There’s always something to howl about

Archive for August, 2008

The First Rule of Fraud Club Is, Don’t Talk About Fraud Club

Well, it looks like the Down Payment Assistance Programs are dead.  Countrywide is usually the bellwether for any  “out on a limb” lending and they sent me an e-mail today, telling me to “get my deals in” by Friday.  Specifically, my down payment assistance transactions have to be locked by Friday and approved by a DE underwriter on Monday.  Files are taking 3-4 days in underwriting so for all practical purposes, I’m out of the down payment assistance business as of 5PM, today.

That’s okay.  I haven’t used these programs since 9-11 so I won’t miss out.  Lower end home prices might get walloped next month, as the pool of unsuspecting buyers disappears, but we might just have a few more tricks up our sleeve.

Did you understand how those programs worked?  You can read about how we got around the  law by calling sellers “owners of participating homes” here.  If it sounds a lot like the disclaimer that escorts use (escorts sell time; what happens between consenting adults is private), it’s because the same principle of “winking” at the law is employed.

The Rules of Fraud Club:

The first rule of Fraud Club is, don’t talk about Fraud Club.

The second rule is, you DO NOT talk about Fraud Club.

It would appear that this movie is about over.  But wait, there’s a sequel!  This one is called the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit.  Essentially, it’s a $7,500 tax credit, that must be repaid, over 15 years to the Federal Government.  If you’re buying a $200,000 home, that $7,500 covers your downpayment for a FHA loan.  While “borrowing” downpayment monies are disallowed on loan programs, the first-time homebuyer tax credit is essentially an interest-free, government loan.  The problem with this “trick” is that the buyers can’t get that credit BEFORE they close on the new home.

Hmmm…now, how do we get that money into the buyers’ pockets before April 15, 2009?  I’ll bet that the downpayment assistance charities will find a way.  Look for Nehemiah and AmeriDream to morph into “tax refund lenders”, some time this fall.  Why?

Because, everyone knows the last two rules of Fraud Club

This is a satirical piece about the various incentives used in the real estate industry to prop up real estate.  I defended down payment assistance programs, a few months back, in a Jesuit moment.  Down payment assistance programs were a great way to get buyers into homes.  I used them extensively, in the late 90s.  These programs allowed many folks to build wealth, through real estate ownership.  I have no real problem with them or the other laws and loopholes our government offers, to continue the dream of home ownership.  While I may disagree with them philosophically, I aggressively operate within the letter of the law to do my job; get qualified buyers into homes.  I just wish we would stop pretending they’re something else.

The opinion of this article is solely that of the author’s.  His opinions do not reflect that of the other contributing authors, their companies, or employers.  Mr. Brady’s opinion is not that of the owner of this site nor the owners of Bloodhound Realty.


Why Are We Wasting Our Time?

Over the past few days, Redfin got into it with a bunch of other real estate websites. What else is new?

In an argument about who has the most homes for sale, which began on TechCrunch and continued on Redfin’s blog, one participant argued that what consumers really care about is advanced filtering options, not inventory.

Which got us thinking. We spend a fair bit of time on advanced filtering options. And we’ve always thought we need to spend more: every week, we get requests for filters on parking, townhouses, waterfront location (Seattle), historic designation (DC), pool (LA).

So Redfin’s Jim Lamb just analyzed 70,000 Redfin searches from Thursday, August 21 to find out which of’s search filters people really use. It’s an analysis we’ve done before, to figure out whether a listing gets seen more if it’s priced to be included in web searches, like at $449,500 rather than $450,100.

What we learned last night was a little demoralizing. People filter on price, beds, baths, sometimes square feet, and new (or very old) listings, but not much else:

Redfin\'s Search Options

  • Price: Min 24.8%; Max 53.9%
  • Beds: Min 32.8%
  • Baths: Min 21.4%
  • Square Feet: Min 15.1%; Max 2.4%
  • Days on Redfin: 12.7% (this would include requests for new listings, listing on Redfin more than 45 days, or filters on on a specific number of days on Redfin; I suspect that almost all the volume comes from request for new listings)

On looking at this, Matt Goyer said, “Who doesn’t filter on square footage?” I could only sadly shake my head. Consumers completely skip the fancy stuff:

  • Lot Size: Min 5.5%; Max 0.55%
  • Year Built: Min 5.4%; Max 1.1%
  • Has view: 1.1%
  • New construction: 0.24%
  • Fixer-uppers: 0.36%
  • Open houses: 0.7%

So even as we argued that filtering options aren’t as important as inventory, we didn’t really believe it: our engineers have been hard at work on… you guessed it, more filtering options. Just now, it’s parking & townhouse filters. (Every week, I get a crazy screed from a consumer about how much people hate townhouses… which I read… from my townhouse.)

What do you think? Are we wasting our time? Confusing our consumers? As it is, we worry that the search options — pictured above — are over the top. If you leave a comment, I promise that a dozen insecure Redfin people will read it and argue over it.

PS: Greg, sorry it took me so long to post on Bloodhound. I kept waiting for something as good as the rest of this blog, and finally just decided to go with whatever was nearest at hand.

PPS: has anyone checked out what you can do with Animoto for a listing? Animoto let’s you turn your photos into a music video. It’s kind of cheesy, but easy and fun.


Clash of the Titans: Women shriek and children cower in blood-spattered suburban enclaves — when Realty.bots collide…

There’s news and then there’s news. Consider:

A real estate industry study released today shows that most popular consumer real estate search engines, including Trulia, Zillow, Google and Yahoo!, offer home seekers only a small fraction of the homes actually available on the market — and that many of the listings are inaccurate or out of date. Real estate searches on these popular sites in three sample markets — Miami, Dallas and San Diego — failed to provide users with as much as 92 percent of available listings in their home searches.

“Holy cow!” you might think. “The mainstream media is writing something actually factual about the defects of venture-capital-funded Realty.bots! No puff, no fluff, just the straight dope!”

Contain yourself. This is not news. Like most “news,” it’s a regurgitated press release. “Cui bono?” “Who benefits?”

