There’s always something to howl about

Archive for August, 2006

Zindicated! Is this Zillowed seller proof of the need for even greater Zillification?

Frankly, no.

Christine at NY Houses 4 Sale cites a Realty Times article about a seller who immediately pulled his home off the market after a prospective buyer confronted him with a Zestimate $500,000 below his assessed value. His conclusion is that has made his home unmarketable.

My first reaction is simply to say, “Hysterical much?”

I think misleads consumers by implying that its Automated Valuation Method is a valid and useful way of pricing homes, but I can’t believe that there is any report or document produced by that cannot be completely dispensed with by saying, “Are you utterly daft? If you can buy a house in this neighborhood for half-a-million under market, I’ll help you move in. Now get serious or get lost.” On my planet we call that negotiation.

At NY Houses for Sale, Christine writes:

I am sure that soon there will be more and more complaints and I am also sure that as the market continues to change more and more buyers will be “Zillowing” their neighbor, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends houses. Just as I am sure of those things – I am VERY sure that there will be many buyers coming into homes that are listed claiming that they are over priced. But here is my answer.. “The house is NOT over priced – your Zestimate is UNDER priced”.

And all that will be great. wears a media-conferred halo right now. The more people talk about the incredible, obvious, bone-headed mistakes Zillow cannot help but make, the less people will rely on it — or affect to rely on it. At some point Zillow may elect to tell the truth in no uncertain terms about what an AVM can and cannot do — in order to retain at least a shred of credibility.

But as for this seller: Grow up, cowboy. If there were no Zestimates, the buyer would have tried a different lowball tactic. If you want your house to sell, pay $300 for a spot appraisal, price you home at or below it, and leave a copy of the full appraisal report on the kitchen table. Then coin yourself a new phrase: “Zillow-schmillow! I know what my home is worth!”

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Disintermediation? Defenestration? It’s all good . . .

If, like me, you are stuck using Windows because dipsh*t developers write websites that are Microsoft Internet Explorer only — such as the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service’s Tempo system — rejoice in the arrival of Crossover for the Macintosh. It’s a WINE environment that permits you to run a single MS app within your OS-X operating system. Intel Macs only, obviously, and if you need more from the Windows world (poor blighter), you’ll still have to run Parallels or BootCamp. But if you are only one app away from ridding yourself of Windows, hold up your hand and wave bye-bye.

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Words, words, words: How evocative listing copy helps to sell homes . . .

Mike Price at Mike’s Corner is kvetching about clumsy Realtor lingo, and while I’m with him on the main point, I have turf of my own to defend.

Sez Mike:

I’ve often wondered what consumers think when they are subjected to the same goofy tag lines and incomplete sentences that seem to proliferate the inventory of any MLS.

Indeed. It’s possible to overthink this stuff, though. I think most of what passes for experience in residential real estate is nothing more than thoughtless imitation — monkey-see, monkey-do, monkey-don’t-ever-test-the-results. I wrote about tin-eared Realtor marketing last fall, taking particular note of ‘riders’ on real estate signs.

But: I think there is more to this than clumsy cliches versus just-the-facts-ma’am. If that’s the only choice, I’ll take the facts. But my own preference is to express, as best I can, the features of the home as benefits and the benefits as the story of a life enriched and perfected by the home. We call this rhapsodizing, and the listings I like best are for homes about which I can wax rhapsodic at first glance. Most homes don’t seem to glow of their own light at sunset — ain’t that poetic? — but, even then, I’m looking to sell you your life in the home, not the mere details.

In an ARMLS listing, I get exactly 680 characters to do this. We give up space for the address of the home’s custom web site, so, ultimately, I get about 100 words, maybe 110. As you may have noticed, I can write more than 110 words.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Your Moroccan oasis in the city… The style is Spanish Eclectic, but the details come straight from Marrakech. In the midst of the brutal Phoenix summer, you’ve found a refuge that is… cool, shady, refreshing. From the lush gardens front and back to the interplay of light and shadow in the 1935 residence, from the luxury of the Kitchen, Master Suite and Guest House to the simple understated elegance of the Living Room and Formal Dining Room, from the travertine and hardwood floors to the Moroccan arches, this is a home like no other. Find your respite from the desert heat in this Story Historic District retreat.

