Get to Know the Millennial Buyers and the CAR Panel Discussion on the Portal Wars

Good day MAR members!

Let’s Go Giants! Let’s Go Giants! Giants fever is so all-encompassing that when Heather and I attended a concert in the City on Friday night, midway through the concert during some banter by the band the whole Masonic Auditorium joined in a “Let’s Go Giants!” chat for about 30 seconds. It’s another amazing time to be a Giants fan!

Between biking, hiking, kids’ games and the ever-present backdrop of “Let’s Go Giants!”, we’re all enjoying another beautiful Indian Summer here in Marin. Looking at people bundled up in other parts of the country, I’m reminded how blessed we are to live and work here in Marin. Keep your Orange and Black Giants gear handy, and let’s settle into another terrific week of beautiful warm days and evenings of World Series baseball. Come to think of it, I’ll try to get some Kansas City BBQ on the grill this week too.

MORE FROM C.A.R. AND THE MILLENNIALS

Thank you for all your positive comments on last week’s Monday Memo. Lots of you were very happy to hear how much your Millennial children love their parents! I’ll touch on a few more random items on our new first-time-homebuyer generation:

-This is the first generation that you will have to “adapt” to. Otherwise you’ll be out of business down the road.

-We probably all know this, but they make decisions based upon recommendations from friends, and nothing remains “cutting edge” for long.

-From East Bay Gen-Y Sothebys broker Andrew Greenwell, who is a Millennial himself, 5 Rules for Communicating with Gen-Y:

Tell them to read the whole email…otherwise they just read the subject line

“The Pointier the Bullet the Better”…meaning, net out your bullet points for an easily distracted generation.

NEVER put critical instructions at the end of the email…Millennials won’t read it.

Group communication is important…why have a meeting or phone call when you can solve the world’s problems with a group email or text?

MOST IMPORTANT: Millennials don’t like phone calls. He seriously said that people of his generation find a phone call to be an invasion of privacy. Seriously.

Andrew also said that Millennials don’t have a “personal life” and a “work life”…just “one life”. He encouraged us to be transparent, because Millennials can sniff through a lack of transparency, it’s in their DNA. Also, because they love their parents so much, it’s very important to engage and appeal to “Mom and Dad” with a Millennial client…Mom and Dad will be involved every day.

Finally…Andrew suggested that we “Focus on their future, not your past…make me understand why this is important to me right now.” And: “Millennials wonder where YOU will fit into their life story.”

I couldn’t get over the feeling of a self-indulgent generation, but we need to get over that as they are the most important generation for our industry right now. C.A.R. is correctly dead-set on understanding and accommodating this important group of young buyers.

THE PORTAL WARS

At C.A.R., we collectively spent a LOT of time talking about Zillow/Trulia “Zulia” and Move/Realtor.com. The Strategic Planning Forum on Friday was a packed panel discussion with Zillow, Trulia, Move/Realtor.com…and one old-school broker for levity sake.

Prior to the panel discussion, at Wednesday’s Member/Director Forum, C.A.R. CEO Joel Singer had some comments about Zillow in general as a primer for Friday’s panel discussion:

-Zillow is now the market “opinion leader”

-Zillow claims 80 million unique users, if you can believe that.

-Zillow’s market cap is $4.3B. While staggering, this number is way down from the $7B they had right after the Trulia acquisition, and their market cap has been steadily dropping since the acquisition.

-Zillow needs to “get some profits” to justify this huge market cap.

-News Corp just acquired Move.com/Realtor.com. Joel compared Zillow’s $4.3B market cap with News Corp’s $73B market cap, and rhetorically asked which one has the bigger war chest going forward.

-The consumer has better info than we do. He showed some slides of Zillow/RedFin/Truila listing pages, and compared that data with what we see in our MLS. It was pretty comical.

But the Friday panel was the most illuminating. Zillow sent Curt Beardsley, their VP of Industry Development. Trulia sent Alon Chaver, its VP of Insustry Services. Realtor.com sent Russ Cofano, SVP of Industry Relations. And the old-school broker I mentioned was Tom Kuntz, VP of North America of brokerage Engel and Volkers.

I had heard the three portal guys several times earlier this year at various panel discussions at CAR, NAR and the Inman conference. My main takeaway was the same as it was earlier: they don’t want to share much. Yet, we keep packing these forums, looking for magic nuggets of info to glean.

Beardsley of Zillow said that Zillow’s focus has always been and will be on the consumer. He said they are an advertising-based media company. And he said that 50% of the interaction with Zillow is now via mobile.

Cofano of Realtor.com described its philosophy and mission as being “aligned with Realtors”. He identified that “there are a lot more online leads than buyers.” So true. Realtor.com does not believe in putting up valuations, and they also don’t believe in putting FSBO listings right next to your listings.

Chaver described Trulia as “being similar to Realtor.com”. No valuations (at least not anymore…probably thanks to Zillow buying them); No FSBOs. He claimed a Realtor-friendly approach, and proclaimed “we’ve transformed the customer experience and expectations over the past 8 years.”

Kuntz the broker was resigned to the changing environment of customer access to data. He correctly talked of the disconnect that “our industry has not yet delved into Big Data” like the Big 3 portals have. They know an awful lot about our customers. He also worries that “Realtor value is being replaced by Big Data.”

Then the banter began.

Beardsley said that Zillow is “central to the consumer” by adding in Big Data. Consumers typically search online for 12 weeks before they reach out to a real estate professional. We as an industry are not engaged yet at that time and the Big 3 are. People want a “general idea of values” during those 12 weeks, they don’t want to talk to a Realtor yet, and Zillow is addressing those needs with listings and Zestimates.

Cofano of Realtor.com then produced the zinger of the forum: Over the past 5-6 years, the number of licensed agents nationwide has stayed relatively static at 1M agents. Nationwide sales have stayed relatively static at 5M sales. But the number of online leads has zoomed up like a hockey stick. Monumental growth of online leads. Why so many more leads if the sales are remaining the same? What is the definition of an “online lead?” He said all that those leads are doing is creating more work for everyone.

And on it went, with everyone’s opinion about the general state of “online leads”. Joel Singer of CAR, who was moderating, asked the panel “Are leads becoming more valuable?” Beardsley of Zillow acknowledged the “huge growth of online leads”, but stuck with his contention that Zillow is a media company: “We don’t sell leads, we sell opportunities for you to be in front of your customers.”

Cofano of Realtor.com came back again with “leads are becoming less valuable”, and “leads cost the same whether they’re really good or crap”. He directly asked Beardsly of Zillow whether “online leads are becoming less valuable?” Beardsly stammered for a minute or two and didn’t answer the question. Cofano asked him again, and Beardsly finally relented that “yes, online leads are becoming less valuable” and that they need to fix that problem.