The study, commissioned by and conducted by the WAV Group, points out the stark contrasts between different online property search methods available today and concluded that the most accurate source of listing information is the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The WAV Group specifically researched how popular consumer real estate search sites including Trulia, Google and Yahoo!, among others — which aggregate listings from a variety of third-party sources — stack up to sites like, which are enabled by the MLS. The MLS is the real estate industry standard database for sharing information on local homes for sale and is available only to licensed real estate agents and brokers; all the listings on the MLS are derived from local agents and brokers. To serve the needs of agents wishing to make MLS property search available to consumers, MLS boards nationwide have deployed a standard called Internet Data Exchange, or IDX.

This again is obvious, of course, so it’s perfectly understandable that mainstream media mavens seem not to know it. But it’s completely self-serving on Roost’s part. The actual news in this “news” would be:

Trulia/Zillow available everywhere (even on your phone), Roost unknown to founders’ mothers

But when would you ever expect to find news in the newspapers?

In fact, in the cities where it operates, has the most comprehensive inventory of homes for sale, this because it blends MLS listings with an aggregation of by-owner listings., which recently expanded into Los Angeles, combines comprehensive MLS listings with extensive neighborhood, schools and transportation information. If the subject turns to better IDX systems, Roost is playing a weak hand.

But here’s a more important fact: No one is buying every available home — or every available anything. We each of us buy whatever it is that we we buy from a limited inventory. We don’t think to object that Lowe’s and Best Buy and Sears and Walmart don’t have the same inventory of refrigerators. When the real estate commissions are divorced, what we currently think of as “the MLS” will become a host of private enterprises, and the same sort of situation may obtain. There is no such thing as a truly comprehensive inventory of homes for sale, and, in the near future, particular inventories might well be less comprehensive. So what? This makes no difference in refrigerator or automobile sales, and it will make no difference in home sales.

But: Even more interesting to me is that Roost is announcing to all the world that the market is, in its view, a Red Ocean — a space where sharks compete with each other for every scrap of meat, and my rapacious feasting must necessarily leave you hungry., in particular, was started as a would-be exemplar of the Blue Ocean Strategy, so there is real, actual news in this “news”:

The gloves are off, folks. The Realty.bots may not yet be at each other’s throats, but is ready to put a big fat shiner on any real estate start-up that needs one.

As a matter of disclosure, Roost offered a free trial feed when they came to Phoenix, but I got tired of trying to work out the technical details for what is, in the end, just another IDX system. IDX is itself a very Red Ocean, and it’s plausible to me that IDX is so much ho-hum while the Realty.bots are so very much gee-whiz! precisely because mainstream media reporters are so clueless about what is truly what in real estate. Oh, well. Life is not always fair.

Even so, this is a funny episode, if only because the man-behind-the-curtain in the “news” business is so completely exposed. If you take that question — “Who benefits?” — along with you as you read the “news,” you will discover more than you ever wanted to know about how little news there is in the “news.”

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With a new iPhone application and support for other mobile devices, is pushing the race into the cloud, but its new free weblogging platform may put ActiveRain under a cloud

Who’s winning the race, Trulia or Zillow? There is a constant flurry of new press releases from the two companies, but their boastful claims often sound like a pair of garrulous amputees agreeing with each other that the two-legged world is off its rocker: “Five million visitors! Ha-ha!” “A hundred thousand new listings! So there!”

Does any of this mean anything? There are wonderfully useful metrics for judging net.behavior. Unique visitors, for example. Pageviews per visit. Time on site. Even better: ROI per visit. But these measures are not independently verifiable, and the guides we do have available to us are inherently suspect.

So who is winning the race, Trulia or Zillow? Neither company has gone IPO. Neither company has gone belly-up. Beyond that, your guess is as good as anyone’s.

But: Tonight marks a decisive change in the game: is releasing a fairly robust iPhone application as a part of a site-wide upgrade.

What’s new?

  1. Trulia Mobile will offer a limited set of location-based searches from Apple’s iPhone, from an array of Lightpole-enabled smartphones and from Dash Navigation GPS devices. The user-experience will differ by device, but the design premise is based on location-sensitivity: Your iPhone always knows where you are, so it can interact with Trulia’s file servers to show you a list of nearby listings or open houses. You can get a detailed summary for each home on your list, and you can then email the listing to a friend, contact the listing agent directly or map the home so that you can hop over for a quick peek.
  2. Trulia is adding a higher degree of user participation in the form of a new, free weblogging platform. Any registered user of the site will be able to start a blog.
  3. Finally, Trulia is offering greater personalization of the user experience in the form of a self-customizing home page. Your home page will reflect “new property listings, home prices changes, upcoming open houses, median sales price trends, recently sold properties,” all of these based on your past search history, along with “relevant blogs and Q&As from our Trulia Voices Community.”

In truth, personalization might turn out to mean more to ordinary consumers than to real estate professionals. My searches on Trulia or Zillow put me all over the map of Phoenix, and I can’t foresee that the software is going to be able to predict much about me.

The addition of free weblogging, on the other hand, is inspired. I told Zillow, when they installed their forum software, that what they really wanted were blogs. The reason is simple: Blogging creates a community of users with a shared interest in each other and therefore in the success of the weblog. The “owner” is there to tamp down bad behavior — an uncompensated de facto middle management layer — and each one of those owners has a long-term pecuniary interest in producing interesting content. Forums are beset by bad behavior, and the content is inherently evanescent. The differences in incentives between the two conversation models could not be more stark.

But either way, forums or weblogs, social-media tools are a very useful way to induce more users to visit more pages over more time-on-site, all of which serves to expose those users to more advertising. For selling ads, getting people to talk to each other is probably more profitable than getting them to look at listings of homes for sale.

This is Brian Brady’s bailiwick, but it’s easy to see how this can and should play out: The weblogs will connect to your user profile, but they will also link out every which way. For a real estate professional, your goal, without being obvious, should be to get interested consumers to click out to your home weblog or web site, where you can sell to them without the cacophony of nearby competitors. But to make that work, you’re going to have to add true value to Trulia’s site. This is a Brian Brady social-media marketing play to a fault.

What else is it? My bet is that this is a stake in the heart of There has never been a good commercial reason for forty-bazillion Realtors to chatter to each other. Trulia is giving them an extremely EZ-2-Use weblogging platform with access to a claimed five million users a month. AR’s Localism would have been too little, too late anyway, but Trulia is already the hammer-of-the-gods on hyper-local long-tail search keywords. Points are points, but dollars are dollars. I’m thinking the Realtors who know the difference between points and dollars will migrate their blogging efforts to Trulia.

