Getting MLS Out of The Way

Standard Operating Procedure for MLSs has, admittedly, been bad for innovation. Terrible, really.

For my thirty years in the business, there has been one way to enter listings, and one way to work with them: through whatever MLS software some Board committee picked. Then, every Realtor and appraiser in the market was forced to use that software for everything. For three to five years until, just when everyone gets accustomed to using it, the committee votes to switch again. It’s great. People love that.

Actual (not fantasy at all) MLS Server Room deep under Dupont Circle, or some other circle.

To make things worse, the person leading the MLS is usually also the CEO of the Association of Realtors that usually owns and operates the MLS. Not always, there are some big ones that have their own leadership but in most places, the MLS Director is also the Association CEO. These folks usually come up through the Association as Government Affairs, Finance, or Membership Directors, often Legal. And, they are some of my closest friends and a big reason why the industry has been so fun and rewarding. But they are not, as a rule, Subject Matter Experts when it comes to technology.

So, that creates a situation where a non-technical management person is leading a group of non-technical real estate people making what are fundamentally technical decisions. An unfortunate but not terribly surprising outcome of this dynamic is a general over-reliance on the vendors to do, well, everything.

Black Knight, CoreLogic, and Flexmls, and to a lesser extent, Rapattoni, DynaConnections, SEI, and, back in the day, Solid Earth have dominated the MLS-tech space for decades. These are all very good companies run by friends that I trust and respect. No. Seriously, I mean that. I won’t even start to try and name them all, they know who they are, and they know those relationships mean a great deal to me. Despite my personal affinity and respect for them, in my new role I now see how this is underserving most MLSs. The vendors have too much power and control, their agendas dominate strategy, and they sometimes forget, the companies not the people, who owns this information in the first place. I am thinking of some mortgage giants looking at MLS as a source of leads. Just because MLS Subscribers use Software A to store their leads, does not mean the publishers of Software A have any access or rights to use or even see the confidential information stored inside Software A.

If I store my tax returns in a mini storage warehouse, the owner of the warehouse does not have the right to access, see, or use any information inside the leased space. This is no different, and TMLS will never sign a License Agreement that challenges the ownership of our Subscriber’s confidential information. So, before we get to the architecture of “getting out of the way”, let’s pause for a moment to remind ourselves that we are talking about protecting someone else’s valuable property left with us for safekeeping.

Like an original song, painting, or movie, the creator of those works owns them. In our context, the Intellectual Property, or IP, is centered around the listing agreement. Thats the contract between the Listing Brokerage hired by the owner to sell their, house, farm, condo, or whatever, and the Owner. The broker owns the contract, and usually the Exclusive Right to Sell the property in question. She owns the photos she took, or a license to them if she hired a photographer, and most documents she uploaded describing the property. She uploaded this material to our website, entrusting it to us, the MLS, to share it with authorized real estate professionals solely for the purpose of marketing and selling the property. It is her intellectual property that, when added to all the others, creates the critical mass, the positive network effect that defines the collective and creates the MLS’s core value.

So, at the MLS, our job is to build and maintain that list. And to add to it where we can, and to constantly check the records for errors, potential fraud, inequity, or other undesirable economic outcomes. Our job is not to build or even think too much about the software our Subscribers use in their own businesses. As we’ve described, almost all MLSs choose one system for an exclusive contract term. All listings must be entered through that platform, and all searches and prospecting, statistics, public records access, CMAs, drip marketing happen there too. Unless the Realtor or their Broker has heavily invested in their own tech, most Subscribers rely almost exclusively on the MLS software to operate their businesses.

But what if we changed all of that.

The particular software platform a Subscriber chooses to use the information in the MLS is less important to us. Mainly, we don’t want to be a roadblock to any novel way an innovator my find to incorporate the information into their businesses. Forcing people to use one interface feels like monoculture. Like it’s anti-choice, anti-diversity, anti-openness. We don’t want to be any of those things.

For the last several years in The Triangle region, as most places, to enter a listing there was one option: Black Knight‘s Paragon system. Lack of choice is not the only issue here, what if Paragon was down for days or weeks like Rapattoni’s MLS system in August 2023? If that was the only way to manipulate the listings we would be down. That is an unacceptable business risk.

TMLS Network Diagram September 2023

Because system architecture is one of those things I needed to understand as a software CEO, I spent considerable time studying, attending seminars, and interviewing technical experts to try and learn what an “optimal” configuration might be. Engineers and our friends at RESO have been futurecasting the optimal future MLS for years and, happily, the answer is not new, and does not require new inventions to make it real. Other industries have figured this out and built systems that effectively communicate in a rule-based way so that related systems can work together and scale through automation, like the one illustrated in the TMLS Network Diagram from Sept ’23.

