Is Quill Realty the Only non-MLS Broker in Seattle?

Updated 9/13:¬†Quill Realty is now Added Equity Real Estate – but everything else is as true today as when I wrote it! ūüôā

I am loving life at the forefront of change in the real estate industry. My firm Quill Realty left the Northwest Multiple Listing Service on July 1. Since then, we’ve picked up some listings and sold a few houses – our first non-MLS sale closed Friday. Congratulations to this beautiful family!!!¬†Single Broker Listings in Seattle

So we’re selling houses at a dramatically reduced cost to our seller clients. In other words, the model appears to be working. Exciting times!

But it begs the question: Is Quill the only¬†non-MLS broker in Seattle? Or are there others, such that a synergy might begin to build. To date, I have yet to find one. I even have a friendly wager with a title representative. He knows lots and lots of people in the local industry, and so far he’s struck out.

Is that right? Is Quill the only voice calling for change in the MLS-bound wilderness? If you know of any others – in Seattle, or Western WA, or even the USA – I’d love to hear about them. Please leave a comment, and thanks much.

The Future of Real Estate? It Arrived Today

This is what the future of real estate will look like - no MLS number

This is what the future of real estate will look like – no MLS number

I could not be prouder today. Quill’s first Single Broker Listing is live and looks great! On the Quill¬†Blog, on Zillow, on Redfin – heck, it looks great EVERYWHERE!! By my estimation, this is what the future of real estate will look like: One broker marketing a property directly to buyers via multiple channels, without offering to pay the buyer’s agent’s commission (so no MLS number). Exciting times here at Quill!!

Virtual Discrimination by Real Estate Brokers

A real estate broker who operates in 23 states has filed a complaint with Federal authorities against the local MLS for “restraint of trade” practices, according to Inman News. Ryan Gehris, who is a broker of record for flat-fee real estate company Housepad.com in 10 of those states, alleges that the North Carolina MLS’s requirement to physically attend specific MLS orientation classes discriminates against non-traditional web-based brokerages. I think he has a point.

handcuffed to laptop

Do I have to be here?

While I can see an argument for the advantages of attending specific events, I think that the mandatory requirement of attendance takes it too far. I think of it like networking – It makes sense to do it, but if you don’t it’s your business that is likely to suffer and that’s your choice.

In this age of WebEx, Skype or UStream.TV online meetings, it just isn’t necessary to physically go somewhere for most types of training, especially computer training. And the cost and time concerns associated with attending far away events can make it prohibitive, especially for agents that have other obligations and commitments.

The spokesperson for the MLS said the training is “not intended to be a burden to participants and is required because of the substantial changes in technology.” But if people can get a college degree with online training, it’s hard to imagine why basic MLS user training requires someone’s physical presence to be effective.

The real reason may be that the MLS would like to make it hard for non-brick-and-mortar business models because they do not like the competition. I say let their business model succeed or fail on it’s own merits, not because of discriminatory road blocks put in their way.

Tracking Homebuyer Activity

Last week an agent said to me, “I have had the same 6 or 7 buyers and sellers for the last 4 months.”¬† Reminded me of a waitress who couldn’t “turn a table” because the same people stayed all night long.

I decided to track homebuyer activity to see how many buyers who have been looking at homes for the last 30 days or so, have purchased one.¬† The little blue box on the doors of homes for sale tells us which agents have shown the property.¬† If you take that agent’s code number and plug it into the MLS, you can tell if that agent is involved in a pending or closed transaction in the same period of time. It’s not an exact science, but let’s see what we can find out.¬† As usual, I’m doing this in real time by tracking the agents as I write the post.

I pulled the records of 6 of my listings and the 56 showings by 48 agents they have had in the last¬†30 days or so.¬† 34 of those 48 buyers have bought nothing. 2 bought my listings.¬† 12 bought other properties (see below).¬† One of my listings in escrow during the same timeframe was purchased by the neighbor, so that pending transaction had no agent showing.¬† I’m not counting the times I showed¬†the property¬†myself or people who came through during an Open House.