Incidentally, Trulia’s Heather Mirjahangir Fernandez tells me that links within blog posts — but not comments — will be followed by search engines. In other words, linking from your Trulia blog to your home weblog will pass SEO juice.

The big win of this release, of course, is the expansion of the game into the world of mobile computing. There are other mobile real estate applications out there already, but Trulia’s initial foray into this market seems inspired: If people are going to go out house-hunting on their own, whether they are really looking for a house or simply touring open houses for decorating ideas, why not use the location-sensing power of modern electronics to hook them into Trulia’s listings database, showing them what’s available near where they are and giving them details and driving directions so they can take a closer look.

I first heard about Trulia’s iPhone application on Thursday, when a BuinessWeek reporter called me for a reaction. I think maybe I was supposed to express fear and loathing, but I think this is a wonderful idea. I use Where to show me where the nearest Starbucks is when I’m out on the road. Why wouldn’t home-buyers want to use Trulia to find out which homes are for sale — for example — in neighborhoods closer to their jobs — or just in the neighborhood they happen to be driving through?

I personally would wish that the details page linked to the home’s web site — this since we build very elaborate single-property web sites. And the ability to contact the listing agent plausibly increases the likelihood of dual agency deals, but the fact of life is that many, many people are at least starting their home search without the advice of a buyer’s agent.

But here’s the immediate bonus that popped out at me when the reporter called: Listing agents who want to compete for mobile-empowered buyers need to get their listings into Trulia and they need to keep their open house schedules up to date. Anything that makes listers more diligent in their duties to their clients, I like.

Here are some screen shots from the iPhone application, which was released, running off of a demo server, on Friday:

This is the initial search screen. The app is built around the iPhone’s on-board GPS system, but you can use the Custom search to look at listings somewhere other than where you happen to be.

This is a location-based list of homes for sale. If you tap on a listing, you’ll go to the details screen.

Like this. This is one of our listings. You get baseball card details, the text description plus open house information and the listing agent’s contact information.

If you tap the outbound icon in the upper right corner of the details screen, you get these options — with “Contact Agent” being my particular favorite. This will launch the iPhone’s telephone software and dial the call. When you hang up, you’ll be right back on the details screen.

The user experience on Dash GPS systems and the other supported smartphones is going to be somewhat different. And since the smartphone application requires Lightpole, Palm OS phones like the Treo line of smartphones are not supported.

The software revolution being occasioned by the iPhone is fun to watch. In many ways it is reminiscent of the advent of the Apple II or the original IBM-PC: A vast glut of mostly useless toys — recipe files and DVD catalogs — thankfully mostly free. What’s going on is that programmers are teaching themselves a new software design paradigm, and they’re releasing everything they manage to finish, even though much of it is pretty stoopid.

That evaluation, at least, does not apply to Trulia’s push into mobile computing. The iPhone application is slick and useful as written, this because “data is the new Intel-inside” and Trulia has a rich store of data to draw upon. The usual caveats about opt-in versus MLS listings apply, along with concerns about decay among voluntarily-maintained listings. But, all that notwithstanding: Trulia’s mobile-computing initiative is cool.

Elsewhere: Mashable, My Tech Opinion, TruliaBlog, VentureBeat, BusinessWeek, TechCrunch.

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BloodhoundBlog sports new iPhone theme: All the dog, half the drool

I installed an iPhone-only theme this morning. If you land on BloodhoundBlog from any browser except Safari for the iPhone, you’ll see our normal theme. If you come in from the iPhone, you’ll get a theme optimized for the iPhone’s (or iTouch’s) screen size.

This is the way BHB looked on an iPhone until this morning:

This is how it looks now:

The theme rotates as you would expect it to, so you can get to a wider, shorter, easier-reading page if you want to.

The normal sidebar stuff is entirely omitted, so you’ll have to come in from a desktop browser to see that content.

Remember that you can easily add a BloodhoundBlog button to your iPhone home page.

I have to work out an algorithm, but, last night, in a fit of ecstatic romantic frenzy, Cathy and I worked out how to produce engenu-like pages on-the-spot. If I can figure out how to move iPhone photos to a file server, we could produce previewing web pages from within the house we are previewing.

Sufficient unto the day: If you have an iPhone, the new theme should make BloodhoundBlog easier to read on the run.

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Is it sink, swim, or just taking a deep breath to find buoyancy?

It’s Saturday, which means it’s my Sunday, which means it’s my one day off if I’m lucky.  This last month has been the busiest I have seen this year.  The choices of my clients, both on the buying and listing side have seemed more challenging now than I have ever seen.  Well, that’s not entirely true, many buyers have had no problem sitting on the fence.  On top of that, the opportunities that have been presented to me have be overly scrutinized this week.  I was out to dinner last night with some guests from out of town when it hit me.  The stress and lack of sleep has had me going around acting somewhat zombie like,  I literally responded to the Maitre ds question of “how are you this evening?” with a “nnnnyaeh”.  The obviousness of my failing condition was now as apparent as the gibberish expelled from my throat.

Now before this comes across an absolute whining session for me to vent off the frustrations of my life at the moment, let me tell you that I have the tools to navigate rough waters.  I’ve been here before, as we all have.  The bumps along the way keep it interesting if nothing else, right?   The unpredictable events the follow poor decision making are ones that can be reversed or taken into a more positive direction given the awareness of the direction of said bonehead moves.  I’ve never thought that it was helpful to beat one’s self up over what could be a mistake.  What I do feel is negligible is witnessing someone (or yourself) having the awareness of a mistake and keeping that action on the same path.  This, a good friend of mine would say is like sticking your head in the oven only to find that it’s too hot for a head, and then going  back again the next day to try it again and still find it’s still too warm…. though I could never figure out why somebody wanted stick their head the oven, the lesson was not lost on me.

Simplicity is always my best fix.  Making simple adjustments to straighten my seemingly wrecked passage into a doomsday scenario.  Writing things out helps, weighing out positive and negative aspects.  Reaching out to peers and talking things out can give orderly direction, provided others are not fragrant of the smell of fresh burned hair themselves.  Many exercise, for this I put forth my best effort, despite my aversion of the gym and Yoga has been good to me.  The fix for today is Rock-n-Roll.  Good ol’ therapy in itself can be blowing off the dust of some highway poetry like Son Volt’s Trace, opening up the sunroof and hitting the Shoreline drive.  Being a California native and a nomad at heart the road has always been a good place for clearing cobwebs, and yes, the epiphany was right there in the sounds:

If living right is easy, what goes wrong
You're causing it to drown
Didn't want to turn that way
You're causing it to drown
Doesn't make a difference now
You're causing it to drown
Silence knows, can't drown a heart

Son Volt/Jay Farrar is the source \"Drown\"

I’m sure taking next Saturday .. and maybe even this Wednesday afternoon off wouldn’t hurt either.

