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Online Success For Real Estate Brokers/Agents – Still More Myth Than Reality?

Count this post as the first in this year’s semi-annual observations of social media/online marketing for real estate agents. Those who know my views on the topic, also know I’m always open to changes in the landscape. My years online have shown me widgets and SM pretty much add sales every now and again. Agents don’t need shiny toys and Facebook to do that.

I have no dog in this discussion — it’s about results.

In fact, I’m rooting for something, anything, put out by either the TechnoGeeks or whatever the online marketing folks are callin’ themselves these days, to work. I know many of ‘em, and they have good hearts, work their butts off, and want to bring results to the table. They’re big-time smart. But as I’m fond of lamenting, the next shiny toy and/or SM ‘technique’ that skins as many cats as they imply, will be the first.

The test I apply: Will this new technique beat the increased production that adding another 1-3 hours a week to what the agent’s already doin’?

That’s a fairly low bar. Yet every year I beg for agents to brag about the new SM/shiny object that added more than a sale or so a quarter. Being more alert at Happy Hour every Friday could make that happen.

Let’s get IDX outa the way first.

We all know of or about agents who’ve figured out lead generation via an IDX on a website/blog. Some do better than others, but a level of success can be had — sometimes, impressive success. I’ll leave it to the IDX lead generation experts, but it seems getting thousands of leads a year is a stellar lure. The other shoe inevitably drops though, as it’s been tough for me to find any who’ve worked out a way to successfully skin more than 1% of those cats. I assume somebody is. But that creates its own problem. If, for instance, someone works hard enough to sift through 5,000 IDX leads in order to close 50 transactions — what’s left in the work week for, you know, belly to belly production? How many hours a week is that lone agent puttin’ in?

If they’re in a $150,000 market, that’s GCI easily over $200,000. If they own the brokerage and have hired agents, one wonders how much they actually make themselves, outside of any deals they do on their own. Think about it. You own a brokerage, but don’t list/sell yourself. You produce leads resulting in $225,000 in closed commissions. What are you making? Desk rent? 10-20% slice of your agents’ pies? We haven’t factored in overhead yet, regardless of how much it might be. High or low, it’s money outa the bottom line for the broker. Somebody please explain this to me.

OK, where were we? Oh yeah, sifting through a ton of leads.

Seems though, that process would bury just one agent, right? You tell me, but those numbers would generate hours of sifting work that would add perilously to the list ‘n sell part of the conversion equation. No doubt that explains why so many teams are IDX based. Duh.

It also explains why teams almost universally opt for the broker-centric biz model. If you’re generating 10,000 leads for 100 closed sales, you simply cannot pay your buyer agents agent-centric commission cuts. Makes a lot more sense, right? Frankly, if I had to count on a 1% conversion rate, I’d . . . well, never mind. Can’t argue with teams that’re workin’ in offices with fur-lined walls, now can we? :)

Unless someone convinces me otherwise, I’m planning to attend the Real Estate Tech Conference in Georgia scheduled for this April.

“Why the hell would ya do that?!” is the typical response I’ve been getting. How ’bout road trip to the south, a region I’ve yet to visit. Then there’s a buncha people around the country for whom I harbor great respect, some of ‘em Bloodhounds, who’re also attending. Most I haven’t met, which is yet another reason.

An atheist in the front pew.

Problem is, when I show up at these things, I feel like the lone atheist in church. :) The true believers wanna know why I’m not singing’ from the same hymnal. It’s at that point I begin talkin’ of what’s missing. It’s the elephant that’s not in the room — empirical evidence of impressive numbers of skinned cats. That’s when the frowns spread like the rising tide at La Jolla Shores.

Think about it logically, and rationally. For years now, agents from coast to coast have paid good money to hear about widgets and SM ‘how to’, only to learn they can’t find one example of anyone who’s added 25 sales a year to their production. Yet they keep on comin’. And no, goin’ from one deal a year to 25 doesn’t count. :)

Here’s this year’s first challenge to all the masters of the online universe, and to those runnin’ the shiny toy department:

Is this the year you finally bring something to the table that beats anything OldSchool?

And for the love of God, please please please don’t use the tried and true lame answer that’s been used THE LAST SIX CONSECUTIVE YEARS.