I haven’t proved that this style is effective, but I believe it is. We’re specific and detail-oriented, but we’re using the details to evoke images and the images to tell a story.

Here is the same kind of approach for a production home:

Chaminade is as close as we can come to perfection on this Earth: Gated mountainside luxury. But imagine a perfect Chaminade home built and owned by perfectionists: A floorplan that combines stateliness with comfort, spaciousness with a warm, cozy togetherness. Picture thoughtful decorator touches gracing every room. Envision a backyard that is the perfect desert oasis — a shady patio, a masterfully-appointed outdoor kitchen, a beehive fireplace with conversation pit, and a playfully-perfect PebbleTec pool. Imagine all this and so much more. It’s so close to perfect you’ll never want to leave your new home…

My feeling, a rebuttable presumption, is that people can discern details from the listing and the photographs. I’ve got a scant 100 words to sell them. And since I don’t trust other agents to make my points, I’m selling them, too.

My goal is to answer every conceivable objection with passive marketing, since I may never have the chance to speak directly with the prospect. For that reason, we use copy everywhere. We get 250 characters per photo caption in a listing, and most often we use them all. There are miscellaneous wasted fields in the listing form, and we use those for bullet-point selling. I have a side-bar built into my flyer format. Often I’ll use that for just-the-facts-ma’am details, but, for exceptional homes, I use that space to tell a second story.


Here, at last, is a home that dares to make a statement. The image of the Phoenix, a Thunderbird, vast, fierce and fearless, is too much betrayed by our architecture. Our homes are small and shy, aspiring only to a blandness and uniformity of form and finish.

This home, by contrast, is outstanding — it stands out from the crowd.

The style is called Adobe Revival. It’s built from concrete block, but it was designed to look like the Classic Adobe homes of the Southwest. It was built in 1936, the depths of the Great depression, when only a few dozen homes were built in all of Phoenix. Even so, it stands on a poured concrete slab, rather than a foundation. By 1940, this would be a common practice in Phoenix, but in 1936 a slab was a radical innovation.

Everywhere you look on the exterior of this home, you see the signs of an active mind — thoughtful details, exquisite ornament, the shape of antiquity with every comfort modernity demands. Where other historic homes were built — rigged, even — this home was designed. This is not a haphazard one-off precursor to a tract home. This is a one-of-a-kind treasure, an experience unrepeatable in Phoenix — or anywhere.

One of the things I’m doing is giving the buyer the rational/logical justifications for doing what he already wants to do. In other places, we’ll go at the same thing from the opposite direction, defending things we normally think of as being purely utilitarian with emotion. Because we build web sites for every listing, we have many opportunities to use the written word to sell our homes.

This starts out as a kitchen, but I want you to see it as the best part of your marriage:

In every house, not just this one, the Kitchen is the anchor of the home. It’s the most expensive room to build, and the most expensive to maintain and to restore. But it is also the most important room in the house — not simply because it is the locus of cooking, but because it is most often the focus of the lives of families. There is an intimacy to cooking and cleaning up that lends a bond of intimacy to the people doing that work together. It is in service of that bonding, and not merely for purely utilitarian functions, that this room has been so thoroughly restored and updated. A sumptuous meal prepared in a beautiful, professionally-equipped Kitchen — this is the trophy and testament to lives lived together wisely and well.

The truth is, there is nothing I can do to cause you to love a loathsome house. But I can help you find the reasons to love a home, if those reasons are there. And, at the same time, I am not representing myself as anybody’s paragon of copywriting. I stand in awe of giants who understand this far better than I ever will. There is no excuse for clumsy marketing, not in any form. But I think well-thought-out copy can be an important part of the process of marketing a home.

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Making a great deal even better . . .

Cathy’s clients ended up buying at one of the new home subdivisions I accompanied them to on Sunday. She was tied up today, too, so I went back with them to reserve the lot and go over the contract (more of that tomorrow). I almost never sell builder homes, but this was my second one this week. Go figure.