At that point, MAR President-Elect Matt Hughes, who was sitting across the room, summed it up best for me via a text he sent: “They are not creating leads. They are creating contact info of window shoppers.”

Amen to that.

The wise sage of the meeting, broker Tom Kuntz, told us that someone with way more money than Zillow is going to come in and change the playing field again in a way that we don’t know about yet. He talked about Napster and online music being a cute little unprofitable business until Apple and iTunes stepped in and effectively monetized it. Someone big, who we haven’t even thought of yet, will come in and make Zillow obsolete.

I’m not sure about that yet, but this sure is a fascinating conversation.

That’s it for now, next week I’ll share some of the action items we voted on at the CAR Board of Directors meetings.

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine Morris

2014 President

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CAR Update: Economic Forecast and the Impact of the Millennials

Good day MAR members!

It’s great to be back in Marin after a week across the street from the Happiest Place on Earth.  We could see Disneyland from our C.A.R. hotel and the Anaheim Convention Center, but things were so busy that looking from a distance was all we could do.  Perhaps that’s not so bad, after seeing all the bleary-eyed parents looking like the walking wounded returning from the park with their kids.

And:  LET’S GO GIANTS!!  Pretty huge cheers went up whenever one of the speakers said that at the meetings…which is surprising because there are way more people in SoCal…and our SoCal friends were licking their wounds after the Dodgers and Angels were dispatched from the playoffs last week.  There sure was a lot of Angels gear for sale in the gift shop of our hotel, but after observing for five days I didn’t see a single item leave the store.

SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY

By now, many of you probably saw the “Alert – Marin Agent Safety” we sent out last Saturday.  If you didn’t see it, you can check it out HERE.  The net is that there is allegedly a person posing as a REALTOR® going around to open houses looking for prescription drugs.  Police have advised members that unless he is actually caught stealing something there is nothing they can do.

One thing you can do is get a “Pill Pod” from the MAR store.  The Pill Pod is essentially a $20 plastic “safe” to store medication.  It’s not an indestructible device, but it is big enough that medication can’t be put in a pocket and walked out with.  It’s an inexpensive, effective deterrent.  For more info, you can just drop by the MAR store and check it out.

In the wake of the Beverly Carter murder in Arkansas, we need to keep a very watchful eye out for “copycat” assaults on agents.  This past Saturday, a 55-year-old female agent in Orange County was punched in the face at one of her listings: ARTICLE

This Wednesday morning at the Novato Tour Meeting, Officers Conrad and Doyle from the Novato Police Department will be attending to discuss agent safety and how the police can be of help.  They would also like feedback from the agent community.  The safety meeting starts at 9:00 and is held at the Novato Youth Center at 680 Wilson in Novato.

Be careful out there!

CAR FALL BUSINESS MEETINGS

As I mentioned, MAR’s CAR Director delegation spent last week in Anaheim at the Expo and Fall Business Meetings.  I’ll do my best to distill the most important info out of my 23 pages of notes I took…it will likely take me a couple of weeks to get through all of it.

Let me first get to the two numbers you need to know for your clients and prospects:  at the 2015 Economic Forecast by CAR Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young, she reported that CAR expects that California unit sales will go up by 5.8% in 2015, and that the median price will increase by 5.2%.  Keep those two numbers in mind, and you will be armed with the freshest data next time someone asks you about the market outlook.

Ahhh, but digging into those numbers is what will make you sound even smarter.  The most startling overall sentiment in Anaheim is how there is a perception of a market slowdown throughout California.  CAR was way off on its 2014 market projections.  Earlier this year, I reported that CAR was expecting total unit sales to INCREASE by 6%.  CAR now expects unit sales to DECREASE by 8.2% in 2014.  That’s quite a miss.  Also, they expected the median price to also go up by 6%, and they now expect that number to increase by 11.8%.

What’s also startling about this is that the 2014 unit and price projections were calculated with an expectation that interest rates would have materially risen with the end of QE, and they expected the rates to be well over 5% by now.  As we know the interest rates have been pretty flat for most of the year.

THE MILLENNIALS, OUR SLOWLY-EMERGING FIRST-TIME-BUYER GENERATION

This disconnect came up at a number of meetings I attended.  The finger kept getting pointed to our new first-time-buyers…the “Millennials”…or “Generation Y”.  More commonly known as “your kids”, and also identified as the largest generation in American history.  With the oldest of them in their early 30s, they’re not buying houses as quickly as previous generations.

Over the past year, starting at last October’s CAR meetings in Long Beach, much of the collective efforts  of CAR can be described as a psychology and sociology study of this generation.  Here are some interesting tidbits, in no particular order.

-Millennials are delaying getting married.  Marriage rates are plummeting.  Less marriages = less homes purchased.

-They’re still living at home.  And I kept hearing that they like their parents much more than we did.  That’s slowing these young adults from “growing up”.  I kept hearing that “90% of Gen Ys have a good relationship with their parents.”  And sit down for this one:  2/3 of adult children living with their parents are “satisfied with the arrangement.”  And you thought it was just you…  They didn’t share whether the parents felt the same way about this arrangement.

-People are simply moving less.  Why?  Kids like their parents better.

-Regarding the plummeting marriage rate, one interesting anecdote was shared by Richard Thornberg, one of CAR’s top economists:  In previous generations, more men went to college, and more men had degrees than women.  Today it’s just the opposite:  More women are going to college than men, and more women have degrees than men.  So what?  Mr. Thornberg offered the following demographic comment:  Better educated men are ok being in a relationship with less educated women, but better educated women are NOT ok being in a relationship with less educated men.  This is a demographic conundrum that won’t go away soon.

-Or, more simply put, Mr. Thornburg asked for the single women in the audience to raise their hands if they’re ok going on a date with an adult man living with his parents.  Not many hands went up.

-Our population in California is becoming more Latino and more Asian.  Latinos and Asians historically live with their parents longer.

-Given our recent housing debate in Marin, how about this:  78% of Millennials would prefer to not own a car and rather would like to walk to everything.

-Millennials want walkability.  Millennials actually ARE buying in downtown LA and downtown Oakland.  Walkability, nightlife and activity in general were cited as the reasons for this.  They don’t care about quality of schools, because none of them are having kids yet.

-As for the decrease in units, investors are not in the market as heavily, and “investors need to be replaced by first-time-buyers” and it’s not happening.

THE PUBLIC POLICY DEBATE ON HOUSING

On several occasions, CAR CEO Joel Singer described housing as “the Achilles Heel of California.”  We’re just not building enough new housing, as he said.  California has 13% of the population in the US, and only generates 8% of the building permits.  The population is still growing, but nothing is being built for them.  The need for reform of CEQA came up over and over again.  CEQA is the California Environment Quality Act, and it makes building difficult.