Agent #1 showed the property 3 X in 2 days.  If you take the code # of the agent and plug it into the system, you will see that two days later that agent opened an escrow on a property that cost $250,000 more on a similar house nearby.

From that we can assume that the buyer of Agent #1 was weighing the choice of buying a fixer or spending $250,000 more for a similar home assessed for only¬†$25,000 more.¬† It’s not unusual for someone to want a home that needs no work.¬† But spending $250,000 more to get one, is not all that common.¬† Especially one that doesn’t have more bedrooms or more bathrooms or much more square footage and is not in a better location.

Agent #3 showed the property twice and then the buyer purchased a newer townhome on the Eastside instead of a fixer single family home in Seattle.  This buyer spent $100,000 less.

Agent #5’s buyer bought my listing in Rivertrail in Redmond.

Agent #16’s buyer bought the house behind my listing in¬†Seattle on¬†a 2,800 sf lot vs. a 5,000 sf lot, listed for $6,000 less.¬† The price differential could have been $20,000 at the time.¬† I have to check the date of the showing vs. the date of the price change and the date the home behind it went into escrow.

Agent #19’s buyer bought a single family home in Downtown Kirkland vs. a townhome in Redmond for almost double the price.¬† (This one is more likely¬†a different buyer with the same agent. Most of the agents listed as¬†their buyer buying “Nothing” are agents who sold nothing at all, so it’s easier to be almost positive.¬† Though those 34¬†buyers could have bought something¬†with a different agent, that’s not likely given the short timeframe tracked.

Agent #21s buyer went further south and bought a single family home instead of a condo for about $20,000 more.

Agent #22s buyer bought an “income qualified affordable ARCH” condo.¬† $20,000 more for twice the size and 1 additional bedroom.

Agent #24s. buyer bought a new townhome instead of an older craftsman that needed updating.

Agent #25s buyer spent $100,000 more and bought a house that needed less work.

Agent @26s buyer bought a condo in Capitol Hill vs. a fixer home in Green Lake.

Agent #28s buyer bought a newer home further away from Microsoft for $25,000 more (Newcastle)

Agent #36s buyer bought a new townhome (instead of an older SFH) further north in Seattle for $100,000 less.

Agent #37s buyer went to Shoreline vs. Green Lake and spent $100,000 less for a house that needed less or no work.

Agent #40s buyer bought my listing in Bellevue.

While I don’t intend to replace OBEO as “the expert in buyer behavior”, being able to track what buyers are actually doing, is a useful tool. This ability is only recent, as¬†NWMLS just added the “selling agent” code ID to the data entered when registering a pending or closed sale.¬† It was the first (and only) thing I complained about back in 2004, and the¬†change took place in June or July of 2008.¬† Many could not see the need to post the Buyer Agent info when recording a sale.

This feature offers an¬†enormous advantage¬†to our seller clients, who can now track via their listing agent, what the buyer did or didn’t do after seeing their home.

For listing agents, just write down the LAG# (agent code) of agents who show your listings.¬† Then you can track to see if they are putting anything at all into escrow…or not.¬† By seeing what the buyer chooses, you can determine if you need a price change, or if you need to make some condition improvements to your current listings.¬† There’s not much you can do if people don’t want a fixer and choose a new townhome instead. So before reducing the price based simply on time on market, assess the actual situation as carefully as possible.

Interesting side issues:

1)¬† Three of the agents are no longer agents at all, so I can no longer track them.¬† Showed my listing and then quit the business altogether ūüôā

One of the agents’ buyers bought a Downtown Condo that had been on market for 4 1/2 months with no price reductions. Knowing WHY buyers are not choosing the property, by tracking their movements, can help¬†owners decide whether you need to wait it out at the same price, or reduce the price.