What are the building blocks?

  1. Standard Data: It starts with data that is similar enough to be shared across boundaries without unnecessary and inefficient ETL processes. RESO originally reported over 500 types of “status” and more than 400 existed in only one MLS. It’s really hard to share listings when the “threads” don’t line up. Triangle Data is compliant with RESO’s latest Data Dictionary, version 2.0.
  2. Standard Rules: If rules are different it produces a race to the bottom, meaning the MLS with the least rules weaken the viability for everyone and make the whole dataset less or even unreliable. All five Triangle Stakeholders abide by the same rules.
  3. Open Data Policy: For Subscribers, Triangle makes data available in multiple ways including all three major MLS interfaces from Black Knight, CoreLogic, and FBS, as well as high-availability, RESTful APIs for Subscribers requiring only data. This Front-End-of-Choice was made possible because of the years of work at RESO normalizing hundreds of disparate datasets.
  4. Enriching the Data: When a Subscriber enters a listing into the system, Triangle checks other trusted databases for things like green energy features that may be registered at the address, or whether fiber internet is available. The TMLS system adds these fields to the information provided by the Listing Broker to make it easy for her to provide those choices to her clients.
  5. Compliance and Auditing: We can check to see if the property described by the Listing brokerage matches trusted data sources from Government and other places. Artificial intelligence routines constantly scan the images and documents uploaded along with the listings tagging aspects of the information. Missing and conflicting information is reported to the Listing Brokerage who is prompted to improve the accuracy of the listing and the system by confirming or challenging the alert. The result is a dataset that is more reliable and more complete than other sources of real estate information.

So for all of those reasons, coming this fall, Triangle MLS is going to be MLS agnostic, Front-End-of-Choice, or just “Choice”. All three of the major MLS platforms will be available to Subscribers of TMLS. Black Knight‘s Paragon system used now by all 15,000+ members will remain the default MLS platform for all users and will continue to work as normal. But if the Subscriber prefers CoreLogic Matrix or FBS’s Flexmls, or they have their own platform, they can choose none, one, two, or all three. Triangle’s job will be about ensuring the data is accurate and complete in all supported interfaces. The days of steering Subscribers to one platform or another are over in the Triangle.

Multiple ways to look at weather data.

That configuration is something like apps on a phone. I have three weather apps that do slightly different things. All three use the same National Weather Service data to produce their displays (by accessing an API), but one has a cooler radar, another has better alerts, another has nicer hurricane maps. I bounce back and forth between them during severe weather. Maybe MLS will be like that in the future. Instead of being married to one for years, the Subscribers get to compare and move around if they want to, or use one for some things and another for something else.

Spreading the data around also reduces single points of failure. If there are multiple ways to get to the data, one or more of them could be offline and there would still be a way to do business. The benefits of this architecture are many, and the costs are present but manageable. It means that all three will be more expensive on a per unit basis, since no one gets an exclusive. But that also means that we will never tell Black Knight to uninstall Paragon. Never. Can other Black Knight customers say that? As long as my Subscribers want to use Paragon, we will support it. That changes the relationship in a material way, in a positive way. Yet another reason to change the way we do things and, finally, get out of the way of innovation. Its part of becoming the best MLS in the business.

Interested in PropTech stuff? Watch for more on Triangle’s social feeds and occasionally on this site. Also, come out to, the South’s Premier Property Technology event of the year.

Office Culture, when conversations turn toxic

When we updated our Employee Manual to adjust for Remote Work, we added a section called “Professional Interpersonal Communication”. The section is our attempt to define what we mean by unprofessional communication between people in the workplace. There are several good articles on workplace culture and what some have called Triangulation. Linked has this post from an HR coach and I also found this definition:

Triangulation occurs when two or more people get together and talk negatively about or plot against a third person or group. (reference)

In the break room, Chris says to Lori:

“Were you on that Slack call with Bob? Does he even know how to use a computer?”


“Wow, that new ‘marketing plan’ (air quotes) is genius, that will be an epic fail.”


“I know what she said, but you know they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Those are examples of “office gossip” or a “culture of griping” that we have all been around at one time or another. Humans, some humans anyway, create coalitions naturally as part of group behavior. People have friends, and friends talk about their other friends, and people who are not their friends. That’s normal. But when it is directed against someone, or against a team or project, it’s not good. In fact it’s toxic. It’s the fastest way for teams to split or spin apart.

The line between normal human conversation and a comment that is bad for the team can be hard to understand, and no doubt people cross it all time unintentionally as well as intentionally. My point is this: when you are in that environment and someone says something negative about another person, or about a company initiative, ask yourself a question:

Am I in a position to do anything about this person’s complaint? If you are not, then why is this person telling me this?