Any other tips on challenging the ingrained Protestant work ethic are welcomed below. 🙂


Buy low? Sell high? You can’t sell high for now, but prices are low enough that a buy-and-hold strategy could pay off handsomely

This is my column for this week from the Arizona Republic (permanent link).

Buy low? Sell high? You can’t sell high for now, but prices are low enough that a buy-and-hold strategy could pay off handsomely

Last week I met with a potential real estate investor. She’s an investor because she’s got the money, the credit and the will to dip her toe in the water. She’s a potential investor because she hasn’t yet been a landlord.

With new investors, I talk about premium suburban single-family rental homes. This is normally the safest, most economical way to start a real estate investment plan in Phoenix. That’s especially true right now, when the right rental home will be cash-flow positive from the outset.

But I also talk about other income opportunities in real estate, if only because land-lording is not for everyone. I would not advise a first-time investor to take the plunge in a large multi-family community or a strip mall, but there are plenty of other ways to take advantage of our current market conditions.

An example? Flipping. There never was heard a more discouraging word, but flipping has a horrible reputation because a horde of TV-educated tycoons bought at the top of the market and sold their refurbished masterpieces at auction. Now, when entry prices are low and trending lower, a slow flipping strategy promises nice rewards.

Here’s one slow strategy: Find a great flip candidate at a rock-bottom price. Buy it to own as a rental. Hold it in that state — with the monthly cash-flow covering your costs — until prices recover to your satisfaction. Then do the refurb and sell.

Here’s another one: Buy your cheap refurb candidate and move into it. Redo the home slowly, room by room, especially when the materials for doing a particular room are very cheap. Sell it after you’ve owned it for five years or more and take the capital gain tax free.

There is a common investment idea behind these strategies: Buy low. Sell high. You can’t predict when you’ll be able to sell high, but you know for sure you can buy low right now. If the investment property is either self-amortizing or your own residence, you can afford to wait for the market to turn.

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One for the dogs, one for my baby and one more for the road

In the weeks before Unchained in Phoenix. I stopped reading my feed reader. I was wall-to-wall with Unchained work and wall-to-wall with money work and something had to give. I’ve read this and that since then, but I’m over 16,000 posts behind in my reading. Oh, well…

When I knew for sure that we would be getting iPhones this Summer, I switched from Vienna to NetNewsWire as my feed reader, this because the desktop and iPhone clients will sync to each other. Same subscriptions on both, but what I’ve read on the iPhone won’t show up on my Mac and vice versa.

So I added the feeds I really wanted to NetNewsWire, but I also kept the old set running on Vienna. Interestingly to me, since I made the switch BloodhoundBlog has added over 200 posts, an astounding accomplishment. Something in WordPress or a plug-in is wasting post numbers, but we are over 3,000 posts, total, on the blog in just a couple of years. Even more impressive is the depth of our posts. If your goal is to understand the world of hi-tech real estate, reading here will be more beneficial than reading everything else put together.

So let’s hear it for the dogs: The best, the brightest and by far the loudest voices in the It’s an honor for me to write in such a company.

So far, 2008 has been very, very good to our tiny little real estate brokerage, but it certainly didn’t start that way. Q4 ’07 and Q1 ’08 were plenty scary for anyone in real estate, and I’m sure they contributed to putting a lot of people out of the real estate business. We normally go to Las Vegas at Independence Day for our wedding anniversary, but this year we did not. We were busy with money work, which was most welcome, but we were also gun-shy about spending money.

July rocked, August rocked, and we’re picking up buyers if not listings with alacrity. It’s time for Greg and Cathy to have some alone time. Even so, we’re still more than spooked about money, and we both have a lot of work hanging in mid-air. The solution? A weekend staycation.

We’re bugging out in a little while for a not-so-swanky hotel fully two whole miles from our home. We’ll luxuriate in semi-luxurious surroundings as much as time permits, meanwhile running home to work and deal with Cameron and the pets and running all over to deal with clients. Not as much fun as a few days at Caesars Palace, but it’ll do.

My friend Vance Shutes kicked me back on a course I never should have deviated from — about which more later — so I’m jazzed and juiced and fully-energized to pursue every conceivable earthly delight: Old Bushmills, El Pollo Loco and the girl of my dreams. If I need more than this from life, I’ll worry about it Monday.

If you’re in my address book, your emails will echo to my iPhone. If you call me and I’m reasonably sober, I’ll answer. If not, I’ll get back to you.

Meanwhile, here’s to the Bloodhounds, here’s to my best-beloved and here’s to the life divine!


Aufedersein Lip Syncher!

… and now back to our regularly scheduled program – sorry for the technical difficulties!

True Confessions:

  • I am a reality TV junkie – American Idol, Big Brother, Top Chef, Flipping Out, Million Dollar Listing and of course Project Runway – glad I have DDR – there are others – but these I won’t miss – even for a showing request – kidding – of course.
  • I eat lunch at Costco – I sample the samples.  Don’t knock it – I have seen many of my astute colleagues binging off of the sample trays too, only I openly admit it – I have no shame.
  • I love country music.
  • Being an American Idol fan, I sing Daughtry and Carrie Underwood at the top of lungs in the car – sometimes – unknowingly – with the sunroof open – windows down – stopped at traffic lights – allegedly.

* cleansing breath*

That was so cathartic – and so much better than kneeling behind a curtain in a small, dark box filled with the distinct aroma of peppermint schnapps.

Yesterday, one of my esteemed colleagues made the mistake of confirming my delusional rock star status.  I have one of eleven listings in a high rise on the famed Lake Shore Drive – great unit, smartly updated I might add.  Glorious views and a terrific value – yet in a building that can be a challenge in which to sell.  Traffic up until now has been sporadic if non-existent.

Two weeks ago, in an attempt to generate buyer traffic, I decided to coordinate a joint building open house.  Not an uncommon marketing tactic – contact all of the other listing agents, get them all to agree to a time and a date – encourage everyone to market the open house independently and VOILA! Buyers!

