Brokers Should Take Advantage of the Big Consumer Trends of 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 5.07.31 PMLast month’s Brokerage Design article advocated that brokers manage the consumer relationship as theirs to cherish, promote and add value to. It went on to point out that all too many residential real estate service providers were unaware that they were being targeted by digital disruption and that not only were these providers (read agents) not taking the steps necessary to capture and harvest effective consumer relationships but, more importantly, that some relatively competent third parties such as portals are actively counseling consumers that there was no need to have an early on relationship with real estate service providers at all.

That piece pointed out that there are currently several digital disruptors engaging the real estate consumer. WithoutScreen Shot 2014-08-12 at 5.11.44 PM question the one creating the most impact and buzz is the third party listing portal. In every marketplace there are brokerages and agents who are expressing outrage and fear regarding what they claim are inappropriate and unethical practices being engaged in by these now not so new entities.

While only history will be able to judge whether the alleged wounds and expressions of pain being communicated by these folks are or were appropriate, some aspects of their behaviors can be evaluated even now. The industry must understand that neither the strategies or the tactics being utilized by the portals reflect their being mean spirited or unethical but rather that they are absolutely and near perfectly tuned to the demands and expectations of the contemporary real estate consumer. This understanding might also be extended to the fact that even years after learning about the importance of consumer relationships, many real estate professionals and their associations refused to change their approach and attitude regarding consumers.

This article assumes for a moment that one or more of our readers might have been convinced that consumer relationship migration was indeed being practiced within the industry and that perhaps they should begin the journey of creating consumer centricity and a consumer experience within their firm’s sphere of influence.

While the overall effort of facilitating these challenges can be complex many of their elements are, in fact, quite simple. Common sense can serve well to provide a cost effective soft start to such an initiative.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 5.16.25 PMAn appropriate starting point for creating a consumer centric environment is to examine how your brokerage’s attitudes about consumers and their issues are actually communicated to the firm’s customers. The favored methodology for meeting this challenge is creating training programs that impact the attitudes of agents, managers and support staff relative to great consumer communications experiences and service.

The second step is to research, group study and create an actual consumer centricity policy with associated best practices within your firm.

The third step, and by far the easiest of these recommendations, is to assist your brokerage and its personnel and procedures to be sensitive to the needs and expectations of the current consumer. The theory here is while you may not be ready to promote what you absolutely want the consumer to think about the real estate experience your firm is offering, you certainly don’t want to sabotage the consumer relationship by simply not knowing what the real estate consumer is currently thinking themselves. If, by way of example only, you know that many consumers within your Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 5.19.59 PMmarket and consumer profile are sensitive to issues of water scarcity and waste, you may want to be sure that your organization is demonstrating a similar sensitivity. An errant irrigation system that leaves puddles on the pavement that consumers have to walk through may say more about you than whatever greets them at the front door.

In other words you might want to be sure that, while in the presence of your firm and staff, consumers are not subjected to circumstances that demonstrate, without even trying, that your firm is completely insensitive to current consumer attitudes. Why lose the consumer relationship battle without even trying?

Some clients, when faced with this challenge, immediately throw up their arms and wonder how their firm could ever know such things about people they don’t know exist yet? The answer to that question has never been simpler. There is more consumer related information being captured, stored and analyzed in today’s business environment than ever before in history. Virtually every factor imaginable regarding the expectations and demands of today’s consumer is readily available. There are dozens of vendors who will provide this information in many formats.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 5.22.36 PMOne of better of these sources is This highly rated website provides a great deal of very valuable information in formats and batches that are easily understood and relevant to the real estate industry. The following factors were taken from their current discussion.

In the current market (3rd Quarter 2014) what issues should brokerages be sensitive to relative to interacting with consumers and pursuing excellent consumer experiences? Consider the following:

  • More and more consumers, especially trailing X’ers and Generation Y folks are acquiring a sense of guilt regarding their consumption patterns. This is not to say that they are changing their consumption patterns but it is to observe that they are feeling guilty and will respond gratefully to any effort by vendors to moderate that guilt. This factor is referred to as “guilt free consumption.”
  • More than ever before consumers are conscious of how their fellow consumers are making decisions in the marketplace and want to mimic that behavior. This behavior is called “crowd shaping.”
  • Today’s consumer is increasingly aware of the fact that China is not only emerging as an economic leaders but is also demonstrating leadership tendencies in the area of environmental sensitivity and product quality. Comments inconsistent with these positions are noticed.
  • The X’ers focus on healthy bodies is being matched by the Y Generation’s interest in healthy and well functioning minds. Consumers are relating a great many architectural features to their impact on mental health.
  • It should come as no surprise that consumers are beginning to form negative attitudes about “too much data.” Delivering the right data in a minimized format is good business.
  • “Caring” in all of its iterations is become a primary consumer focus. Residential real estate offers a virtual goldmine with respect to all of the ways that caring can be demonstrated.

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Take the time to read and learn about the details regarding the above trends. Discuss these trends with your team and identify how they will apply to the consumer’s real estate experience. Ensure that the agent panel is informed regarding how they can use these trends to be more effective with consumers.

These simple activities are the foundation of what those third party portals are doing. We need to do this. We can do this.

Is Your Marketing Program Responding to Disruption?

One of the most prolific subjects in today’s business literature is that of digital disruption. It is effecting almost every profession, business and entrepreneurial pursuit in the North American economy. It is so prevalent that business journals across the entire political and economic spectrum are suggesting that business planning and marketing execution must assume its impact.

Given this situation the logical starting point for this piece is to ensure that every reader has a clear sense of what digital disruption is and how it functions. Sometimes information of this importance is best provided by outside multi-media sources and so it will be with this month’s contribution. In order to ensure that each Real Trends reader has a handle on the concept of digital disruption it is highly recommended that they take eight minutes (total) to view the following two videos on


Digital Disruption

Smarter, Faster, Togther – A Total Disruption Trailer

With this task in hand it is next recommended that readers access the following 18 minute video -

Disruption In Banking

This video features banking expert Brett King and reflects both his amazing knowledge about digital disruption and the strong parallels between the consumer aspects of the real estate and banking industries. With the expertise provided by these three videos readers will be ready to proceed to the specific subject of this article which is what changes must be made in a real estate brokerage’s marketing program following disruption; what adjustments must be made in a brokerage marketing program following digital disruption.

