The announcement on Monday that Bob Bemis had tendered his resignation as CEO of ARMLS and will be joining Zillow as Vice President of Partner Relations caused many in the industry to say, “Hmmmm…”
Almost immediately the speculation and buzz began. Some were convinced the recent hubbub over ARMLS’s switch in tax data providers from iMapp to Realist was the reason. Then of course others chimed in that the failure of the statewide MLS initiative was the main contributing factor.
In concert with all the “Why?” questions came the prognostications of what this all means for ARMLS, Zillow and the real estate industry as a whole. Rob Hahn chimed in with his typical solid analysis sprinkled with a dash of paranoia.
Rather than sit back and speculate, churn rumors and scratch my head, I figured who better to answer a few questions about Bob Bemis leaving ARMLS and joining Zillow than Mr. Bob Bemis himself? So I asked Bob if he would answer a few questions “on the record” and he graciously agreed.
This isn’t a 60 Minutes expose, there are not any startling game-changing moments. I’m not a journalist, I’m a real estate broker and quasi-writer. But I think Bob’s open and honest answers to these questions at least provides some insight into this news.
Straight cut & paste of Bob’s answers here, no editing…
Q: There is already some buzz out there that your decision to leave ARMLS was based entirely or in part on the recent dissent voiced by many about ARMLS’s switch from iMapp to CoreLogic’s Realist tax system product. Did the switch to Realist or the subsequent dust-up influence your decision to leave ARMLS?
I have been talking to Zillow since the NAR convention in Anaheim. It started as a casual conversation about business challenges in the real estate industry between me and Spencer Rascoff on November 12. We met again in January at the Inman Connect conference in New York when Zillow invited me to join them for the Ring the Closing Bell ceremony at the NASDAQ stock exchange (Zillow trades under ticker symbol “Z”), on January 12.
The problems with the tax data conversion and the subsequent explosion of social media driven backlash not only did NOT play a factor on my decision to leave, it actually made me want to delay the announcement until we could resolve the problems. I hate leaving unfinished business. And I realized that, given the volume of the uproar and demands by some for my head on a platter, my resignation now would have been interpreted by the blogosphere as a victory of social media over a tyrannical CEO who was arbitrarily ruining the lives of agents everywhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. The timing of both was coincidental but they were in no way related.
Q: Same question as above, but insert “Statewide MLS” in place of iMapp / Realist. Did the fallout surrounding the statewide MLS influence your decision to leave ARMLS?
I was really disappointed that we were not able to move the statewide project forward. I was psyched to work on that project and if it had happened, I probably wouldn’t have considered another offer even if it came in. But it wasn’t to be and as I told my board on Monday I didn’t see any way that this project was going to be resuscitated without some significant pressure from the stakeholders who have the most to gain = the brokers.
Q: Let’s be honest, Zillow does not have the greatest reputation among some in the real estate industry. “Zillow bashing” is a relatively popular sport. What do you say to the Zillow critics?
There is a tendency to lump the big three real estate sites ”“ Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com ”“ into one large overlapping group. Some jokingly call them collectively “Zuliator.com.” At times, they can be similar despite distinct differences in their business models. It’s easy to paint the entire group with a wide brush and label them the bad guys, the common enemy. In fact, each has its own plusses and minuses, each offers distinct solutions to industry needs. I would ask that the detractors give each site a fair hearing, judge the value of the service on its merits and don’t convict by association. That’s the kind of dialog I want to open.
Q: Some have simply wondered, why Zillow?
Underneath the business plan of any company, which can change over time, there are people that don’t. For me having a good match not only business philosophy but also business personality is as important as what the business does. I have met the principals at Zillow, some on multiple occasions, and I felt comfortable with all of them right from the first meeting. There is also what I would call the Goldilocks Protocol ”“ finding a company that is just the right size. Of the big three, Realtor.com is much larger than I would consider and Trulia is a bit smaller than I would like. Zillow just felt like the right size, right fit, and a comfortable match.
Q: What will be your primary responsibilities as Zillow’s Vice President of Partner Relations?
Pretty much what the title implies. I will be developing closer relations with all quarters of the industry ”“ brokers, agents, MLSs, associations, NAR ”“ to find ways to work together for the common good, rather than wasting a lot of resources pointing fingers and name calling.
Q: The announcement of your leaving also included this statement, “Under Board direction, Bob Bemis will remain at ARMLS to negotiate with IMAPP, as an ad supported tax system, to run alongside the Realist system within MLS.” Can you give us an idea of how long those negotiations might take and what do you feel are the odds of successfully bringing iMapp back into ARMLS?