I put together a joint marketing piece highlighting the fact that there would be nine units open, committed to an ad in The Tribune.  I’d do it for my client anyway, so why not for the other units?  Hopefully we can generate greater power in numbers.  Well – needless to say, buyers did come.  I had 20 visitors – that was more than the total number of people who had seen my client’s condo in the previous 180 market days.  The results were fantastic, but alas – no offers.  S’okay – I increased the number of potential buyers – open house number 2 is scheduled for September 7.

With the success of the public house, I volunteered to coordinate a brokers open house – hosted yesterday.  Interest level for participation was low, only 2 other units.  Yet again, I sent out a joint marketing piece – only one broker showed.  Highly disappointing.

Now admittedly, I don’t promote brokers opens with incentives – you won’t get liquored up at my client’s joint.  I rarely spring for booze or food.  (see earlier comment re: lunch at Costco)  If I am spending bucks for booze, you’d better bring a buyer.  Still – I figure brokers open houses are an opportunity to learn your product – not – dine on the che..a….  never mind.

After the open house, I went up to see the other agents to see if they had any greater success.  I am glad I went.  I introduced myself to one of the two listing agents, “YOU – are a rock star!”  She exclaimed.  Instantly, I looked up, smiled and was filled with an overwhelmingly warm glow.  FINALLY!  Someone sees it!  I wondered – was SHE the one in the car next to me, sitting at the traffic light at Belmont and Sheridan???  Nope – my elevated status was due to my mad marketing skillz.  I was given the credit for generating a crowd at our building open house.  “You, me and my managing broker are having lunch!”  Lunch?  Someone is offering to take me to lunch?  I am so there.

While greatly appreciative of my exalted status, I couldn’t help but think that I really didn’t do that much – I coordinated an open house – but, it did clearly produce results.  I know my clients acknowledged the effort, but even they fell short of calling me a rock star.  …perhaps only when they get their check at closing!

Immediately following the public open house, I did have a number of showings.  One in particular did make a distinct impression on me.  the buyers and the buyers’ agent had just seen a number of other similar units in the building, clearly saving the best for last – or at least that is what I hoped was the case.

“Uh – Hi, sorry we’re late – had trouble finding parking – What can you tell us about the building?  None of the others knew about the amenities or the reserves,” the buyers’ agent stated, looking down as he was rifling through his stack of listing sheets.

I was surprised to hear that nobody knew the building’s details – I know the others know their stuff.  Regardless, I went through my schpeel, rattled off the details, the reserves, the monthly assessments – what was included etc.  The response I received really irked me.

“Uh – yeah” while finally pulling out the listing sheet for my unit, “Um – I didn’t realize that the monthly assessments were $960” the buyers’ agent said.

“Yeah” hands deeply buried in pockets, “I thought we told you that we wanted to stay under $500 a month for assessments” the husband said to his agent.

Perhaps a discussion that may have been more useful PRIOR to setting up the showing?  Just a thought.  Let’s see – there’s a little field in the MLS listing details called Assessment – imagine that!  Well – in fact there are ALOT of fields in the MLS listing detail which – again – provide property DETAILS.  Like – take Agent Remarks, for example.  In the Agent Remarks, I made mention of the free parking for showings.  In addition, I reiterated the monthly assessment and provided a breakout of the charges which make up the monthly assessment – everything is included – including electricity.  But – that’s only important information if  you, in fact, were aware of what the monthly assessment – er – was.  Amazing what a simply phone call could have achieved – or even a cursory look at the property details.

“Soooo, I take it it’s not a fit?” I asked rhetorically.

“NO!  The assessments are waayy too high!” retorted the buyers’ agent.

“Well – you know, for the right buyer, the assessments aren’t really an issue.” I responded.

After a rather uncomfortable momentary silence, I escorted the trio to the door.

LIP SYNCHER!  I thought!  Thanks for wasting my time, your time and more importantly, OUR CLIENTS’ TIME.  Why should I have to qualify YOUR buyers?

You know – it hit me – I suddenly realized that it really doesn’t take that much to truly be a rock star in this business – more than the average amount of dedication, preparation and a commitment to a higher level of professionalism that out clients deserve – and truthfully – expect.  I don’t like seeing my clients bury their hands in their pockets.

Now – rock star status in real estate clearly doesn’t now always translate into rock star income like Seal – you know, Heidi Klum’s husband.

Speaking of Heidi Klum, she really says it best “You’re either in or you’re out!”  To those agents that can’t even commit to even the most basic level of professionalism, I say AUFEDESEIN!

To those who are committed to excellence, we’re going to Hollywood!

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OODA Redux: Marketing is What You Do, & Who You Are.

I talked about OODA for Real Estate before, mostly because it’s more clear to more people that there are no barriers to doing amazing (even splendid) things in or out of Real Estate.  Again, OODA is:  Observe, Orient, Decide Act (lather, rince repeat).   A better definition is here,   A still better definition is here.   But my current campaign work has me thinking more tactically in lieu of strategically. 

What I’m guessing is this:  Most Realtors (and chess players…and people….) would be far better served to study tactics than strategy.  Yes, yes, strategy matters—there are some preconditions that must be met before success in any venue is attainable.  A few would be: the ability to tell the truth, the ability to focus, the desire to help people, etc.  But, beyond the building blocks of a complete man, most people are addicted to strategy and planning.  Because making a plan is a blast.   And because you are getting a glimpse of the possible.   It’s the doing that’s a bitch.

Most people plan their work, and then plan their work, and then plan their work when they should be working.  Planning and thinking becomes procrastination, and then you may be great at Observing & Orienting but when it comes to deciding and acting…it’s easier to go to Reader to check in than it is to grind out a deal.  Easier to join the cadre of nincompoops on Twitter…and say ‘that sux,’ to one another.

Orly?   Easier for a day, that is…until you suddenly find someone calling about your car payment which is 16-days-past-due and you but you have only-$312 to last you until the 23rd where you SHOULD have a closing if the mortgage loan officer (or underwriter) gets off their ass, so why don’t you call the LO right now to get an “update?"  That kind of stress comes from overplanning and underworking. 

LO:  Hi, How’s it going.