For the real estate industry digital disruption can be found in the consumer and market response to the third party listing portal. Readers who have experienced the above videos will understand that this type of disruption is a natural part of any industry’s existence and history. It is not something that “someone” does to another person. It is not personal nor is it malicious rather it occurs in the ordinary course of industry events. During its history since WWII the current real estate industry has both experienced and caused disruption.

Accordingly problem one with disruption occurs when those within an industry being impacted by disruption treat it as a personal assault on their right to maintain the status quo of that industry. Instead of recognizing the inevitability of change this industry response features efforts build a wall around that status quo with companion efforts designed to accuse the disrupting entities as somehow being disloyal and/or tainted. In many sectors of the current North American real estate industry that is exactly what is happening today.

But such is not the subject of this discussion. This article assumes that disruption is currently impacting the real estate industry and attempts to provide information on how brokers should respond to this disruption through their marketing programs.

Some of the best expertise on this subject is currently being developed and distributed by Bain and Company an American global management-consulting firm headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Aditya Joshi and Eduardo Gimenez from the Bain organization are being featured in a number of business journals and corporate presentations. While this article may be the real estate industry’s first exposure to this team’s expertise it will certainly not be its last.

The essence of digital disruption is the speed with which it disrupts its target industry or marketplace. One of the most important characteristics of all disruptive forces is that they are primarily driven by clear and compelling consumer expectations and demands. Much of the impact caused by digital disruption is not caused by the fact that disruption changes many traditional operating and management traditions of targeted industry but rather because these changes occur so quickly. It is important to note that disruption doesn’t have to take the time and resources to change how consumers think because it is already a response to how they think. The portal movement currently impacting the real estate industry didn’t have to convince consumers that they represent an improvement in the experience. They simply had to point out to the consumer that they were the change the consumer was waiting for.

It is this speed then that causes the confusion. It is the natural response of many impacted entities to attempt to stop or blockade the change rather than either join it or, better yet, develop another even more powerful “consumer” responsive or unique change. These “holding” actions take up precious time and appear silly and non-productive in the minds of today’s empowered consumer.

Assuming for the moment that an entity being impacted by digital disruption wants to lead with it’s intellect rather than it’s emotions the first responders must immediately address both the operations and marketing side of the brokerage’s day to day operations. The operational side must first validate the disruptor’s findings visa vie consumer demands and then must set about designing, developing and implementing changes that respond to those consumer driven demands and expectations that that are giving impetus to the disruptor. At the same time the marketing side must move quickly to given notice to the marketplace and consumer that these changes are taking place. It the face of disruption there is simply no time for the delays and cumbersome coordination required to effect a traditional evolution based course correction.

For the marketing side of the brokerage such maneuvers will require immediate collaboration with the operations side even as the response implementation process is taking place. The luxury of launching a grand marketing plan and concept will be lost in this process in favor of a more metered and collaborative approach. Critical to the success of this concept will be a close and respectful interaction with those “operations people.”

This approach will require senior management to be much more active in their efforts to break down the traditional barriers that exist between the operations and marketing players. Senior management efforts must be focused on quick response planning, strategic and tactical alignment, and cultural adaptation.

The real estate industry has, over the past eighteen months, discovered another basic reality regarding digital disruption. Disruption is not a single act such as slicing bread or enclosing an automobile. Disrupters know that their tactical advantage is best exploited through launching a constant stream of innovations, each one designed to cause the targeted entity additional distress and discomfort. They recognize that while some traditional entities may recover from a single act of disruption, few can withstand the constant assault of multiple and/or phased disruption. The evidence of this phenomenon is clearly being reflected in the disproportionate energy that is currently being given to non-responsive and non-productive efforts rather than in responding to clear and compelling consumer demands and expectations.

The benefits of realigning the relationship between marketing and operations are both immediate and long lasting. Not only will the brokerage’s management, operations and marketing processes be realigned to deal with the immediate disruption but also, more importantly, the brokerage’s culture will be re-engineered to exist in a permanent state of change management, creativity and innovation. We can do this!

Are You Aligned With Your Consumer or Your Past?

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 4.04.59 PMToday’s North American real estate brokerage is sharing its market space with a concept and a force known as digital disruption. Native to almost every industry in the contemporary economy, digital disruption is more than specific faces and brands, it is the application of several very effective and very new business concepts that are proving to be overwhelmingly effective, especially against individuals and entities who attempt to cling to traditional approaches that no longer appeal to the contemporary consumer.

It is this recognition that digital disruption is a business doctrine practiced by brighter than average entrepreneurs, rather than a tyrannical assault engaged in by terrorists, that can go a long way in assisting real estate brokers to align their wonderful pasts with a successful future.

Virtually every industry is, in some way or another, being impacted by digital disruption. Volumes have been written about digital disruption, what it is and how it works. Even within this broad span of attention perhaps the most common observation made about this behavior is that it almost always arises out of a pre-existing condition, most predictably consumer demands and expectations.

There are several digital disruptors currently engaging the real estate industry. Without question the one creating the most buzz is the third party listing portal. In almost every marketplace there are both brokerages and practitioners who are expressing both outrage and fear regarding what they claim are inappropriate and unethical practices being engaged in by these now not so new entities.

While only history will be able to judge whether the alleged wounds and expressions of pain being communicated by these folks are or were appropriate some aspects of their behaviors can be evaluated even now. The first thing that has become obvious is that both the strategies and the tactics utilized by the real estate portals are not reflective of their being mean spirited or unethical but rather that they are absolutely tuned to the demands and expectations of the contemporary real estate consumer. A second observation would be that, even years after learning about the importance of relationships, many real estate professionals refused to change their approach.

The practitioners of the traditional real estate service practice are not victims of some new weapon of mass destruction. They may, however, be victims of a weapon of mass disruption. This new “WMD” is not chemical or fusion based but rather is built around one of the oldest chemical formulas know to mankind; “give your customer what they want.”

The vulnerability that has been exploited by the listing portal is not some technical, chemical, biological or communications advantage but rather consists of components gained by simply listening to the consumer and converting what one hears into simple steps that align the consumer real estate experience being offered with the demands and expectations being articulated.