“It’s a long term strategy, Jeff. It takes time to work its magic. But, once you’ve got the pipeline goin’ full tilt, ya better give your banker a heads up!” Or something along that line. ‘It’s not been tested long enough’. ‘We’re still gettin’ the bugs out’. ‘Agents aren’t using it right — or consistently — or while wearing argyle socks’.

When those don’t work, they pull out the ever popular, “OldSchool, my ass. The only reason guys like you skin so many cats is cuz you’re older than Moses’ son. You’re simply livin’ off decades of mere existence.” Oh yeah? Well . . . your mother wears combat boots. :)

Fact: Over 2/3 of my business is with brand new clients. Not via referrals, or IDX, or magic widgets, or wowing people on social media sites. I blog, but that’s it. Heck, I haven’t been able to benefit from direct mail to my own local market in nearly a decade. That’s gonna change soon, but ’til it puts multiple furry coats on the wall, who gives a tinker’s damn?

Somebody, anybody . . .

Please step forward and tell me a shiny toy or a new SM technique has been responsible for more than a few sales. For the sake of everything that’s holy, show me how Facebook or Twitter, or whatever other TimeSuck has brought a smile to your banker, who only speaks ‘deposit’.

I’m hoping somebody steps up with an example they can empirically document. However, I suspect it’ll be like every challenge before this.

Crickets.

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  • Examining Myths: Crummy Markets Mean a Short Sale Extravaganza!

  • 31 comments

    31 Comments so far

    1. Eric Estate March 1st, 2012 5:57 am

      If I had a special social media trick (and I’m not saying I do) why would I want to share it?

    2. [...] post by Jeff Brown over at Bloodhound Blog on social media and the real estate business. His point: All talk, not a lot of [...]

    3. Jeff Brown March 1st, 2012 9:44 am

      I’ve often wondered that myself, Eric.

    4. Greg Swann March 1st, 2012 9:50 am

      > If I had a special social media trick (and I’m not saying I do) why would I want to share it?

      To find out how to make it even better.

    5. Benjamin Ficker March 1st, 2012 10:01 am

      I assume you are only talking about the twitter/facebook BS stuff? I do know guys who do a TON of business through pay-per-click or facebook ads. But that turns “old-school” when they pick up the phone and call them within a few minutes of getting their registration. This isn’t buyer leads through IDX either, its gathering short sale leads which they convert to to listings.

    6. Jeff Brown March 1st, 2012 10:08 am

      Hey Benjamin — Define ‘TON’. :)

      I’d agree with you, but will go farther. There’s no discernible difference in a FB ad in 2012, and a classified ad in the local rag in 1962. The consumer called in ’62, they click now. As you accurately pointed out, it immediately shows itself as OldSchool. It’s my contention it’s OldSchool the minute it hit as an ‘ad’.

      Excellent example, Benjamin — thanks.

    7. Benjamin Ficker March 1st, 2012 10:17 am

      I think you are right, though the MAJOR difference between those paper ads and FB ads (not google ads) is that you can narrow down who sees the ad to “Married, over 30, unemployed, within 10 miles of {your zip code}). That type of narrow marketing will bring in people who are more likely to be the clients in need of my services.

      And by a ton, I mean 5-10 listings per month. From the ads, NOT from posting their stupid listings on FB :-)

    8. Jeff Brown March 1st, 2012 10:26 am

      That qualifies as a bona fide ‘ton’, Benjamin. 60-120 listings in a year is the real deal for anyone.

      Allow me to play Devil’s Advocate though on your ‘narrow’ marketing take.

      If, in 1962, you put an ad in your local rag about one of your listings, who would call? With rare exceptions, and I answered calls from my first ever newspaper ad in 1969, only those interested in the ad’s subject, called. If you were lookin’ for a new home in a particular neighborhood for your first home, ads about homes priced at double the median won’t garner your interest. You wouldn’t call. In other words, the old classified ad wasn’t much different than the FB ad you describe.

      Make sense?

    9. Benjamin Ficker March 1st, 2012 10:57 am

      That does make sense. I’ve never paid for a newspaper ad so I can’t really compare. I guess my point is that instead of HOPING that my client is looking at the newspaper that day out of the entire circulation, I can make sure that the ad shows up in front of my target’s eyes. I think they are more related then I initially thought.

