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Op/Ed

Lawsuit alleging fraudulent realtor.com leads points out red flags of ANY lead gen company

(EDITORIAL) Buying leads is a common part of any real estate practice, but there are red flags to look out for when investing your hard earned money.

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Have you heard the news? Realtor.com and News Corp. subsidiary, Move Inc., has been hit with a class action lawsuit by a couple of realtors who have had enough — and they’re bringing their friends with them.

The lawsuit alleges that the company has defrauded thousands of agents by failing to deliver the number of viable leads from realtor.com it promises.

Big surprise? Not really, especially for anyone who has ever invested in leads from realtor.com.

The way most people would describe the leads? Let’s just say it rhymes with pit.

Before we dig into why this isn’t surprising and how to avoid falling into this trap for lead generation efforts in the future, let’s look into the facts of the complaint.

The suit says that the company:

  • Counts the same individual as a separate lead each time that person submits a contact form for a listing — whether the listings are in different ZIP codes and whether or not that person was already previously provided as a lead
  • Fails to remove duplicate leads that, though they may have different contact information, are clearly the same lead based on IP address and time of contact form submission
  • Fails to remove clearly fraudulent leads based on IP address, the person’s geographic location, the information submitted on the contact form, and history of submissions from the same device or IP address
  • Provides the same person as a lead to multiple Move customers, despite promising one or more of those customers “exclusive leads”

Below is an excerpt from November 12, 2017 email from plaintiff Tina Wilson to Move requesting that her account be canceled immediately:

This is not the first lawsuit alleging fraudulent leads — there are even allegations from former sales reps.

An example of this would be the lawsuit filed in January by Brian Bobik. Bobik alleges that he was wrongfully from Move in retaliation to his objection and refusal to participate in what he believed to be unlawful conduct. This includes lying to real estate agents to get them to pay for leads, delivering “bogus” leads, charging agents for services they never ordered or received, and billing agents’ credit cards without authorization.

I personally know an agent who has filed complaints with realtor.com about getting unauthorized charges to his credit card.

A lot is wrong with realtor.com.

For any agent out there, beware – realtor.com is not the only place where shady lead generation goes on for the real estate industry.

The good news, however, is that not every service is shady.

Let’s talk about how to avoid these mistakes and what to look for in a reputable lead generation service.

How to spot the red flags

In complete and utter honesty, you’re better off avoiding sites like realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow (and the countless other small-players that keep popping up) like the plague.

The main reason I suggest this is that the competition is high and there are only so many leads one can distribute. When the leads are not exclusive, you are paying for the same leads that 6… 8… 10 other agents are getting in the same area.

That’s just not worth the money.

You can spot when a company is trying to sell you a pipedream by their low monthly cost options. Sites like these have options for $120/month and higher.

$120/month and a guarantee of leads?

For $120/month, there is no way in hell they can get you quality leads, let alone guarantee them. It’s not possible. I’ve been doing this for far too long to buy into that illusion.

In the game of online advertising, $120/month comes out to be $4 day. If you can find me a legit source of leads for any business that can generate online leads, plural, for $4/day, I will kiss your dirty feet.

And I do not like feet.

Again, it’s not possible.

Paying $4 a lead is very doable, but not for multiple leads, that are guaranteed, for $4/day.

When a company locks you into a contract for 12 months, which most of these companies do, that is another red flag.

The sirens should be going off in your head. It might be ok to get locked into a contract if there is a way out or a trial period before agreeing to 12 months of matrimony.

However, going right in for 12 months with no trial period and no escape? Hold the phone. That is no bueno. I guarantee that’s not kosher.

Speaking of guarantees, be sure to find out what kind of guarantees the company offers. The sign of a company that lacks confidence is a lack of a guarantee.

A company who guarantees leads, but does not offer a money back guarantee? That’s the reddest of all flagas.

Most lead generation companies won’t offer a money back guarantee. It’s understandable because lead generation is two sided.

It’s one thing to bring in the lead, but it’s another to work the lead and close them. That’s where the process and relationship comes into play.

You need to have a solid process to generate any sort of result from online generated leads.

Follow-up is the name of the game.

When you pay such a low cost and have to compete against other agents and teams for the same leads from the same company, you are NOT going to get a lot from it.