All of which brings us to the simple conclusion that the traditional practitioner, by taking steps to be more sensitive and responsive to the increasingly powerful and influential consumer, could avoid much of the disruption currently being created by the portals. For the purposes of this article the more obvious complications created by agent centricity will be ignored.

What specific things should brokerages do to begin the process of understanding their customers? The first step is a classic example of that “one giant step for mankind” thing. The current situation would be greatly improved if brokers would acknowledge that the consumer is in whole or in fact “their customer.” The very idea that expressing interest, gaining knowledge of or creating a relationship with brokerage customers violates some secret code or sacred relationship with the agent is both unacceptable and, in the face of the current marketplace, inappropriate.

Much has been made about the billion dollar cap values being amassed by the portals. Yet the fact remains that what they are actually doing on a day-to-day basis is one of the easiest and cheapest remedies known to any industry; “listen to your customer.”

The probable place to begin this quest is to understand the issue from a consumer perspective. Most consumers today expect and, in many cases, demand a relationship out of every transaction no matter how minor. Consumers not only expect this relationship but also demand that the companies they deal with hold up their end of the relationship bargain. Brokerages that have not adopted some relationship “standard” for their customers aren’t just falling behind, they are violating what today’s consumer believe is a righteous expectation.

Most brokerages today are further handicapped because they fail to develop what the Harvard Business Journal calls “relational intelligence. They don’t understand all of the different relationships their consumers have with other vendors and brands nor how these relationships impact the consumer’s demands and expectations. Accordingly they tend to operate in the dark regarding this critical factor in most cases assuming, probably incorrectly, that agents are taking care of this requirement.

Obviously this situation must be remedied if brokerages are to appropriately and effectively respond to digital disruption. Brokerages must design, develop and implement programs that will give them the very knowledge about their consumers that will allow meeting this new challenge. Only with this information will they be able to gain control over a relationship strategy that will allow them to begin to set their rules and expectations rather than to be dragged down the road ruled by a one sided consumer generated relation expectation.

In this new environment the brokerage’s marketing program can now be adjusted around the brokerage/customer relationship, an essential step forward.

Yes, in many cases these steps and tactics are going to upset agents especially those who choose to cling to the claim that they own the relationship and have the right to abuse that responsibility by failing to either service or respect the consumer relationship. It is time for the real estate services community to recognize that the separation of brokerage and agent in this critical function is no longer acceptable or productive. The forces of digital disruption are widening the relationship gap every day and even now experts are looking forward to a “tipping point.”

Envisioning the Consumer Centric Agent

The spring industry meetings of 2014 provided a rich insight into the industry’s thinking on a number of critical issues. The subjects of off MLS marketing practices, mergers and acquisitions, the vibrating MLS, the specter of increased regulation, the oscillating portals, visions of profitability, the continuing emergence of the empowered consumer, changes in the brokerage business model and the ultimate impact of the Wall Street invasion, just to name a few, provided an invaluable opportunity to observe and measure the industry attitude and perspective moving forward.

Of all of these issues I found the most valuable to be those regarding what steps brokerages would be taking to better align themselves with whatever market changes their CEOs found compelling. If one were to boil all of the information down to basics the result would be standards, accountability and transparency. It would appear that the brokerage community is now anticipating that some combination of consumer demand, profitability, and regulatory issues will converge to require that the residential real estate process be governed by standards. Given this development its stands to reason that someone other than the brokerage will have to be responsible for compliance with those standards and lastly that the process by which standards and accountability come together will be subject to transparency.

Frequently the consideration of these issues lead to conversations about the evolving role of agents and, more specifically, the current and future legal and supervisory status of agents. It would appear that industry thought leaders are increasingly of the opinion that the long standing independent contractor status of agents is losing relevant and may no longer be either useful or appropriate.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.49.29 PMFollowing up on these matters I subsequently spent three days working with clients in Omaha, Nebraska. For those who are not familiar with Omaha in the current age it has replaced Peoria, Illinois as the place were modern day American can be discovered, touched and experienced. My specific objective was to undertake research regarding a number of changing employment environments. What is happening in other work settings will have a direct impact upon the real estate industry environment. The results of this type of research have a high level of relevancy to the efforts of our industry to prepare for the rapidly approaching standards, accountability and transparency era.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.46.46 PMMy first Omaha stop was at an ATT retail outlet. There I connected with Michael a 24-year-old college graduate who had just started his second year of employment selling cell phones and related gear. Michael was willing to convert our commercial transaction into a personal interview and matters proceeded from there. He is now into his second year working in this position and, at his current rate of production, should generate an income of $58,000 in 2014. His compensation is based upon a 40/60 salary/commission schedule. His knowledge of both his industry and his product was most impressive. He shared that his employer had come to the conclusion that since there was little difference between the technologies it offered and that of its competitors thus the only real differential was its customer experience. He talked positively about the initial and ongoing training he received. He scored a 9 out of 10 on the company loyalty test. At the conclusion of the interview he pointed to a very well dressed young women near the entrance to the store and pointed out that she, without a degree, was in her first year and was on course to make $65,000.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.48.30 PMThe next stop was at a Target Super Center. The contact there was made while trying to determine whether to buy a national brand of cottage cheese or take a gamble with the house brand. A young man named Tom approached to see if he could be of any assistance. I explained my challenge and he responded by suggesting that I buy both and conduct a taste test. I pointed out that I was traveling and he responded by suggesting that if I bought the house brand he would provide both a spoon and the national brand. We thereupon conducted the test with positive results for the house brand. Of course at that point the interview was on and the information began to flow. Tom is a 28-year-old college graduate who is in his third year with the Company. When I suggested that his approach wasn’t consistent with my previous experiences he gently pointed out that the Company had recently had a problem with its credit card program.