      That being said, having a FB fan page, and spending hours posting your listings, etc to Facebook and Twitter doesn’t seem to do jack.

    10. Jeff Brown March 1st, 2012 11:00 am

      Based on the FB ad results, I’m not sure why an agent would even bother with anything else on FB, or Twitter.

    11. Ryan Hartman March 1st, 2012 11:36 am

      Not so fast on those crickets.

      Copy this link: http://goo.gl/3NCyS

      Then go to http://facebook.com/ads/manage.

      Set you ad for anyone over 40 in your area and for 50 miles around.

      Crank the budget for a few days. Watch what happens.

    12. Ryan Hartman March 1st, 2012 11:50 am

      Meant to include this: Here’s a quick screenshot of the ad I just set up local. http://retechulous.info/screenshots/incomepropertyad.png

    13. Scott Schang March 1st, 2012 11:57 am

      The term social media just makes me sick. It’s some slick marketing attempt at turning nothing into something so they can sell it to suckers wondering why they don’t have “social media”. The truth is, there’s no such “thing” as social media.

      Businesses that want to continue carpet bomb advertising tactics in social networks will certainly scrape off their fair share of gullible and lazy consumers looking for a quick and easy solution to their problems – and that works great for now. Keep the money flowing and the leads will follow – it’s a viscous circle of getting what you pay for.

      What has changed, and Jeff, you’ve experienced this first hand, is that consumers have changed the way they make buying decisions. Free, unfettered access to enough research and information to choke a clydesdale allows consumers to do a little ground work before reaching out to take the “next step”.

      As someone who selflessly shares your life experience and knowledge in your blog, you’ve become a trusted source of truth and sanity in an industry full of charlatans and hgtv flip fans.

      When you blog – Your investment is time and empathy. Depending on your budget, your return on this investment is inertia for your library of knowledge and experience having conversations with consumers on your behalf 24/7, whether you’re awake, asleep or chillin in the bawldguy recliner watching sports center.

      As a consumer, my bs radar goes off at the slightest hint of someone trying to convince me that “they” are the answer…instead of just giving me the answer and letting me decide for myself whether or not they have their head two feet up their…….well, you get the idea. Why do you assume that I have a question when you post your “solution” in your facebook status? really?

      I say we need more social media gurus, more facebook fan pages and more twitter lists. Let our “competition” create large tribes and communities and “groups” that are too busy having conversations with themselves and patting each other on the backs about the latest and greatest lead genration solution to realize that the sale happens when the consumer says it happens.

      Bottom line, technology has created great mediums for introductions, but business is done when bellies meet – whether that’s literal or virtual. Bellies meet when mutual respect and trust is developed.

      Any business that believes the medium will make the money will suffer a slow death by self promotion.

    14. Jeff Brown March 1st, 2012 1:40 pm

      This is me, off the BawldRecliner, giving you a BawldOvation.

      ” . . . to realize that the sale happens when the consumer says it happens.”

      Says it all.

    15. Brian Gibson March 1st, 2012 3:46 pm

      Agents are being sold to.. Then they turnaround and do it to the public.. vicious circle of sales leads

    16. Dan Connolly March 1st, 2012 6:28 pm

      I get 90% of my business from my website. I would rather not solicit my friends/SOI for business. If they come to me okay. I had right at 100,000 unique visitors in the last 12 months. It results in multiple people calling me every single day. I don’t call them they call me.

      Facebook for me is social only. I have a personal page that frineds and family are on and one for business. You strengthen bonds with folks, which may you help get biz if you like working with people you know.

      Most agents think they are supposed to post listings and I suppose they probably also walk around their friends super bowl party asking people if they are planning on buying or selling a home this year. IMHO that is not what it is for.

      For me Twitter is where I follow folks who I learn something from…SEO experts, Realtors, Bawld guys, affiliate marketers, comedians, stuff like that. I go to Twitter if I hear about an earthquake and want to find links to the interesting articles. I knew that the Seals had crashed some kind of high tech plane into Bin Laden’s compound 2 days before it was on the TV news. Someone next door was tweeting about it
      as it happened. It was all over twitter two hours before any news source picked up on it.

    17. Jeff Brown March 1st, 2012 6:43 pm

      We live much the same lives, Dan. ‘Course, you have FAR more visitors to your site.