The price was even sweeter today than it was on Sunday. The builder is trying to close on absolutely every inventory home by the end of the quarter, September 30, so they’re Making Deals, as they say down at the new car dealership. They’re basically giving my buyers a $75,000 upgrade package for free, plus throwing 6% of the purchase price at their down payment. If the Phoenix real estate market gets back to normal soon, they will have a ton of equity fairly quickly. And even if not, this home is an incredible bargain — an unrepeatable opportunity.

Here’s the kicker: The builder’s rep told me in private that the buyer’s agent’s commission is 8%! Unbelievable! I don’t know what builders are like in other markets, but in Phoenix, they leave precious little room for a Realtor to effect any meaningful buyer’s agency. In effect, taking a party to a new home subdivision is a referral, and that could explain why so many builders and Realtors treat it that way. For my part, I’m going to do everything I can to defend and protect my clients’ interests — and that still won’t be very much.

So how much should I get paid for doing not very much work as capably and professionally as I can? Surely not 8%. I won’t even take 3% on new construction. Here’s what I did today: I gave my clients 6% and kept 2% for the brokerage. Even then I’ll make great money for my efforts. But my clients will get an even more incredible bargain…

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Upping the stakes on real estate listing marketing: A custom weblog on a custom domain . . .

I’m not sure I’m understanding what Jim Kimmons is talking about. He cites an NAR article on building custom web sites on their own domains for listed homes. This we already do, and it knocks the socks off of everyone we deal with. Sockless in the high desert, Jim treads off in a different direction:

I think it’s a great idea, but I do it a bit differently. My custom domain names go to a blog instead of a web site. I’m pretty sure that I, and my clients, gain search engine exposure by using a blog. Also, over time, I can place new posts that will go out as RSS feeds and create new interest and search engine exposure. An interested buyer can subscribe to the blog and watch for price reductions or other announcements.

This is good. This fits nicely with the 4Realization that nothing Googles like a blog. It’s also a nice way to play with graphic ideas until something sings. I don’t love TypePad because of the rassafrassin’ trackbacks, but that’s a detail. I’m going to use WordPress anyway.

The part that I don’t get — and I guess I don’t have to get it — is this: Jim provides a link to an example listing weblog. It’s custom, yes, but the domain name is not property-specific in any way that I can see. I must be missing something.

For my own part, though, I am much enriched even in my bewilderment. There is a WordPress plug-in to make a post sticky — so the introductory matter I would want to stay at the top of the page will stay at the top of the page. A capital-P Page in WordPress is a hybrid construct that can work like a post, like a page full of posts or just like a stand-alone web page. In other words, the idea of WordPress as a Content Management System is easily 4Realized. Setting them up this way is more time-consuming that the procedure Jim describes, but I can leverage the labor from one to the next until I get to something I love. The fact is, I can probably work from one universalized template, just as we now work from one canonical CSS-stylesheet for all of our web sites.

This is cool. All of our newly-created content is already highly modular. A marketing web site for a listing built as a custom weblog on a custom domain would rock…

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RealTown: That’s not a feature — that’s a cockroach . . .

If a bug is disgusting enough, you’re apt to keep grinding at it with your shoe long after it’s dead. If InternetCrusade has six legs, then The Real Estate Tomato is wearing waffle-stompers. Today Jim Cronin takes on IC’s recent discovery of weblogging, the coolest thing to touch their antennae since Listservs. Here’s a quote from IC’s PR piece in Realtor Magazine On-Line:

There’s no shortage of programs that make it extraordinarily simple to create and update a blog. With no more effort or time than it takes to compose an e-mail, you can have your latest blog entry on the Web. Experiment with different software programs, such as Google’s Blogger or InternetCrusade’s RealTown Blogs, both of which are free.

Jim has much, much more to say, but this bit is particularly funny: As nearly as I can tell, every RSS feed from RealTown is clobbered right now.

Yeah, but it’s free…

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Let The Day Begin . . .