If you are not, then the reason they are griping is to get you to agree. Then the two of you are a team against the thing you are both now complaining about. But that’s the point. By engaging you join the splitters, not the people trying to pull the team together.

This is the section from the new Employee Manual:

TMLS is committed to maintaining a productive workplace in which all employees are treated with respect and the organization receives feedback in an appropriate manner. We depend on employees to communicate professionally with coworkers, subscribers, and all stakeholders so that TMLS runs as effectively as possible.

Every employee’s feedback is valued, and necessary for the Company to be successful. You are encouraged to share your feedback with those who are in a position to act so that solutions are reached instead of sharing with those who cannot act and creating acrimony and conflict. In accordance with our Open Door policy, all employees are expected to share concerns about a coworker, Company initiative, or project with their manager or supervisor.

Nothing in this policy shall or is intended to interfere or in any way restrain employees from exercising their rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. For examples and guidance regarding this policy, speak with your manager or supervisor.

TMLS Employee Manual – Updated August 2023

“You will have Pepperoni and you will like it!”

When I was an MLS vendor, “cutover” was a great time. It meant we won another contract and were going to get to learn a new place. And make more money. Back then we traveled to the town and sometimes spent weeks there living out of hotels, spending days teaching software classes. Eventually I was sure the whole world looked like the inside of a Marriott Conference Center. But for the agents and brokers attending my classes, my presence meant only that SOMEONE down at the Board office was forcing them to take time off to learn some new MLS system for NO REASON. Someone has decided that the whole world is changing from Coke to Pepsi, from Cheese to Pepperoni and your options are: 1) Like it, 2) Get over it.

Fast forward twenty years to today, and I am in charge of a big MLS, the 33rd largest in the country. To avoid the trauma of those cutovers, we are building a new system that will keep cutovers from ever happening again. I do not mean that new software will not come in, or that people will not have to learn new systems, but that the MLS will not decide what the subscribers have to use, or when. It will be up to Participants and their teams.

Details are: Listings will be entered through a new Add Listing workflow built by FBS. That database will be the Primary or Original dataset that will be used to update all others. Matrix and Paragon will have access to the data as close as real-time as possible to maintain Messaging Equity among the Front Ends of Choice. Subscribers can choose to use one, two, or all three of the interfaces, but all listing changes and all new listings will come through the new Add Listing workflow. RESO anticipates listing updates will come through RESO Web API at some point, so changes can come from any authorized UI.

The end result of this project will be data that is clean enough so that any compliant software can use it. It means that big brokers and small, with their own areas of concentration, can innovate. It means that MLSs vendors do not have a little monopoly for the terms of the MLS contract. It means they have to compare themselves against their rivals every day, not just every three to five years. It means each of them will have to invest in their systems to support their customer’s need for automation. Some are way ahead on that road.

The end result is something like a pizza buffet? You can have Pepperoni, or Cheese, or Sausage, or even Pineapple, back in the kitchen there are only a few ingredients and all dishes come off of the same counter. Really stretching the metaphor, but that’s like the MLS. Our new systems will allow each user to decide how which TMLS service adds the most value to their business, to make their own pizza.

Does Homeownership Materially Add to Wealth?

Yes, homeownership has contributed to wealth building in the United States. Home equity is the most important asset for most middle-class families. In fact, for households in the three middle-income quintiles, home equity is the largest single financial asset, representing between 50% and 70% of net wealth (Link to Brookings Article Figure 1).

Homeownership can help families build wealth in a few ways:

  • Building equity: When you make a mortgage payment, a portion of that payment goes towards paying off the principal balance of your loan. This means that you are gradually building equity in your home, which is the difference between the market value of your home and the amount you owe on your mortgage. Over time, your equity can grow significantly, which can provide you with financial security.
  • Tax benefits: Homeowners can deduct mortgage interest and property taxes from their federal income taxes. This can save you a significant amount of money each year.
  • Appreciation: In general, home prices tend to appreciate over time. This means that your home could be worth more in the future than it is today. This can be a great way to build wealth.

However, it is important to note that there are also some potential disadvantages to owning a home, such as:

  • Mortgage payments: Mortgage payments can be a significant financial burden, especially if you have a large loan. You will also need to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance.
  • Maintenance and repairs: As a homeowner, you are responsible for the maintenance and repairs of your home. This can be expensive, especially if there are major repairs that need to be done.
  • Immobility: Once you own a home, it can be difficult to move. This is because you will need to sell your home before you can buy another one. Selling a home can be a lengthy and expensive process.

Ultimately, whether or not owning a home is a good financial decision for you will depend on your individual circumstances. If you are able to afford the monthly payments and are willing to take on the responsibility of homeownership, then owning a home can be a wise financial decision. However, if you are not sure if you are ready for the commitment of homeownership, then it may be better to rent for now.

