Sam DeBord

The Case for a REALTOR® to Lead Realtor.com®

Sam DeBord

By Sam DeBord

Realtor.com®’s president, Errol Samuelson, has been hired away by Zillow. I’ve met Errol and he’s a nice guy, very smart, and very successful. Business is business. But, naive as it might be, there’s plenty of disappointment from the REALTOR® community. It comes from a belief that we have a common cause greater than just our businesses. Whether we’re aligned with NAR or realtor.com®, we believe in unified goals that are good for the country as a whole, and create significant loyalty to our brand.

Like I said, it sounds silly to an outsider. Why wouldn’t a top executive, who clearly received a more lucrative employment offer for a position he saw as a step up, take that proposal? In the world of publicly-traded real estate ventures, you could be selling soda ads one day, and interviewing the president the next. The landscape changes drastically every year, and when your skills are in business management and strategy, you’re always looking for the next challenge.

And still, there’s a bit of an empty feeling from the REALTOR® masses when an exit like this happens. It’s just another day at the office when your insurance company’s CEO changes companies, or your old business partner switches brokerages. But when someone leaves the REALTOR® fold to work for a direct competitor, it ignites much stronger emotions from the membership. A quick scan of discussions online makes it clear that this isn’t just some job change. Reactions range from frustration to outright anger. This is someone who did a good job and likely had no direct contact with most of the commenters, but many take his departure so personally as to feel betrayed.

As simple-minded as it sounds, I can’t help but feel a bit of the same disappointment. Real estate agents hop between companies like mercenaries until we find the right fit. We don’t feel remorse for changing our workplaces, because it’s simply a business decision. At the same time, those of us who are advocates for the REALTOR® brand would be incredulous if our associates left the membership. Your career is your business, but your commitment to supporting REALTOR® causes is ours.

It’s in that spirit that I’d strongly advise that the next head of realtor.com® to be someone with REALTOR® experience. This wouldn’t be a current salesperson, of course, but there are countless REALTOR® practitioners and executives whose past or current careers include law, business management, technology, and marketing. Whether the candidates have been the head of a technology-driven brokerage or a forward-thinking MLS organization, they need to have spent their time, and their money, supporting the organization whose online brand they’ll be charged with leading. A REALTOR® who has volunteered their hours, and invested their own funds into our causes, will be someone who understands the crazy notion we have of a common mission.

Clearly, it’s not up to me, nor is it up to REALTOR® membership in general. The folks making these decisions at Move, Inc., have shareholders to answer to, and probably many worthy candidates within their current ranks. Still, we’ve just begun opening up the relationship between NAR and realtor.com® in a more significant way this past year than we’ve seen in a decade. It’s been a bit rocky, but strengthening that cooperation will require increasing the trust level that the general REALTOR® population has in the partnership itself. Hiring “one of us” would certainly shrink the mistrust hurdle in a significant way.

Saying it out loud, though, it’s probably just wishful thinking. The portals are in a marketing arms race, open advertising space for agents is increasingly scarce, and the market cap valuations of these companies point to a cutthroat struggle in the next few years to weed out a competitor or two. Most companies would look for the next technology executive with the greatest capacity to generate advertising revenue, while keeping those pesky agents just satisfied enough that they don’t complain too often.

Hopefully, this company isn’t just “most companies.” There’s an army of 1 million REALTORS® looking to spend their money in the most efficient way, but they also have a strong preference for the home team. It’s not impossible to garner that loyalty, and provide a superior product at the same time. REALTORS® love their brand. They want to love realtor.com®. They just hope that going forward, there’s not just a joint vision but a shared loyalty. When “our people” become their people, the entire organization will find more success, and the loyalty will be a two way street.

Sam DeBord is a state director for Washington REALTORS®, and managing broker of The Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth. Connect with his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.

Comments
  1. Sam, nicely put.
    Since 1986 I have been a REALTOR(R) member with a passion for the brand. While I don’t always agree with the decisions that are made on our behalf and I sometimes am overly critical about the slowness with which progress takes place, it’s my family. I know my family is often dysfunctional. I accept that. I know my family spends way too much time with infighting and not enough time dealing with the future. Still, they are my family.
    Now, I’m watching us being picked apart by outside influences. I’m seeing us rattled by competition and swayed by those who would offer us a different path. I see us overlooking all the good that exists from membership in the REALTOR(R) family. Do we really think we can go it alone? Can a franchise offer us as much as the REALTOR(R) family?
    Sam, what you suggest is a definite step in the right direction. We need to “believe” again; and this time we need to feel the love. We want direction; but, sadly over the past 10-15 years, Nero fiddled while Rome burned. We lost the faith.
    Next, I hope NAR;s leadership will realize that “pride” of membership does not come from ads we are annually charged for, or a staff who thinks everything should be monetized. We don’t need a new big shiny building in Chicago… we need to believe that we members are important to NAR. We need to be a “team” again. We want “pixie dust”!
    NAR has a chance to get it right this time.
    Nice post, Sam

  2. I haven’t thought of R.com as being anything other than a way for Move Inc. to pick REALTORS’ pockets for a long long time. R.com doesn’t work for REALTORS…TPTB behind R.com do not even care about what consumers want…which is why they allowed Zillow and Trulia to trump them for soooo long. T&Z let us put up multiple photos, captions, etc. long before R.com finally allowed them without charging an arm and a leg. It’s time that REALTORS created a portal FOR REALTORS BY REALTORS and put Move Inc. out of their minds for good….