Taking allowance from recent posts here and on other favorite sites that have quoted lyrics, and inspired by having just heard this on the radio, I want to celebrate the joy that is communicated by The Call, in band member, Michael Been’s song Let The Day Begin (covered on The Best of the Call – The Millennium Collection):

Here’s to the babies in a brand new world
Here’s to the beauty of the stars
Here’s to the travellers on the open road
Here’s to the dreamers in the bars
Here’s to the teachers in the crowded rooms
Here’s to the workers in the fields
Here’s to the preachers of the sacred words
Here’s to the drivers at the wheel
Here’s to you my little loves
With blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here’s to you my little loves
With blessings from above
Now let the day begin
let the day begin

Here’s to the winners of the human race
Here’s to the losers in the game
Here’s to the soldiers of the bitter war
Here’s to the wall that bears their name
Here’s to you my little loves
With blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here’s to you my little loves
With blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Let the day begin
Let the day start.

Here’s to the doctors and their healing work
Here’s to the loved ones in their care
Here’s to the strangers on the street tonight
Here’s to the lonely everywhere
Here’s to the wisdom from the mouths of babes
Here’s to the lions in the cage
Here’s to the struggles of the silent poor
Here’s to the closing of the age
Here’s to you my little loves
With blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here’s to you my little loves
With blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Let the day begin
Let the day start.

And isn’t this what most of us are about? Those of us who have jumped on the Real Estate 2.0 bandwagon, blogging and building community and talking about transparency and working always toward the best interest of the client. It’s not just about making our mark in the market, though of course that’s important on so many levels… it’s about doing good first and then doing well as a consequence. So,

Here’s to you Greg
Here’s to you Dan
Here’s to you Rain City
Here’s to you Jim
Here’s to you Todd
Here’s to you Joel
Here’s to you Marlow
Here’s to you Joseph
Here’s to you Jim
Here’s to you Daniel
Here’s to you Mike

It’s the folks like you who are leading the beginning of a new day in the business of real estate!

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And here come the terrible twos . . .

It’s two months to the day and two hundred posts since we started BloodhoundBlog. Well begun is half done — or at least half-baked — so we’re going to smear some cake in our hair and get back to work. Thanks for being here with us…

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Rethinking absolutely everything in real estate . . .

Jim Cronin is on the verge of something big at The Real Estate Tomato. So is, Eileen Tefft at Rain City Guide, working from a completely different direction. anticipates the demise of the MLS system within months, which seems unlikely to me. But: It remains: These are exciting times to be in real estate. In another post, The Real Estate Tomato solicits testimony on blogging success. I think the best success of real estate weblogging is in this unfiltered, unimpeded exchange of new, better ideas. I come to this banquet every day with my nickel, sometimes just four scuffed pennies. I leave every day stuffed to the gills from a millionaire’s feast. Everything after that is — you guessed it — dessert…

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Greg Swann can be an insufferable bastard sometimes — but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong . . .

Okay. I’ll admit it: Greg is more efficient than I. Of course, that will surprise no one. He is able to communicate great big ideas with an economy of words… prolifically. While I have to sweat out each word, then use too many to get my point across. Sweat might just be the difference. Greg doesn’t sweat the small stuff, but I’m always flitting here and there to make sure I have everything covered. Don’t misunderstand – Greg nails all the detail on his real estate transactions, but that’s because they aren’t small stuff… they’re the kind of stuff that does matter to Greg. Just don’t leave it to him to see that our water bill gets paid! Those are the types of details he won’t sweat. He leaves those to me.

This comes up again and again in our life. Early this morning when we awoke, Greg made a beeline to his iMac, and I dashed outdoors to find out how many feral cats I had trapped during the night. You see, while we’re both great animal lovers, Greg is perfectly satisfied knowing and loving the ones that are known and loved — the ones who have names. While I’m always on the lookout for the nameless ones, the ones who have been lost, neglected, forgotten. So one of the organizations I’m involved with is AZCats, which lends me traps to catch feral cats and helps me to get them spayed or neutered, so I can turn around and release them and care for them (as much as a feral will permit) and know they won’t create even more feral kittens. One who I caught during the night was a kitten, too young to be neutered. So after I rounded up all of the traps and took the older cats to the vet’s, I took the tiny kitten to a neighbor to see whether she would take him in. She did. All this before breakfast. Greg was still sitting, working, writing at his computer when I settled in to work. He wasn’t interested in the kitten; it was just one in a million. Greg’s too efficient.