There is a common theme here… Low cost.

We addressed the elephant in the room (the cost of a lead generated service), now let’s switch gears and talk about what to look for in a reputable company.

What to look for in a lead generating machine of a company

The company’s program has a higher investment cost. It takes money to make money and that couldn’t be more true for generating leads online.

If you have a small budget, then you are better off taking that money and investing in a referral program for your current clients and/or existing network. Buy gift cards or save for a couple months and buy tickets to a big event for a giveaway.

You can host a client appreciation event with free ice cream during the summer or hot chocolate during the winter.

Those types of outreach events work wonders when you have a smaller budget.

However, if your goal is to generate leads online from new people and expand your business, you need to put your money where your wishful mouth is.

The other part of a larger investment is that you get more value from it. For one, if you are working with the right company, they will help you with the follow-up system and process.

It could be a number of things from automating the process to providing proven scripts that work.

The larger investment will provide more hand-holding, which anyone can use during the lead generation process.

Regardless, companies who offer higher ticket items build relationships. You need a relationship that will yield results. And that’s what you will pay for.

Exclusivity is nice — very nice. When you work with the right company at the right investment cost, you get exclusive access to the leads.

Imagine that! Getting people who are interested in listing their property or buying a property and not needing to compete with other teams in the same area using the same system.

That’s the dream.

And that dream does exist, as long as you find the right company.

Don’t look like everyone else

It shouldn’t be cookie cutter. When you use the low cost, non-exclusive lead generation systems, you won’t stand out.

When you’re cookie cutter, there is no differentiator – you don’t build a brand.

Depending on your goals, if you are investing in your business, then you want to build your brand.

Having a cookie cutter, look-like-everyone-else approach isn’t going to do it.

That brings us to the contract.

How does the contract look?

As I mentioned earlier, you should never lock yourself or your business into a contract until you have a trial. All good, reputable companies will offer you a trial. Whether it’s 14 days or 90 days. A trial is necessary.

Marrying someone on a first date is laughable and doesn’t stay in Vegas. You don’t get married on day one or week one, do you?

Absolutely not — unless you are bonkers. You need to know, trust, and love that person first. The same goes for a company.

The best way to know, trust, and love a company is by having them prove it to you.

After they do that and you see what they are capable of, lock it down. Put a ring on it. Do whatever you can to keep that relationship going.

Beyond the trial, see what type of guarantee they offer — if any at all.

Not a lot of lead generation companies offer a money back guarantee, but if they do, you know they are serious.

Anyone who is confident in their services and abilities will put a money back guarantee on it.

That will show you how serious they are and how confident they are in their abilities. Plus, the risk is severely minimized on your part.

At that time, you are both invested in winning.

In conclusion:

Let’s review what to look for in company that will get you to the promised land…

  1. Higher investment cost
  2. A follow-up system and process
  3. An opportunity for exclusivity
  4. Not cookie cutter
  5. A trial period before the marriage
  6. A guarantee to put their money where their mouth is

Look for all those qualities in a lead generation company and you will avoid any headaches, pocketbook aches, and the extreme amount stress that agents experience when dealing with a realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, or other questionable lead generation systems.

You have a business – you need to treat it with tenderness and care. In return, you will reach your wildest dreams.

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Editorialist Brandon Lewin is the President & Founder of Money In The Bank Marketing where they create real estate deal campaigns using a combination of online marketing and technology tools.

Op/Ed

Is the cloud on the verge of death?

(EDITORIAL) There is a theory floating around that the cloud is on the verge of death. Turns out, there’s merit for this line of thought…

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The sky is falling.

At least according to technologist, Viktor Charypar, who proclaimed “the cloud,” as a large-scale approach to computing, is about to nosedive.

To say the least, that’s a surprise.

At this point, it’s safe to call cloud-based computing the dominant paradigm. Those who make their living through that paradigm can be forgiven for dropping their collective monocle, spitting out their collective tea, and having a good old scoff at such scandalous tomfoolery as “the end of the cloud is coming.” I know I did.

But I kept reading, because it is literally my job to do the reading. And you know something?

Charypar is right.

The reason “end of the cloud” has so many metaphorical monocles floating in cups of tea is that tech in general is running full tilt at cloud-based solutions. More and more companies are moving more and more functionality out of consumer hardware and into corporate owned resources, which those corporations then make available as a service.

