There’s always something to howl about

For some reason, the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights is ‘news,’ but will the news extend to exploring real reform in real estate?

Take a look at this map:

That’s the route from my home, in North Central Phoenix, to Johnson’s Ranch, a master-planned community in Queen Creek, AZ. The distance is 55 miles by the odometer, but travel time is more like two hours. It’s a brutal, awful trip, over two-lane roads for the last third of the ride, interrupted once a mile by four-way stop signs. In traffic, each one of those four-way stops could account for ten minutes of your travel time. An accident or an over-heated car could drive your trip time up to three hours or more.

What can we say with absolute certainty about Queen Creek?

How about this? It isn’t in Phoenix.

Johnson’s Ranch isn’t even in the same county as Phoenix.

So why, when the New York Times wanted to slime the Phoenix real estate market — why would it do so from Queen Creek?

How about because the real estate market in Queen Creek is astoundingly bad, and — unless you live here — you won’t know you’re being had.

Don’t confuse yourself. Skyharbor Airport is eleven minutes from my house, right in the heart of town. No one could fly into Phoenix, then drive through mile after mile of cattle-scrubbed desert to Queen Creek, and manage to confuse the two. The purpose of the article was deception, the same kind of slimy deception “professional” journalism has been able to pull off forever — until now.

Want proof? The Associated Press pulled the same stunt earlier this month.

I’m not being a pollyanna. The real estate market is rough right now in Phoenix. But it is a whole lot better than it is in Pinal county. Conflating the two is not an error of knowledge, it is a deliberate falsehood — just exactly as false as talking about single-family homes in New York selling for $350,000 — which I would imagine you could obtain 55 miles southwest of Times Square.

In any case, I’m not talking about these particular lies but about the pattern of lying, about the pre-canned story lines mainstream journalists try to foist off as “news” — until very lately with no fear of oversight.

This comes up because Glenn Kelman was kind enough to let me know that a reporter from a mainstream financial magazine had been in touch with him about Redfin’s Consumer Bill of Rights. Kelman had told the reporter about me, I don’t know to what extent. This was my reply to his email:

That should be fun. Did you finger the URL of the post I wrote on the subject? My take — and you’ll forgive me for saying this — is that reporters come to y’all pre-cooked. I have two possible outcomes: Portrayed as an idiot like the sweet kid who keeps spanking you in Seattle, the one who got Stahled. Or: Totally ignored for violating the pre-canned angle of the “news.” Either way, you win. I would love to be proved wrong about this. Until the commissions are split, there will be no such thing as transparently ethical buyer representation.

Anyway, thanks for the heads-up.

I think it was big of Glenn to tell me this was out there, and — recall — he had tipped me and several other real estate webloggers about the existence of the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights before it had been made public.

By my count, there are so far fewer than 200 signatories to the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights, so I can’t imagine why anyone would regard this as news as all. Perhaps, on the Stahl model, the reporter plans to use it as a “gotcha!” on Pat Combs, President of the National Association of Realtors, at the NAR Convention.

But: My essay is the most comprehensive word in opposition on this subject. I’ve only written one post about the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights because one was all that was necessary. That one post is richly linked to dozens of other arguments, all of them devoted to true reform in the residential real estate industry. This is not hyperbole: There are 57 links in that post. Because so much of my argument turns on divorcing the buyer’s agent’s commission from the listing agent’s commission, I append links to every major post on the subject, pro and con, published on BloodhoundBlog and elsewhere.

That post is hard to miss. For redfin consumer bill of rights, it comes up fourth in Google. Make consumer’s possessive and it’s fifth. Search on and it’s fourth. No one who lives in our world and has a curiosity about the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights could manage to miss that post. Reporters persist in searching in the Lexis/Nexis database, missing about 96% of what’s going on in the world, so there’s no telling if the reporter will actually read’s Real Estate Consumer’s Bill of Rights: A wolf in sheepskin clothing…

But this is the point: If the reporter is honest and serious and duly diligent, we are no longer talking about the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights, which is simply an attempt to turn our current state of de facto corruption to’s financial advantage. Instead, we are talking about divorcing the commissions. This is not the only reform needed in our business, but it is the one most urgently needed and the one that will make the most dramatic difference in restoring our status as reputable, ethical professionals. Even from behind the Rust Curtain, Inman seems to be noticing the issue, although they can’t seem to identify who, precisely, is talking about it. If a major financial magazine were to examine the issue of divorced commissions in detail, that would really be something.

