There’s always something to howl about

The Implied Accusation in real estate: How to win the war on your attitude…

Kicking this back to the top. I wrote this years ago (urf!), but it’s one of the most important posts I’ve written here. –GSS

I had this as a comment late last night:

Your cockiness and arrogance is only matched by your incompetence

The author is Keith Brand from Housing Panic, writing under one of the half-dozen or so sock-puppet email addresses he uses. Don’t go looking for the comment. I have him blocked completely.

The comment was in response to my post last night, Stopping traffic to sell houses.

The remarks themselves are stupefyingly stupid, of course. Obviously I am arrogant and cocky — I think for good reason, but good reason or bad, I will be the first to lay the charges. “Insufferable bastard” fits me to a tee. “Incompetence” is simply comical in this context. I invented the idea of the custom real estate sign, was grasping for it through two generations of our signs before it was physically possible.

Oh, well. Who besides Keith Brand does not know that Keith Brand is an idiot? It’s very funny that he has chosen me as his poster child for a dumb Realtor, given who I am, given what we’ve done here. You could argue that this is the perfect testament to his stupidity, but there is more to be unearthed in the graveyard that is Keith Brand’s rotting soul.

Consider: Do I know I’m cocky? Do I know I’m arrogant? Do I know I am supremely competent — as a Realtor, as a real estate weblogger, as a real estate marketing innovator? I not only know that all of these things are true, they are among the very many proud facts of my life. So what could Keith Brand hope to achieve by saying,

Your cockiness and arrogance is only matched by your incompetence

Is this supposed to move me to despair? Me?

But: A different remark in a different context with a different person might have that effect. I am impervious to criticism. It’s either true or it isn’t. If it’s true, I am enriched for having learned better. If not, so what? But other people are different, and they can be hurt — and not just temporarily — by even false charges.

Suppose I were that kind of person. What would Keith Brand have gained for having insulted me? What’s in it for him? Because I am who I am, I am strengthened and improved for having understood him, but the increment is so minor it’s essentially nothing. But had he managed to subtract from my very high self-regard, how would having done so have done anything to improve his own life? If anything, the kind of behavior he exhibits can only make his life worse — and not in minor increments.

People like Keith Brand hate their own lives so much that they lash out at everything. His sole goal, motive and intention is to spread his own internal misery to as many victims as he can latch onto, thus to justify by pandemic wreckage the wreckage he has made of the incomparable gift of human life.

But here’s the fun part about the war the Keith Brands of the world would inflict upon the rest of us: It can’t happen if you won’t go along with it.

Ayn Rand wrote about an idea she called “The Sanction of the Victim,” an undeserved internalized guilt that could be used as underhanded moral leverage on otherwise happy, productive people. In another context, I wrote about the tragic contradictions that arise because the children of Cain are unwilling to denounce the evils of Abel:

If you live in Cain’s world, stop pretending to live in Abel’s.

If your life depends on capitalism, private property and free trade, stop pretending to admire collectivism. If you thrive by continuous innovation, stop enshrining tradition. If you govern your behavior by reason and conciliation, stop praising vengeance and retribution. If you want to live free from coercion by other people, stop pushing other people around by force.

Keith Brand and his ilk do not matter. The only sane solution to dealing with that kind of person is not to deal with them. Refer them out or just ignore them until they go away. You will not “reform” them or teach them that yours is the better way. The only way you can delight them is to join them, to become one more virtual vampire shedding misery from the graveyard of your own soul.

This is not a commendable business strategy.

Contradictions do not exist. They only seem to because someone, somewhere is promulgating a falsehood, and no one is actively shooting it down.

Would you like to completely destroy The Sanction of the Victim? All you have to do is acknowledge it in the open: “My wealth is not the cause of your poverty. My health is not the cause of your illness. My happiness is not the cause of your misery. My life is my own, and you have no prior claim upon it.”

Do you want to chase Abel from the temple and then raze the temple to the ground? Acknowledge in no uncertain terms that everything you have comes from living in Cain’s way, and none of it from Abel’s.