It’s easy to see why. The previous generation of tech had what they figured was an insoluble problem: you can only stuff so much processing power in a plastic rectangle before it keels over or bursts into flames.

The fix was literally out of the box. Take it out, went the wisdom. Move your computing into remote services, big networks of big iron optimized to meet your needs. That moves processing power and economic power in the same direction: away from the user and toward the service provider. In a sense, it was a return to the very, very old days of personal computing, when “computer” meant the vast and heaving beast in the basement and users just got terminals, access points where they could play with data owned and operated by someone else. Trust me. I’m writing this on a Chromebook.

As Charypar points out, like any tech solution, the cloud paradigm comes with advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious: thanks to the Chromebook, this article has gone through three formats on two machines, and I never even had to plug anything in.

Disadvantages? The cloud isn’t infinitely scalable. As tech standards rise – SD to HD, 1080 to 4K – we’re forcing bigger data through tighter tubes. That means everything gets slower, dumber, and uglier. Especially with net neutrality under threat, that’s a serious possibility in the immediate future.

It’s also insecure.

Old one-liner: freedom of the press is limited to those who own one. The Internet fixed that – then promptly no-backsied us with the streaming paradigm. Now, access to data is limited to those who can store and stream it. How much of your entertainment comes from, say, Netflix, or Spotify, or Steam? Because if those services stop working tomorrow, and they could, whatever you’ve invested in them goes too. If their security fails – not unprecedented – you’re the one exposed. They’ve got the data. You’re just paying to play with it.

So, you quite rightly ask, what’s the fix?

BitTorrent.

The soft, splashy clink you just heard was the few remaining metaphorical monocles splashing into caffeinated beverages all over this great country. Someone fetch smelling salts; the entirety of Silicon Valley just got the vapors.

We aren’t advocating that we all grab the digital equivalent of a cutlass and a parrot and return to the scandalous days of piracy. But, as Charypar points out, whatever else you might say about peer-to-peer data transfer, and there’s plenty to say, it worked. It’s proven tech. Back in the day, you could grab a whole season of Deadwood in an hour. I mean, so I heard. In Bible study.

More recently, blockchain has repeatedly demonstrated that peer-to-peer tech solutions are widely applicable and solve many of the problems associated with a cloud-based middleman.

Peer-to-peer solutions like BitTorrent and blockchain are as close to infinitely scalable as technology allows. The processing power grows organically with the network, because the computers on the network are doing the work. Peer-to-peer is secure, too. I’d tell you to ask a cryptocurrency miner, but that’s the point: there’s no way to find one.

Charypar’s argument is that cloud-based computing is approaching its end because it never was an end in itself. It was the first half of the real goal: distributed computing.

Apps built peer-to-peer, sharing data and processing power between users directly, backed with blockchain or other encryption solutions, could represent what the cloud keeps demonstrating it can’t: a safe, stable digital world.

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Op/Ed

How a TED Talk on procrastination actually changed my perspective

(EDITORIAL) If procrastination is a problem for you, at least bookmark this editorial to revisit within the month.

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Procrastination is a huge challenge

Did you know that there are PhDs studying procrastination and that there are experts on the topic? People that have devoted their careers to understanding the science and psychology behind why it is our human nature to put things off?

I was talking with my dad on the phone today, and it turns out that we both randomly wanted to talk about a topic we have never discussed – procrastination (we had put it off long enough – see what I did there?). He ordered a book months ago on the topic that he finally read, and I watched a TED Talk on it over the weekend, both of which stuck with us and altered our perspective slightly. He learned about the roots of his specific type of procrastination, and while sharing it with me, I realized that because of the way he raised me (giving me ample room to row my own boat), I am absolutely not a procrastinator.

Or am I?

First things first, watch this:

It’s 15 minutes, and what follows won’t make sense unless you watch the entire talk (don’t procrastinate, you’re already here):

How this altered my perspective… at first

I really loved Tim Urban’s take on procrastination, positing that the instant gratification monkey often derails us, but the panic monster gets us back on track when it is required. The simplicity of the message is such that anyone can imagine the monkey upstairs and tell it to shut the hell up if they want to.