This made me think of a disagreement we’ve been having lately with respect to real estate agents. I’ve been generally annoyed with what I think is a pervasive bigotry against Realtors/real estate agents. A person’s animus against Realtors might be based on a bad experience with an individual Realtor, or perhaps on a Snopes-worthy telling of an “acquaintance’s” bad experience, or probably more likely on a mob mentality that reviles an entire group of people just because, well, it’s easy… Painting with a broad brush is more efficient. You don’t have to spend time getting to know the individuals who you are lumping into the group.

Our disagreement (not an argument, more like an ongoing debate) specifically dealt with Greg’s comment on a recent meeting of a local association of Realtors, called to discuss the slow seller’s market in the valley southeast of Phoenix. I argued that without having been there to hear the real-time conversations, Greg couldn’t possibly know the motivations of the meeting participants. Had I been involved with this association, I might have attended the meeting, if I thought I could have come away with any good ideas to help my selling clients. I argued that by drawing assumptions on the character and motivations of the individuals who attended, Greg was behaving no better than the silly bubble bloggers who toss out small minded remarks at real estate agents like ignorant “witch” burners of old slung mud balls at ancient widows, like bratty kids tease abandoned cats today… senselessly, and with mean spirit. Why, I had even ribbed Seattle Eric for making broad assumptions. No way was I going to settle for Greg to not “do better.”

Then I read today’s article in the Arizona Republic, Builders work to mend fences with agents, which Greg commented on this morning. Arghhhh! We may not always agree, but I will admit that sometimes drawing conclusions based upon someone’s associates can be more efficient.

I live with him. I work with him. I love him even more than I love our animals and all those feral cats. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, because he can be an insufferable bastard sometimes. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong…

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The Carnival of Real Estate . . .

is up at

Also: The Carnival of Business at SMB Direct Marketing.

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You came for the yard sale — but you bought the whole house instead . . .

Note this from Free the Drones:

Pretty much everyone knows the standard rule of garage sales and yard sales: whoever goes the earliest gets the best stuff. But they may not be getting the best deals, as Mighty Bargain Hunter discovered. He found that if you go to them at the end of the day, people are desperate to get rid of stuff. They don’t want to keep it, otherwise they wouldn’t have put it out there – so you can offer people a lot less late in the day and they’ll be willing to sell to you.

I’ll give you a better strategy, then show you how to use it to save more than just a few bucks.

First, do go early to the yard sale. Find the stuff you might want to buy. Discuss it with the sellers. Mull. Ponder. Dither. Writhe. Then leave. Then come back late in the day. If your stuff is still there, commit hard but negotiate hard. They already wanted to sell it to you. Use that to your advantage.

Now let’s buy a house instead — using the same strategy.

Show up soon after the house has listed. Arrive when the sellers are home, if they’re still living there, at an open house if not. If you like it and think you might want to buy it, throw off buying signs. You don’t have to lay it on too thick. Just staying in the house and looking at everything is a very strong buying sign. Come back with your spouse if you think you need to give things a boost. Be fun and personable with everyone. Cultivate their good opinion of you.

Mull. Ponder. Dither. Writhe. Then leave.

Now you wait for the dew to evaporate from the rose. Time on market does two things: It sends buyers to other homes and it dispirits the sellers. You want to give them time to entertain this horrifying idea: “What if it never sells?!?”

Make your offer at the best possible time, strategically. When is that? This is me a few months ago:

So what is the absolute strategic best time to write a purchase offer? I think it’s early in the day on the first Tuesday of the month.

We want the first of the month because the seller just wrote another mortgage check and wants to know when the pain is going to stop. We want Tuesday morning because, by then, the seller will know that no offer is coming in from the weekend’s showings. We are catching the sellers at the exact moment their resistance is at its weakest.

Expressed this baldly, this may sound cold — but this is strategy, not passion. You can’t do this at all unless you can abide not getting the home.

But by making the right offer at the right time, you can save yourself thousands of dollars.

Just as at the yard sale, they already wanted to sell it to you. Commit hard but negotiate hard. Win gracefully: You still have repairs to negotiate.

But: The few minutes you spent devising a strategy for buying a home will yield the biggest money you will ever earn…

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Real estate weblogging software?