Do you want to know who makes pandemic, persistent evil possible? It’s you, by failing to stand up for justice — explicitly, audibly, undeniably — when you are falsely accused.

Here’s another one, and it is everywhere: The Implied Accusation. It is communicated — if at all — by glares and sighs and harrumphs and scowls. Everyone knows what is going unsaid and nobody says anything. The Implied Accusation works beautifully, because, if you want the accusation made explicitly, you’ll have to explicate it yourself. Except you don’t explicate it yourself because you know that, even though you are without guilt here, you have too much to answer for elsewhere.

The Implied Accusation is the underground river flowing through every unhappy relationship. To address good and evil, all you have to do is bring things out into the open. But after a while, there is simply too much to go through, too much that is too shameful to be cheerfully borne and revisited. Nothing lives underground, but nothing ever really dies, either, its just rots, becoming its own graveyard. In the end, it becomes easier to destroy the relationship than to go to all the work necessary to repair it.

Here is The Implied Accusation in real estate: “Realtors are stupid.” “Realtors are corrupt.” “Realtors are lazy.” “Realtors are self-serving.” “Realtors will say anything to make a deal.” These ideas are epidemic, a cultural undercurrent.

You know these charges are untrue, but what do you do about them? To leave The Implied Accusation unnamed, unaddressed is to seem to confess to it, or at least to plead no contest. Your clients begin their relationship with you with unstated doubts about your integrity, and you hope to counter those attitudes by your behavior.

This is not enough. You have to make the issue explicit. You have to make every bit of it explicit, and not just once. At any point in your relationship with a client — possibly years after a transaction has closed — you may have to address The Implied Accusation. When, specifically? When there arises the possibility of a colorable doubt about your motives. The trouble is not that your client might complain, but, rather, that he might not complain and yet walk away from your relationship feeling aggrieved.

“Mrs. Johnson, I need for you to understand how I work. Realtors have a pretty bad reputation right now, and, while I think this is largely undeserved, I don’t ever want to do anything to add to that bad impression. So I want to spell out exactly how we’re going to proceed, for this and any other real estate transactions we undertake.

“The most important point I want to convey to you is that I intend to work for you as if you were a member of my own family. If my mother were buying a home, if my sister were selling, if my son were getting his first condo, not one of them could expect better service from me than I plan to give to you.

“Why do I work that way? I believe in doing the right thing, no matter what, and that’s my overriding reason. But the fact is, if I treat you the way you want to be treated, you’ll bring all your future business to me, and you’ll refer all your friends and family to me. Furthermore, I incur a legal liability when I represent you in a real estate transaction. I’ve never been sued, and, god help me, I never will be. But my best protection against getting sued is to do right by you in the first place.

“So that’s something you can do for me, as we work together. I’m going to be doing everything I can to make sure you are delighted, but if for any reason you are not delighted, I need for you to tell me right away. I will do everything I can to put things right, right away.

“I really don’t think that will be an issue, but another thing you can do for me is to tell me if there is something you want me to do that I haven’t done, some piece of information you want that I haven’t gotten for you, something that I’ve promised that I haven’t followed up on. I need you to tell me about these things right away. Don’t let them fester. If you have a question, ask it. If you have a need, express it. If you have a problem or an issue or a worry or a doubt, throw it out on the table and let’s hash it out.

“I make my living effecting real estate transactions, and I don’t get paid until every step of the process is completed. But my legal and moral obligation to my clients eclipses every other interest in my life, including my own self-interest. I want for you to be happy at the end of this process — no matter how it ends. I want for you to be delighted with the work I’ve done for you, even if we end up not buying or selling a house. You are my client now, and I want you to be my client forever. I want to do everything that is right for you, first and always. And I want for you to bring me all your business — you and everyone you know. And I want for you never to feel the need to sue me. The moral is the practical, always, no matter what business we do — or don’t do — right now.

“Why am I saying all this to you? For two reasons: To make it explicit, and so you can feel comfortable holding me accountable to it. These are the terms on which I do business with everyone, and this little speech is your warranty that I will do business with you this way, as well.”