Plus, it seems that everywhere other than Marin, density is preferred and increasing.  That’s where the Millennials want to live.  So Sacramento is focusing on affordable rentals, not affordable housing for purchase.  Joel Singer said that in a recent conversation with the Speaker of the California Assembly Toni Atkins (who hails from Coastal San Diego County), when asked about housing affordability, she started talking about rental affordability.  She told Joel, “just wait until we’re a 50% renter society.”

So that’s where the public policy debate in Sacramento is focused:  rental affordability.

As for the affordability of housing for purchase, it’s become increasingly unaffordable in California.  At the height of the recession, Joel Singer described it as a “once in a generation buying opportunity”.  Those days are long gone.  The ability to purchase a median-priced home in California has fallen to 36% this year, compared to 60% for the US.  Joel called this “self-inflicted pain” because we’re not building.

I’ll leave it there for now.  There is so much more to report, I’ll pick it up next week.

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine Morris

2014 MAR President

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Realtor Safety and Housing Density AB-1537 Signed Into Law

Good morning MAR members!

Now that’s more like it! I’ve got to say, I love the heat. But I don’t love the humidity. This has been a voodoo freaky summer here in Marin…sticky, sweaty, muggy. Finally, we’ve had some of that beautiful, humidity-free fall weather. In years past, I might be taking it for granted, but not this year. I’ve been enjoying every toasty moment. Keep it coming!

And let me get this out of the way right out front: LET’S GO GIANTS!! What a sports weekend, Giants, 49ers. Big win for Cal, sad loss for Stanford. Oh, and let’s not forget Utah’s stirring win over #8 UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night. Sorry Kate Hamilton and all the rest of you Bruin fans (my sister included…).

REALTOR® SAFETY

With those light-hearted thoughts out of the way, time to get serious. We just finished up NAR’s REALTOR® Safety Month. So much has been said about the tragic death of REALTOR® colleague Beverly Carter. Horrible, horrible, horrible. This could have been any of us.

The news has hit all of us like a ton of bricks. Last week, it was the talk of our industry. Out on tour, in office meetings, in conversations with loved ones, friends and clients.

On Wednesday, I was previewing a listing of MAR member Beth Brody’s in Mill Valley. She was telling a story from years ago of an incident in Muir Beach where something just didn’t seem right with a supposed buyer. She reported the incident to the police, and a week later got a call from the FBI about REALTOR® murder in Sacramento with a description matching the guy she had reported. We think we’re all very safe here in beautiful Marin, but it happens here too.

As our sales meeting last week, the topic was REALTOR® safety. I reminded everyone that we have a local Marin emergency number that is quicker and better than 911…it’s 415-472-0911. You should definitely put that in your cell phone.

And as an industry, we need to SLOW THINGS DOWN sometimes. Showing homes to people we’ve not met, at empty houses, is simply a bad business practice. There is a tremendous amount of pressure being created by the so-called “on demand” society. At the Inman conference in SF earlier this summer, the founder of a large internet-based broker (one with a color in its name) was smugly boasting about how his business model is simply accommodating a need and expectation by the buyer community for “on demand” showing of real estate. Telling us that if we don’t do it, someone else will. There were a number of his agents at various breakout sessions throughout the day, each telling stories of “out-on-demanding” traditional REALTORS®.

I don’t see this changing anytime soon. There is tremendous competitive pressure to convert leads, often from buyers who want to look at a house right now/in an hour/sometime this morning. Particularly if you’re a new agent or an experienced agent trying to jumpstart your business…the expectation has been created, and if you don’t do it someone else will.

My advice: meet them at your office. These stories of incidents involving REALTORS® are not new, this one with Ms. Carter simply turned around so quickly and tragically it’s got all of our attention. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste…make a commitment to be careful! Here is the link to NAR’s REALTOR® Safety page HERE. Let’s take the attention of this tragedy with a new commitment to being safe.

REALTOR® SAFETY, PART II

Speaking of safety, MAR member Abby Tanem last week reported that she recognized a fake REALTOR® from several years ago who claims to be from Pacific Union’s Mill Valley office…but has no card. Abby remembered him, and called PU to confirm that no one by that name worked there. We all thought this guy was busted for theft a few years back, but he seems to have resurfaced. Please tell your clients to lock up valuables and medication…especially the kinds that lend themselves to abuse.

With that in mind, earlier this year I was approached by a local vendor who has a very affordable solution to medication theft…it’s something of a plastic “safe” with a combination lock. The safe isn’t really bullet-proof, but the form factor…about the size of a cookie jar…simply does not lend itself to popping into a pocket and walking out of the house like a small bottle of medication can. We’ve ordered a case of these for the MAR store, and should be in stock soon. They’re only $20, and will result in piece of mind for us and our clients.

HOUSING DENSITY, AB 1537

Yes! Last week, Governor Brown signed AB1537 into law, providing a huge victory for common sense and Marin’s Assemblyman Marc Levine. AB1537 lowers Marin’s default density for affordable housing projects from 30 to 20 units per acre, and correctly reclassifies Marin as Suburban rather than Metropolitan.

MAR worked quite a bit in advocacy of this bill. We were among the earliest groups to endorse the measure, and both MAR CEO Andy Fegley and myself testified before Assembly and Senate committees in Sacramento in favor of the bill.

It is the right bill, for the right time in Marin’s housing future. It is effective on January 1, 2015, and will run for eight years through a full housing planning cycle.

Congratulations to Assemblyman Levine and his team, along with Supervisor Kate Sears who also worked tirelessly on this bill’s passage.

Finally, thank you to over 100 REALTORS® who attended the Flood Summit at the Marin Country Club last Tuesday. It was a big hit, and lots of very detailed info was shared. The info didn’t really make me feel better, but it did make me feel much better informed. Thank you to sponsors Steve Strickland of JCP-LGS Disclosures, and Kristy Militello of First American Home Warranty, and also thank you to MAR Education Chair Mary Kay Yamamoto for their collective work on this useful event.

That’s it for now, I’m off to the fall CAR Business Meetings and EXPO in Orange County in the morning on a 6:30 AM flight. I and the MAR CAR Director team return on Saturday and we will likely have a couple of week’s worth of reports for you.

I wish you a safe and prosperous week. Be careful out there.

Blaine Morris
2014 MAR President

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Flood Summit, SRES Certification and BAREIS SEL Form Update/Correction

Good day MAR members!

Tough weekend for Marin sports fans…Giants getting swept, 49ers and Raiders losing, Cal losing on a last second Hail Mary. At least the A’s took two out of three from the Phillies. It wasn’t a total loss for me, however, since my University of Utah Utes went into the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan and came away with a nice win to go to 3-0. But I won’t dwell on that, since no one cares about Utah football other than MAR CEO Andy Fegley, Cyd Gardner and myself.