Ardell raises the question, and I had the same conversation Friday with a real estate instructor who is taking the plunge into weblogging to demonstrate to a book publisher that she can attract an audience. What she said was, “We’re going to set it up on”


If you’re doing a cat blog, okay. If the weblog is just something extra to put on your business card, like a real estate designation, okay. But if you’re goal is to build something more lasting than bronze, you need software that can take a beating.

My take, taking it for what it’s worth: WordPress. [URI edited per comment below.]

It takes some set up, including server-side set-up, and the learning curve is steeper than other options. But it’s a superior weblogging platform right out of the box: Hands-free trackbacks, built-in commenting, spam control — and all those plug-ins. As the lost, lamented 4Realz pointed out, WordPress is a full-blown Content Management System — you can use it to build your whole web site, with an RSS feed for every page if you want. This has SEO implications that keep me up late at night…

I do have a bias. Given the trade-off between easy-to-use and full-control, I will almost always take full-control. Open source, continuously upgraded and free, a tough combination to beat.

The sites you really like are almost all in either WordPress or TypePad. If you imagine that you might someday want to move your weblog to something more robust (which WordPress will do for you), why not just start with WordPress to begin with?

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Sleaze versus sleaze: We didn’t get this awful reputation by accident . . .

Give a glance to these excerpts from this article in today’s Arizona Republic. There will be a quiz at the end.


Home builders are spending big bucks and dishing out heaping helpings of hospitality during what has become the summer of love in the Phoenix new-home market.

The objects of their affection? The real estate agents they spurned during last year’s housing boom.

The wooing has agents sipping wine and tossing down hors d’oeuvres in Buckeye, networking to live music in Chandler, munching free sandwiches in Florence and cashing fat commission checks.

It was a different world in Phoenix housing last year at the peak of the boom. With buyers camping out at subdivisions, builders didn’t need agents to bring them prospects. Builders, looking to maximize their profits, cut agents’ commissions or started paying flat fees, if they paid any fees at all.

That angered a lot of agents, who felt that builders were abusing the long-standing relationship between the people who sell homes and those who build them.

But the tables have turned. Demand has evaporated, and builders are trying to get cozy with agents again, throwing parties and offering big fees – commissions of 4 to 5 percent – for selling houses fast. The typical commission is 3 percent.

Versus sleaze:

Yet some agents are steering clear of new subdivisions unless clients ask to see homes there. It’s payback, they say, for builders who got greedy in a runaway market in which builders raised prices with impunity and slashed commissions. Money and parties may not be enough to restore the relationship.

And more sleaze:

It’s unclear whether builders will be able to mend fences with agents. Some agents note that there are more reasons than leftover bad vibes to show resale, rather than new, houses.

Builders pay their co-broke percentage on the base price of the house, before the buyer adds the thousands of dollars in options that typically go into a new home. Also, agents don’t receive their commission on the new home until the sale closes. Valley construction times are running six months, often longer. Resale deals close faster and the house is fully valued, at least by current market conditions.

“I feel like we get gamed a little bit by the builders,” Barry said. “I get my commission check from the builders and roll my eyes and say, ‘I know my buyers paid more than that.’ But it’s better than nothing.”

Here’s the quiz:

If the builders are shearing the buyers in good times and bad, and if the Realtors are unhappy that sometimes they don’t get to shear the buyers as much as others — who, if anyone, is looking out for the buyer’s skin?

A simple way of understanding agency is by going back to the original Latin: Respondeat superior — let the master answer. The law of agency is the law of servants. If an agent is making decisions for the client — as the agents quoted in this article admit to again and again — that is the polar opposite of respondeat superior.

The amazing thing is not that Realtors pull these stunts — we didn’t get this awful reputation by accident — but that they so blithely and baldly admit it in public.

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How much future is there in a job that millions of very smart people are willing to do for free?

Cathy brought home the Sunday newspaper, and I spent a few minutes pulling out the sections I wanted to read. Which sections? The circulars from Best Buy, OfficeMax, Staples and CompUSA. We buy the daily newspaper never, and the Sunday paper maybe twenty times a year. I have absolutely no use for the news part of the newspaper, it’s just the package the real news comes in: What can I buy where for how little money?