With an impressive level of detail and respect he explained that senior executives had decided use the credit card crisis as the basis for a whole new approach to customer services. He spend the next fifteen minutes explaining, with an amazingly high level of pride, all of the positive changes Target had made in both their credit card and customer service systems. He then disclosed that he was second in command at the store, made something north of $85,000 annually and was really proud to be part of the Target team.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.52.49 PMThe final Omaha stop was at the emergency room of a large local hospital. Depending upon the time of day the ER environment can be a gold mine of information. Sure enough I lucked out and was able to beg my way up to an interview Dixie the 63-year-old nurse executive in charge of this and three other ER facilities within the chain. Dixie explained that she had been with the hospital for 30 years. She further explained that over the past eighteen months her employer had gone through a total cultural reorganization that evolved it from being provider (physician) centric to consumer (patient) satisfaction centric. She talked about how difficult it had been at first trying to balance the issues of a critical care environment with the requirements of a patient satisfaction environment. She pointed out that the process had not been without its casualties, in this case in the form of four ER physicians who were unwilling to participate in the employer’s new priority. With a very high level of pride she pointed out that the choice was a simple one. Existing in a world of patients armed with social media simply didn’t allow for anyone walking away unsatisfied. She additionally pointed out that her department tracked the customer experience reporting in every ER in town and they were clearly the best of breed.

The forces of profitability, consumer satisfaction and regulation will soon force the real estate industry to take a whole new approach to its relationships with both consumers and agents. This in turn will require a number of new skill sets and competencies. The relative stress this process will cause will be in direct proportion to the level of preparation brokerages expend. It’s time to start considering the alternatives before they become mandates. We can do this.

Can You Identify Management Talent?

It is perhaps unfortunate that at this point in time our industry doesn’t know as much as it should know about the immediate and near term future of its business. A significant part of these circumstances can be traced to the fact that, by and large, significant sectors within the industry have decided not to be proactive but rather responsive with respect to changing times. Accordingly the master plan of our tomorrow lies in the hands of individuals and entities that are external to our traditional culture. We are witnessing the ramifications of this phenomenon every day.

However, even from this limiting perspective we are being informed regarding the wide range of trends, directions and factors that will shape the residential real estate industry moving forward. By way of example we know that virtually every other industry in the American economy has either been forced into or has elected to adopt standards, accountability and transparency and further that the initial focus of these factors has and will continue to be consumer satisfaction. This we know.

We should have a fairly good idea from our growing interaction with industry infrastructure and Wall Street investors that the importance of profitability and return on investment will dramatically increase. Finally, based upon the current activities of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CRPB) regarding e-closings we should consider knowing that this factor will converge with consumer demands and technological forces to require us to automate our transaction processes. These matters we really should consider declaring that we know.

Putting all of these trends, factors and forces together there are a number of other conclusions that we can adopt without too much risk. Again by way of example, and solely for the purposes of this article, we certainly can know that over the next twenty-four months in order to meet the challenges of these trends, directions and forces we will have to make several significant shifts in the configuration of our brokerage management teams. These shifts will require that (1) brokerages significantly increase and enhance skill sets and competencies in areas of traditional focus such as automation technologies, customer services, profitability accounting, impact marketing and communications. Moreover (2) brokerages will need to identify what new competencies and skill sets they will want to add to their existing arsenals assuming they wish to prevail rather than merely survive what promises to be an extended series of competitions and threats poised and initiated by these outside forces.

Readers who require additional evidence of the validity of these observations need merely review the activities of the residential listing portal as they have moved across the space and market segments traditional held by the real estate brokerage. Here again some industry leaders are not choosing competiveness but rather isolation as the preferred response to these forces and, accordingly, are even now beginning to more fully appreciate the ramifications of such an election.

All of this takes us to the next waypoint of the steadily evolving journey of the real estate brokerage. Given the level of change and transition already experienced by the industry, plus that which is even now on the drawing board and scheduled to arrive during the next twelve months, it is clear that in the not so distant future the brokerage community is going want to integrate a number of new skill sets and competencies into its management resources regardless of whether it choses to join the new forces or continue to deny them.

Perhaps the most important of these new competencies will be the ability to identify, recruit and integrate new talent into the traditional organization. Mr. Claudio Fernandez-Araoz has conducted research that lead to the publishing of a book entitled It’s Not the How or the What But the Who. This book is a good read and offers some valuable insights into this process and your author has liberally accessed that source in producing this article.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.39.18 PMThe core findings of Mr. Claudio Fernandez-Araoz’s research are interesting and right on point to the challenge being faced by today’s real estate broker. Since the 1990’s American employers have focused on competencies in both recruiting and retaining executive talent. As a result most positions have evolved into skill set centered silos filled by subsequent candidates who lay claim to those specific competencies and experiences. Where this practice lost traction is in the fact that in today’s incredible dynamic and changing business environment these basic competencies have become all but irrelevant to the evolved function and responsibilities of the same positions. The old round hole that was filled by the old round peg has assumed a new shape that requires a different kind of individual to fill it.

Accordingly recruiters and employers in this new marketplace must now focus on individual potential rather than traditional experience. The fact that a candidate had the ability to assimilate into a traditional competency offers little evidence that they will be able to meet the ever-changing environment that will define the same position moving forward.

Mr. Fernandex-Araoz suggests that today’s job candidate must be assessed on the basis of five key factors.

  • Is the candidate properly motivated to meet these challenges?
  • Is the candidate a life long leaner and naturally curious?
  • Does the candidate possess insight?
  • Is the candidate naturally engaging?
  • Is the candidate a person of sufficient determination?

A candidate who has these requisite qualities is still not over the hill. Such an ideal candidate can only succeed and fulfill the brokerage’s needs if the position is engineered in a manner that will provide the winning candidate with the ability to meet the challenges and the motivation to keep growing and learning. These last two requirements can be a challenge for brokerages that find themselves unable or unwilling to grow and meet the challenges of change themselves. It is not unusual for successful candidates to find themselves trapped in an organization that is really not committed to change but rather one that is focused on perpetuating its history and heritage.

The real estate industry itself and a growing number of its brokerages have become bastions of opportunity and potential. Each day new options present themselves. The residential real estate industry will be an exciting adventure moving forward. Get on the bus, take the ride.

What Will the Summer of 2014 Bring To the Real Estate Industry?

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 11.23.49 AMThe residential real estate market is approaching the mid-point of the second quarter of 2014. It is well into the spring season and all signs point to a very productive year. Even now, the summer magic of Memorial Day weekend has begun to sound in our consciousness. This week is the NAR REALTOR® Party event in Washington, D.C. By the time the industry comes up for air it will be August again. This is a great time to take a moment to look around and take stock of the current industry forces and dynamics that will mark our lives, businesses and careers for the third and fourth quarter of 2014.