Busy, busy, busy. Slowly but surely, they seem to be finishing all the road projects out there. The West End of San Rafael has been a bit of a war zone lately, with the main gas line replacement across Second and Third streets wreaking havoc, along with H Street on the edge of Forbes and Sun Valley. What a mess, detour central, and extra time needed for all. Though I don’t relish the arrival of the rainy season, at least the pending arrival of rain should cause all these streets to get closed up. Let’s hope so, anyway!

FLOOD SUMMIT AND SRES CERTIFICATION TRAINING

It’s close to last call for these events, folks. The Flood Summit, with FEMA and others coming to give us an update on the flood zone and flood insurance world, is scheduled for next Tuesday at the Marin Country Club. There are still some seats left for this great event. The cost is $15, and will include a continental breakfast. You can click here to register. Many thanks to Steven Strickland of JCP-LGS Disclosures and Kristy Militello of First American Home Protection for sponsoring, and also to MAR Education Chair Mary Kay Yamamoto for their efforts to put this together.

Also, there are still some seats left for next months’ Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) certification training. All of us should have this certification, since such a large portion of our clients are facing aging-related housing decisions. I got the certification nearly three years ago, and the two days of the course were extremely productive in raising my awareness of these important issues, and also were helpful in making me more well-versed on the conversation itself. The certification training will be held at the MAR offices on October 6th and 7th, and registration closes this Thursday. The cost for the training and certification is $245, and you can click here to register.

BAREIS SEL FORM UPDATE/CORRECTION

As excited as I was earlier this month when informing you about BAREIS’ recent changes to the SEL form policy, I must admit that I passed along some incomplete information about the revised process. Over a period of several months and several reports to the MAR Board of Directors, BAREIS Class B Director and MAR Member Dave Egan had been sharing with us that a “streamlining” of the process was in the works.

It culminated at the MAR Board meeting last month, when the message that I heard…and reported to you in the “Tuesday Memo” after Labor Day…was that BAREIS had made a major and welcome revision to the process. It was my understanding that the much-loved SEL “exclusion” form still needed to be completed, but that your broker was responsible for ensuring compliance, along with all the other legal and procedural items your broker is responsible for. Dave shared that “hundreds” of SEL form compliance emails and phone calls will be “eliminated” or a “thing of the past” or something like that.

That was incorrect. Or at least I reported it incorrectly.

In BAREIS’ announcement of the change in SEL exclusion form policy sent to all of us via email on 8/28, the new process is defined. Yes, you do have to still get the form. Yes, you STILL need to send the form to BAREIS within three business days of taking the listing. You can avoid this step, however, if you SUBMIT the listing to BAREIS on the MLS with a FUTURE “ON MARKET” DATE. Which means you’ll need to totally complete the listing on the MLS, with all fields completed, within those three days.

Yup, that’s it…the “streamlining” of the process: either do what you’ve been doing (or should have been doing, unless you don’t mind paying fines) and send the SEL form to BAREIS within three business days, OR go through the entire process of uploading your listing, and submitting it with a “future” on-market date. This is beyond “incomplete” listing…it’s the whole enchilada.

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. Once again, it’s important for me to remind the membership that neither I nor the MAR Board of Directors have any authority to effect change at BAREIS. That’s up to BAREIS’ Board and its executive leadership. We simply get feedback and share feedback through our Class B Board Member.

From my perspective, this so-called “revision” is just that…a revision, not an improvement nor a streamliningof the process. It’s certainly easier to go fax in the form, just like we always have, than it is to spend 45-60 minutes inputting the whole listing and submitting it as “complete”. Within three days.

I received a few calls this week from agents who misunderstood the “improved” process, and were enlightened by BAREIS. I’ll share this feedback with BAREIS Director Egan tomorrow, who I continue to believe does an outstanding job representing Marin at BAREIS. In the meantime, you can share your feedback yourself with BAREIS by clicking here.

That’s it for now, lots of new listings out there for our clients for this beautiful Indian Summer season, good selling!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine

Blaine Morris

2014 MAR President

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Upcoming Flood Summit, Junior Second Units, Economic Forecast and a Tribute to Jon Cutler

Good day MAR members!

Happy Indian Summer to you! As I was walking my dog through the neighborhood yesterday, I couldn’t help but be taken by the glorious day…perfect weather, perfect temperature, and beautiful golden light filtering through the sycamores and big leaf maple trees which are starting to turn color early. Football weather. Whatever you want to call it, breathe it in as fall is right around to corner. Both my wife and a neighbor were saying yesterday that they were ready for some rain to come. Me too, but as I always say, if it’s going to be a drought you might as well enjoy the weather! I’ll take the weather of this sweet season any day, as the rain will be here soon enough.

It was nearly two weeks ago that I was wrapping up a super vacation to Oregon. As we made our way down the Oregon coast, I first heard the tragic news of my friend Jon Cutler’s passing. I’ve had the solemn responsibility to notify MAR’s membership of this type of sad news all year long, but never has it been someone who I knew as well and considered a real friend. News was slow to trickle in.

From the first day that I arrived at the Frank Howard Allen office in Greenbrae eleven years ago, Jon was a larger than life personality. A very loud man. A man who for a large part wore aloha shirts, shorts and low cut Converse All Stars to his daily real estate practice. A man with a very warm heart, who was born in Beverly Hills but staked his own creative path in life. A man who served his country in Vietnam. How many kids from Beverly Hills, who went to Northwestern University, also went to Vietnam? Well, probably a lot, but Jon was the only one I knew. In addition to being a REALTOR®, Jon also was a very talented writer and made a nice living doing that on the side. It was almost like real estate was his “day job”.

Jon was a man who loved his life. He took walks in the afternoon down by the water in Greenbrae. And he always had time to help me when I was getting started in the business. Ultimately, his office was right across the hall from mine until he moved his practice to Sonoma a few years ago. We shared quite a few laughs through the years. A kind hearted and gentle man. He loved cats. I shed a few tears that day on the Oregon Coast, and I’ve shed a few since. Terry Bremer, his manager in Sonoma and I joked via email about her moment of silence in the office last week. A moment of silence for the “loud one”!

A great guy. RIP Jon Cutler.

FLOOD SUMMIT

Book your seat now for the MAR Flood Summit which is at the Marin Country Club in Novato two weeks from tomorrow on September 30th. Response has been terrific, and half the seats sold out in the first couple of days last week. This will be a great event to educate us on the rapidly changing world of Marin flood zones and the complexities in securing flood insurance. I’ve had several “flood insurance deals” this year, and a couple of times the process has been horrendous.