In fact, I read the Arizona Republic and the Las Vegas Review Journal every morning, along with with whatever other news seems most apposite to my dealings. But I read everything on-line. And as much as I hate the hoops I have to jump through to read newspapers on-line — this by comparison to the extreme convenience of my RSS feed reader — reading them on-line is by far superior to wrestling with the antique form-factor in which they are sold.

Moreover, I do not intend to ever pay for a newspaper again unless it contains advertising circulars that can save me money. In the long run, even those will come to me in a format I like better, even if it’s only email, and that will be the end of the Sunday paper at our house.

There’s a disintermediation message in here, by the way: When I was a young turk in the graphics industry, the old timers would tell me that computers could never replace print because, after all, you can’t print a coupon on a CRT screen. It betrays something about their belief in the added value of works of the mind that they thought the thing of greatest worth that could be printed was a coupon, but — guess what? They were wrong anyway. Staples, for one, can’t seem to stop emailing me electronic coupons.

But here’s where I’m really heading with this: In general, I do not intend to pay for ordinary information. Period. If you want my money, you have to deliver something that I can’t get anywhere else — and that I can’t get along without. Or you have to deliver it in a form-factor that gives me access to your information at the same time that I lack alternatives. What that means is that I may buy a book for the airport, for now. In due course, I will have use for books only at the beach. Once I have a Treo-like Wi-Max device that can bear up to sun, sand and water, I will never, ever buy another book for the rest of my life.

Without doubt I am missing things. The Republic‘s user interface stinks, so it could be I’m missing as much as ten percent of the content. The Review Journal does a better, job, but they omit all the wire service copy. But I can catch that from Drudge or wherever. And by weblog entries, email, small-talk, radio news, etc., I can figure out what I’ve missed and plug any gaps with dispatch. In a year or two, will give me ninety-plus percent of what I want in an RSS feed. In other words, this is a correctable nuisance.

How are information sources supposed to “monetize” their efforts? However they can, provided it’s not on my nickel. I’m a problem child that way, too. If you want to throw ads in front of my eyes, you can try, but it’s probably not going to work. I’m there to read what I want to know, I’ll be gone in seconds, and I only pay attention to advertising when I’m preparing to buy something.

There are alternatives. Seth Godin uses his Technorati 25 weblog to sell… Seth Godin — in the form of books or speaking engagements. Mainstream media sites and profit-seeking weblogs chop up their content with advertising — which is annoying but eminently ignorable. Corporate weblogs try, with greater and lesser degrees of success, to dress up PR as information.

But from where I sit, we are well beyond the point where metering information has become pointless. I wrote about this in my first post in BloodhoundBlog:

The phenomenon Chris Anderson writes about in this article from Wired Magazine is a secondary consequence of outrageous abundance. In a subsistence culture, the work of the mind is precious and literally unsupportable. We are by now so rich that millions of people can create intellectual resources that they give away, in turn to be remarketed by others. This may or may not work in the long run for companies tapping into and amplifying open-source-like works of the mind. Consider that aggregator software levels the playing field for small players. The interesting thing is what it will do to companies whose entire business model is based on scarcity and hoarding. If almost-as-good is free or nearly free, what is the market value of slightly-better?

This has disintermediation implications, too, the kind that strike closer to home. But the people most immediately affected are the ones who are currently paid a salary or wages based on the sale of information. Either the information is going to get much, much better — or the number of paychecks is going to get much, much smaller.

Stewart Brand said “information wants to be free”. This has intellectual property implications far beyond ordinary information. But with respect to that ordinary information — news, opinion, fiction, poetry, almost all music, etc. — the war is over. Hoarding lost. The challenge amidst this vast abundance is not getting people to pay for your information — but simply getting them to pay attention to it.

The daily newspaper has no hope whatever of nicking me for fifty cents. The question that will decide if there is even to be a newspaper is, can they hold onto my eyes for as long as fifty seconds? And will someone pay for those eyes in the random hope of piercing my vast indifference to advertising?

It comes down to career advice, I think, for the newspaperati and for all of us: How much future is there in a job that millions of very smart people are willing to do for free? Maybe not the same work, but so close that any differences become academic. And: If you’re committed to sharing information even in a marketplace where ordinary information is so abundant as to be without monetary value, what are you going to do to make a living?

If you think I’m not talking about real estate brokerage, you’re mistaken…


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