    18. Lenn Harley March 2nd, 2012 4:29 am

      This article is SPOT ON.

      All of my business has come from my Internet site(s) since 1995. I’ve been a referral machine since 1998.

      The social media networks are, IMO, far too superficial for serious business generation. I’m not convinced that short blasts about ourselves, our area, our families, etc. is at all interesting to home buyers or sellers in the numbers needed to make a successful real estate practice.

      This isn’t about “getting back to basics”. This is about “maintaining basic business practices” and using the Internet to reach serious home buyers. To date, since 1998, Google SEARCH is, IMO, still the best way to practice PULL advertising of our services. If the social media networks enhance our Google presence, that’s helpful. Blogging surely helps if used properly and not simply navel gazing.

      IDX is a valuable feature for a Buyers Agent/Broker. The Internet has convinced many in the public to believe that they can practice “do it yourself” real estate service. However, sooner or later, most will use the services of an agent, listing or selling to their advantage or detriment.

      Sadly, the public has developed a disdain for real estate agents and use us for their own perceived convenience rather than rely on us for quality representation.

      If the public is using the Internet, we need to be there. The question is, how is the public using the Internet. I’m just not convinced that the social media networks is sufficiently targeted to be cost (time or $$$) effective.

      Great article. Thanks.

      Lenn Harley
      Broker, Homefinders.com
      Serving home buyers in MD and Northern VA

    19. Rob Chipman March 5th, 2012 2:30 pm

      I’m a broker. When I have a lead it’s usually good (work it and you’ll get paid). I take 50% plus desk fees. Otherwise what’s the point?

      Many agents haven’t felt that’s a fair deal, but frankly, I don’t need them.

    20. Ron Seay March 6th, 2012 7:01 pm

      Jeff another great post thanks for sharing. Your insight about these marketing/advertising mediums are on point. I am primarily an real estate investor so my mind is fixed on return on investment and most of times when I get calls about getting my website to googles front page the callers cant get to a real return on investment estimate for me!

    21. Dan Boyle March 7th, 2012 12:00 pm

      Good post, Jeff. It got some interesting comments. Anyway, I’m with you. Makes you wonder if the big bucks aren’t in selling widgets to Realtors. Anyway, I’m going to look into Fb advertising.

    22. Miranda Opiela March 8th, 2012 6:51 am

      Social Media isn’t the tool that gets you the leads. It’s the tool that gets you the connections and allows you to interact with PEOPLE on a “social” level. It’s a tool that let’s you show those new PEOPLE what kind of a person you are which is why it’s so important that you be yourself (to a point) on these networks. I don’t believe “carpet bombing” your “friends, followers and connections” with your listings is at all the way to go. People aren’t on these sites to look for listings. If they want to see listings they’ll go to broker sites, Zillow, Trulia, etc… However, engaging with them as human beings opens up all kinds of doors. I think that if you are expecting clear cut examples of 25 new deals a year you are going to be hard pressed to source some of those. I can link certain deals directly to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and LinkedIn; but they were connections with PEOPLE (sorry my caps letters just magically turn on for this word!) before I ever thought of them as leads. Success using social media will come for those with the right mindset. Don’t see $$ via # of transactions….see PEOPLE. Yes you may have to “schedule” time for it but if you’re doing it right it will be more FUN than anything. No shiny toys, no magic sauce, just interaction with PEOPLE. I absolutely love blogging! Great post by the way Jeff!

    23. Lee Connally March 9th, 2012 8:31 pm

      Thanks Jeff, I really appreciated your thoughts on this. I think there are advantages to using some forms of social media. Youtube and blogging about new homes can be advantageous. But if you’re looking for hard and fast numbers, its hard to deliver them because in all honesty, not to many people say, “I heard about such and such Realtor on Facebook.” I think these are tools that can be used to help, but they shouldn’t take up too much of your time because the return is not large enough. Some may disagree, and if you’re social media technique works for you then more power to you. But if it’s not delivering consistent leads, I think your efforts are best spent elsewhere.

    24. Teri Lussier March 17th, 2012 12:26 pm

      >For the sake of everything that’s holy, show me how Facebook or Twitter, or whatever other TimeSuck has brought a smile to your banker, who only speaks ‘deposit’.

