By Sam DeBord
Realtor.com®’s president, Errol Samuelson, has been hired away by Zillow. I’ve met Errol and he’s a nice guy, very smart, and very successful. Business is business. But, naive as it might be, there’s plenty of disappointment from the REALTOR® community. It comes from a belief that we have a common cause greater than just our businesses. Whether we’re aligned with NAR or realtor.com®, we believe in unified goals that are good for the country as a whole, and create significant loyalty to our brand.
Like I said, it sounds silly to an outsider. Why wouldn’t a top executive, who clearly received a more lucrative employment offer for a position he saw as a step up, take that proposal? In the world of publicly-traded real estate ventures, you could be selling soda ads one day, and interviewing the president the next. The landscape changes drastically every year, and when your skills are in business management and strategy, you’re always looking for the next challenge.
And still, there’s a bit of an empty feeling from the REALTOR® masses when an exit like this happens. It’s just another day at the office when your insurance company’s CEO changes companies, or your old business partner switches brokerages. But when someone leaves the REALTOR® fold to work for a direct competitor, it ignites much stronger emotions from the membership. A quick scan of discussions online makes it clear that this isn’t just some job change. Reactions range from frustration to outright anger. This is someone who did a good job and likely had no direct contact with most of the commenters, but many take his departure so personally as to feel betrayed.
As simple-minded as it sounds, I can’t help but feel a bit of the same disappointment. Real estate agents hop between companies like mercenaries until we find the right fit. We don’t feel remorse for changing our workplaces, because it’s simply a business decision. At the same time, those of us who are advocates for the REALTOR® brand would be incredulous if our associates left the membership. Your career is your business, but your commitment to supporting REALTOR® causes is ours.
It’s in that spirit that I’d strongly advise that the next head of realtor.com® to be someone with REALTOR® experience. This wouldn’t be a current salesperson, of course, but there are countless REALTOR® practitioners and executives whose past or current careers include law, business management, technology, and marketing. Whether the candidates have been the head of a technology-driven brokerage or a forward-thinking MLS organization, they need to have spent their time, and their money, supporting the organization whose online brand they’ll be charged with leading. A REALTOR® who has volunteered their hours, and invested their own funds into our causes, will be someone who understands the crazy notion we have of a common mission.
Clearly, it’s not up to me, nor is it up to REALTOR® membership in general. The folks making these decisions at Move, Inc., have shareholders to answer to, and probably many worthy candidates within their current ranks. Still, we’ve just begun opening up the relationship between NAR and realtor.com® in a more significant way this past year than we’ve seen in a decade. It’s been a bit rocky, but strengthening that cooperation will require increasing the trust level that the general REALTOR® population has in the partnership itself. Hiring “one of us” would certainly shrink the mistrust hurdle in a significant way.
Saying it out loud, though, it’s probably just wishful thinking. The portals are in a marketing arms race, open advertising space for agents is increasingly scarce, and the market cap valuations of these companies point to a cutthroat struggle in the next few years to weed out a competitor or two. Most companies would look for the next technology executive with the greatest capacity to generate advertising revenue, while keeping those pesky agents just satisfied enough that they don’t complain too often.
Hopefully, this company isn’t just “most companies.” There’s an army of 1 million REALTORS® looking to spend their money in the most efficient way, but they also have a strong preference for the home team. It’s not impossible to garner that loyalty, and provide a superior product at the same time. REALTORS® love their brand. They want to love realtor.com®. They just hope that going forward, there’s not just a joint vision but a shared loyalty. When “our people” become their people, the entire organization will find more success, and the loyalty will be a two way street.