Broke Realtor:  Well, You tell me.  (weighty silence)

Buh-leave me.   I know from brutal (and sadly, all too recent) past experience that a perfect plan sitting in a drawer is way worse than calling strangers with zeal and fervor and asking for business.   When the pressure is up and you’re on Death Ground, fight.  And if you’re not on Death Ground?  Convince yourself you are.  Brings out the fight in you.  (See Shaw, Russell). 

So we see it’s harder and more stressful to be indecisive.  You have to bear weight and pressure of unprocessed loops.  The second-greatest trick of the Devil  is this: Sloth (i.e. echochamber aspects of social media) is OK , and you should gravitate towards what’s low resistance instead of high value.   Napoleon didn’t slice open Archduke Charles by first wondering if all of Chuck’s Twitter Followers would approve.   He saw (O) an opportunity, and (O) saw what would happen by (D) sending his troops in, so he (A)cted.  

The thing is, too many people wait for perfect conditions to act.  They wait for business cards to be printed because, hey, you can’t sell without business cards, and that takes time.   They wait for rates to go down, prices to go up, whatever.   The bias for inaction is the biggest threat towards most people’s lives.   Marketing yourself is about taking action that people aren’t, being the ‘-est’  at whatever the hell you’re doing.  (Thank you, Scott).  

The state of perpetual half work that half wits find themselves in is why there is the continual vibe of being stressed out.  But the stress goes away when you work your ass off.  The end-of-the day feeling is relaxed contentment, and allowing yourself to be consumed with noise invariably breaks down your ability to form OODA loops and get inside the loops of others.  Then you become part of insipidly useless Twitter conversations about how your buyer/broker/lender/dog/ let you down because they aren’t as hardworking/honest/smart/thoughtful as you are.

So, the basic question: what could you be doing that you’re resisting? 

What could you do for an hour or two a day and get results?

What are you avoiding?


How can you do everything faster?


What things can you get away with not having?


What are you using to make an excuse and let yourself off the hook for results?

Remember: EVERY general in history bitched about not having supplies to win the War.   The great ones did without, won and were remembered.

Damn the torpedoes and go fight–there ain’t any magic bullets here.


Mortgage Market Week in Review

Here we are on Friday again and it’s time to take another look at what’s going on in the mortgage markets. This week we’re going to talk about two economic reports and two big question marks.

First the economic reports from the week:
1. The Index of Leading Economic Indicators came out and it was down quite substantially. What is that index about? Basically it’s the conference board’s way of looking at what they think the economy is going to look like going forward. That’s why it’s called “Leading” rather than most reports that are essentially reporting what happened. This looks at what they think is going to happen based on trends and such. The fact that it’s way down doesn’t bode well for an economic recovery any time soon. It doesn’t specifically mean that we’ll have (or are in) a recession, but it does mean that things aren’t pretty.
2. The National Association of Home Builders reported that builder confidence came in for August at a record low. Gee, for any of you who read this who are a builder, know a builder, or work with one, it’s probably no surprise at all. We’re going through a fundamental shift in the building capacity that is needed in this country and the weeding out that is going to (and is) happening is not a fun thing by any means. Whether is was building, lending, or real estate sales, the bubble allowed way more people to get into the businesses than what the overall health and growth levels could handle. That’s an ongoing readjustment that needs to continue before we can hit bottom and go up from there.

Now for the two question marks. Actually, it’s one question about two companies. What’s the real story behind Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? I’ll make a couple of points to tell you what my take on them is:
1. As “quasi governmental” institutions, Fannie and Freddie have been able to borrow money at rates that are better than what other companies can borrow money at. That’s because of the implicit backing of the US government.
2. Many foreign countries have invested a lot of money in Fannie and Freddie because of the guaranteed safety that was implicit in it all.
3. Fannie and Freddie have experienced some substantial losses over the last period of time. I’m talking numbers with lots of zeroes to the left of the decimal point.
4. The markets got spooked enough by those losses that the government had to pass legislation which gave the Treasury the authority to step in and bailout Fannie and Freddie if necessary.
5. Paulson (Treasury Secretary) has maintained consistently that Fannie and Freddie aren’t in need of a bailout and that he doesn’t intend to exercise the bailout provisions. The baoilout provisions are there to calm the markets. Sort of like a sprinkler system that is designed to put out a fire IF a fire starts.
6. According to what their government regulators require, it appears that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are adequately capitalized (meaning they have enough cash to keep the doors open) for now.
7. There are a lot of comparisons between the Bear Stearns “bailout” earlier this year and the Fannie and Freddie issue. That has prompted a lot of shareholders in both companies to be concerned that if the US government does have to institute a bailout, their shares would be worthless or close to that. From what I’ve heard, Bear Stearns sold for $10 a share and a year before it was at $123 a share, about a 95% drop. Fannie and Freddie are down about 90%. Hmmm….
8. There’s a big difference between the stock value of Fannie and Freddie and the safety of their debt. The safety and soundness of their debt is not the issue right now.

So what do I make of this whole issue? A couple of thoughts:
1. I think that eventually the government is going to have to nationalize Fannie and Freddie. If not because of financial reasons, then because of the negative effects that the uncertainty is having on the financial markets and the other financial firms. The entire credit market is very wobbly right now and until we have some stability some where, we aren’t going to see the markets calm down.
2. I read a report that quoted the CEO of Fannie Mae saying that their current business was making them plenty of money, it was the old business (loans from 2007 and before) that were the problem. Well, a couple of thoughts on that: a) It’s not usually the first 6 months when people have problems with their mortgage, so claiming that they are making money on that business is maybe a bit premature? b) If new business is only 15% of their “book of business” then that’s not that big of a deal either.
3. I feel that if the US (meaning you and me) have to step in and buy Fannie and Freddie, then it’s frankly quite appropriate that the shareholders don’t get hardly anything from their stock holdings. I also believe that if that happens, we should have a massive restructuring of the upper management of the two entities. According to one report, the CEO of Freddie Mac made $20,000,000 last year. That’s 100 times what the President of the United States makes and that’s way too much for a government entity.
4. Am I concerned that Fannie and Freddie are going to stop buying mortgages? No I’m not.
For two reasons: 1) The housing market is too dependent on keeping mortgage money flowing and the economy is too dependent on keeping the housing market out of the dungeon (it might be in the basement but not the dungeon!) 2) With all of the foreign entities that have bought into Fannie and Freddie, it would be geopolitical suicide to stick China and others with billions in bad debt.
I also feel that it would be important to put a plan in place soon that would eventually (maybe a 10 year plan) return the mortgage market from being a nationalized “thing” to totally private.