      I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m being very serious when I say that I think Jay Thompson has the answer to that.

    25. Jeff Brown March 17th, 2012 12:51 pm

      Hey Teri — I’ve spoken with Jay about online lead generation at length. ‘Course, I always bring up conversion rates. Jay said his company generally enjoyed a 1% conversion rate via their IDX leads. He was far from satisfied with that number, and thought it could be improved upon.

      I think he has 34 agents now, quite an impressive growth for his firm. He’s done a great job. I don’t have any idea where those agents get their leads, aside from the company’s IDX efforts. If memory serves, 2011 produced around 7,000 leads, maybe slightly more. That’s around 70-75 closed sides, using Jay’s numbers.

      I’ve no idea whatsoever what Jay’s agents are producing in terms of closed transactions using SM. I do suspect that in his market, Phoenix, a full time agent would probably need to close a side a month. I’m assuming a $150,000 price at 3% commission. Without a split that’s just a few bucks over the national median for household income. If there is a split, it would likely be below that national median.

      34 X 12 = 408 closed transactions required for each agent to average the income of the median American household.

      I have no clue from what sources all those closings would be generated. I do know a couple things, though. If anyone could make that happen it’s Jay and the exceedingly high quality of agents he hires. I’d love to know what they’re doing on SM, if indeed a large portion of their business flows from those efforts. I simply don’t know.

      I do know that Russ Shaw closed 401 sides last year, at an average price of about $143,000. However, I strongly suspect most of those were generated by sources other than SM. Russ tends to be OldSchool. :)

      I may be seeing Jay in Georgia next month. You can bet I’m gonna bring up your comment here, Teri. :) I bet he’ll have plenty to say. I’ll find out if he indeed does have the answer.

    26. Vicky Chrisner March 17th, 2012 4:38 pm

      Facebook is one way that I “manage” personal relationships – I meet people and make new friends… and I keep in touch with old friends and previous clients. It’s just ONE part of the relationship. But I def do business via FB. Agents refer business – friends refer business – friends ask questions which turns into business – etc. etc. I also manage a local site and get leads from that. Have I done 25 deals from FB? No, but probably 12 in the past 18 months that I believe are STRICTLY because of Facebook…. and about another 12 that the person contacted me first on FB… but I could argue that they may have contacted me in a different manner if they didn’t contact me that way. By the way, I am primarily on FB to keep tabs on my kids, it’s not all business. I am also not paying for ads – it’s organic growth. A business page, a local page and a personal page. All of the posts more “personal” than business. Having said all that, I will be honest. I am one agent, not a team… and I have 4 kids…. so I am aiming to make a living not kill myself. I work full time, for sure, but I couldn’t handle more than 45-50 transactions a year, I am only doing about 30-40 consistently now, so I have a bit of room to grow, but could not handle another 25 a year. My point: I don’t have ANY ONE SOURCE that brings me that many. I have lots of sources that bring me some. Most of that is from nurturing relationships…FB is part of that.

    27. Greg Swann March 17th, 2012 6:59 pm

      Wow. I can’t think of a single observation in this comment that I can endorse as bearing some relation to fact. As we discussed in November of 2010, Jay Thompson tells some pretty big whoppers about his brokerage.

      > a 1% conversion rate via their IDX leads

      Those aren’t leads. Those are names — a lot of them fake names, I expect. Decent inquiries should convert at 50% eventually.

      > 2011 produced around 7,000 leads

      Somewhere a nose is growing.

      > That’s around 70-75 closed sides

      That is, two per head per year.

      > I do suspect that in his market, Phoenix, a full time agent would probably need to close a side a month.

      Because Starbucks only pays minimum wage.

      Seriously, an agent closing fewer than 20 houses a year, on average, should find another job. He can do a lot better, hour for hour.

      > I’m assuming a $150,000 price at 3% commission.

      Much more likely to be quite a bit lower on price, with a sales commission of 2.5% being very common, often less. Most of Thompson Realty’s listings are short sales, so I would expect 2.5% to the listing broker to be very common.

      > 34 X 12 = 408 closed transactions

      237 for 2011, split across 31 licensees as of today. Shar Rundio, the pick of the litter by far, accounted for 55 of those. For the rest, that leaves about 6 closings per head, on average, half your estimate — but a 150% improvement over 2010. Why isn’t someone telling cloying lies about this remarkable growth in productivity?

