Where Real Estate Gets Its Dirt

eShowings – the drama continues….

This story just keeps getting more bizarre. Charles Smith, former CEO of eShowings, is about to head to jail. Charles had the brilliant idea of not paying payroll taxes and pocketing the money. Now his wife is taking over the company.

Andrea Brambila of Inman News:

“Lanouette Smith is the wife of eShowings founder and former CEO Charles Smith. Lanouette Smith was on the payroll before the company shut down, but did not have an official title or duties at the company, according to several former employees.”

Wait, what?

It also seems like former employees (or current?) that were ripped off by the company have taken matters in the their own hands.

Andrea Brambila of Inman News:

“Lanouette Smith said eShowings had been the target of a “purposeful and planned destruction” that included the robbery and theft of payroll checks in one office, communication of misinformation to employees in both call centers, unauthorized and inaccurate communication to clients, and “sabotage” to call center equipment and computer systems in Newark.”

Sabotage indeed. Seems like the real sabotage began with Mr. Smith didn’t pay his payroll taxes.

Meanwhile, this leaves their largest client, the Wilmington Regional Association of REALTORS, in a lurch. Who for some insane reason are still using eShowings.

The answer,to all the problems clients of eShowings are having, can be solved very quickly. Find a new vendor. There are a few out there. Here’s a start:

Michael Lane
mlane [at] showingtime dot com

You’re welcome.

Deep dive into Dotloop vs CAR saga

Not sure how I missed this article on Inman News last week. Paul Hagey does an excellent job of reporting. I love the use of video in the article too. It features two interviews, one with Joel Singer, CEO of the California Associaiton of REALTORS (CAR) and Austin Allison, CEO of Dotloop. But the premise of the article remains unclear.

ZipLogix competitors never had a shot at licensing CAR forms

At the beginning the article states:

“Brokers and agents who want to fill out the California Association of Realtors’ (CAR) electronic forms in software other than the solutions offered by its for-profit subsidiary are out of luck, because of a long-term exclusive license the subsidiary granted its own software firm, zipLogix LLC, when it acquired the firm more than a decade ago.”

But later…

“CAR declined to provide details about which “authoritative bodies” approved its agreement with zipLogix to exclusively license its electronic forms, or exactly when they did so.

Although Singer says CAR’s 150,000-plus members have the power to authorize other firms to license the association’s electronic forms, some members say it’s unclear how the decision-making process works.”

My guess is CAR can do anything it wants, and it doesn’t want to play ball with Dotloop.

Mary Lou Williams of CRISnet/Southland Regional Association is retiring.

Mary LouMary Lou has been with Southland Regional Assn./MLS for over 29 years. 29 years! A little piece of MLS trivia: Mary Lou was around when SRAR introduced the first Window’s based MLS system. That MLS system was based on Wyldfyre (now owned by Homes.com). Please join me in congratualting Mary Lou on her retirment and wishing her the best of luck.

Walt Baczkowski takes CEO position at San Francisco Assn. of REALTORS.

The San Francisco Association of REALTORS is Pleased to Announce the Appointment of Walter T. Baczkowski Jr., CAE, RCE as Its Chief Executive Officer

“SFAR President Jeffery Woo stated, “SFAR is fortunate to have been able to attract such an experienced CEO with a proven track record of leadership and accomplishment. As SFAR continues its mission of service to our REALTOR® members and toward the promotion of homeownership, we look forward to Walt’s guidance and management of the Association in a technologically and politically changing world.”

Big congratulations go out to Walt. He is going to have his hands full!

Greater Ft. Lauderdale Assn. and Miami Association of REALTORS settle.

As reported here the Greater Ft. Lauderdale and Assoication of REALTORS (RAGFL) sued the Miami Association of REALTORS (MAR) for…

“Through its false and deceptive advertising and other contact MAR has brazenly sought to drive and has driven members away from RAGFL and diverted new members from joining RAGFL thereby causing damages to RAGFL,” says the complaint, which alleges violations of the Lanham Act.”

In a short letter issued today it appears the shit storm has passed. As both parties have agreed to a “confidential Settlement Agreement”. I’m hoping to see Rick and Teresa hug it out in Orlando at The Peabody Hotel as the ducks walk by.

Fun in Beverly Hills….

There is a trend I’m beginning to see with MLS providers. MLS providers are beginning to host what I call the “mini conference”. Not a full blown trade show but smaller event that are based on presentations and a few vendors.