The current industry dynamic is much more under the surface than in years past. This is largely due to the fact that the industry and the marketplace are now exhibiting and manifesting actual changes rather than the threats and trend indicators we have been monitoring and reacting to over the past several years.

There is a sense of calm in the current marketplace. It is almost as if the industry has tired of being threatened and hassled about the “future” and has simple resigned itself to getting it over with.

What are these convergence patterns that are forming, what dynamics do they reflect and how will they impact the marketplace, transaction and industry?

A critical element in understanding the current market and industry dynamic is understanding how convergence works. The folks who produce the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy have been trying to explain convergence for years. They take the taste and qualities of chocolate and mix it with the equally unique properties of peanut butter and create a third and completely different taste of a branded candy.

Of course one can still monitor specific trends and identify freestanding motion paths across the real estate marketplace. However, the more interesting activity has now become watching two or more unrelated forces crash together and form a totally new force field.

A classic example of convergence can be found in the current MLS environment. The industry has reached a relatively universal agreement that the classic traditional MLS is either unable to or is simply unwilling to move with the times and circumstances. Over the past few years its failure to even consider changing its role or developing its leadership potential has been puzzling and annoying to those who have been attempting to bring their brokerages and other entities into the present.

Over the past few months it has become increasingly obvious that the classic MLS is now on the endangered species list. But even more interesting are the forces that are now are converging to accelerate and stage this downfall. The three most vibrant MLS predators are high production agents through their “off MLS” marketing practices, consumers through “Community’ marketing programs and the largest brokerages in the country through the Realty Alliance’s efforts to design, develop and implement its listing diversion program. Note that none of these three groups are competitors; rather they are customers and consumers who are simply unwilling to tolerate the existing experience. This situation gets even more amazing when one considers the fact that at least one of the three contenders for developing and building the MLS “killer” system is one of the top MLS system vendors in the industry. In no other industry would such a situation be allowed to exist.

Another example of how convergence is impacting the industry can be found in the dramatic expansion of the listing portal. Ignoring, for the sake of this discussion, the competition between Zillow, Trulia and, the fact is that the activities of the portals have now converged with the growing power of the new consumer to create a whole new market configuration. Like the volcano that rises from the ocean floor to become an island, the portal has now become an essential player on the residential real estate landscape. The industry watched with great interest over the past five years as a new “Internet” powered consumer arrived, developed and emerged as a major market power.

At each step of the way, the consumer clearly announced through surveys, actions and elections what they were looking for with respect to a real estate experience. At each of these steps the market examined the request and summarily rejected it as being too radical and not in the interest of the status quo. In so doing it created that vacuum that nature so abhors. Into this vacuum grew the portal and now, five years later, the portal has become a permanent and potentially expensive part of the transaction process. The industry is currently considering from what source this new expense will be paid. There is really only one such source available.

The third convergence that is even now poking its head through the surface involves standards. The industry and the market has long prided itself on the fact that it didn’t need “no stinking” standards. It accepted as a matter of pride the distinction that it was the only industry still standing in the North American economy without articulated standards and quality assurance processes. This convergence has an equally unexpected cast of sponsors.

The first of these surprise sponsors is the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). Lead by its visionary CEO Dale Stinton NAR has declared that organized real estate is simply not positioned correctly to meet the challenges of the new industry. A number of NAR reforms and initiatives are being prepared to remedy this situation. The first of these efforts can be found in a recently released “organizational realignment” report that establishes a number of new standards under the catch phrase “Mandatory Core Standard.”

Converging with these efforts are the current initiatives of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Only four years old, this new industry force has already supported consumer empowerment with radical changes and standards in the area of student loans, car loans, credit cards and, yes, home mortgages. A close and careful monitoring of current CFPB activities easily sustains the growing sense that, given the fact that homeownership is clearly the most significant financial transaction and that the CFPB is already in the brokerage office inspecting mortgage programs, it will soon expand its role and influence in the real estate transaction. Interestingly enough one of the CFPB primary avenues of regulation is through standards. As in the cases above, convergence is not being driven by competitive forces but rather by those with specific views regarding consumer experience.

Take some time out of your busy spring and summer schedule to track and appreciate the impacts of convergence in our industry. Whether through MLS regression, portal expansion or standards proliferation our industry and our marketplace will be measurably different by August.

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It is About the Transaction, Not the Maginot Line

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 3.37.01 PMOver the past few years the industry has been fully engaged in a battle over the ownership and control of listing data. Each month the conflict has grown more combative and intense. At the present time both lives and fortunes are being invested by industry players who are incorrectly being advised that listing data flow control and ownership will be the single most important factor in determining business success or failure moving forward. It is this author’s opinion that such efforts are short sighted and fail to take into consideration the precious opportunities being lost and time being wasted. In the alternative the obvious priority would involve searching for solutions to the more likely challenges to the traditional orders of industry control and ownership.

Upon close examination both the leadership and the misguided direction of these efforts bring to mind the ill conceived efforts that gave rise to France’s Maginot line in the 1930’s.

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In terms of both lives lost and property destroyed, France suffered mightily at the hands of German forces during World War II. Fired by national pride, personal ego and a monumental lack of vision and military intelligence, French leaders became obsessed about a concept known as the Maginot Line; the theory involving the construction of a vast fortification system that ran along the French/German common border. The project was magnificent but unfortunately incorporated engineering and military knowledge about such matters gained, not from a study of the future, but rather from a review of the effects and impact of WWI military strategy and tactics that had been developed during the late 19th century.

The events surrounding the decision to build the Maginot Line offer an even more compelling and relevant lesson. Three specific leaders were influential at that point in time. Charles de Gaulle recommended that France adopt offensive rather than defensive military strategies. Marshall Petain, who had come to fame as a WWI general, argued that France should build a long line of fortifications along the whole French/German border, which would be both long and deep into France. Andre Maginot, the Minister of War, supported Petain. The results of this debate are self-evident.

The Maginot Line’s place in history was sealed not by the fact that it protected France from a German invasion at the onset of World War II but by the fact that the French leaders had totally missed the technological development and tactical advances required to create a new tactic called a “blitzkrieg.” In committing this colossal error and investing its human and financial resources through the Maginot strategy the French leadership actually lent assistance to the enemy’s cause.