Like I said, Urban’s talk stuck with me, which is rare – I’m more of a watch something, instantly digest, and move on type. But I kept thinking of this. And it upset me. Not because I had to acknowledge my personal feelings toward procrastination, but because something was missing.

I spent a great deal of time these past few days considering why I was so upset about this – who cares? It’s a video, move on, Lani. But I can’t.

At first, I concluded that I can’t relate to Urban’s theory because I’m not a procrastinator. In fact, I’m very list oriented.

I’m a classic over-achiever, I’m that kid in class that finished every test before any student was halfway through. I’m not exaggerating, ask anyone on FB that I went to school with. So of course I’m not a procrastinator.

But that wasn’t right, I’m not NOT a procrastinator

But that’s wrong. Everyone procrastinates – some people put off big life decisions, others minutiae, but everyone does it. So the next conclusion that I came to is that Urban’s theory rubbed me the wrong way because I am a procrastinator, but also a workaholic. Hear me out.

You see, I procrastinate constantly. In fact, I’m currently procrastinating from finalizing a speech I’m giving next month, by writing this editorial. Yes, next month, that’s what is on my agenda during this exact hour. But I’m not tackling that – this editorial isn’t even on my to do list. I’ve gone rogue.

And this is what rubbed me the wrong way about Urban’s otherwise flawless theory: Procrastination doesn’t necessarily mean that I go play Xbox or decide to read an entire Wikipedia entry about the Boston Marathon, then click on another link and another and another, and fall down a useless rabbit hole for fun.

For me, procrastination means consciously altering the order of prioritized tasks or adding new (easier)tasks. And they’re always work (I already told you I’m a workaholic), not entertainment or useless.

So today, instead of finalizing a speech, I created content here. Instead of scrubbing the email list this morning, I scheduled out a series of emailers. Rather than repoint a list of URLs that I committed to changing today, I hand-wrote a flowchart of rules for a massive and unruly jobs group we operate. See? The instant gratification monkey didn’t say “hey, let’s go pet the cats and learn how to play guitar and do a cartwheel,” my instant gratification monkey said, “these things are all important, but this work item would be easier or more interesting right now than the other and I’m lazy efficient.”

So my takeaways? I have three:

  1. A speaker/writer has done a good job if you’re digesting their works long after they’re fully consumed (whether you agree or disagree with their premise).
  2. Procrastination is nuanced, and people much smarter than I have dedicated their lives to studying it. I can’t fully understand it after one gd Ted Talk, so I’ll continue pondering. Again, proof that Urban did a great job.
  3. Procrastination is different for every person. My personal method of procrastinating is doing easier work tasks first (not meandering around the web aimlessly).

Next time I am off task, I can fight my version of the instant gratification monkey and put myself back on the tracks.

After watching the video, I urge you to consider what procrastination is for you.

What does procrastination look like for you? Does your monkey tell you to re-prioritize, clean your desk, or learn about wombats via YouTube?

#Procrastination

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Op/Ed

How dropping everything to unlock a door for a buyer damages the profession, increases safety risks

The real estate profession is unique in that everyone is on call, but until better practices are put into place, the profession will suffer.

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Consider the following scenario:

“Welcome to Burger House may I take your order?”
“I’d like a Big House Burger, a large sweet tea and I’d like to buy 1915 Main St.”
“Great would you like a home warranty with that?”
“No. Just the house.”
“Will you be paying cash or getting a mortgage?”
“Cash.”
“Your total is $196,521 please pull forward to window 1 to pay. Your food and keys are at window 2.”

Well now that’s a silly scenario. Who buys a house at a fast food drive through? That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

Not really, if you consider how buyers call in on properties and expect real estate agents to “serve them up” a house sometimes with no notice, no appointment, and very little exchange of basic information. Here’s what a typical phone call is like to a real estate agent:

“Hello this is Jane. How may I help you?”
“I’d like to see 123 Main Street.”
“Okay great. The list price for that is $125,000. What is your name?”
“John. When can I see it?”
“Okay John and in case we are disconnected what is the best phone number for you?”
“I am in front of the house now I’d like to see it as soon as possible.”
“Well that house is occupied and we are supposed to give the owner 24 hours notice. Can you tell me a little about what you’re looking for?”
“It doesn’t look occupied. I walked around the outside and I don’t think anyone lives here now.”
“Actually it is occupied. The owner still lives there. I need to call and request an appointment. Even if it’s vacant we still do need an appointment. Have you been looking a long time or did you just start looking?”
“I have been looking a few months. When can you get here?”
“Okay I need to call to set it up. Are you working with another agent?”
“No I just call the listing agent when I see something. I’d really like to get in now. I only have an hour so can you get here quickly?”
“Let me call the seller John and get approval. I need to clear it with him first. What’s your last name?”
“Are you coming now to show it to me or not? I don’t have time to answer all these questions.”