Here are some of the factors that can affect the wealth-building potential of homeownership:

  • The amount of your down payment: The larger your down payment, the less you will have to borrow, which will lower your monthly mortgage payments and the amount of interest you will pay over the life of your loan.
  • The length of your mortgage: A shorter mortgage will have lower monthly payments, but you will pay more interest over the life of the loan.
  • The appreciation rate of your home: If your home appreciates in value over time, you will build more equity. However, there is no guarantee that your home will appreciate in value.
  • The cost of maintenance and repairs: Home maintenance and repairs can be expensive, so it is important to factor these costs into your budget.

If you are considering buying a home, it is important to do your research and understand the potential benefits and risks. Homeownership can be a great way to build wealth, but it is not right for everyone.

Like explosives; a little is useful, too much is dangerous

A friend once wrote that inequality was like dynamite your basement. A little is useful, to use on a farm or ranch or whatever, to blow up dams and, I don’t know. Farm stuff. Too much of it and it would not be safe to live there. I don’t know how smart it is to keep even small amounts of TNT in your house but the allegory still works. The gap between people with resources and people without cannot continue to expand indefinitely. To have a Civil Society, every human needs a sustainable lifeway. Rational policy has to recognize the lay of the green, so to speak, and develop policies that could affect measurable improvement.

Wealth inequality in North Carolina is a growing problem. The Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, was 0.474 in 2021, which is higher than the national average of 0.467. This means that wealth is more concentrated in the hands of a few people in North Carolina than it is in the United States as a whole.

There are a number of factors that contribute to wealth inequality in North Carolina. These factors include:

  • The concentration of wealth in urban areas: The wealthiest counties in North Carolina are all located in urban areas, such as Wake County, Mecklenburg County, and Guilford County. This is due to a number of factors, including the concentration of jobs and businesses in urban areas, as well as the higher cost of living in urban areas.
  • The decline of manufacturing: Manufacturing was once a major source of jobs in North Carolina, but the industry has declined in recent years. This has led to job losses and a decline in wages for many workers.
  • The rise of the gig economy: The gig economy is a growing trend in North Carolina, as it is in the United States as a whole. This trend has led to a decline in traditional full-time jobs, which has made it more difficult for people to build wealth.

Wealth inequality has a number of negative consequences for North Carolina. These consequences include:

  • Reduced economic mobility: Wealth inequality makes it more difficult for people to move up the economic ladder. This is because people from low-income families have less access to education, healthcare, and other resources that can help them build wealth.
  • Increased poverty: Wealth inequality can lead to increased poverty. This is because people who are poor have less access to resources and opportunities, which can make it difficult for them to escape poverty.
  • Increased social unrest: Wealth inequality can lead to increased social unrest. This is because people who are poor are more likely to be dissatisfied with their lives, which can lead to protests and other forms of social unrest.

There are a number of things that can be done to address wealth inequality in North Carolina. These things include:

  • Investing in education: Investing in education is one of the most important things that can be done to address wealth inequality. This is because education can help people from low-income families build the skills and knowledge they need to get good jobs and earn higher incomes.
  • Expanding access to healthcare: Expanding access to healthcare is another important thing that can be done to address wealth inequality. This is because healthcare can help people stay healthy and productive, which can help them earn higher incomes.
  • Raising the minimum wage: Raising the minimum wage is another important step that can be taken to address wealth inequality. This is because it will help people who are working low-wage jobs earn a living wage.

Addressing wealth inequality is a complex challenge, but it is one that must be addressed if North Carolina is to achieve a more just and equitable society.

Freedom v Liberty


The concepts of freedom and liberty are closely related but have slightly different nuances in their meanings. While they are often used interchangeably, their distinctions can vary based on historical and philosophical contexts. Here’s a general explanation of their differences:

Freedom: Freedom refers to the state or quality of being free from external restrictions, oppression, or control. It emphasizes the absence of constraints or limitations on one’s actions, choices, or beliefs. It implies the ability to act and think independently, without interference from others or oppressive forces. Freedom is often associated with personal autonomy, self-determination, and the absence of coercion.

Liberty: Liberty, on the other hand, is a broader concept that encompasses freedom but also includes the idea of responsible and ethical conduct within a society. It emphasizes the exercise of freedom in a manner that respects the rights and well-being of others. Liberty involves not only the absence of external constraints but also the presence of a framework of laws, rules, and moral principles that enable individuals to coexist harmoniously. It recognizes that one’s freedom should not infringe upon the freedom and rights of others.

In summary, freedom focuses on the absence of constraints and external control, whereas liberty incorporates the responsible exercise of freedom within the bounds of a societal framework that promotes the well-being and rights of all individuals. The specific meanings and interpretations of these concepts can vary depending on cultural, political, and philosophical contexts.