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The real estate industry today appears to be caught in a similar quandary except it has no Charles de Gaulle. The traditional leadership element is advocating the creation of defense systems that use outdated strategies to protect the status quo. There is no evidence that the decisions being made by this group have had the benefit of any study regarding the trends and forces that, even now, are creating the Industry’s tomorrow. In other words, it appears as though they are being guided by pride and ego rather than reasoned sense and research.

The listing data wars are nothing more than a red herring, something that distracts attention from the real issue. At best it will ultimately, at a ridiculous cost, resolve the ownership issues and even then without the clarity necessary to exert complete control. At such point those who own or control will end up selling the data to those who require it. It is just the nature of business. With a bit of luck such an arrangement will last long enough to repay a portion of the cost of defense.

If those in control of the present dynamic are looking for a more relevant historic reference they might consider “follow the money.” The event at which both the money and all of the pieces come together is the transaction itself.

It is the transaction that creates consumer satisfaction. It is the transaction that determines brokerage, lender and title profitability. It is the transaction that offers regulators the perfect spot to launch a devastating ambush.

The current transaction is an unsatisfying piece for all involved. Consumers emerge sensing that they have just played a role in a really bad movie. Lenders can only hope that their interests have been protected through a last minute flurry of changes and modifications. Brokers and their representative agents have once again been unable to enhance their value proposition. The closing team walks away from yet another “close miss.”

Your author recently received the honor of becoming a member of a team dedicated to reforming and re-engineering the transactional process. To date this multidisciplinary group has come to the conclusion that the best starting point for this work will be to focus on the consumer experience in the closing transaction. Starting at the end of the process is sometimes the best way to go. This approach was made almost automatic upon learning that the probable sources of regulatory engagement will come from the consumer perspective.

The objective of this new project is to create a more positive, convenient, predictable and transparent experience for the consumer in the real estate transaction process. The more specific objectives will be to create both an improved consumer experience and a more efficient transitional process that seeks to incorporate both appropriate technologies and obvious connectivity to benefit lenders, brokerages and those responsible for the final closing.

Only through this process can the industry ultimately exercise a meaningful participation that both promotes consumer satisfaction, advocates brokerage profitability and provides some ability to impact and influence regulatory interdiction. These must be the objectives that we work together to achieve.

The industry’s current path of destruction and disruption may well create a few heroes and in all likelihood an even greater number of fools. It will however be nothing more than a delay on the road to the inevitable. Let’s focus on what counts, not what annoys. We can do this!

It Was a T3 Kind of Morning

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 2.11.50 PMIt was one of those mornings that just felt different. For those among the two hundred and thirty five industry thought leaders who would be participating in the 2014 T3 conference and who were lucky enough to already be at the J.W. Marriott Resort in Las Vegas one could feel the excitement. The sun seemed to come up earlier, the golfers rushed to conquer their morning round and throughout the property there was a tension in the air. Tonight was the night. It would be one of those rare occasions where what went on in Las Vegas would not stay in Las Vegas but rather would be heard around the world of residential real estate. It was a T3 kind of morning.

For those within the readership who have not heard about T3 a bit of explanation is in order. T3 is theScreen Shot 2012-03-06 at 5.11.34 PM brainchild and personal achievement of Stefan Swanepoel, the noted industry visionary, New York Times Best Selling author, publisher of the annual Swanepoel Industry Trends Report and, most recently, creator of the already influential Swanepoel Power200 publication that chronicles, by position, the 200 most powerful individuals in the residential real estate industry. Those who have read Stefan’s writings and publications understand that he doesn’t mass-produce them, each is custom built by hand in his studio overlooking the unique environs of Southern California. T3 is not a conference, a meeting or even a seminar. T3 is a work of communications art that is created to deliver a unique, stimulating, enlightening and, yes, learning experience.

Over its three-day performance T3 will address, indeed intimately explore, through a fully integrated and interactive program, the issues that are powering the residential real estate industry. Perfectly orchestrated by Swanepoel’s compelling and intense leadership style, over 40 highly ranked industry executives and leaders will share their perspectives, reactions and plans for the future of this vital industry. Some will provide that touch of history that makes today’s events relevant. Others will share their company’s current course and yet others will contribute to the event’s ultimate objective, a collective vision of the industry’s immediate tomorrow.

The centerpiece of the T3 experience is Swanepoel’s keynote address. It is this glimpse into the convergence of current trends that sets the relevance and tone for the overall event. This author was honored to receive an advanced briefing regarding this year’s amazing keynote. There is no doubt that this year’s attendees will once again be required to revise and reimagine the reality of their journey forward.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 2.21.09 PMThe keynote will examine the growing avalanche of life and business related data that has already changed the very landscape of the real estate marketplace and transaction. It will examine the convergence between the availability of this data and the ubiquitous device known as the “smart phone.” In today’s world over eighty percent of cell phones (AKA connected devices) are smart phones and in 2014 it is estimated that over one billion newer and even more sophisticated units will be sold to individuals across the globe. In civic generation terms this means that several billion people across the world currently have a fully functional high-speed desktop computer in their pockets, on their belts or in their purses and packs.

The keynote will consider the emerging challenge of “intelligent consumption.” How does one decide how to dip their consciousness into the torrent of information in a manner that will make it useful rather than intimidating, profitable rather than overwhelming?

The industry’s current love affair with “Big Data” will be dispelled by the fact that the significant compromise necessarily required by its adoption is not only unnecessary, but actually leads to the misconception that data attacks the remaining shreds of privacy as it is understood by much of our current culture. The reality is that we have the technology to incorporate “small data” which is a far more respectful and responsive solution. Through small data our environment will be able to be more creative and innovative as it advocates and supports efforts to promote individualism. Welcome to the world of a category for everyone.

From this perspective the presentation suggests that our world will move to the benefits of “crowd shaping,” the ability and desire to provide a meaningful life experience for individuals within their own unique and individual space.

The presentation visits the potential downsides of society’s current rush to universal data. It will point out that, in reality, we are not victims of this new order but rather willing participants who have grown increasingly addicted to its benefits and highs. It is at this point that the keynote will examine the downsides of current trends. In our culture’s rush to experience the potentials and increased functionality of information infused existence, society has neglected to install gatekeepers and guardians, a flaw that will ultimately be catastrophic but survivable. Most vulnerable of these oversights will be social media.