With the base flood level elevation rising around the bay next year, more and more of our sales will be subject to flood insurance requirements. We will have a panel discussion with members of FEMA presenting the latest and greatest info, along with other industry experts. The cost is $15, and will include a continental breakfast. You can register by clicking here. You will need your NRDS ID# and the password is 1234, unless you changed it. After login, scroll down to “Other Services” and select “Register for Events” then select Flood Summit. Scroll down to “Proceed to Registration” then follow the instructions for paying with your credit card information. MAR staff can help you locate your National REALTOR® Data Service ID number.

JUNIOR SECOND UNITS

We had a great presentation last Friday at the MAR Government Affairs Committee by Bob Brown, the Director of Community Development in Novato, who shared the emerging concept of “Junior Second Units” in Marin. A junior second unit is basically a unit in a single family home which is carved out of the existing structure. Obviously, there are lots of these already in Marin…it’s commonly called “renting out a room.” Renting out a room is already legal, of course, but Novato and other communities want to streamline the permitting process to make these “junior” units fully legal and documented. If we can do that, the plan is to use these units to contribute to the required number of new living units required by Sacramento and ABAG for each town’s Housing Element.

Parking is usually the sticking point when an owner wants to add a unit to a single family home in Marin. Bob claimed that in Novato they abate three illegal units for every legal unit that gets created. That sounds like a dwindling housing supply. The hope with this concept is that by legally adding a wet-bar-type sink, we can expedite the process and the permit fees will be negligible…like a few hundred dollars rather than the tens of thousands of dollars currently required for utility hookups. Parking is a non-issue, since the size of the house and number of bedrooms will remain the same…and parking will be assumed to be sufficient as it’s part of the existing house.

Quite a number of other towns in Marin are exploring this issue with the hope of a coordinated effort to address Sacramento and ABAG-mandated housing numbers in Marin. I think it’s a great idea. MAR does not as of yet have an official position, but the Board of Directors will be reviewing the report from the Government Affairs Committee at our next meeting.

ROBERT EYLER ECONOMIC PRESENTATION REVIEW

We had a sold-out meeting last week for the MAR General Membership Meeting. The membership voted in favor of next year’s MAR Leadership Team, headed up by President-Elect Matt Hughes. The keynote presentation was by Dr. Robert Eyler, head of the Marin Economic Forum and Professor of Economics at Sonoma State University.   Dr. Eyler’s report was quite upbeat in relation to the coming years in Marin, with steady forecasted growth and continued economic strength in the Bay Area. He does believe that interest rates will start to slowly rise…but people have been saying that for a couple of years now. He didn’t share anything on the 2-3 year horizon…at least economically…that will cause rates to spike up, or any other news that will cause Bay Area housing demand to weaken. If you missed the meeting, or would like to review the report, you can check out Dr. Eyler’s presentation by clickinghere.

That’s it for now!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week!

Blaine Morris

2014 MAR President

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Flood Zone/Insurance Panel Discussion, Sewer Lateral and Housing Density Update

Good day MAR members!

It’s great to be back home in Marin!  It’s always good to return after some time away, and just in time for our beautiful Indian Summer.

Speaking of Indian Summer, Labor Day typically means the start of our second busiest season for our real estate business here in Marin.  I’ve missed the last two weeks of broker tour, but I’m looking forward to having some new homes to show my buyers in the coming weeks.  I’ve been telling them that help is on the way.   Good selling, Marin Realtors!

FLOOD ZONE AND FLOOD INSURANCE PANEL DISCUSSION

The next big event we are planning at MAR is the September 30 “Everything you ever wanted to know about Marin flood zones and flood insurance” panel discussion.  Earlier this year, congress’ initial attempt at flood insurance “reform” was a disaster, with gigantic increases for many Marin properties, often without logical reason.  Congress rolled it back on their “fix-it” reform in early spring, but problems still abound.

I can attest to these difficulties.  One of my listings this summer was a San Rafael townhome where part of the complex is in the flood zone and about 60% isn’t.  I’ve sold in this complex before, and the convention was that units in the flood zone got their own flood insurance in the past.  Well, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac changed the lending rules, and now to get conventional Freddie and Fannie financing the entire complex must have a master flood policy.  Talk about “turning the battleship”!  The HOA simply has not wanted to deal with this reality, and as such the units in the complex that are in the flood zone cannot get regular financing…we needed to find a portfolio lender, and even that lender needed to make an exception.  We got it done, but with a lot of heartache.

During this process I learned that more change is coming next year, with FEMA re-writing the flood maps yet again, and the rumor I’ve been hearing is that they are going to raise the base flood elevation by one foot around the entire bay.  So the complex above with 60% of the units out of the flood zone will become entirely in the flood zone.  This will obviously affect many homes, condos and businesses throughout Marin.

During my townhome flood zone debacle, MAR member Steve Strickland of JCP Natural Hazard Disclosures was extremely helpful in educating me about the recent and upcoming changes.  I get calls and emails all the time about flood insurance difficulties by our members, and I figured it would be great to get everyone together to learn about what the heck is going on, and what’s coming.  I talked to Steve about the idea, and he has graciously led the planning process along with MAR Education Committee Chair Mary Kay Yamamoto.

The result is the September 30 meeting at the Marin Country Club.  We will have members of FEMA in to tell us what’s going on, and also to educate you on what’s coming.  Most of us don’t sell primarily in flood zones, so when we get a listing or get into escrow you try to become a quick expert.  But the triangulation between FEMA, your lender, and your insurance broker can be crazy and really can slow down a transaction.

The goal is to educate you so that you are armed with info you can reliably use in your next flood zone transaction.  Plus you’ll be able to educate your existing clients when they call to fret about flood insurance.

Check-in begins at 9:30am, with the program running from 10:00am-12:00pm.  The cost will be $15, which includes beverages and a light breakfast.  Watch your inbox for a link to sign-up.  Registration will open this Wednesday, September 10.  Spots are available for the first 100 members who sign-up.

SEWER LATERAL POINT OF SALE UPDATE

Another week, another update…

All is quiet at Ross Valley, as we got a 4-month delay on the implementation of their ordinance.

The action last week was in Mill Valley, where the City Council was scheduled to have its “first reading” of the draft ordinance from the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin (SASM).  SASM passed their draft ordinance over the summer, but each district under SASM needs to pass its own version of the ordinance.  SASM’s goal was to pass the same ordinance in each SASM district (Mill Valley, Richardson Bay, Homestead Valley, etc), so you don’t have different ordinances on different sides of the street in incorporated and unincorporated Mill Valley.

Well, the Mill Valley City Council heard an earful from many different constituents.  Members of the public who didn’t think it went far enough, along with members of our Real Estate community arguing many of the same issues we’ve been telling them all along.  Many thanks to MAR members like Stephanie Witt who attended and shared the real world perspective, and the reality that we’re already doing sewer lateral inspections.  MAR CEO Andy Fegley was also there, and he reiterated MAR’s opposition to sewer lateral point-of-sale inspections.