And if the reporter is dishonest or childish or simply stoopid? Another rah-rah-Redfin puff piece, with me being portrayed as a crank, as an idiot — or being left out of the article altogether.

But nothing is ever quite as extreme as we might imagine. If we split the difference, we could easily end up with a totally pomo pragmatist, crafty and glib, interested in nothing so much as clawing up the Ziggurat. If that’s the case, this is the perfect “gotcha!” question for Pat Combs: “Ms. Combs, I must confess that it’s hard for me to get my mind around the idea that buyer’s agents work for the buyer when they are paid by the seller, but I wonder if you could clarify something for me: Which interest of the buyer’s is the seller inducing the buyer’s agent to defend when the seller offers a so-called ‘buyer’s agent’s bonus’?” Do that with the TV cameras running and watch the poor woman stutter, sputter and writhe.

That would be fun to watch, but don’t hold your breath waiting to see it. I don’t expect to hear from the reporter at all. Doing research is real work, and, before you know it, it fouls up all your pre-conceptions. As with the Associated Press following the New York Times to Queen Creek, I expect our reporter will follow Leslie Stahl to a foregone conclusion. I would love to be proved wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

Addendum: I was going to post this in the morning, but it turns out it’s timely news. The reporter called Jonathan Dalton about his two posts on the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights, so it could be that it’s Jonathan who is being set up to be Stahled instead of me. One thing we know for certain: Phoenix — which does not include Queen Creek — is the epicenter of real estate weblogging!

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6 Comments so far

  1. Todd Carpenter October 29th, 2007 10:02 pm

    I think most journalists have a preconceived idea of the story they want to write, then work backwards from there. I’m not sure they do it with malice, but the end result is often just as harmful.

  2. ozzy stevens October 30th, 2007 3:00 am

    I agree that most journalists write what they feel will justify thier opinion . They then find any information to back it up, related or not. According to your opinion Your area is different from some other area? Back it up.

    Making statements are fun and easy. What are the facts. What are the numbers? Why are your numbers more valid?

    You are a good writer and you appear to be an average journalist.

  3. Greg Swann October 30th, 2007 7:33 am

    > According to your opinion Your area is different from some other area? Back it up.

    You have missed the point of this post, although that specific objection is addressed here:

    “The real estate market is rough right now in Phoenix. But it is a whole lot better than it is in Pinal county. Conflating the two is not an error of knowledge, it is a deliberate falsehood — just exactly as false as talking about single-family homes in New York selling for $350,000 — which I would imagine you could obtain 55 miles southwest of Times Square.”

    We’re not talking about real estate markets, we’re talking about tried and tested artifices “professional” journalists use to wrap deception in the guise of fact.

  4. Jonathan Dalton October 30th, 2007 8:51 am

    I beat you to a post? I feel woozy …

    I’d have felt better with the post in front of me but that’s my own stupidity. Then again, if I’m going to be taken out of context it’s going to happen anyway.

    Now I know how they found me, though … good to see Glenn’s still a reader.

  5. RealEstateCafe October 30th, 2007 12:35 pm

    Hope this background information on past efforts to create a real estate consumer bill of rights helps expand this discussion:

    Greg, thanks for championing the cause of separate real estate fees. If you visit the links in the URL above, I think you will find that we have similar perspectives.

  6. […] The mood is changing in real estate.  Greg Swann talks about some changes in the industry as a whole in his post here.  The real change will come as full service agents become more and more aggressive for business. The slow down in the housing market will surely result in a long over due change in the traditional real estate commission structure.  Following the typical paradigm shift, prices decrease, while customer services increase.  This means ‘No Touch’ discount brokers will have it rough down the road.  As more agents offer their services at competitive prices, discount brokers will loose their appeal. […]