But the focus of this presentation is on the positives and the potentials of these movements. It will suggest that moving forward both business and personal success will depend on an entities’ ability to integrate, incorporate and mitigate the impacts and benefits of the new data, connectivity and collective realities, while at the same time working to mitigate their shortcomings.

The keynote will conclude with a discussion regarding the nature of the individuals who will be required to innovate and manage within the constantly changing personal and business environment created by these trends and convergences. This, after all, seems to be Swanepoel’s promise. His readers, his subjects and his attendees always emerge from their experience more connected, more sensitive and more prepared to realize that which can be harvested from this amazing new world.

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It is a T3 morning here in Las Vegas and for those who were lucky enough to be at the T3 Summit it will have been a life-changing experience. We are most fortunate that our industry and its leaders have the foresight and courage to embrace and explore this journey to tomorrow.

Leadership During Turmoil: It’s a Whole New Skill Set

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Volumes are being written and recited about the amazing dynamics of today’s North American residential real estate industry. While only historians will have the ultimate privilege of defining and designating the nature of the current industry environment it is highly likely that their choice of words will exceed turmoil.

Leadership, vulnerability and survival are ideas that were on everyone’s mind when they woke up this morning. In some industry segments we are watching in amazement at what can only be described as a dearth of leadership. In others we observing what appears to be leadership even though we instinctively know that it is exerted in the wrong direction. In still other segments we see moments of brilliance that give us hope for the future.

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But for many the leadership sector that is of most concern is that which reflects one’s own efforts and energies, those sectors that they have been assigned, have accepted or for which they feel a burden or responsibility.

Today’s industry leaders are often mesmerized as they watch the daily story of the industry unfold. In the face of this spectacular rate of change few do feel no need, or at least no inclination to adjust leadership courses, approaches, strategies and tactics. Even those whose constitutions and commitments require and, indeed demand, that they “stay the course” feel the gravitational pull of change and transition.

So, without appearing to be whimsical, unstable, downright flighty and, God forbid, weak, in the execution of leadership responsibilities, what is it that leaders can do to ensure that their personal leadership is adjusting and responding in a manner that is appropriate to these extraordinary circumstances?

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 2.21.53 PMA solid first step is to accept that these are extraordinary times for our nation, its economy and our industry. Understand that these roads have been traveled before. Read No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It chronicles America’s leadership challenges during the early years of WWII when suddenly everything was the same and everything was different. Learn how men and women in virtually all walks and stations of life met challenges that might seem quite similar in intensity to those facing our industry.

Accept the fact that regardless of life’s experiences, wealth, power and/or influence, few have led in this environment before. Understand that the refusal to accept this reality places a crippling handicap upon the industry’s leadership potential. Appreciate the fact that every aspect of the marketplace and transaction has changed, is changing or will change over the next few years. Realize that your cumulative leadership portfolio, regardless of how magnificent it may be, will probably not serve you well without some adjustment.

Consider the fact that almost all of the factors that surround industry leaders including shareholders executives, managers, agents, customers, financing methodologies, technologies and even competitors are in change mode. Business cultures as well as associated practices, ethics, rules and regulations are all transitioning. Together these forces are creating what, in essence, is a new world, one that requires that everyone adjust and perhaps even overhaul their leadership style, strategies and tactics.

Leading in the midst of turmoil, even for the most accomplished of leaders, requires a significantly different approach. Whether turmoil is viewed as an opportunity or (in its most common scenario) as a threat, it requires competencies that are markedly different than those utilized in a normalized environment. Leading in turmoil that is viewed as a threat constitutes a “struggle.” Leading in turmoil that is perceived as an “opportunity” constitutes a campaign. How leaders handle their leadership struggles or campaigns over the next two years will, more than any other factor, determine the real estate market’s new configuration.

It is a cause for concern how many leaders are attempting to fool themselves as well as those around them, both allies and competitors, by sending out false bravado signals. Leadership modification is mandatory, so the question is not whether one is changing one’s leadership style. There are struggle related leadership strategies and tactics and there are campaign related strategies and tactics. Far too many industry leaders are declaring their experiences to be fully relevant with no change required.

In 2013 Harvard Business School Professor Joseph Badaracco evaluated the concept of “struggle” in aScreen Shot 2014-04-01 at 2.24.02 PM business context. He presented the results of his research in a book entitled The Good Struggle: Responsible Leadership in an Unforgiving World, which provides an excellent incite into the unique challenges presented by the turmoil that is today’s emerging business economy.

One of Professor Badaracco’s most salient findings is that the primary characteristic of today’s business environment is turbulence. Badaracco suggests “What’s going on now is a return to an earlier more volatile form of capitalism, where there is lots of turbulence. The new invisible hand of markets is even more intense than the old one due to rapid global dissemination of information.” Badaracco’s work is extremely relevant to the leadership challenges being faced by the modern day industry executive and leader.

Another critical concept regarding contemporary business leadership is the idea of vulnerability or, perhaps more to the point, invulnerability. One of the most destabilizing psychological factors in today’s real estate world comes from the constant drumbeat of change. Industry and brokerage leaders start each day by visiting Inman News or one of the several respected blogs that currently serve the industry faithful. Over the past several months this task has become increasingly anxiety ridden because of an unending flood of stories, intense to the minutest detail, relative to how the real estate business has changed overnight. Of course half of what is announced will not, in the long run, make any difference at all. Yet the daunting task of evaluating each announcement and projecting its likely impact has taken on a life and a pressure of its own. These events lead to a growing sense of vulnerability.

The severity of this situation was recently brought to the forefront when one of the blogs undertook a post that announced the employment of a former Obama administration celebrity by an industry entity. The news ranged through the industry like a shot causing untold numbers of leaders to evaluate its possible ramifications. While the blogger must have thought that such an undertaking was cute, very few of his formally loyal readers agreed.

An excellent source of understanding relative to the impact of vulnerability or invulnerability on leaders can be found in the work of Dr. Brene Brown of the University of Houston. A recent TED talk by Dr. Brown can be found on at

These are no ordinary times. For real estate industry leaders and executives it is a time of constant challenge, opportunity, threat and vulnerability. No one in an environment of this intensity can take either their leadership talents or experience for granted. The leaders who will fail in their responsibilities are assuming legacy positions. The leaders who will make a difference are taking specific actions to improve leadership skill sets and competencies. It is a choice that all will have to make. We can do this.