So, in a nutshell, I believe that those who have good credit, a downpayment, and sufficient verifiable income will still be able to get financed. I do believe that because of all of this, even if the market would normally see rates drop, we won’t see that. I’m feeling pretty convinced that credit will be more expensive next year than it is this year.

Until next week…..

Tom Vanderwell


Rhapsodizing the iPhone: A full day of my chaotic life, hours of phone time, a trip to Pleasantville — and I could not love it more

I’m totally loving my iPhone, so far. Wine Dog is right about power. I think I want two, one each for in- and out-bound calls. But it’s so far beyond any other phone I’ve ever had, I would never even think of stepping back to yesterday’s phone.

I have a piece of software called HandBrake for the Macintosh. It will convert DVDs to other file formats. It’s how I made this clip of Pleasantville last Summer. In early July, I ripped a full copy of Pleasantville in the iPhone’s ideal video format. I just watched it now. Excellent video, and theater-quality sound through the headphones. I’m ready to convert a DVD a night, while I sleep, and park them on a big hard disk for easy syncing.

I had calls drop today when I was in the mountains — nothing new for Phoenicians. Otherwise, the iPhone was fault free, and it works beautifully with the Jawbone headset. I do see power as being an issue, but it was with the Treo 650, too. I often drive for part of the day with my phone plugged into the cigarette lighter (what’s that?). With a hands-free headset, it doesn’t matter. Give me a strong voice dialer, and it will matter even less.

The Jawbone is so much better in sound quality that I’m thinking of pushing a lot more work toward Jott or other transcription software. Cathy is playing with OmniFocus, an iPhone-optimized GTD app. The iPhone is a software universe, rather than simply a set of tools like an ordinary smartphone, so there are almost unlimited horizons for us to discover.

My biggest challenge, I think, is to get Cameron interested in the iPhone SDK. Brian already has a project, and we can come up with dozens more. It’s not that this is the ultimate computing solution — far from it. But in many ways it is the optimax solution, the tool that offers the most, the most-flexible and the most-available computing power relative to its portability and form factor.

An example: I was talking to a reporter today from a business magazine about the availability of flexMLS, our new MLS system, on the iPhone. It’s not a sexy implementation at all, but, when you walk out of a house and the buyers point at the sign across the street and say, “What about that one?” — you have the ability to show them on the spot that it’s too small, too expensive and has no pool. Until now, that was always a follow-up chore.

Don’t tell me you coulda done that on your tablet computer. Your tablet computer is not in your shirt pocket — ready to screen Pleasantville if someone keeps you waiting.

I know there are limits that I will run into, limits that I will not love. But there are so many things that I will be able to do tomorrow, because of the iPhone, that I couldn’t do yesterday, that I may run out of implementation time before the next generation of iPhones cures some or all of my objections.

I’ve been preaching about the iPhone as the ultimate Realtor’s phone since it was announced, and the iPhone 3G offers few disappointments and a lot of satisfaction in that role.

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iPhone euphony: When you hear the beep, hang tough

Seventeen months after Steve Jobs’ original announcement, Cathy and I finally got iPhones last night. Our Treo 650s were just about beaten to death, so the moment was right. We had known from the first that we were going to wait for 3G and extensibility. The immediate sell-out of the original inventory of 3G iPhones was like a sign from the gods. We are rarely early-adopters, preferring to let other people find the bugs in releases. With luck, this week’s release of iPhone OS 2.0.2, which we installed last night, will be golden.

In the Googlefied world, everything is easy. The AT&T geeks knew nothing about how to convert from Palm Desktop the iPhone, but Apple has a fairly simple procedure. I got all my contacts and my calendar events going back to 2001 just like that. AT&T and Sprint are still squabbling over who gets to service my phone number — I can literally call myself, iPhone to Treo, on my own number. But, so far, everything has been easy and nothing has hurt.

Well, one thing is going to hurt. I’m losing the ability to record phone calls. Many of the podcasts you hear here were recorded directly on my Treo, and I will often use CallRec to “take notes” with clients or real estate news sources. That feature is unavailable, at least for now, on the iPhone. We’re gaining a lot, including a whole lot more power in the cloud, but I’ll miss being able to record calls.

I have a few iPhone plans for BloodhoundBlog, but they’ve been waiting for me to have a phone to test on. For now, if you want a BloodhoundBlog button on your iPhone home page, snag one. (Hit the plus sign at the bottom of your screen and follow the prompts.) Within the next couple of days, I’ll be adding an iPhone-only theme to make the blog easier to read on a small screen. But even now you’ll have one-click access to BHB — and Odysseus at his most glamorous on your home page.

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Splendor versus squalor: The part you throw away

[I wrote this in March of 2007. I’m revisiting it now because it fits so well with the essay I wrote last night about 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 adding that as well. –GSS]

I believe in integrity, but I believe in a very Latinly kind of integrity. It’s normal for me to translate words in and out of Latin, to write and think in those words in the way that they are composed from their Latin atoms. So when I think of the word “integrity,” what I think of is “all one thing.”

And I try to live that way, too, with my whole life, as best I can manage it, being the expression of one idea: Splendor.

I’ll give you a definition, which I will immediately qualify:

Splendor is the interior experience of being so enthralled by the act of creating the values that contribute to and ultimately comprise your idealized perfect self that, while you are experiencing it, you are your idealized perfect self.

What’s the qualification? Splendor is not words, and it is not merely thoughts or deeds. Splendor is the tone and the timbre, the warp and the weft of a life spent pursuing it. Words, deeds, thoughts, actions, hopes, dreams, plans, memories, work, leisure, solitude and companionship — everything you do in the pursuit of positive values and nothing that you do in quests for disvalues.

This is such a simple idea, and I love it better than anything. It is everything I want to be when I am being the best person I can be, and it is everything I want for everyone I see. It’s one of the reasons I love being a Realtor, because this job, at its best, is all about Splendor, helping people get the most and the best that life can offer.

I don’t talk to my clients directly about this, but they get the idea. We all of us have it in us, to some degree, and it suits me to cultivate it in the right circumstances. One of the reasons that I like Russell Shaw so much, as a person, is that there is something within him that responds resoundingly to these kinds of ideas, even if he might give them another name.