The end result was another delay at Mill Valley.  They didn’t have their “first reading” of the ordinance.  The council voted to table it for a month, so that the ordinance itself can get some modifications to suit some of the council’s concerns.

So much for having the same ordinance throughout the SASM area…looks like the issue of “different ordinances depending on which side of the street you live on” may well come true, depending on what changes Mill Valley decides to make to the ordinance.  Richardson Bay has already voted to adopt the SASM draft ordinance as written.

MAR will continue to strongly advocate on behalf of our members on these ordinances.

HOUSING DENSITY UPDATE

Assemblyman Marc Levine’s bill, AB 1537, has passed the legislature, and continues to sit on Governor Brown’s desk for his signature or veto.  This is the bill that reduces the default density of housing developments in much of Marin from 30 units per acre to 20 units per acre, and correctly reclassifies Marin as “suburban” rather than “metropolitan” for planning purposes.   MAR has supported this bill since the beginning.   Assemblyman Levine’s office contacted MAR last week and asked us to reach out to the governor and re-affirm our support, and so last week MAR did just that and sent a letter to Governor Brown in support of the legislation.  MAR is hopeful that the governor will support the wishes of the people of Marin.  Stay tuned.

In other housing rumbles, the Marin County Board of Supervisors is once again working on its housing element for unincorporated Marin.  MAR is just getting up to speed on this years’ discussion, but it looks like the Board of Supervisors is advocating for many more units for the housing element than Sacramento is requiring.  This looks to be the next lively conversation in our community in the coming months, so keep your eye on this issue.  MAR will be doing the same.

That’s it for now!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week!

Blaine Morris

2014 MAR President

Posted in Legislation, Marin Association of Realtors, Marin Community News, Marin Real Estate News, Regulations, Ross Valley Sanitary | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Sewer Laterals, AB-1537 Update and the MAR Flood Insurance Summit Meeting – MAR Monday Memo

Good day MAR members!

Queue up KC and the Sunshine Band…”Shake shake shake…”

We were all reminded yesterday morning that we indeed do live in earthquake country.  “Honey…honey…honey…”  “Yes, I know, it’s an earthquake…!”  Having grown up in earthquake country, I instinctively leapt out of bed and stood in the doorway.  Heather stayed in bed.  The dog didn’t even lift her head off her bed…so I guess she grew up in earthquake country as well…”no biggie”.

In a strange way, these events make me feel alive…that the ground we walk on is alive right along with us.

I wasn’t around for the 5.0 Bolinas quake in 1999, I was working in the City in a high-rise and didn’t even feel it.  My neighbors in Cascade Canyon told me it shook quite a bit!  The last earthquake that rolled like this one, for me, was in June of 1992, with the 7.2 Landers earthquake, followed shortly after by the 6.5 Big Bear quake the same morning.  I slept through the Landers quake which was at 5AM, but clearly remember the 8AM Big Bear quake…which had me in the front doorway of my duplex unit in Hermosa Beach, watching street signs and telephone poles shake.  That one rolled for a long time, just like this one.

This is another good reminder to stock up on emergency supplies, and also to indulge our clients in their seismic retrofit discussions.  We dodged the “big one” again this time, but it’s always lurking in the shadows.  Be prepared!

Also this past week, it was with great sadness that on Friday I had to announce the passing of long-time MAR member and leader Karen Dahlin.  As the emails poured in, so many of you shared your memories of Karen, and how she had been so influential as a mentor and leader in our community.  Hers was a full life, giving back to her community and to her colleagues.  A lifetime of service.  A memorial service is planned for this Thursday, August 28th, at Keaton’s Redwood Chapel of Marin in Novato at 10:00am.  Again, MAR offers its sincere condolences to Karen’s family and loved ones.

THE NEW FALL SEASON

One last summer holiday this weekend for Labor Day!  I’m headed up to Portland for a “re-creation” of a party my fraternity used to throw annually…30 years ago.  The Gangster Party.  Did I go to school in Portland, you might ask?  Well, no, it’s just that one of our fraternity brothers offered to host the party at a brewery he owns in Vancouver WA, and no one could think of a reason to not take him up on it.  Still working on my costume; 30 years ago, “gangster” meant Al Capone/Untouchables prohibition-era gangster gear.  Now we’ve got Al Pachino “Scarface” gangsters, Tupak and Dr Dre LA “gangsta rap” gangsters, Robert Duvall/Sean Penn “Colors” East LA gangsters.  The list goes on and on.  Enjoy the last bit of summer, with MAR’s busy Indian Summer home selling season right around the corner.

SEPTEMBER 9TH MAR GENERAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING

Once again, don’t forget that two weeks from tomorrow, on Tuesday September 9th, MAR will be hosting its next General Membership meeting at Embassy Suites.  Networking starts at 11:30, and the main program starts at noon.  Professor Robert Eyler will be our keynote speaker, giving an update on the North Bay and Marin economy and a forecast for the coming year.  It’s always a useful and informative presentation, with info that you can use in your business today.  We will also be having our annual election for the 2015 MAR leadership team and Board of Directors.  Click HERE to register. I hope to see you there, and remember that these meetings tend to sell out early so sign up today!

ROSS VALLEY SEWER LATERAL POINT OF SALE UPDATE

MAR’s leadership has been pressing the Ross Valley Sanitary District for clarity and process in the wake of RVSD’s planned rollout of its sewer lateral point-of-sale inspection requirement.  There are some very substantial grey areas, ambiguity and outright flaws in the ordinance.  Originally scheduled for rollout on July 1, MAR was successful at pushing it back to September 1.  Earlier this month, after we applied a lot of pressure for answers, RVSD General Manager Greg Norby assured us that he would recommend pushing the implementation back to the beginning…or even the end… of October.  We kept up the pressure for answers, and continued to point out flaws in the process that needed addressing.  Last week, Mr. Norby announced that he was going to recommend pushing back the implementation plan to January 1, 2015.  This date needs to be voted on by the board this week, but it appears we now have a few more months to get this straightened out, and to advocate for some fundamental changes to flaws in the ordinance.

Meanwhile, it was announced last week that at the behest of Assemblyman Marc Levine, the State of California will be conducting an audit of RVSD’s finances.  So I guess they have their hands full.  Stay tuned!

AB1537 HOUSING DENSITY UPDATE

Speaking of Assemblyman Marc Levine, last week his bill AB1537 was approved by the legislature and now sits on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for signature.  In a nutshell the bill reduces the default density for new building projects in Marin from 30 units per acre to 20 units per acre, and correctly defines Marin as “suburban” rather than “metropolitan”.  MAR has strongly supported this bill throughout the process.  We got behind it early, and the MAR Board of Directors voted our support before most other groups here in Marin.  MAR CEO Andy Fegley and I have both testified before committees in the state Assembly and Senate regarding MAR’s support.  Now it’s up to the governor, and let’s all hope he signs the bill this week.