So, when someone says they are celebrating “freedom” this week, ask them if they really mean “liberty”. If they disagree, you could ask to do something creative like plant a garden in their front yard, or marry a Doberman, that should be fine, since we are all “free”. Liberty is better. Liberty is natural. Liberty means living in harmony with our tribe, as humans have been trying to do for myriad generations. That means there are limits, there must be, for civil societies to emerge. Trust, confidence, stability, predictability, all flow from ones willingness to temper the sharp edge of freedom with the worthy rights of others. No one can have everything they want, but working together more of us can live a better life.

Time Machine Post: Factfulness

I talk about data all the time. It’s the basis for my whole worldview to be honest, the Scientific Method, Francis Bacon, all that. The path to objective reality, such as it is. With all the negativity it’s important to stay focused on the data, and it’s positive. One of the most important measures of how a population is faring is how many children make it to their fifth year. Here are the actual facts, not the drama.

Child mortality is decreasing globally. The global under-5 mortality rate (U5MR) has fallen by 59%, from 93 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 38 in 2021. This is equivalent to 1 in 26 children dying before reaching age 5 in 2021, compared to 1 in 11 in 1990.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to this decline in child mortality, including:

  • Improved access to healthcare: More children now have access to basic healthcare services, such as immunizations, clean water, and sanitation.
  • Reduced poverty: Poverty is a major risk factor for child mortality. As poverty has declined in many countries, child mortality has also declined.
  • Increased awareness of child health issues: There is now a greater awareness of the importance of child health, and this has led to more investment in child health programs.

However, child mortality is still a major problem in many parts of the world. In 2021, 5 million children under the age of 5 died, mostly from preventable causes. The highest rates of child mortality are found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

There are a number of challenges that need to be addressed in order to further reduce child mortality. These challenges include:

  • Access to healthcare: Even though access to healthcare has improved in many countries, there are still large numbers of children who do not have access to basic healthcare services.
  • Poverty: Poverty is still a major risk factor for child mortality. In order to further reduce child mortality, it is important to reduce poverty in the world.
  • Conflict: Conflict is a major cause of child mortality. In countries that are affected by conflict, children are more likely to die from violence, malnutrition, and disease.

Despite these challenges, there is still hope for reducing child mortality. With continued investment in child health programs and efforts to reduce poverty and conflict, it is possible to achieve the goal of a world where no child dies from preventable causes.

What keywords are most correlated with The Triangle?

The Triangle area of North Carolina is a region that includes the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. It is a major center for technology, research, and education. Some of the most correlated keywords with the Triangle area include:

  • Technology: The Triangle area is home to a number of major technology companies, such as Cisco, IBM, and SAS. It is also home to the Research Triangle Park, which is one of the largest research parks in the United States.
  • Research: The Triangle area is also home to a number of major research universities, such as Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These universities attract top scholars from around the world and conduct cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields.
  • Education: The Triangle area is also a major center for education. In addition to the major research universities, the area is home to a number of community colleges, technical schools, and private schools.
  • Startups: The Triangle area is also a major center for startups. The region has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and is home to a number of accelerators and incubators that help startups get off the ground.
  • Quality of life: The Triangle area is also known for its high quality of life. The area has a strong economy, a diverse population, and a variety of cultural attractions.

These are just some of the most correlated keywords with the Triangle area of North Carolina. The region is a major center for technology, research, education, startups, and quality of life.

Why do we keep talking about APIs?

I know we have been talking about this since at least 2013, but I feel like it’s part of my duty to the universe to keep it going.

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are a key part of modern software design. They allow different applications to communicate with each other, sharing data and functionality. This can lead to a number of benefits, including:

  • Increased flexibility and interoperability: APIs make it easier to connect different applications, regardless of the programming languages or platforms they use. This can help to increase flexibility and interoperability, making it easier to build new applications and integrate existing ones.
  • Improved development speed and efficiency: APIs can help to speed up the development process by providing a well-defined way to interact with other applications. This can free up developers to focus on the unique features of their own applications, rather than having to reinvent the wheel.
  • Reduced development costs: APIs can help to reduce development costs by providing a way to reuse code and functionality. This can save time and money, especially for large or complex applications.
  • Improved scalability and reliability: APIs can help to improve the scalability and reliability of applications by making it easier to add new features and functionality. This is because APIs can be used to decouple different parts of an application, making it easier to scale each part independently.
  • Enhanced security: APIs can help to enhance security by providing a way to control access to data and functionality. This can help to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access.

Overall, APIs can provide a number of benefits for software design. They can help to increase flexibility, interoperability, development speed, efficiency, scalability, reliability, and security. As a result, they are becoming increasingly important in the modern software development landscape.

