The real threat to organized real estate… Ourselves

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For years now, we’ve been debating about online portals changing the real estate industry and displacing REALTORS, for fear that they will become a real estate company or franchise. But as my colleague wrote in an article last week:, the online search is only about 5% of the process for buying real estate and we’ve focused way too much on this one subject.

Let’s face it… the most intricate and important part comes after a buyer has found the home they want to purchase, or a seller has decided to sell. That’s truly where a REALTORS’s value proposition shines, and always has. This listing data debate, and ownership over it, is such a minimal part of a REALTOR’s value proposition. Anyone who focuses on this is missing what REALTOR’s actually do. The only reason it’s a never ending, big debate is because these online portals cannot survive without it. They have very little value proposition beyond that 5%.

That said, it’s no secret that pretty much all buyers use the Internet to find their home, research the buying process or learn about neighborhoods, but what’s of great concern to me is the minimal voice REALTORS now have online. Unfortunately, it’s a result of the lack of participation, and daily local contributions by our own industry. Let me explain…

A few weeks ago, I was at a dinner function and a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in some time started asking me questions about Proposition G, a ballot initiative that had the potential to be catastrophic to San Francisco Real Estate. For those of you who don’t know, Proposition G would impose an additional tax of 24% on the total sales price of 2-30 multi-unit residential properties sold within five years of purchase or transfer (24% in year one with minimal reductions each year after). The logic behind the proposition (however flawed) was to deter investors from buying and flipping properties and to keep local housing more affordable, without taking a multitude of important factors into account and ultimately causing more housing issues in SF. It would have been horrible for San Francisco and could have opened the door for other cities to follow suit with similar propositions. In response, the San Francisco Association of REALTORS, Local Brokerages, NAR, C.A.R., and other local associations all came together to launch a massive campaign to fight this ballot initiative. Over $1.8M was spent in direct mail, online initiatives, local meetings, walking door to door and other campaign efforts by many of the members to educate the consumer.

What troubled me was the comment my friend made about the “lack of education going on by local REALTORS to the general public”. He went on to say how he is friends with many REALTORS and not one of them said anything to him about Proposition G or to vote against it.

I thought that was a strange comment because so much effort and money was being put into educating the consumer about the negative affects of this housing tax. So when I got home that night, I went online and started looking around to see how much information I could find about Proposition G on local Realtor websites and Facebook. I first started looking at many of my Realtor friends’ Facebook timelines to see if they had posted anything about Proposition G. Couldn’t find much of anything on the subject except for the day before we were going to vote.

Next, I went onto their personal websites to see if blog posts were written about it and shared with other local sites. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything at all. Then I realized what he was getting at. How are REALTORS supposed to be the local voice of real estate, if they are not talking to consumers about these significant issues?

And that got me thinking… Imagine if all 4,000 members of the San Francisco Association of REALTORS were posting articles to Facebook and their personal websites about Proposition G for months leading up to voting. The likelihood of my friend hearing about Proposition G from a REALTOR would have gone up exponentially. The likelihood of Google being dominated by REALTORS on the issue would have as well. Instead, my friend found out about it from someone who supported the proposition and organized real estate had to play defense.

Our associations can only do so much to fight off bad legislation and educate the consumer. And as I see it, it’s such an easy problem to fix. If we, as an industry, start communicating regularly on important information or issues on homeownership, in the place where consumers are looking to hear from us, we might find consumers understanding the REALTOR value and community impact a little better. Consumers will begin to look to REALTORS as the authority of real estate again. Remember, no website portal can purchase the local knowledge our colleagues possess about their local market. Real estate is, has been, and always will be local market driven. All we need to do is drive the conversation.


James Dwiggins
CEO | NextHome, Inc.

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