THE MAR ‘FLOOD INSURACE SUMMIT’ MEETING

 As I mentioned last week, at the end of September, MAR along with JCP Natural Hazards Disclosures will be hosting a session on the ever-evolving subject of flood insurance and flood zones.  Did you know that FEMA is poised to raise the “base flood elevation” throughout the county by one foot next year?  A whole bunch of houses that are not currently in the flood zone will be in it after this change.  We will be having a panel discussion with FEMA reps and insurance folks ready to provide clarity and answers.  Many of you have shared your comments and frustrations about this crazy and dynamic part of our business, and I shared in some of that pain with one of my listings this summer.  So mark your calendars for 9/30, and we will have more details soon.  We’ve secured a big room at the Marin Country Club, so there should be room for everyone.

TWO MORE MEETINGS TO CONSIDER

I’d also like to lend MAR’s support to two of our fellow organizations and their meetings this month.

First of all, the Marin Womens Council of REALTORS® (WCR) will be hosting a lunch meeting next Tuesday, September 2nd, at the Club at McInnis.  Guv Hutchinson of CAR’s legal group will be there to discuss recent legal updates and the new purchase agreement.   Click HERE for more info.

Also, MAR member Jean Ludwick has asked me to share the info for the next meeting of the Council of Real Estate Brokerage Managers (CRB) meeting.  It’s going to be on Tuesday September 16th at noon in Napa.  The keynote speaker will be Brad Anderson, National Outreach Manager and Director of Zillow Academy.  The topic will be “Getting the Biggest Bang for your Buck using Social Media”.  Best of all, it’s FREE for CRB members, and Jean has assured me that all are welcome.  Click HERE for more info.

That’s it for now!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine

Blaine Morris

2014 MAR President 

 

Posted in Legislation, Marin Association of Realtors, Marin Community News, Marin Real Estate News, Regulations, Ross Valley Sanitary | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Upcoming Residential Purchase Agreement and New Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Rules for Condos in Flood Zones

Good day MAR members!

Another week of summer gently slides by, and just like that some of the kids are starting school this week! I was starting to get used to the lack of traffic, so I’m trying to brace myself for the crush of the next few weeks. Hopefully they will get all the road construction finished in time for school starting…otherwise we might be faced with a double whammy. So, please be patient and take your time out there MAR members…you’ll get to your meeting, it just might take you a little longer than it has been taking.

Another shorter summer-version memo this week, for quick reading as you scramble to finish up vacations and get the kids set for school…

Once again, we are reminded at the fragility of our time on this planet. In the years to come, many of us will remember where we were when we heard the news of Robin Williams’ passing. I know I will. We all considered Robin a fellow Marinite…a kindred spirit. He was young enough when he moved to Marin that it was not his choice to move here…but he DID make the choice to stay here, and moved back in recent years to his home county. Woodacre, Redwood High, College of Marin, Tiburon…Marin IS home.

Seeing Robin around town was not a celebrity sighting, Hollywood-style. It was simply seeing a familiar face. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Robin several years ago, as both of us were attending a local comedy show that was being presented by a mutual friend. We didn’t speak beyond pleasantries…but it was great to see him out enjoying and supporting other kindred spirits working their craft. Just a normal Marin guy.

As the emotion and stories have flooded all of us this week, one of the things that I’ve noticed is how he generously supported others in his artistic and comedy community. He gave service to his community. Let’s remember that folks. People are talking about his enormous talent, obviously. But after we all agreed on the huge artistic contributions, the story continues to come back to generosity and service. Our mutual friend even wrote about it, how Robin generously helped him get his business off the ground years ago. When all is said and done, the world will remember his talent and body of work. His family, friends and our community will remember the man, how he gave back, and how he made those around him feel.

It’s also good that as a community we are discussing mental health. I am hopeful that there is some good that can come out of this tragedy. We need to prop up those around us that need it, even if they don’t tell us so. Lend a helping hand, offer some encouragement, encourage people to get help when it’s needed. And always let those around you know how much you love them.

RIP Robin Williams.

NEXT MAR GENERAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING

It’s been a while since our last meeting, and in the spirit of our New Fall Season, let’s kick it off together on Tuesday, September 9th at Noon [check-in and networking begins at 11:30am]. Our featured speaker is Professor Robert Eyler, one of the leading economic minds in the North Bay, and the head of the Marin Economic Forum. His updates are always useful, and you will get local and up-to-date economic data that you can put to work with your clients immediately!

This meeting will also serve as the election for MAR’s 2015 leadership and Board of Directors.

You can click here to register on line, or click here for a flyer registration form. Our General Membership Meetings continue to sell out, so please make your reservation today so you won’t miss out. Hope to see you there!

THE NEW RESIDENTIAL PURCHASE AGREEMENT

Since early February, I’ve written several times about the new, improved and vastly re-written standard Residential Purchase Agreement from CAR. Lots and lots of changes. Folks, it’s just about here. It’s set to be rolled out in November.

CAR is sponsoring classes to educate the membership on the new RPA, and we’ve sold out the one we’ve scheduled at MAR. We are working to get back on the calendar. Many of you at the larger brokerages will be having training within your company. I’m pressing to get more classes on the calendar here at MAR to support our member community. Stay tuned.

NEW FANNIE MAE AND FREDDIE MAC RULES FOR CONDOS IN FLOOD ZONES

One last thing I want to share this week is a new-this-year Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rule as it relates to condos in flood zones. I learned it the hard way. In the past, it’s not been unusual for condo complexes, where there are some units in flood zones, to have the individual units in the flood zone pay for their own flood insurance. You can still do that, but this year it’s become very difficult to obtain conventional financing that will be guaranteed by Freddie and Fannie unless the whole complex has a master flood policy. Like almost impossible. There are some portfolio lenders who will make an exception, but for the vast majority of loan products out there this new requirement has made conventional financing very difficult until the HOA gets a master flood policy for the entire complex.

It’s another way that Superstorm Sandy keeps on giving. If you’re listing a condo in a flood zone…or if you’re writing on a condo in a flood zone…make sure the association has a master flood policy. If they don’t have one, talk early to your lender to secure financing that will accommodate for the lack of the Fannie/Freddie requirement.

The flood zone and insurance requirements are changing all the time. Monthly. Weekly. Daily. These changes are very frustrating, and every week I hear from another member who is having difficulty with flood insurance. With this in mind, late next month MAR will be sponsoring a “flood summit” meeting (better title to come, I promise), with lenders, insurers, and hopefully FEMA itself in attendance. Date, time, and agenda are still coming together, but I am keen to educate the membership on this frustrating and constantly-changing corner of our industry.

