, e-signatures serve the agent or brokerage more than the client. There are situations where the client is best served with an in-depth explanation of the documents, but they are given an e-signature package instead.

This was one of my hardest realizations of 2014 – I was completely guilty of choosing convenience over great representation. I told myself it was for the convenience of the client, but it really made my job a lot easier. This is not cool, it is bullshit.

I love technology, but…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still the technology fan girl you know and love. But with each passing day, I am convinced that a lasting and enduring business is made with an authentic connection to the people in my community. Technology simply gives me the opportunity to make more of those connections.

I meet and interact with hundreds of people on local Facebook groups and these interactions have led to wonderful real life meetings and lasting relationships. It is an amazing and efficient layer to my traditional community building and prospecting. But it is a layer. Nattering on Facebook all day long does NOT create enough engagement to create a business.

So, what were my wins in 2014?

I used technology to publish my internal checklists to my clients, bringing a new level of transparency and accountability to our transactions.

I went deep on an unreasonable number of CRM systems and I am getting close to having a system that enhances both the creation of business as well as the transaction.

I went even deeper into the concept of the paperless office. There are a lot of benefits to a paperless office, but for the consumer, it means anyone on my team can answer any question, anytime, anywhere.

And my losses for 2014?

What were my losses? The biggest loss was my investment in internet lead generation, and that was a real surprise. I invested heavily in the platform, in the tools and in the human resources necessary to make a profit.

I learned what it takes to make this business strategy work, but I also learned that I would rather use my resources to build a local community.

Another “loss” was the lesson learned on e-signatures. I have retooled my process to make sure that certain critical points in the process- the purchase contract, escrow instructions and going over disclosures, are no longer a simple e-signature packet.

Moving forward – join me?

As I enter 2015 I am focused on a few principles. Belly to belly rules. Technology done right is invisible. Build a community to build long term trust. Make a difference.

Wanna join me?

Kendyl Young is Division Chief at DIGGS, and an industry veteran. She has been named to the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders, contributed to industry books and speaks about social media and technology. However, her purpose is to help people buy or sell their perfect home in Glendale, La Canada and La Crescenta, CA.

Op/Ed

Should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate?

When a doctor’s hands get shaky, they can kill a patient. But when a Realtor’s mind gets shaky, a client can lose thousands of dollars. Should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate?

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I was on the phone yesterday with a lawyer who has aged considerably since we last hired him. I spent nearly 30 minutes explaining how a school calendar works, and that children have three day weekends nearly every month. It took three of us 30 seconds to understand, but nearly 30 minutes for a seasoned lawyer to grasp.

In another instance, I watched an elderly doctor with hands so shaky, he could barely take my family member’s blood pressure, yet they would be performing open heart surgery in under an hour on this same patient under these same circumstances.

In both of these cases, these intelligent professionals should find an exit plan – write a book and go on tour, begin consulting or educating, or retire. What they’re handling is so life-altering, that one slip can change so many lives.

In both cases, their own livelihood is at stake, as is their pride, and stepping down can be crushing not only financially, but emotionally.

Also in both cases, neither party was aware that they’re slipping, and as we all age, it is difficult to tell that we aren’t as sharp as we once were. I’m only 32, but I sure as hell can’t sprint up three flights of stairs like I could at 22, just a decade ago, but that’s so obvious – what is slipping that I can’t even grasp because I’m experiencing it first hand?

This brings me to the practice of real estate

In considering the plight of the lawyer and the doctor, I got to thinking – can’t an aging real estate practitioner slip and cause their client thousands of dollars, just as easily as the doctor can slip and knick an artery? Can’t a loss of faculties cause damage to a transaction, sometimes without the client ever even knowing? Can’t a slowdown cause frustration when communications break down over basic concepts like how to use a fax machine?

I wondered to myself, should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate? Perhaps it should be like drivers’ licenses where at a certain age, basic testing is required. Sure, continuing education is required to keep a license active, but anyone can have their assistant take the internet-based test for them.

Shouldn’t consumers be protected?

There is no real success metric in real estate that can be measured – with lawyers, cases are won or lost, and with doctors, patients survive, or they don’t. In real estate, a transaction can be damaged in immeasurable and typically unseen ways.

