Sam DeBord is managing broker and vice president of strategic growth for Coldwell Banker Danforth, past president of Seattle King Country REALTORS®, vice president of government affairs for Washington REALTORS®, and NAR president's liaison for MLS and Data Management. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and SeattleCondo.com.
Project Upstream: Tax Reform for Real Estate?
In some ways, real estate’s listing system is comparable to the tangled web of tax reporting. But the reform that Project Upstream offers will streamline and improve the system for brokers and agents alike.
February 23, 2016
Business owners take risks to create valuable products and services. They drive the national economy and create jobs.
But no good deed goes unpunished. These entrepreneurs are rewarded with a slough of tax reporting requirements from a tangled web of government agencies. A single business might file fee or tax reports with its city, county, secretary of state, state department of revenue, licensing board, insurance commissioner, and the IRS.
Business owners often feel powerless, subject to countless mandates with no voice in the process. In an ideal world, the system would be reformed. A business would file a single revenue report that could be used by any agency, cut one check to the government, and get back to work. No one is holding their breath for that outcome.
Disjointed Real Estate Listing Distribution
Real estate’s convoluted listing system creates a similar feeling. Property listings, and the services that support them, are the revenue drivers of the industry. Making listing delivery efficient should be a priority. Yet a single listing might have to be input in a dozen different locations before it has been comprehensively distributed. The process doesn’t improve much after distribution. The listing creators often have little control or feedback regarding how their information is treated.
Brokers, agents, staff, and others waste valuable time entering the same listing data into multiple MLSs, vendor websites, franchisor platforms, and advertising portals. The data is the same, but each listing outlet requires a different process of delivery. It’s the definition of inefficiency.
Loss of Control, Uncaptured Value
Once delivered, the listings can take on lives of their own. Brokers and agents often sign on to agreements with little protection for their data rights. Advertising portals rework and manipulate the data and media as they see fit. Some go so far as to republish listing photos in unrelated advertising campaigns without credit or compensation given to the creators.
The single brokerage, on its own, has little ability to reform the process or negotiate a better contract. The inertia of the current system is too great. As a nationwide collection of brokers, though, a single voice like the Upstream coalition would have that power. It has the assets necessary to create a new process and the clout to motivate listing data recipients to operate on a more level playing field.
This, of course, is where fears of power consolidation reside. Tax reformers promote a streamlined system but are wary of granting a federal government agency greater powers to make it possible. Project Upstream’s goal is to streamline business and benefit the entire broker sphere. It will also be a place for brokers to manage a broad range of other kinds of information beyond listing data, including customer databases, vendor contacts, and agent rosters.
Its motivation, though, is the subject of conspiracy theories regarding elimination of small brokers and takeover of MLSs.
Us vs. Them, or All for One?
Luckily for real estate, the body with the power to streamline its processes isn’t the IRS. It’s a collection of “us.” The forces combining to support Project Upstream are the brokers who deal with the value-sapping quagmire of the current listing system every day.
These are business owners who represent over 70 percent of brokers nationwide (and growing). When we get past fear, the benefits of Upstream are fairly straightforward for brokers:
- Eliminate redundant labor in listing input
- Improve accuracy and timeliness of listing data output
- Ensure broker control and choice regarding which outlets receive data
- Establish broker rights and display rules over the data and media
Upstream’s challenge will be conveying this message to the individual. The project’s developers clearly understand the mission. Can that message be delivered in a way that motivates a broker or agent to change course in their everyday duties in support of a greater movement? Much like each individual voter must understand and believe in a cause to take the time to cast a ballot, adoption by the masses, one by one, will determine the viability of this venture.
Tax reform may be wishful thinking. Listing data reform, on the other hand, is right under our noses. There’s no czar or military coup attempting to seize power and take our autonomy from us. Brokers are merely creating better tools and more control for themselves.
Real estate brokers nationwide haven’t collaborated this closely toward a clear goal in quite some time. Let’s not allow conspiracy theories to cloud the way forward.