Don’t buy into an automatic reverse auction of reducing the price every X days. Track what those buyers are doing, and plan and change your strategy accordingly.¬† A lower price isn’t going to turn a fixer craftsman¬†into a new townhome.¬† Sometimes waiting longer for the right buyer IS the answer.¬† But if people are buying similar homes nearby for less…then a price reduction is in order.

Watching trends in the daily market watch of the MLS

I’ve been keeping an eye on some of the daily trends in the MLS and have noticed for several weeks now that price reductions have now outnumbered new listings on an almost daily basis.¬† In past years, when almost all houses were selling fairly quickly, we noticed that a small percentage of houses required drops and there was usually a decent number increasing their prices.

Now, it seems that as days on market have increased for many sellers we are finally getting that reality check in place that was needed.  Granted, it does seem that the majority of these price drops are in the outlying areas of our MLS region, but the inner-city urban spots are not without their own new reality.

What I like right now is that we’re getting a nice¬†balance of buyer and seller activity, which, for my own personal business/team, means that we’re likely going to be growing our business over the next year or more with some very nice results.

Pocket Listings in Seattle?

I was a meeting this weekend with an agent in Southern California where he showed me a website he says he visits a couple times a week.¬†¬† A competitor had built up a large repository of “pocket listings” for the Beverly Hills area and then stuck them behind a registration wall… of which he visited regularly.

photo of a neighborhood shot by wendy bakerBeing a Rain City Guide kinda guy, I’m not keen to put things behind registration, but I am fascinated by the idea of putting together a page of pocket listings as a resource for Seattle area agents and consumers.¬† If you’re an agent who serves any area supported by the NWMLS and you’d like to advertise a pocket listing on RCG, let me know in the comment below.

If I get 5 or more pocket listings in the comment section of this post in the near future, then I’ll assume there really is demand for such a tool in the Seattle area and I’ll start up a new page (right between “About RCG” and “Seattle Agent Recommendations”) for pocket listings.

Here’s the only information I need from you:

  • Neighborhood
  • One to two sentence description of the listing
  • Contact information (name & phone)

For obvious reasons, I’m assuming that most agents won’t want to list the address of the pocket listing, but if you want to include that information as well, all the better.¬† And just to be clear, this is a free service of RCG. ¬† Assuming it becomes a lot of work, I may charge a nominal fee to cover my time and/or automate the system, but I honestly don’t see that happening in the near future.

Are there rules for getting your pocket listing on RCG? Most definitely!¬†¬† But I don’t even know what they are yet. ¬† However, I will definitely figure out some rules if people start abusing the system.¬†¬†¬† Some potential rules that come to mind: (1)¬† Only allow agents to list their top 3 pocket listings, (2) must let me know if a pocket listing gets listed on the MLS and/or (3) must let me know if a pocket listing is no longer available. But even those rules aren’t hard-and-fast yet until I get some feedback from the community.

So, if you are an agent intersted in getting some additional exposure for your pocket listings, let me know!

Listing Square Footage — How hard can it be?

Back in middle school, one of my favorite math classes was geometry.  Calculating the volume of cylinders, figuring out the angles of oblique triangles…now that was living!  Best of all, it seemed like math that maybe I might really use someday.

Fortunately in this business there’s lot of opportunity to practice.  Whether we’re helping a client to analyze a land development, or figuring out the volume of topsoil needed to resod a yard, or simply figuring the square footage of a house, we get to use some of that old fashioned geometry in the process.

It turns out that the square footage thing, though, just isn’t that simple.  It’s been talked about before (like here, and here), but today we were listing a new townhome, and as I evaluated the active comparables, I found that what should be a “standard,

Safety can't be stressed enough for agents and sellers of property….

Safety is always a concern of mine for both me, my team, and my clients. Oddly enough, agents work in a profession where we and our clients are frequently targeted for a variety of opportunistic crimes such as burglary, assault, rape, and murder. Recently, notices went out from our local MLS letting agents know that a strange man was attempting to lure female agents to vacant properties. I’m pasting in the full content of that original notice. There has been an update on the MLS site since then that actually has a photo available of this potentially dangerous person.