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We Have Convergence: All Hands Rig for Collision

Convergence: When two or more forces come together and create a new, more powerful, force.

No real estate brokers or agents were injured in the production of this article.

(This comment does not however apply to what is apparently about to happen.)


Convergence factor #1: Shortly after the return of the real estate market in 2012 it quickly became obvious that the market that had returned was nothing like the market that had crashed in the late fall of 2005. Across the country sales figures dramatically increased while inventories remained extremely low and prices began to precipitously increase. This market was quickly classified as a “Hyper-Market.”

Convergence factor #2: Accompanying these symptoms, and appearing amazingly early on in the new market, were observations that suggested that real estate professionals at both the brokerage and agent levels were demonstrating behaviors totally inconsistent with their own, the consumer’s and the industry’s long-term interests.

The most alarming of these behaviors were the “Off MLS” marketing activities that, by early 2013, had rapidly spread and in some markets were impacting over 30% of transactions, a level that clearly threatened the stability and function of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Major markets began to experience brokerage commercials that promoted the availability of “coming soon” properties not yet on the market. It became obvious to many observers that some real estate professionals were so focused on making up for the lost time and income brought by the 2005 crash that they were willing to risk destabilizing critical institutions and lifelong relationships.

Even after the presence of off MLS marketing and its legal and marketplace dangers became known, few leaders spoke out against it. Brokers expressed fear that any interference would result in “breakage” as agents threatened to play out their eternal “I don’t need no stinking boss” routines. Participating agents created an entire litany of excuses and rationalizations including such soon-to-become classics as “my clients are requesting this,” “I am protecting my clients against the ravages of incompetent agents,” and “My clients are worried about their privacy.”

The agents whose ideas of professionalism included telling real estate consumers “You don’t need no stinking MLS” are not “those agents” (the ones everyone loves to accuse of being ill trained part timers without real passion for the job or love of their clients). The agents leading this new movement were the elite, the vaunted “top producers”, the agents that were seen as “role models” for the rest of the industry.

By mid summer of 2013 concern for the negative market, legal, regulatory and relationship ramifications of these behaviors (and the resulting lawsuits) had reached a point were some of the top entities in the real estate industry had began to speak out about the dangers of these practices. The California Association of REALTORS® demonstrated great courage and caring with a fully funded multi-media program that warned California consumers against the evils of off MLS marketing practices.

The brokerage response was taken up by no less a firm than Long & Foster, a national icon in the American real estate industry. Untold amounts of its resources were invested in a program to caution consumers in the several states in which Long & Foster operates, that off MLS marketing opportunities were not in their best interest. These materials were published in several publications including the prestigious Wall Street Journal.

Convergence Factor #3: While the real estate industry was working its way through these issues, other movements were gaining speed, influence and power. Welcome to the world of the community or “neighborhood” website.

A neighborhood website connects people that share common interests in a given neighborhood. These common areas of interest enable neighbors to meet new friends and connect with each other. These connections are initially made on a publically accessible website, but at some point many shift to a limited access subscriber based connection on a social media network such as Facebook. Over the past several years these “community websites” have gained both popularity and sophistication and, dah, are now are widely being used to market real estate outside the MLS (and agents.) It comes as no surprise that consumers who use these neighborhood networks have learned to use them as private networks to make sure than only the right people buy into the neighborhood. Unfortunately, after being told by top real estate agents “you don’t need the MLS, I have buyers,” some consumers have come to the conclusion: if I don’t need the MLS then perhaps I don’t need a real estate agent. I also know buyers, they are coming to our community website everyday.

Convergence factor #4: Insecure proponents of Off MLS marketing are fond of pointing out that these practices will only work in a hypermarket and it will not last forever. While the logic of this agreement may be correct, its metrics are not. This market will, in all likelihood, last for two more years. During that period of time hundreds of thousands of consumers will (1) have been told that they don’t need the MLS and (3) will have followed the advice of friends and neighbors relative to how to respond to that announcement.

Convergence factor #5: Last week the Convergence theory took on new power. An impressive number of marketing areas across the country reported impacts and fall out from last fall’s large broker/MLS skirmish that burst into flames during NAR’s Washington Meetings. These matters came to light when representatives from several marketing areas reported unusual contacts from their brokerage community demanding that they take certain steps regarding their MLS operations.

Convergence factor #6: Last week information provided by no less a source than CoreLogic reported that in 2013 some 43% of real estate transaction didn’t pass through MLS.

Convergence factor #7: Additional information emerged last week that portal traffic had continued to grow and that the top five portals were capturing almost 40% of consumer Internet traffic with Zillow alone capturing almost 17%.

Convergence factor #8: Zillow was actually a question on Jeopardy last Thursday night. Don’t you hate it when those Zillow folks make fun of us? Aren’t you sorry you suggested that the Obama interview was a flash in the pan?

Convergence factor #9. Last week Errol Samuelson, one of the brightest and most respected persons in the industry summarily departed REALTOR®.com for Zillow.

Convergence factor #10: Last week it was reported that REALTORS® associated with one of Houston’s largest brokerages had created an entity known as In a one page manifesto that some might describe as a declaration of war against the MLS, and shooting themselves in the foot, these scholars essentially announced to the 4th largest marketplace in the country that, relative to off MLS marketing, “all the cool people are doing it so why not pay us $14.95 a month and join in.”

While all of this is happening officials of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the most powerful and savvy regulatory programs every created in the United States, just happen to be working in broker offices across the country monitoring compliance with their several hundred new mortgage related regulations. While we certainly hope they don’t have time to figure out what all the noise is about it does seem doubtful. Perhaps they will believe declarations that it was all a joke.

So, that’s it. Nothing much is happening here in Deadrock. After dinner awards and prizes will be given out to those who can list all of the ways in which contract provisions, licensure laws, fiduciary duties, fair housing regulations and consumer best interests are being fouled by the behaviors discussed above. Then, just before the strike of midnight, we will call for the scribes and summon the brilliant minds that brought us this impending disaster to tell us what in heck they were possibly thinking. Upon completing this task we will gaze up at the moon and wonder how much Spencer Rascoff paid Zorro to put that Z on the man in the moon’s shirt pocket.

We desperately need some leadership here.

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