Then I thought about Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman is 87. If you’ve ever watched Raising Hope, you know that she plays Maw Maw, the senile old bat who is always up to some crazy antic. The show pokes fun at a topic that is painful and not at all funny – aging and senility.

Her character affirms all of our fears of the aging process, that at a certain point, we lose it. All of it.

But then, you must remember that Cloris Leachman is 87. She isn’t actually Maw Maw. She is a wildly successful actor who goes on press junkets, films the show, does sketch shows when invited, answers email interviews and fan mail, and tweets, on top of managing her personal life.

She remembers every line flawlessly, she delivers them perfectly, and she brings Maw Maw to life.

What would Cloris think?

Leachman brings up the dichotomy of the aging process – the elderly person who can barely dress themselves (Maw Maw) versus the same aged person who performs brilliantly year after year.

What would she think of my lawyer and that doctor? I’m guessing that because she has full control of her 87-year old faculties, she’d tell them to retire because they suck, not because they’re aging. She’d tell them to not put people at risk because they’re scared to step down.

Ability has nothing to do with age. This 87 year old can act circles around an aspiring 20 year old actress. Ability has everything to do with ability. Period. There are plenty of 25 and 45 year old coke-head Realtors that put clients’ transactions at risk, and there are many more lazy agents who can’t negotiate, take crap deals, make a mess of paperwork, and expect a paycheck.

Ability has nothing to do with age

Lou Holtz said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Bingo.

So no, there should be no age limit on the practice of real estate, but there should be a stupidity limit. I’m pondering ways to impose such a limit, so stay tuned.

Originally published April 2014.

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Op/Ed

How to create an authentic and memorable brand

(EDITORIAL) Your marketing is only as strong as the brand you create. Make sure you’re creating something with gusto.

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Building a brand is one of the most important aspects of marketing. You’re creating an image or reputation for a product you will present to the public – that’s a pretty tall order.

One of the most significant things to keep in mind is that you are promoting something you believe in. This thought is echoed by author Cindee Bartholomew, who is an expert in self-publishing and branding.

“Be authentic. Be you. Be real. Be honest. Be bold!” Bartholomew says of creating a brand. “If you don’t believe in you, how can you expect anyone else to? Get the word out and keep your name where it is seen often. Contact bloggers. Develop a street team of loyal fans who will promote you. Advertise within your budget.”

According to Forbes, there are 13 key components to building a successful brand: leveraging the testimonial economy, creating emotive appeal, focusing on generating value for others, using the internal dialogue of your clients, being known for a specific niche, identifying and targeting your ideal client, consistency, understanding branding is not about positioning, finding the intersection, sharing your brand asset in a thought leadership campaign, authenticity, watching what makes your heart pound, and defining your brand’s DNA.

This sounds like a lot (and it is) but, by taking it one step at a time, you have the power to create a brand that sells itself. The best way to start this is by asking yourself questions: What is my brand all about? What do I want to convey to the public? What sets my brand apart from others that are similar?

Being able to determine the answers to these questions will help you find the voice of your brand and your target audience. This is where finding the intersection comes into play, as you want to develop a brand that is broad enough to appeal to a diverse number of people, while you don’t want it to be too broad that it gets lost in the shuffle.

While keeping all of this in mind, it is important to be communicative with your clientele should you make any changes to your brand that may affect their consumption. Mattone Restaurant and Bar, an Italian-American restaurant in Chicago, recently underwent some renovations and menu additions. Owner Franco Francese stated that communication with his customers was the most important part of executing these changes.

“The biggest challenges have to do with how you respond to customer questions about the changes,” said Francese. Being on the same page and communicating consistently across the organization can be difficult.”

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Op/Ed

Culling the lazy, bloodsucker real estate agents

Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications. The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

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Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year.

“The consultants are like bloodsuckers. They’re ten times worse than a real estate salesman or broker, ten times, which is saying pretty bad stuff.” This was the biting yet confusing commentary from Donald Trump, a real estate salesman himself, at a recent political rally.

Inside the industry

The shots at real estate agents are coming from within the industry as well. Keller Williams’ Chairman Gary Keller recently said that agents who buy leads from Zillow “are lazy and don’t want to do the work.” Surely many of his top agents and teams who effectively use the leads would disagree.