Lisa Powell

It’s hard to pull these off, you need to get the members excited about coming (this means lots of good food) and few good speakers.

I’m at the “MLS Madness” event today, hosted by The MLS/CLAW. Lisa Powell and her team have done a great job of putting together a fun event. They even got Katie Lance of Inman News to speak!

The last two “trade shows” we have attended have been complete duds. I had to pay for a power drop, carpet, waste paper basket, etc… So, I’m hoping this mini-conference trend continues.

South Florida Sh*t Storm

This will be fun to watch!

‘Fort Lauderdale Realtor Group sues Miami Realtor Group’

The South Florida Business Journal reports things are heating up in South Florida.

“Through its false and deceptive advertising and other contact MAR has brazenly sought to drive and has driven members away from RAGFL and diverted new members from joining RAGFL thereby causing damages to RAGFL,” says the complaint, which alleges violations of the Lanham Act.

I can’t believe they cited the “Lanham Act”.

The MLS system landscape and the MLS Vendor of the future.

A few thoughts about what I’ve been hearing and observing about the state of MLS systems and vendors

Flash’s dead, baby.

I’ve written about the problems and issues of some MLS vendors MLS platforms be written in Flash. and now this, Adobe announced they will no longer continue to develop a Flash version for mobile devices. So to me the debate ends here, MLS vendors who’s new versions rely upon Flash have two choices. Develop a separate HTML5 or equivalent version of their MLS system or create separate “native” versions of their MLS systems that run on mobile devices (iPhone, Droid, iPad, etc.). Either prospects are not great, but….

I’ve seen Discover MLS’ offering and now recently got a sneak peak at LPS’s REinsight new MLS system and was impressed (both are built using Flash). They not only look great, from a UI perspective, but there is some real innovation going on. One of things that struck me about LPS’s REinsight was the blending of the LPS public records data along with MLS data. This is great for creating all inclusive CMAs and other reports. Plus from a map search perspective you can see an MLS listing and also click on the property next to it (that might not be in the MLS database) and up pop public records data, which is super cool. One database, no need to exit out of the MLS system and log in to a separate app, the data is all on the same map/listing view.

I haven’t yet seen CoreLogic’s Fusion product (also developed in Flash) but I have to imagine an MLS system integrated with RealList data would be a hit. CoreLogic does have some hurdles, Tempo, doesn’t work on any browser except Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. And now Fusion won’t run on an iPad. Not anyone’s fault, who could have predicted the iPad’s popularity. But some MLS Vendors, like Solid Earth, appear to be heading to an “iPad first” strategy.

One argument I hear a lot from these MLS Vendors is that according to their analytics less than 2% of MLS subscribers are using iPad to access their current MLS systems. This is just whistling through the graveyard in my opinion.

The Octagon

The issues I talk about above really make for some interesting thoughts about the competitive landscape of MLS Vendors. I see a few scenarios.

Innovation. MLS Vendors who have MLS systems that run on multiple devices, won’t have to develop or mange multiple code bases. These MLS Vendors are free to leverage their develop resources towards other innovations instead of solving cross compatibility issues. A huge advantage as I see it.

Less choice. With the recent acquisition of Tarasoft by CoreLogic lowered the choices in MLS systems vendors. And with CoreLogic still dominating the public records side (has anyone really canceled their RealList contract as RPR has suggested?) are they getting “to big to fail”? Put in another way, do MLS Providers want to have a single vendor control so much of their mission critical applications and data?

It seems the value proposition for other smaller (alternative?) MLS Vendors are starting to get more attractive.

1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
2. More innovation
3. More personal service.

Sounds good to me.

New Business Models

The reality is that its hard being a pimp. MLS system sales have always had a long sales cycle and with the down real estate market not many large/medium MLS Providers are in a hurry to go thru a conversion. So some MLS vendors are opting to start new business models. FBS comes to mind. MLS Providers are also branching out. Metrolist’s Marketplace comes to mind.

Focus is also becoming a big factor. I noticed this in two areas recently.

1. LPS sold their broker and agents division (now R.E.D. Real Estate Digital)
2. CoreLogic recently sold their Membership Director product back to MMSI.