That’s about 600 words, maybe four minutes if you intoned it verbatim — and don’t intone it verbatim. But in four minutes you will have put your relationship on a professional footing. You can’t do much about the pandemic misperception of Realtors, but you can take away the fears of the people you work with face-to-face.

Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to do this? Sure. If you didn’t want to follow through on those promises. For the most part, most of us are not guilty of the charges implied by The Implied Accusation. But we are not without real guilt, and it is that real guilt that explodes into the cacophony of guilty silence when The Implied Accusation resounds silently in the room. Everybody knows what is going unsaid, and nobody says a thing.

To challenge evil, you have to dare to say its true name. In most cases, merely making the issue explicit will make it go away. If you get very lucky, making the issue explicit will flush out a Keith Brand, whom you can then shun in self-preservation. But, at a minimum, committing to words — to audible, undeniable sound — the commitment you propose to make to your clients will induce you to follow through, where it might be easier to defer, to default, to deny there was any such commitment in the first place.

I’m talking about real estate, because that’s what I do here, but this issue is really as big as all of human life: We tend to refrain from making our commitments explicit because we want to cling to a secret trap-door escape route. If you want better relationships in any part of your life, committing yourself as I demonstrated above is a very good place to begin. Obviously, nothing will stop you from betraying your commitment — but you will have to betray yourself first.

“Every action that you take in your life is first taken by your ego upon your ego.” If you commit yourself to absolute excellence as a Realtor, and if you follow-through on that commitment to the absolute best of your ability, you will be impervious to the likes of Keith Brand. When you are guiltless in your own mind, when you know by your own rational conviction that your performance is excellent beyond all doubt, there will be nothing that a graveyard-trolling wretch can do to make war on your attitude.

If you make your moral code explicit — in real estate or in your life as a whole — and then live up to that moral code, you will be unassailable. The moral is the practical. We do well by doing good. And virtue — properly understood and properly effected — is all the reward you could ever want…

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28 Comments so far

  1. Russell Shaw March 11th, 2007 4:38 am


  2. Lisa Dunn March 11th, 2007 7:42 am

    Bravo, Greg. With any relationship, secrets have power. Once you say it aloud, the secret doesn’t have power. So why not tackle those stereotypes on the first meeting!

  3. Jim Gatos March 11th, 2007 9:23 am

    You are Soooo right! I have taken it upon myself NOT to ignore “snipy” comments from people. If one really “irks” me, especially “generalizations”, I won’t simply stand by and do nothing. The phrase “if you think you know so much, why don’t you just put your money where your mouth is and do it yourself?”, has never been more true than in our profession. Y’know, if I walk into a house, and I see the owner is going to tell me how to sell a house, I may make an attempt to educate him or her, and if it doesn’t succeed, I’ll just walk out. 90% of the time, they list and never sell. Simply blowing hot air. I’d seriously be hanging around a bookstore and drink coffee instead of having my sign and my name on an unsellable house.

    Thank, Greg, you have an INVALUABLE BLOG Here.

  4. Jeff Turner March 11th, 2007 9:27 am

    Greg, I can’t possibly add any value with this comment. Your post speaks for itself. But I must comment… well said. Very well said. Insert applause mp3 here.

  5. Nigel Swaby March 11th, 2007 10:20 am

    Another good article Greg. I don’t know why you continue to give these people press time though.

    Perhaps what I dislike the most about these people and I’m not just talking about the blog authors, I’m talking about the commenters as well, is they really bring nothing positive to the whole interaction. They snipe and call names, make personal attacks, but don’t explain the reasoning behind their thinking. (Some do mind you, but they usually skip the personal attacks since they actually have an argument to present.)

    I would think that if these people really have a problem with the industry, they would use their platforms to push for licensing and changes in real estate. That would be worth their time and our support. The most effective systemic changes in American history usually came from outside the system only to have important parts co-opted later by the status quo.