“February 6, 2008. NWMLS has recently received reports of potential dangerous situations regarding a man attempting to lure women agents to homes.

A man named Christopher Heath (from Vermont) is trying to get female agents out to vacant properties. Most of the properties he is interested in are vacant and secluded. He has been arranging to meet with several agents in the area (Duvall, Monroe, Kent).

Heath claims to be relocating here to work at the Fire Academy in North Bend. He claims to be a widower, retired firefighter, cash buyer searching for rural setting with room and privacy for the 2 search-and-rescue dogs he has for his job here with the Seattle Fire Department.

He originally was looking for a house priced between $400,000 and $600,000. He later changed the price to a million, saying it was going to be a cash deal and that the money would be wired from Merrill Lynch.

One agent was feeling uncomfortable with the situation and began a background check. The Fire Academy has never heard of him. He had called from a New York phone number so she did a reverse search ‚ÄĒ it was a doctor‚Äôs cell phone # ‚ÄĒ when she called the number the next day it had been cancelled.

A 2nd agent called the number she had been given in Vermont and spoke to his wife (he claimed to be a widower). She said there are about 10 different female real estate agents leaving him messages and she found many Seattle area agents on his home computer. According to his wife, he was in the middle of taking out a home equity loan on his wife‚Äôs (of 4 months) home. His wife just happened to be home and saw the appraiser measuring her home ‚Äď a 30-acre horse ranch in Vermont.

Another agent arranged to meet with him today (February 6). She told him by voice mail and email that they would be meeting at her office to introduce themselves in person and to go over their tour and initial real estate paper work. She told him it was their company policy to meet new clients at their office, introduce them to their office manager and to make a copy of their driver’s license. She has not heard from him since.

His wife believes he is now in New York heading to Washington.

The situation has been reported to the police.

Please be careful! If this man contacts you, contact your local authority.”

Making this seem even more important to bring to public attention was news that RE/MAX agents received yesterday of a murdered colleague in Canada. The same type of tactic used by this guy noted above was used to lure a 24-year old agent to a vacant home where she was then stabbed to death. Purportedly, she had expressed concerns about going out to this viewing for a variety of reasons based on the calls she received asking for the showing. I wish she’d listened to her gut and not gone but we can’t change what happened now, but I can certainly put out a warning to others in hopes that they’ll escape a similar fate in the future.

When it comes to sellers, I also speak strongly about safety measures. Just because a sign is in your front yard doesn’t mean you need to open the door to just anyone because they ask. Follow all the same security procedures you would if the house wasn’t on the market. If someone comes to the door, ask them to set up an appointment with their agent, or your own agent so that there is a layer of qualifying put in place. If you happen to be home and an agent comes to your door, to make sure they really are an agent make sure they first check in with the keybox. Only agents have the products available to them to open these boxes. The key boxes are geared specifically to capture electronic data so that the people going in and out of your home can be monitored, plus it allows for follow up and feedback, also necessary for the agent selling your home to do their job most effectively. This came up recently when a client had stayed home with a sick child. A bunch of agents came over and went through the house without logging in to the keybox. I told her that in the future she should have every single agent log in before allowing them into her home.

Having an open house potentially puts your belongings at risk so if you have anything of value – whether it’s monetary or personal in nature – put it away. Medicines in your cabinet? Put them where they can’t be picked up by snooping people or those there to see if they can pick up their “fix”. Sometimes it can seem entirely benign to have an open house but what you’re doing is inviting complete strangers in, who haven’t been qualified by anyone specific much less a lender and/or agent, who will come traipsing through your home. Even if people are asked to sign in they will oftentimes put down false information because they want to remain anonymous. I’m not saying “don’t do it” at all, but rather think about safety measures that can keep you, your family, and your belongings safe throughout the sale.