I hear the buyer’s frustration – he wants an appointment right now

He’s not willing to give up personal information in exchange for an appointment. But the agent has a stranger on the phone who wants to meet right now, we don’t know if the person is qualified to buy – or even his last name.

The agent taking the call is trained to screen buyers to make sure (1) they are qualified to buy and (2) they are not working with another agent. This is standard practice in the real estate business. But the caller is having none of the vetting process – he just wants to see the house and see it immediately. See the disconnect here?

The next step the caller typically takes is to ask the agent, “Do you want to sell the house or not? Because I want to buy this house.” He hasn’t seen it yet, we don’t know if he can financially afford it, yet he wants the agent to jump in the car and rush over to open the door.

It’s a scare tactic. The buyer thinks agents are so desperate to make a sale they will risk their own personal safety – and waste of time – versus not sell a house.

Pulling the “safety” card

Whoa – yes I just pulled the “safety” card. To those who are not in this industry who may be reading this, answer this question: “If it was your wife or mother or little brother who was being asked to hop in the car, to meet a stranger at an empty house, perhaps at 10 am or 8 pm, would you be so quick to judge?”

Because that is exactly what real estate agents are asked to do every single day.

Get a call, meet a stranger, maybe sell the house. Maybe we lose more than a few hours of our time. Maybe we lose our lives. I know it’s a sobering thought – but in what other industry does the phone ring, and the person on the other end run to meet a stranger outside the office without screening them for the ability and motivation to buy? It happens every day in real estate.

Just meet them at the office, right?

You may be thinking, so meet them at the office and then take them out. Spend a week in this business and you will realize just how hard that is to implement. The house may be on the east side of town and your office is on the west side. The buyer doesn’t want to drive to the office when he’s already in front of the house.

You’re already in the car when he calls and it’s just a few minutes to run over to the property anyway. Who wants to inconvenience the buyer and the agent who are both on the other side of town from the office?

Those are not even the best arguments for not going back to the office to meet the buyer. The best arguments come from the buyers themselves, who are trained or conditioned NOT to treat real estate agents as true professionals. We’re just door openers, people who get buyers access to the house.

Try quizzing a buyer about his wants or needs or motivations and you’ll find that many buyers don’t think they have to answer questions at all. They are so used to agents just making the appointment that when an agent tries to ask questions so he or she can advise and counsel that person, they resist.

“Just get me in. I just want to see the house,” is the mantra.

How practitioners can change this game

Things won’t change until agents stop playing the game and won’t make the appointment until meeting in person at the office, or at least answering a few basic questions. I would love to see every agent stop dropping everything to show a house to a buyer “just in town a few hours” on the chance the buyer is “the one” who buys the property.

Yes it’s a gamble, but in 15 years of doing this, I find it’s rarely the buyer who throws a tantrum and insists in instant access who is “the one.”

Buyers who are serious will answer our screening questions. They understand that we are professionals who need appointments to show them houses. And they respect our time and brains in the counseling/advising process. Those are the buyers we want to work with. Those are the buyers who deserve our time and attention. Not the buyers who pitch a fit when they call an agent’s cell phone late Friday night and get no answer. Not the buyers who are sitting in front of a home and demand an agent show up within five minutes.

I wish every agent working with buyers would read this and agree to stop caving in to buyer demands to instant access to houses and agents.

But if agents deny access, unfortunately the consumer will just pick up the phone and call the next agent on the list. And chances are that one agent on the list will be hungry enough, desperate enough, or just naive enough, to hop in the car and show the house.

Until we train our agents and enforce an office policy that discourages “Pop Tart” agents, consumer behavior won’t change.

This editorial was originally published in March of 2015.

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