The answer to this question changed at least three times today. Those who read the blogs and follow the protest page on Facebook know what a difficult time our subscribers are going through with the new tax data system. We are trying very hard to solve those problems from a number of directions and evaluating multiple options. Bringing back iMapp sounds easy, just plug it in again, right? Well it’s not that easy when you’re dealing with contractual issues. We have no agreement with iMapp because it expired. We do have an agreement with CoreLogic, but the Realist product isn’t working. There are other options open to us as well. The quickest and cheapest solution may not be the best solution in the long run. So I can’t give you a time table, nor would I be comfortable quoting odds on this being the solution. This is a dynamic situation with fluid issues so the answers are not solid.
Q: You actively participate on NAR Committees and sub-committees. Is it safe to assume that your position with Zillow will prevent you from being able to continue that participation?
Yes. Most NAR committee appointments are made by NAR with people drawn from its membership. I would no longer qualify. There may be a task force or work group created from time to time that could invite industry, but not REALTOR, participants. I would welcome the chance to serve on one of those if the opportunity were presented.
Q: Will you be involved in the search for your replacement? Can you explain how that process will work?
One option is to hire a consultant, define the job, ask the consultant to do the search, produce candidates, do the interviews and make the offer. It can take anywhere from two to six months. Another option is to hire from within, promoting a senior manager or COO to the position. Yet another is to appoint an interim CEO as caretaker while a more protracted process of redefining the job, the company mission, or the governance model plays out. The board of directors has not had the needed discussions to be able to answer those tough questions. When they do and when they have a solid plan on the direction and goals of the company, then they can define the job and start interviewing.
Q: What will you miss most about ARMLS?
The Staff. I have been fortunate to be able to hire a boatload of quality people who have worked their behinds off to grow ARMLS into what it is today. When I arrived, there were 14 boxes on the org chart, and two of them were vacant. Today we have 55 people on staff, serving agents through a main campus and four satellite training and support centers. These are dedicated, hard working, quality people without whom we could never have accomplished what we have at ARMLS. I wish I could take them all with me, but in my new position I have no direct reports, so to all those agents out there who have been sending me resumes, please stop. I can’t hire you anyway.
Q: What do you most look forward to at Zillow?
Zillow, as a pure business, and particularly as a publicly held business, is not hampered by political infighting and competing agendas the way many non-profit organizations are. There is one goal ”“ make money to increase the share price. You do that in the open and fair competitive market. You win based on the products or services you offer that people want to buy. There are constraints on behavior, but they are legal constraints not self-imposed hoops or self-inflicted obstacles. I will look forward to being involved in business decisions for business reasons without having to play the political games that are rampant in those areas of our industry that are not managed like businesses.
Q: When will you be relocating to Seattle? And do you have a real estate agent, here or in Seattle? (you don’t have to answer that second part. But if you need to list your home, I know people… 😉
I’ll answer it anyway. It took six months after I started at ARMLS to get my family moved from Maryland to Arizona. Fortunately, this time we don’t have a house to sell, so it should be quicker. I will start working in Seattle in April and hope to have the move completed before the summer heat hits in Arizona. As far as an agent, that’s a really tough question. How does one pick from among tens of thousands of candidates, many of whom are friends, clients, customers, or in some cases relatives? We will be renting for the first year in Seattle, so my needs for an agent will be minimal. Besides, Zillow has a killer iPad app so I can do my own research and pick the neighborhood we want before I call an agent who has experience in that area of town. And Zillow has agent ratings online from previous clients. I’ll take a look at those and interview a couple of the higher rated agents before we pick. Much like the company selection, I like an agent who is compatible with Jenny and me ”“ a good fit makes for a better transaction. But thanks for the offer.
First, thanks to Bob for taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer a few questions.
We are in the midst of some very interesting times in the real estate space. Selfishly, as a member of ARMLS, I don’t want to see Bob leave. He has helped build ARMLS into a nationally recognized progressive MLS. Personally and professionally, I have a great deal of respect for the man. That certainly doesn’t change because of the logo and title on his business card.
I think this is a brilliant move on Zillow’s part as they now employ a person that is widely respected in the industry and that is capable of affecting real change. Anyone that has read here regularly knows I am no Zillow hater and I am a proponent of listing syndication. But I’d have to have my head buried in the sand to not realize that there is a love-hate relationship between Zillow and the real estate industrial complex. That relationship needs to be improved upon, not just for Zillow, but for the real estate industry. And Bob Bemis will certainly help that endeavor.
So kudos to Zillow, and kudos to Bob Bemis. I wish them both well.
And to the ARMLS Board of Directors, get cracking. You have a very important task ahead of you. I have confidence you will hire the right person for the CEO spot. But I’ll admit it, I’m nervous. Don’t screw this up. Not because a lot of people are watching you (they are), but because you now have the opportunity to set the future direction of my MLS.