The MLS is not just for advertising your property

[photopress:just_listed.jpg,thumb,alignright]Agent receives $5,000 fine for taking the key from the keybox, giving it to the electrician and allowing the electrician to remain on the property unattended.

Agent receives $5,000 fine for giving her keypad to an unlicensed friend to show property.

Agent fined $3,000 for changing the price by $1.00 or $2.00 to cause the property to show up on the agent hotsheet to get more attention and possibly showings.

Agent fined $3,000 for advertising another agent’s listed property in a real estate publication.

Agent waited in car while handing his keypad to his unlicensed assistant who showed the property. Agent did not leave a business card in the house. $5,000 fine.

$1,500 fine for not uploading a photo in a timely manner, not changing the status in a timely manner and not taking the keybox off of the property in a timely manner.

It is sometimes easy to forget that “The MLS” is not simply a data base for listed property to gain the eyes and interest of potential buyers. Reading the report of hefty fines being paid by members for, in some cases, what might appear to be fairly minor transgressions, is a good reminder of what “the mls” really is and is not.

I have to admit that as I am typing this, I am wondering if there is a fine for writing a blog post about fines.

Where should the MLS end and the IDX begin?

The whole ruckus over the NWMLS no longer sending its member’s listings to realtor.com inspired many unlit pixels of commentary and many more wasted bytes of hard drive space. As I pondered a while ago, the industry appears to have a healthy appetite for technology. However, one of the comments was really insightful‚Ķ.

I still feel that this decision made by the board was wrong. As was the decision last year to disable the client email updates from Locator. We have the technology but are unwilling to use it. I have no love of REALTOR.com but I see no problem with sharing a limited set of data with them and offering our sellers maximum exposure of their listing. In fact, perhaps one of the reasons they discontinued the feed was because as Galen said, “Realtor.com was given the exclusive non-broker feed‚Ķ” and they were getting pressure from Google and others to get a similar feed. I say give it to them. NWMLS has the ability to provide its members, all of them, with the technology usually reserved only for those with very deep pockets.

The whole thing got me wondering if this just a tactic for the big brokers to keep their upstarts at bay? Because of the MLS system, the big brokers share their listings inventory, with the smaller and independent brokers. However, perhaps the big brokers want the technology out of the MLS, because it harms the smaller upstarts without withholding listings from them?

Maybe there’s a less nefarious motivation. Since the NWMLS board appears to be dominated by members that belong to big brokers, perhaps they don’t want the NWMLS spending its’ limited computing resources (at the end of the day, even the Google’s & Microsoft’s have limited budgets, they just have a few more zeros at the end than most of us do) in areas where a big broker’s IT department or a motivated IDX vendor could do a better job. Regardless of the motivations, it does bring an interesting issue to light.

What should the MLS responsibilities be in terms of listing change notification, statistics/reporting, automated listing distribution, listing access via mobile devices or any number of things that either an MLS or an IDX vendor could provide?

I’m sure the big brokers are less enthusiastic about this type of thing because some have probably already invented these kind of technologies in house years ago (and paid for it out of their own pocket). They probably also see the MLS as competition for viewer eyeballs and would rather the MLS make it easier to combine listings data across their empires instead of being a shared technology provider. MLS regionalization is probably much higher on their MLS IT wish list. After all, the point of an MLS is to share listings data, not share listings technology.

The independent agents and the smaller brokers, probably want the MLS to provide these services, so they don’t have invest any more money in their IDX vendor / IT infrastructure that they don’t have to. I also suspect a lot people in that market segment see technology as an expense and not as an investment. They only want it, if they don’t have to pay for it.

As for me, I’m just an IDX vendor (I don’t have a dog in the fight). From my biased perspective, the less the MLS does, the more valuable my technology becomes, the more useful my services become, and the more opportunities for paying customers I get. I want you to spend money on your IT infrastructure and your IDX vendor! Apparently, the big brokers want you to do the same via their MLS policy direction!