That’s it for now!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine

Blaine Morris

2014 MAR President

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Ross Valley Sanitary Continues to Work on Clarifying Admin Process for New Inspection Ordinance

Good day MAR members!

Here in the dog days of summer, not much to do except fret about the Ross Valley Sanitary District! For those of you more interested in “above ground” matters, enjoy the warm days and great weather. I’m trying not to get too bummed about the Giants’ latest struggles while I wait for the NFL and college football seasons to start. Those stories offer a simpler and inherently more pleasant subject matter.

Oh, but the sewers!! I promise at the end of this memo you will find some good news, so please read on.

Last Thursday morning, MAR CEO Andy Fegley, President-Elect Matt Hughes, and I were back at the Ross Valley Sanitary District offices at another “working group” meeting. District staff was happy to share with us their progress on creating a clear administrative process for the new ordinance. However, we quickly realized that the practical matter of how this ordinance will affect the sale of a home was still untouched.

It all comes down to the matter of items 10.1 and 10.2 of the ordinance, which state that the timeframe of repair is at the discretion of the district’s engineer. The district’s engineer was at the meeting, so Andy asked him what is going to trigger the need for an immediate repair. He couldn’t tell us. We asked if there was sewage flowing down a hillside, would an immediate repair be necessary, and he said yes. Beyond that, he couldn’t tell us when a repair would need to be completed. We spent the remainder of our meeting making a clear argument for removing the need for repair from the escrow process.

We were asked by one of the inspectors why everyone wouldn’t just get their sewer line replaced before going to market? I had to gently explain that everyone doesn’t have an extra $7-10k sitting around in addition to whatever money they were going to spend on painting, flooring, landscaping, staging, etc. The notion of a “liquidity event” at close of escrow had to get drilled in over and over. I explained that $7-10k…or $25k or more… on “above ground” improvements will offer a vast return on investment…tens of thousands…sometimes hundreds of thousands…of dollars in extra sales price if it’s spent in the right places on the house…money that can then be spent on paying for the sewer repair. Money that’s available at the liquidity event. At and after close of escrow. This finally clicked with the district.

The following email came from Greg Norby, the RVSD General Manager, on Friday afternoon – HERE. Net-net, they’re backing off for now. Though the RVSD Board will need to vote on it at their next meeting…on August 27th…Norby is going to propose a 30-60 day postponement of the implementation of the ordinance to either the beginning or end of October. I’m going to strongly advocate for the latter date, as that will take us into November and the holiday season is one of the slower times in the Marin real estate marketplace. That’s a much better time to roll out a new ordinance…rather than September, which is the start of Marin’s second busiest season for real estate.

Also, they’re starting to get it as it relates to the need to have a simple process, and it appears Norby is going to advocate for a 1-page form that buyer and seller will sign, acknowledging the need for a repair and promising to get it done as quickly after escrow as possible…without holding up escrow.

Hang in there MAR, we are hoping for a fully-baked process in the coming months, not a half-baked, figure-it-out-as-you-go process three weeks from now.

That’s it for now!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine Morris
2014 MAR President

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Zillow Buys Trulia, But What Does that Mean for Realtors? MAR Monday Memo 08/04/14

Good morning MAR members!

Another quick memo for this week, the dog days of summer give us the quiet season for real estate…and news in general.

I’m back from vacation, re-entry was painful, but I survived. I love the summer here in Marin, as many folks are also out on vacation and thus it’s easy to get around, easy to get a reservation for dinner, easy to find parking. Well, easy to get around as long as you don’t get caught in one of our endless road construction projects around the county…everywhere you look, some road is dug up with a flagman…I guess I can stop calling it the quiet season and call it the road construction season!

ZULIA
While I was away, the big news was Zillow buying Trulia for $3.5 BILLION. Say that again…$3.5 BILLION. For a website.

The whole thing has created an immense amount of chatter in our industry. When I was at the Inman SF Connect conference several weeks ago, everywhere I turned the term “Big 3″ came up as it related to consumer-facing real estate websites. Conventional wisdom was the “Big 3″ dominated and everyone else in the far distance as far as relevance (Big 3=Zillow, Trula and Move/Realtor.com). For a while, it was the possibility of Trulia buying Move. I guess that’s not happening…so now it’s the BIG 1 (Zulia?), the smaller 2 (Move/Realtor.com), and everyone else.

I find myself remarkably nonplussed by this development.

Yes, there are a lot of competing views on the acquisition. Given that it’s summer vacation, people need to talk about something. The best summation of the news, for me, came from Cameron Platt. Cameron is a recent past-president of the Oakland Association of REALTORS® and was last year’s CAR Chairman of the statewide YPN (Young Professionals Network). This year, he sits on the CAR Executive Committee. Last week Cameron posted on Facebook what he described as the best summation he’d heard about the Zillow/Trulia deal: “Let me get this straight, one website just acquired another website, and that means that I can’t sell real estate anymore?”

EXACTLY.

Yes, there is much industry chatter out there. Brad Inman, Publisher of Inman News, described the move as “checkmate” in his article about the merger. Click here to read. Brad Inman proclaimed that Zillow was going to become the next Amazon, with everyone else as a rounding error. There are lots of competing views on Inman’s website, summarized here.

Some think this is huge news, others think it’s not news at all. Steve Tobak of Valleybeat, who writes on technology business, was decidedly uninspired by the deal. Click here to read.

I think our very own MAR member Mark McLaughlin summed it up best in his piece on the acquisition. Click here.

His analysis of the comparisons of Zillow to Amazon clarify one thing: Zillow isn’t becoming Amazon anytime soon, and to do so they would need to take over all the revenue of the entire real estate industry. Not likely.

Now, I agree that Zillow and Trulia are incredibly attractive websites that our customers visit with great regularity. But when you look at the numbers…$3.5 billion!…for a one-third of a combined company with $340M in annual sales…and neither of which currently makes any money yet…you wonder how the numbers will add up. Is it really a $10B company?

At the Inman SF Connect conference a few weeks ago, I heard Trulia CEO Pete Flint tell the audience that they were going to do for agents what they had done for consumers…he was going to provide us with the same fantastic level of tools and features that consumers enjoy. Really? It seems to me that to find a return on that $3.5 billion investment, Zulia is going to need to find new and creative ways to squeeze more money out of the agent community. Don’t forget, we are the largest source of revenue for these companies…for their increasingly marginal-quality leads. Those marginal-quality leads are about to get more expensive, most likely. Zulia’s shareholders will demand it.

OK, enough on that. Let’s focus on selling some houses.

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