Here are some specific examples of how APIs are used in software design:

  • Weather apps: Weather apps use APIs to access weather data from weather services like AccuWeather or NOAA. This allows the apps to provide real-time weather information to users.
  • Social media apps: Social media apps use APIs to allow users to share content with other users. For example, the Facebook API allows developers to build apps that allow users to share Facebook posts on other platforms.
  • E-commerce apps: E-commerce apps use APIs to allow users to make purchases. For example, the Amazon API allows developers to build apps that allow users to buy products from Amazon.

These are just a few examples of how APIs are used in software design. As the use of APIs continues to grow, we can expect to see even more innovative and creative ways to use them in the future.

Required Reading for Real Estate People: The Color of Law (2017)

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

by Richard Rothstein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hesitated before clicking Five Stars, this is not an easy book to read.

Not that it’s poorly written, it is written particularly well, it is the material that is difficult. Like coming up on a car wreck. You look because you’re human, but you don’t want to. Maybe looking gives you an idea of what happened and that helps keep us alive? The Color of Law might be like that, something that we don’t want to know, but awareness might help keep us going, as a society.

My real estate career spans four decades, from the 90s through today, beginning as an appraiser and ending, if this is my last role, running a big MLS. During that time I have witnessed the S&L Crisis, Y2K, the Dot Com bubble, the Credit Crunch, the Great Recession, Quantitative Easing, and now a global pandemic and another ground-war in Europe. Most of that time was in Alabama so I have also seen rebel flags, de-facto modern segregation, and fresh racism. Reading Color of Law brought those experiences into sharp focus and provided needed context for understanding the long tail of redlining in America.

Wealth is based mostly on property in this country. It is a simple fact that large segments of our population were systematically denied access to that vehicle until relatively recently. The impact of that reality on non-white prosperity and wealth creation is immense, hard to measure it is so large. I don’t know what can be done about it in 2022 except maybe to push harder for transparency and fairness and to actively invest in those communities still without housing security. America will have to fix this problem to survive another 250 years.

Color of Law is required reading for anyone in organized real estate, PropTech, or Fintech.

View all my reviews

Gapminder: Drama vs Facts

I loved those Gapminder TED Talks, about how much Infant Mortality is down globally. It’s amazing. Then Hans Rosling and his family wrote a book about their work, just as Dr. Rosling was dying from cancer. I hate cancer, maybe I’ve mentioned that? He was a doctor in charge of teaching prospective doctors about Public Health. He learned that they did not know much about the state of the world’s health. Almost every student, some of the smartest certainly, thought the condition of global health was much worse that it actually was. Is.

Google it. Is the world better now than five years ago? What about 20? or 50? The numbers, when you dig into them, are amazing. Amazingly good.

The Parable of the Boxes

We all have a box to fill, metaphorically, but that’s not the most important question. The question is not even related to the size of the box, although, we might have to eventually unpack that too. The most important question in this story is, do you even know you have a box?

So. Picture a box. A cardboard box. Square. Brown. Smelling of paper plants and, I don’t know, cardboard places. It has a bottom, sealed with tape, and a top, open with the four flaps sticking up, waiting to be folded into place and taped shut. Closing it. Ready to pack away.

We have all done that: pack a box. When moving like we just did, or, helping someone move. Or taking donations somewhere, or packing holiday decorations for the season. It’s a process of selecting what will fit, wrapping it up, and then nestling it into an available space inside the yet unfilled box.

At some point, I realized something about life and that box. Something that a simple box taught me about responsibility, work, and greed.

So it goes like this: we all have a box to fill. In my case, I am a married man with two daughters so, just to start, my box has to contain all the stuff we’ll all need as a family to prosper. Their health care, clothes, food, pre-school, after school, furnishings, a house, and, I don’t know, a pony! Not to mention their sports fees, and dance. Pets. Trips. Clothes. I meant to say clothes twice.

Then, my wife needs stuff in our box. Can’t forget about her. Her health care and car, her clothes, her eyeglasses, hair salons, nails, shoes, landscaping, wallpaper. I am just hitting the high points. Plus there is the saving for college, my health care and car, and long-term disability, taxes, and student loans. The list of things I need in my box is getting pretty long. It’s starting to look like the pre-flight checklist for a 747. It’s in its own 3-ring binder now.

During my 20s and 30s, when the kids were little and my box was so very not full, not close to full, I worried about everything. I hadn’t put the things in my box that the world, and my wife, and especially her parents, but also my parents, expected me to have in there. It felt like people were always looking into my sad, half-empty box. It was stressful. But, I worked hard and had some lucky breaks, and eventually achieved financial success.