Zillow’s CEO Spencer Rascoff recently told CNBC that the company no longer wanted to work with agents who weren’t “great” (they don’t spend a lot of money on advertising). So they’ll be “culling” those agents who aren’t up to snuff. While a practical business move, avoiding a term associated with slaughtering inferior or surplus animals might be item #1 for the PR team’s next executive media coaching session.

Real estate classism

Before we get self-righteous about these leaders’ word choices, though, it’s worth noting that this kind of language pervades much of the industry’s conversations on the quality of real estate agents.

There’s no shortage of snobbery and classist speech among agents and brokers.

Just ask a high volume agent how we should raise the bar of professionalism in the industry:
“Raise Realtor dues by 1000% and we’ll lose 90% of the deadbeats who bring us down.”

Talk to boutique brokers about their counterparts:
“That head shop will hire anyone who can fog a mirror. Their agents are bottom feeders who don’t sell anything and make us all look bad.”

You hear it from speakers at industry conferences:
“Let’s use the 80/20 rule. We need to get rid of the 80% of crappy agents who are making us look bad, so that the good agents who do 80% of the volume are the only ones left.”

There are some really important conversations to be had about the quality of real estate agents in our industry. We want clear answers as to how we fix them problem. We want the answers to be simple.

Unfortunately, big answers are often necessarily complex. When we group real estate agents into simplistic silos to try to fix our issues, we do a disservice to ourselves.

Volume does not equal quality

We can all agree that there are real estate licensees without the experience, ethics, education, or conscience necessary to serve their clients well. There are bad apples in our midst. They’re a poison on our reputation and should not be allowed to sell real estate.

Let’s not overreach with our reaction, though. This rhetorical journey usually ends with lower producing agents or those with non-traditional business models being given the scarlet letter and pronounced as a scourge on the industry.

Volume does not equal professionalism or quality. We’ve seen sweatshop practitioners become real estate celebrities, only to later lose their businesses and licenses when their practices came under scrutiny.

On the other hand, some of the lowest-volume agents often have the most experience to with which to guide their clients. Agents who are nearing retirement will often shrink their active client base significantly. The buyers and sellers who work with them are afforded all of the benefits of an agent with decades of experience and insight, as well as a greater share of that agent’s attention.

The client who works with an agent who has only one client at the moment may be the client who is receiving the most comprehensive personal service possible.

Then there are those “lazy” agents who buy leads, or pay fees/splits to others who prospect for them.  Since when was specialization of skill and division of labor a sign of laziness?

Selling vs. lead generation

Admittedly, this comes from my position of personal bias. We’ve brought agents on to our team who were low volume producers before they joined. Most had experience, but didn’t want to prospect anymore. They just wanted to work with clients and sell.

Meet “Jane”. She sold for 30 years before joining us. She is one of the smartest, most dependable, respectful, and effective agents we’ve worked with.

By many counts, she should have been tossed from the industry the year before because she only sold two homes. She sold 15 homes last year, a healthy business in a market like Seattle. It still probably wasn’t enough for the sales police to label her volume sufficient. She’s “lazy” because she’s relying on others to generate leads and focusing on her core skills of selling. She might just be “culled” with the other low-rung agents who provide outstanding service and consistently receive raving reviews from their clients.

It’s more complex than that

To be fair, we’re in an industry that has an unhealthy obsession with sales numbers. I’ve stopped counting the number of times someone asked me, “What kind of volume do you do?” within the first two minutes of a conversation (It almost sounds like “How much do you bench, bro?”). So it’s not surprising that an agent’s volume is often the first metric many look to for a frame of reference. Volume makes a big difference in finding out whether or not an agent is good for your team, your office, and your business model.

Let’s just not let it creep so far into the conversation about who deserves to belong within the greater industry. There are a lot of different business models, and different roles that fit within them. Not everyone needs to be a solo, door-knocking, cold-calling top producer to provide great service to clients.

“Jane” isn’t. Her clients will scoff if you tell them that her volume and prospecting system make her a bad agent. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications.

The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

It’s about education, experience, dedication, and professionalism. Those are difficult things to measure, but improving an industry isn’t supposed to be easy.

Let’s skip the simple labels. They’re part of the problem.

This editorial originally published on March 7, 2016.

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