The other day I was talking about the salutary consequences of making your commitments manifest. There’s a lot more that I could say on the subject — and you can be assured that I will in due course. As a starting point, it does not actually matter if there is another person involved. If we make a commitment of any sort real and undeniable, it’s because we intend to follow through. And if we steadfastly avoid making that commitment real, it’s because we have at least half a plan to default on it. The default is self-destruction — dismantlement of the ego — either way, but it’s much easier to rationalize if we can insist that we never really meant to do that — whatever it is — anyway.

This is a song by Tom Waits, and it’s beautiful because it’s so brutal. This is a man who understands exactly what he is doing — and still won’t stop doing it.

The Part You Throw Away

by Tom Waits

You dance real slow
You wreck it down
You walk away, then you
Turn around
What did that old blonde
Gal say?
That is the part…
You throw away

I want that beggars eyes
A winning horse
A tidy Mexican divorce
St. Mary’s prayers
Houdini’s Hands
And a Barman who always

Will you lose the flowers
Hold on to the vase
Will you wipe all those teardrops
Away from your face
I can’t help thinking
As I close the door
I have done all of this
Many times before

The bone must go
The wish can stay
The kiss won’t know
What the lips will say
Forget I’ve hurt you
Put stones in our bed
And remember to never
Mind instead

Well all of your letters
Burned up in the fire
Time is just memory
Mixed with Desire
That’s not the road it is
Only the map… I said
Gone just like matches
From a closed down cabaret

In a Portuguese Saloon
A fly is a circling around
The room
You’ll soon forget the
Tune that you play
For that is the part
You throw away

Ah, that is the part
You throw away

We all of us live in my world — sometimes. And we all of us live in his world — sometimes. And sooner or later we each of us have to make a choice…

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“Shoot the elephant in the room before he breaks all the furniture?” Yes, because even if we don’t always do well by doing good, we must always do the right thing — even when no one else is watching.

I had a house close yesterday, and there was a little incident as I was trading keys with the buyers that I found instructive.

Back story: These folks came to me through my Arizona Republic column. That column produces almost no business for us, and I don’t milk it for business. But the clients it brings out are invariably very interesting, and they often bring with them multiple transactions. This particular family will do two listings and one purchase, and it was the purchase that closed yesterday.

They had started out thinking in terms of $800,000 homes in very tony desert locations. There are health issues, so I suggested that a smaller home closer to town might work better. We ended up buying a very nice home that comped for $425,000.

They were willing to risk losing the home in order to make sure they weren’t overpaying, so we offered $335,000 — $90,000 under two recent comp sales. We got that price, and the seller didn’t flinch at our repair requests. A fun, painless transaction, my kind of deal.

But wait. Didn’t I betray my sacred duty to milk the consumer for every last penny? I talked myself out of a commission on $800,000, then talked myself down again to a commission on $335,000. I don’t even think that way. I got a smokin’ deal for my buyers, and we all had fun every step of the way.

Because we’re doing multiple sides, we gave them a break on all three commissions. They didn’t ask, we just did it. Commission is always the elephant in the room, so, no matter what we plan to do, we always raise the issue first.

Why? Because doing the right thing is always the right thing to do, no matter what.

But also: Because affecting to ignore the elephant in the room only serves to make you look oily, evasive and corrupt — and the other party can use your presumptive corruption as leverage against you.

I believe that we do well by doing good — that consistent virtue reaps commensurate rewards in the long run. But even if we don’t, doing the right thing is always the right thing to do, no matter what.

This is the language I wrote in the Buyer Broker Agreement — to protect the buyers’ interests:

Sales commission will be paid to Buyer’s Broker as follows: Two-thirds of co-brokerage fee, up to 3% of Full Purchase Price, exclusive of any bonuses. One-third of co-brokerage fee plus 100% of any bonuses plus 100% of all co-brokerage fees in excess of 3% of Full Purchase Price will be refunded to Buyer at Close of Escrow. In no event will compensation to Buyer’s Broker exceed 2% of Full Purchase Price, with any other commissions or bonuses to be credited to Buyer.

That’s mind-numbingly redundant, but it’s completely unambiguous, which is the point of writing things that way.

Here’s the cool part: This home offered a 4% co-broke. We don’t ever take bonuses, and we had explained that in our first interview, as a part of our discussion about commissions. I had pointed out the bonus commission when we were looking at the house, both as a matter of disclosure and as a potential incentive to the buyer: Instead of one point from us, you’ll be getting two points on this house.

But they had forgotten every bit of that. Last night when I was taking my leave from the home, Mr. Buyer shook my hand and said, “I wanted to thank you for getting that extra money for us.” Simple enough, and I hadn’t thought twice about it. But the look in his eyes was startling, not just gratitude but something close to wonder. What he was really saying to me, I think, was something like this: “You could have cheated us and we would have been none the wiser.”

And that’s probably true. The language of the contract is painfully plain, but only high-C’s read contracts. They might have gone through the rest of their lives with nagging doubts about my integrity, but it’s completely plausible that they never would have figured it out, had I stolen half the commission I had promised to concede to them. They were only expecting a point, so if they only got a point, they might never have raised a fuss.

But that is why we must always be scrupulously honest, no matter what. If I know there’s an elephant in the room, I can do what I can to shoot it down. But, if by my own shady behavior, I invite elephants into the room, I am not just destroying my relationship with a nice family, I am wreaking permanent devastation on my own integrity, I am destroying myself from the inside out.

I like to watch people when they don’t know I’m watching, just to see them, just to see what they do. We say that your true character is who you are when you think no one is watching you. But the actual, ontological fact of human life is this: Evil is never unwitnessed. Even if no one else sees your evil act, even if no one else ever discovers it, you know what you have done. Your own knowledge of your own corruption — your own constant struggle to portray a virtue you know without doubt that you have betrayed — will eat you up from the inside out.

This is all completely obvious to everyone, and my peculiar gift to humanity is to raise the topics almost no one wants to talk — or even think — about. But if Realtors are ever to rise above our awful reputation, it will be my means of the kind of radical, pre-emptive transparency that leaves no possible room for doubt, in our clients’ minds, about our fundamental integrity.

Do you want to build relationships based on enduring trust? Shoot every elephant in the room, even the ones no one else has even noticed yet.

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