    But to continue with these personal attacks, perpetuation of stereotypes, and outright lies is really a worthless task. Much like Sysiphus and his giant rock, these people are condemned to doing the same thing over and over with no end result.

    At this point, they’ve worn out their right to be recognized.

  6. Jeff Brown March 11th, 2007 11:47 am

    Greg – Your best post since I’ve known you.

    Ironically I’ve lived my adult life based upon Biblical Doctrine learned from a pastor/teacher who teaches only from the original manuscripts. Ayn Rand, though she was an avowed unbeliever, constructed her moral code (objectivism) which when understood virtually mirrors Biblical principles.

    Your quotes underline this. Almost everything in the post reflects this one Proverb: (paraphrased) As a man thinks, so he is.

    Both the Implied Accusation and the Sanction of the Victim are axioms in my world. Sometimes I wonder if most of the world are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. 🙂

    Again, a magnificently stellar post.

  7. Teresa Boardman March 11th, 2007 1:38 pm

    Think that is the longest post you ever wrote, and a good post too. I’ll have to stop by and insult you.

  8. Norm Fisher March 11th, 2007 5:16 pm

    Greg, your cockiness and arrogance is only matched by your eloquence.

    Thank you for sharing in such an inspiring and thoughtful way.

  9. Sage Advice | The Real Estate Zebra March 11th, 2007 5:47 pm

    […] Every real estate professional should read this post from Greg at the BloodhoundBlog. Not only should you read it, but you should meditate upon it and internalize it. If it doesn’t make any sense to you, then you may want to rethink your career choice. If you aren’t a real estate professional, you should still read it. […]

  10. Dave Barnes March 11th, 2007 6:34 pm


    Keith’s website (Housing Panic) brought me to your website.

    I visit yours every day and Housing Panic is no longer in my bookmarks.

  11. […] This weeks ultimate hand was played by Greg Swann. No stranger to Carnival wins, Greg penned a masterpiece with his post, "The Implied Accusation in real estate: How to win the war on your attitude". A cursory glance at this article might lead one to think it's just another howitzer shell fired at the bubbleheads relentless attacks on Greg and team at the Bloodhound blog. But I encourage everyone to read it carefully. Greg cuts to the chase about our purpose — in life and in this profession. I think it may just be his best work yet, and that is saying a lot. […]

  12. Stephen Nestel March 12th, 2007 10:40 am

    Congratulations Gregg for being “cocky and arrogant”!

    Although I’d argue with the implication that you lack humility and self reflection, I champion the fact that you unashamely voice your opinion (which some people call “cocky and arrogant”). It is BECAUSE of your direct style, innovative thinking and thoughtful observation, great contributors, the Bloodhound Blog has become my daily “must read”.

    If your detractors need to take a swipe at you, I encourage them the same thing you tell an angry toddler, “Use your words”.

    Stop the name calling. Jump in and mix it up with intellegient discussion.

  13. Jim Gatos March 12th, 2007 6:05 pm

    I just wanted to say I have been emailing this post to other Realtors and I sincerely think it’s one of the BEST articles I have EVER read. I hope this article someday enters the public domain. Very well and honestly written. I hope those who read direct others to read it..


  14. […] Other bloggers — most notoriously and successfully, the boys from Bloodhound — have taken these bubblistas to task. Greg Swann, for instance, has called Keith an “idiot” — and that was one of the more flattering phrases he used. A fairly entertaining, but somewhat unproductive, flame war developed when Greg made insinuations about what sort of pleasure Keith as the poster-child of bubblistas might take in constantly dreaming about the impending housing crash. I, however, have a different take. I am truly grateful to these far-sighted pundits, for without their insight, many thousands more would have bought properties here in Silicon Valley over the last decade, pushing prices even further up, and making it more difficult for my buy-side clients to get into the market. […]

  15. Jason March 15th, 2007 2:19 pm

    This is the first time I’ve read your blog, having followed from Kevin Boer’s site. I was a little disappointed at your blatant and transparent contempt for Keith Bland and a seemingly continued verbal battle between you two. I agree that institutionally pessimistic people (I can’t comment on him since I’ve not read his blog) will weed themselves out through their grating, negative attitude if not an eventual demonstration of their lack of understanding of real estate and economic principles. Shouldn’t we then allow their own Darwinian lapse kill themselves off without giving attention to their adaptive failings? A part of the Realtor’s negative image (and this is an explicit accusation) is their arrogance. By further blasting someone like Bland, you perpetuate the image that Realtors are no better than a genetically spliced vampiric used-car salesman, malevolent and someone not to be trusted.