  3. Kathy, thank you for the reply. I agree, we need to build up the common trust. It will never be perfect–we’re a huge group of fiercely independent business people–but it can continue to improve.

    Karen, I wouldn’t take it that far. Yes, other portals are leading the traffic numbers today, but it’s a competitive business. To run a world-class internet operation in the current environment, there needs to be a lot of technology mindset in the management. At the same time, you’re right that we need to get back to focusing on consumers first, and using the unique Realtor brand as an asset.

  4. Pam

    R.com is not on our side. They allow FSBO to be on the site and blackmail us into enhancing our listings and if we do not pay for this service they send our leads to the “Realtor.com recommended agent.” They do not disclose the “Realtor.com RECOMMENDED agent” has paid to be recommended. I agree it is to one’s advantage to pay to enhance our listings but if one.does not pay to enhance, it is not right to send all inquires to another agent.

  5. I for one do not think a REALTOR(R) should run R.com. The simple reality is most “REALTORS(R)” do not get involved in promoting the same message as NAR or the state organizations or even get involved enough to know R.com is not owned by NAR and is owned by a company who should not have their hands tied to remain competitive against other portals who do not have the same restrictions (in balance a trade off for being able to use the Realtor.com URL).

    In public we tout the message that using a REALTOR(R) is better than using a real estate agent yet in private and on social media, the same groups spew things that they would not dare say in from of consumers. In fact on social media, you would think most REALTORS(R) think NAR should represent REALTORS(R) against consumers. This has to eventually be called out for what it is: hypocrisy at its best.

    R.com needs to compete against not only today’s 3rd party portals but the ones in development, providing exactly what the consumer is asking for, reviews, transparency, honest balance of information and data and to be the REAL real estate source, even if that eventually means they focus on another name and lose the restrictions imposed by using the Realtor.com URL.

    The biggest threat to tomorrow’s real estate industry is ourselves, our small minds in terms of how WE think a real estate website should be run and the reality that eventually the consumer will find that 3rd party NON REALTOR(R) portals and websites provide the most accurate data and information for the consumer and R.com will have become basically a propaganda site to tout the REALTOR(R) side with little regard to what the consumer wants, that is if we don’t take a tough love stand from NAR down insisting agents get educated about exactly what their dues (in most cases less than $200 to NAR per year) goes to and what it doesn’t.

    We have groups out there promoting the thought that NAR should create their own site and replace Move, what a load of misguided thinking, what cost would that represent to each member even to break even (oh right, NAR did that once before and it didn’t work).

    Whomever takes over R.com needs to get real in gaining their #1 position back and push back against the critics who think R.com should only be there to promote REALTORS(R) and lean in the direction of a propaganda engine versus a competitive real estate portal that can actually compete for the consumers traffic, that is the benchmark for their success

    IMO of course

  6. Doug

    What amazes me is that we in the Realtor community are upset with losing him. Maybe he was a nice guy, but he led the website steadily downhill. It’s surprising that Zillow would hire him, maybe that indicates a weakness on Zillow’s part. You don’t see many Pepsi executives being hired by Coke. Face it folks, we’re number three and dropping while we still milk the pocketbooks of our members. I say good luck at Zillow Errol and lets see if NAR can’t come up with a better plan than to just keep throwing good money after bad. Come up with a better website, a better URL and keep it 100% owned by the members!

  7. Bruce, I agree with you that R.com needs to step it up to be competitive meeting the consumers needs. I am a die-hard loyalist to the REALTORS(R) brand but recognize reality and that is to recruit top notch executives to take us to the top #1 competing for the consumer traffic. Competition makes us sharper.

  8. Judi Rutland

    Sometimes … No… Many times people become complacent and take for granted those individuals that make it possible for them to be in powerful positions. NAR and R.com are old. Our organization and partners need a forward thinking, strong and ambitious leader than will get us out of the dark ages and stop digging into our pockets. Otherwise make way for a splintered organization with no power and worse..no respect. And by the way! I also resent that FSBO’s are allowed to advertise on a site we pay for by way of dues and then have to compete for our own business. Beware…weak links are consumed by the strong, eaten alive then spit out. What shall become of us?

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