WOW, VOWs!, transparency and a coming Real Estate Revolution in NYC

Throughout the country for over four decades, real estate firms and individual brokers have openly shared their listing information with one another through Multiple Listing Services. Each in turn has shared this information with his or her customers and clients. By reviewing the database, client and broker, broker and customer, have met with quick and genuine success following this method. During most of this time the NYC real estate community seemed to lag behind. Many resisted attempts to establish an MLS which would fulfill the need for a more efficient model and help those in quest of greater transparency in NYC real estate rentals and sales. Recently, efforts have been made to rectify this situation both with the establishment of a quasi-MLS (called the RLS) whose participants are members of The Real Estate Board of New York, and even more recently by formally defining a VOW (Virtual Office Website) format to be used by any member who wishes to offer their clientele the benefits particular to this online software. Specifically, with a VOW, any client or customer who properly registers with the VOW hosting broker is given access to the same full database the brokers have used when searching listings. This database has not been available in this manner to the non-professional until very recently and is the result of a judgment handed down by the Department of Justice late last year.

It shouldn't be forgotten that brokers are service providers, licensed by the State to serve both buyer and seller, fiduciary to one, honest presenter to the other, and a professional resource for both. We are vendors with no personal inventory. We are here to assist others in the commerce of real estate. Today, with the advent of Web 2.0 technologies that facilitate better communication, collaboration, interoperability and secure information sharing over the World Wide Web, transparency and the benefits it provides should be enthusiastically offered. It shouldn't be feared, except by the less competent. The knowledge and abilities a good broker brings to the selling process are complex, esoteric and too often unrecognized. For a fledgling broker the first few years are usually dedicated to learning what not to do -- no easy task. This in turn is requisite for the experienced veteran but still doesn't guarantee they now know what to do. I've heard many so called top and senior broker's say "you can't 'sell' real estate, the stakes are too high, the principals too immersed in the serious nature of what's happening to allow themselves to be diverted in any way. You can only try to find what they say they want and make a match." If this were the case (and for those who believe it is) transparency is indeed, a death knell. But for those who know their craft, little threat exists. I've personally experienced few sellers and buyers who really know what must be known to achieve the best sale, or find the best purchase. They often don't know how to recognize and then circumvent or minimize the negative effects heuristics and cognitive biases can have on reaching a proper decision. They have difficulty removing the unnecessary hurdles that may exist as part of one's personal psyche. Too often they are unaware of how these factors along with different cultural conventions and unfamiliar customs are crucial determinants when communicating and negotiating with their potential counterparty. They may lack access to data supporting their position, or, if they do have access, are still unaware of salient information that has been omitted, is proprietary, or has been un-procured. They do not maintain a pool of pertinent resources that can only be acquired over time, and by a professional who's made it a full time job to do so. These resources may include the most potent venues for advertising; the most effective tools for presentation; social connection; systems for distributing and promoting information to other external groups and communities; and outside contacts offering recondite expertise. If merely buying and selling defined success, we as brokers would indeed be superfluous; but if our clients and customers are interested in getting the most for their property and finding the best property within their parameters, we are essential to the process.

So, it's back to transparency, and bringing it to one of the most sophisticated cities in the world. Personally, I see no problem with the Efficient Market Theory as a utopian notion, but in a practical sense I've learned there are just too many preserved secrets to make it a reality. However, it's clear we can benefit from pursuing its tenets. If, in the digital age, we choose to adhere to old conventions and avoid embracing MLSs, IDX's (Internet Data Exchanges) and VOW's, our credibility as good service providers is at risk. Each of these tools offers us a chance to better serve the public and ourselves, and to best represent our profession as one worthy of consideration and respect.

(A VOW will be available at this website shortly, we hope you will revisit us and join the revolution).

--Leigh Zaph. (any comments can be emailed to us at, thanks).