    That said, I agree it’s important to recognize the stereotypes, and the truths that led to their creation, at the onset of a new client relationship. However, enough agents do this without following through(how many of us have seen Realtors who guarantee satisfaction 100% without providing a medium for accountability?) that ultimately it will still depend on our actions to change the minds of the clients we work for.

    In any case, I am impressed with the blog and will be checking back regularly!

  16. Bob Darrow March 17th, 2007 12:12 pm

    Thank you, Greg, for giving me one more dialog to combat people like Keith. I am always looking for ways to talk myself out of getting into pissing matches with people like Keith, and my two favorite pep-talks are:

    1. A former managing broker told me once – as she refused to take a phone call from an angry resident – that you can’t win an argument with a crazy person.

    2. This one is totally lame, from the awful “War Games” movie from the ’80’s with Matthew Broderick: “the only way to win is not to play.”

    And now I have #3 – “If you live in Cain’s world…”

  17. Robert Kerr June 12th, 2008 7:00 pm

    Did something happen recently that motivated you to kick this back to the top?

  18. Doug Quance June 12th, 2008 7:21 pm

    It’s as good and appropriate today as it was back then.

  19. Hunter Jackson June 12th, 2008 8:08 pm

    Exactly! Thanks for bringing this back from the depths.

  20. Kevin Warmath - Alpharetta Real Estate June 13th, 2008 4:18 am

    Back in March, I followed Real Estate Carnival to this post and have been reading Bloodhound ever since. this post is definitely a top 10 in the real estate blogsphere.

    I instantly identified with it, and as a Rand-ian, appreciated the reference to objectivism and the parallels drawn. It is unconfronted and even unrecognized guilt that prevents us too often from higher achievement – particularly for Achievers.

    I went so far as to take Greg’s 600 words (without his permission, sorry and thanks Greg), put them on my letterhead and give them to clients at initial meetings. I would also speak the words to them. This was my way of combating the Applied Accusation.

    Thanks for bringing the post back to the top. I needed a re-read.

  21. Teri Lussier June 13th, 2008 4:24 am

    I remember reading this first time around and visiting it a few times since. It’s still one of my favorites.

    Thank you for pulling it up. 🙂

  22. […] Greg Swann at Bloodhound Blog tackles the problem of Realtors’ bad image and attitude head on.  (Make sure you read to the part where he discusses The Implied Accusation. […]

  23. […] take note, if you please: This is a nice example of the practical value of fully explicating an implied accusation. It is only by calling things by their true names that we can distinguish fact from falsehood, […]

  24. […] honesty. At just about the same time I wrote this post, I penned an essay about an idea I call The Implied Accusation — the elephant in the room. I lucked upon a sweet cover of the Tom Waits tune quoted below, so I’m […]

  25. jay December 31st, 2008 1:46 pm

    This is definitely a classis post and I’d like to repost with links , etc. back to you that 600 words in particular for my readers to digest.

  26. Greg Swann December 31st, 2008 1:56 pm

    > This is definitely a classis post and I’d like to repost with links , etc. back to you that 600 words in particular for my readers to digest.

    Go for it.

    Happy New Year, Jay.

  27. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Hunter, My REALTY. My REALTY said: The Implied Accusation in real estate: How to win the war on your attitude…: Kicking this back to the top. I wro… […]

  28. […] we might see in a real estate transaction, without using the terms mothertongue or fathertongue, in my essay on the implied accusation: Here’s another one, and it is everywhere: The Implied Accusation. It is communicated — […]