By that time, I had paid for school and all those other things and had decided my box needed to be big enough for a boat. Then a house on the lake, and a different boat. That all made perfect sense. Lots of people’s boxes have boats in them. Congratulating myself, I decided that plane tickets would fit in there. Maybe a stack of them. So, we traveled all over. It turns out, if you stretch, you can fit a dozen of trips to the Caribbean in that box. Maybe two!

That’s about the time it occurred to me, probably in the Caribbean, that my box was on the hefty side. Like Jaba before he met Princess Leah and trimmed down. More importantly, that lesson taught me there was a lid, or there should be, on that box.

Maybe it would help explain if we flipped that over…

What if the box has no lid? What if it just stretches and stretches so that “full” is not even a thing. That means that your life goal is… more. It sounds simple, but there is a huge problem with “more” as a goal.

More is not achievable. More is not reachable. More is not a place we can do and celebrate being there. More is not a state humans can accomplish. More is extractive. Demeaning. Ultimately more is wholly destructive. More is never over.

The alternative to “more” is that lid on your box.

Here’s the recipe: Decide what needs to be in your box. No really. Make a list like your engineer friends (or be you, you know who you are) of all the Things. Don’t be shy about it, my box had a Porsche and a Waverunner in it, so. No judgment. Log it all in a spreadsheet and tape it to your treadmill or something. That’s your list. But once you get there, instead of stretching the box, decide that means “full”, tape it closed, and move on.

Move on where?

IDK, you’ll be all smart by then and you’ll know. Maybe pick someone’s still unfilled box and start over there? Maybe someone who might not have had the luck you had? Either way, just know, that boxes can be filled. Life might not really even start until you’ve filled your own box and begun to live for someone, something, bigger than just “more”.

North Carolina

My wife and I moved to Wilmington last summer for no reason other than we like the area, the water, and the proximity to our daughter in Durham. After 50+ years living in and around Huntsville, Alabama, we decided to trade freshwater for salt, river for the ocean. We bought a house near Wrightsville Beach without going in it. We just trusted our Realtor to walk through and FaceTime the important stuff. We asked him to smell under the sink and in the bathrooms. Was there a litter box? A smoker? Mold? There was not and he gave us the All Clear. Thankfully, we loved the place when we got there a few days later. We like the neighborhood too and have already made new friends. Nancy, the walker of Odie the rescue dog, and Vinny, the semi-retired music producer. Wilmington is a nice little town and is everything we were looking for.

Wrightsville Beach

Then, in the early fall, an old friend called looking for ideas for a corporate search he had been hired to do for the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors. They hired him to find a new CEO and to create and fill a new position to run their 16,000-member MLS. I gave him some names for both positions and, in a few weeks, he called back to discuss it. He was having trouble finding someone for CEO and understood it would be hard to fill the MLS position with an open CEO. After thinking about it, I told him that I might be interested in the MLS position as long as he did not hire an asshole for CEO! He suggested that I come up for an interview anyway, which I did, just to see what I thought of the people and the opportunity.

A few weeks later, he called back and said that he was thinking of taking the CEO job himself. With that, I told him I would take the MLS position if they offered it to me. They did, and I did, and I started December 1. So, in the last three years, I have worked for three companies. That is remarkable because in the previous twenty years I have worked for two, both started by me. In January 2018 I sold Solid Earth to FBS after running it for 20 years. Then, FBS decided to spin the Solid Earth assets off to another company in 2021 and I went with them, to TRIBUS. TRIBUS is a bespoke Brokerage software vendor of CRM and websites and is owned by close friends Eric Stegemann and Katie Ragusa. They were very interested in the Spring project and created an MLS division for the product, and the team, to live and grow. After a few big wins at TRIBUS, the Spring project and team is safe and poised for growth.

Downtown Durham

With Spring safe, I was able to think carefully and comfortably accept the offer to run the MLS in Raleigh. The MLS is called Triangle MLS and covers the Raleigh Association, the Durham Association, Chapel Hill, which is called the Orange and Chatham County Association, plus the Johnston County Association in Smithfield. Altogether, that is 16 counties in north-central North Carolina. My primary goals are to: develop better relationships with the stakeholder associations, build a culture of transparency at the MLS, and develop a rational data sharing agreement with all the large MLSs in the region so that Triangle members never have to operate two systems to accomplish their work.

I will try to chronicle some of this as we go through the year. It should be an exciting time!

Politics 101: Leadership

I have an idea why America is so polarized, or one reason anyway. When you think about hiring a Congressman or a Senator or even a President, one of the primary things we expect from them is Leadership. But Leadership implies a direction. Lead to where? Until we have an idea where we want to go as a Nation, I doubt we’ll agree on the best person to take us there.