Welcome to the 3rd Party

I also see a big boon for 3rd Party Software developers in the future (hooray!) Managed and standardized databases and APIs are all in the near future. The aforementioned Marketplace is a perfect example of a new distribution model for real estate specific web apps to be sold. If MLS Providers and Vendors can successfully change the behavior of MLS members to look to buy these apps through a portal, and that portal is easily accessible through their MLS system, 3rd Party software companies stand to benefit immensely. Talk about “non-dues revenue”!

You are witnessing the rebirth of MLS Vendors

I see in 2012 MLS Vendors hammering out their strategy for the next NAR annual meeting Orlando. At that conference I think we are going to see a lot of new innovative stuff, not just from the product side but the re-invention of what it means to be an MLS Vendor going forward. I’m excited about the possibilities.

RPR doesn’t like competition.

Yesterday Dale Ross, CEO of RPR, wrote a blog post named “The Future?“. The fact he used a question mark isn’t surprising.

Mr. Ross is a bit perplexed on why many MLS providers have not chosen RPR or continue to use their competitors for what he calls “short-term gains.” He references a widely distributed blog post written by Kim Prior of OnBoard Informatics, called “MLSs Taking Control of Destiny – a Plea, an Observation, a Call to Arms“. (Sound the trumpets!) Her post is a bit naive but does lay out challenges many industries face including the MLS.

When RPR launched Mr. Ross stated their plan was to have RPR break-even in 3 years. It’s been a bumpy road since then as many MLS providers challenged their value proposition. In his post Mr. Ross repeated RPR’s value proposition as this:

“What RPR seeks to offer NAR members is REALTOR® control of property data, analytics and valuations.  At the core of the RPR system, the licensed data provided to the MLSs by brokers is aggregated with the additional licensed parcel-centric data.  RPR then seeks to return valuable tools to REALTORS® designed to bring national and local information as well as agent and broker support systems directly where they are needed the most, at market level to benefit the consumers, but provided by REALTORS® to reinforce REALTOR® value. “

The linchpin to this strategy is how “valuable” the tools RPR is providing. In a recent blog post Brian Larson asks many MLS providers to consider this before resigning with RPR. Reports have suggested that usage of RPR’s toolset are very, very low even by 3rd party software standards. Recently RPR has refocused efforts to improve this.

I’ve been creating and selling software solutions for REALTORS since 1992 and feel your pain. Based on that here a some suggestions for RPR to consider.

1. Stop complaining. NAR has committed 20 million dollars to you and ponied up another 12 million to buy assets to get you started. Add to that you also have a rock star team that includes Marty, Mona, Reggie, Ohan, Kristen and others. Nobody gives a shit about your problems, implement.

2. Don’t be greedy. I still think that sharing future revenues from MLS data with MLS providers is the right thing to do. Look at it this way, I bet you CoreLogic paid 100 times more towards the CIVIX settlement than RPR and still was able to share revenue back to the MLS via its data deals. In that situation who’s the better “industry partner”?

3. Make a product agents love. This is the hard part. But, I guarantee you if the RPR toolset was something agents actually loved all these barriers with MLS providers would disappear overnight. But so far, other than NAR cronies, I’ve never really hear that agents really LOVE RPR’s tools.

4. It’s NOT the data stupid. Data, data, data is all I ever hear from RPR. It should be User Experience, User Experience, User Experience! I’ve had a few off the record conversations with trainers at MLS providers tasked to train on RPR. The feedback has been the same, it’s “too complicated”, it does “too much”. So how about introducing a stripped down version that offers less flexibility but gives the agents something quick and easy. Your data means dick if nobody can figure out how to get at it or how to use it.

5. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. It would be interesting to see what Zillow, Realtor.com, Trulia, and other industry 3rd party software developers could do with RPR data. Hell, Zillow is swimming in money since their IPO. How about striking a deal with them for an API to RPR data? Get them, and others, addicted to RPR data.

You’re welcome. : )

Is the Florida Association of REALTORS screwing their vendors?

Blanche Evans is back! The real estate writer who’s articles brought down REBIG in Chicago has just posted another doozy!

In Part I of an article she calls “F.A.R. – Fetched Lawsuits – Part I” (c’mon Blanche how the hell am I gonna come up with a better title for my post than that!) she begins to outline the story of Instanet Solutions fight against the F.A.R.‘s for profit divsion, REIS. In what she says “could expose a dark side of for-profit real estate association subsidiaries, where member benefits come second to other agendas.”

Go read this now!

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