      (Nota bene: There may be some transactions closed outside the MLS. I do a few that way now. Note also that the Phoenix real estate market is 100% a Federated Govco basket case. These agents might do better in a market with actual real estate fundamentals in play.)

      > Jay and the exceedingly high quality of agents he hires

      Jay has one good agent — and it ain’t him.

      > I’d love to know what they’re doing on SM

      Schmoozing, like everyone else on TwitBook. They’re not making money.

      > Russ Shaw closed 401 sides last year[....] I strongly suspect most of those were generated by sources other than SM.

      Certainly not much more than 99%.

      > I may be seeing Jay in Georgia next month[....] I bet he’ll have plenty to say.

      No doubt. It will just be the product of elaborate fantasies.

      Here’s my take, an impression that hasn’t changed much in a long while:

      1. Jay Thompson is all hat an no cattle. He doesn’t know much, and much of what he claims to know is undefended gibberish.

      2. TwitBook schmoozing is a terrible real estate marketing strategy. Anyone who says otherwise needs to post real numbers, not impressive-sounding bullshit.

      3. By leading so many agents down the TwitBook path, Jay Thompson has contributed to the destruction of hundreds or thousands of real estate careers.

      And, of course, that’s why he’s bailing on real estate sales.

      As icing on the cake, he can come back to screw up the careers of the lingering survivors with a big Z on his chest.

    28. Greg Swann March 17th, 2012 11:20 pm

      I’m coming back to this, Jeff, because I think it’s important.

      There is nothing personal about this for me. This is business, and this particular item of business — vendors and their shills deliberately leading the grunts on the ground into error — has always been the business of this blog. It’s been your shining grace here, and Russell’s when he wrote here, and it shows up everywhere in our archives.

      Agents and brokers have always told bullshit stories about their results — always. But the impact of their fabrications were limited, both because the meme-stream was local and ephemeral and because any claims that mattered could be easily checked.

      This is what the internet has changed — particularly TwitBook. All the vendorsluts are having a heyday, of course, buying virtual cocktails and signing ironclad contracts. But by now water-cooler exaggerations are turned into Holy Writ by the amplifying power of the echo chamber.

      That much is very bad just by itself, but the whole point of this exercise, from the very beginning, has been to DISINTERMEDIATE THE BEE-HOTCHES!

      I wish Jay and Francy nothing but the best as people, but becoming an old-school Big Promises broker, becoming the NAR’s technology shill, and now selling out his TwitBook following to Zillow — these are all the polar opposite of the kinds of actions we should be taking, encouraging or applauding.

      And with that I move on. I feel like the get of Sisyphus and Cassandra, and I’ve got better things to do with my time. This is my argument to the RE.net: Jay Thompson is now beyond all doubt a vendor. If schmoozing with him puts a warm place in your heart, I hope you don’t come to discover a corresponding empty place in your wallet.

    29. Teri Lussier March 18th, 2012 4:33 am

      Wow indeed. Y’all crunch the numbers any way you want, my point was simply that if there is real money to be made with social media in real estate, it’s by being picked up by a vendor to schmooze other agents. If that wasn’t obvious to people two or three years ago, it should be glaringly obvious now.

      It’s none of my business how much money Jay makes, but I’m assuming it’s enough to create a long distance marriage/family, bring about the slow demise of TPREG (again, I’m assuming), *and* make his banker happy. I wish him nothing but blue skies, but I also agree with Greg “these are all the polar opposite of the kinds of actions we should be taking, encouraging or applauding.”

      Back to the point of the post: If you are spending time schmoozing online, please understand why you are doing it, why other people are doing it, and don’t lie to yourselves about any of it.

    30. Greg Swann March 18th, 2012 6:25 am

      > my point was simply that if there is real money to be made with social media in real estate, it’s by being picked up by a vendor to schmooze other agents

      I agree with this, of course.

      > If you are spending time schmoozing online, please understand why you are doing it, why other people are doing it, and don’t lie to yourselves about any of it.

      This, too. I’m easy that way.

    31. [...] are two comments I posted in response to a comment from Jeff Brown in his post on social media in real estate marketing: Wow. I can’t think of a single observation in this comment that I can endorse as bearing some [...]