I am not running for office, but these are the kinds of things I am thinking about. Let’s see if anyone still wants to support me.

Border SecurityI would like a leader that will make the borders work. The reasons I want a functional border are: it supports the maintenance of the minimum wage, it increases public safety to know who is coming in, and, last but foremost, it is the humane thing to do. I believe in the words on the Statue of Liberty even though I know they were always aspirational, America has never fully lived up to that sentiment. Still, it’s the right thing to strive for as a people. To be the light at the end of the tunnel for victims of political violence. I think those people should come in first, even before economic migrants justifiably seeking a better life. I would like a leader who can lead us to a place where the border is safe, and where the countries now producing the migrants become societies that are sufficiently sustainable to stop or even reverse the flow. Empower Central Americans to go back, don’t force them, it only creates an abusive cycle. It’s like we have set up a Ninja Warrior obstacle course along the southern border and only the swift and fit make it in. That’s not right.

Abortion – Science matters to me because it’s the only legitimate path to objective reality. It is a process, not a place or a person or even a discipline, by itself. It is a process described and extended by Sir Francis Bacon in his book The Great Instauration, which I read in a graduate History class. Bacon was extending the work of early “scientists” like Braya, Galileo, Kepler, and Boyle. These men dragged us out of a world where truth was defined by the Church and by men who looked exclusively to the past for lessons. Pouring over Plato and Aristotle and ancient Greek writings they sought to take guidance from the scholars of history. Bacon argued rightly that truth can only be truly known by testing in the real world. If wood floats in the Atlantic, it will also float in the Indian Ocean and the assertion can be tested. By proposing a truth, or law, and then having other people test it, over and over again, most people will generally come to accept the results as objectively true and empirically proven. That is science, and it’s why we have drugs and air conditioning, and anesthesia. So. If science is something we can build on (and it is) then we should, as a people, try and act on facts that are proven and real and not make up or ignore them because they are challenging. That brings us to Abortion.

Science tells us without much doubt that what we call “life” starts early in a pregnancy. Abortion is the intentional taking of a life, so that is almost always wrong. To be clear, I personally am not in favor of humans ending human life on any level at any time ever. That goes for the Death Penalty too but I’ll come back to that. Not that I have made most feminists angry, I also want to talk about why our culture finds this issue so hard to deal with. Until the wide availability of birth control, women who wanted or needed to work “outside the home” were simply not allowed to do that. Relationships, both wanted and unwanted, produce babies necessarily and the mothers of children take care of them. What else is there to do? So, in a real way, birth control emancipated women and girls during my lifetime (I am 56) and the impact has been enormous. Women contribute in an unmeasurable way to the advancement of our race outside the home, in Congress and Space, and in the Operating and Board rooms. I am convinced we need their full engagement if we are to survive as a species. That means that unplanned children simply cannot be a part of the future. So if we have to protect women’s rights, and abortion is bad, what is the answer? My answer is to focus on reducing unwanted pregnancies and increasing access to morning-after pills. Whatever we can do to reduce aborting babies very far into pregnancy since science tells us they are alive. If abortion is necessary according to a doctor, for whatever reason, I am fine with that. If a woman is raped and feels that giving it up for adoption would be too traumatic, I am don’t think we should stand in the way of that. So, generally speaking on this subject, reducing abortions to zero would be my goal, as long as the kids that are adopted are given a chance to thrive.

Climate Change – See my view on Science-as-a-Process above. For a long time, I found the argument for manmade atmospheric warming a stretch. More troubling, it was being advanced by the far left who had long advocated for the reduction in fossil fuel use, big cars, meat, sprawl, coastal development, etc. Amazingly, I thought at the time, all of these things are connected to Climate Change. It’s like the left discovered a phenomenon that checked all their boxes at the same time. It smelled funny to me, and there was a scientist at UAH who was a friend of a friend and a major skeptic. I enjoyed his gadfly statements in the national media that included the “Huntsville, AL” byline. But, the data has stacked up and become impossible to ignore. Humans are almost certainly having a measurable impact on climate and we should take what steps we can to address it. The horse is “way out of the barn” on this one and it could very well be too late, given the Developing World’s activity on top of ours. Where science can find a solution to emitting less, or in recapturing what’s already out there, those are probably smart investments.

Income Inequality – A friend wrote that this is like gunpowder in the basement. A little is desirable, several tons and the place cannot be made safe. We have myriad social programs in the US that have tried to address this problem, something we call “generational poverty”. I was chairman of the board of a faith-based organization working to help people get ready for housing. At Triangle MLS, there are efforts underway through outreach, the Foundation, affiliation with programs like Landis, and programs that provide direct downpayment assistance. Ultimately, I believe solving income inequality is the Moon Shot of our time.