Archive for August, 2012
Odysseus is getting to be an old dog, which is not a happy fate for big dogs. Where before he was King Alpha, ready to dominate for everything, of late he has been yielding to Ophelia more and more. But not when it comes to putting the neighbor’s dogs in their place. The wall the dogs are scaling by turns used to be stuccoed and painted, but these two, in particular, have exposed the naked concrete.
When Odysseus goes vertical, you are seeing the most beautiful thing a Bloodhound can do. I would love to have a statue of him frozen in that flash of total commitment.7 comments
This is me speaking at The 21Convention earlier this month in Austin. The title of my talk — “Ontologically-Consonant Teleology” — was a joke, an early intimation that I intended to be dry, pedantic and boring. In reality, I gave them my pure schtick, hard-core egoism delivered with a garage-band attitude.
I enjoyed myself hugely, but I always enjoy myself when I get a chance to speak in public. The audience dug it, too, judging from the reactions during and after my presentation.
I want more opportunities like this. If you would like me to speak at your event, let’s talk.4 comments
I don’t go to your church.
I’ve taken to saying that when I run up against some testy quibble based in some arcane branch of human knowledge I care nothing about. I don’t go to your church. I don’t shop at your store. I don’t trade in your currency.
I’ve spent a big chunk of time this year trying to figure out how to get ideas that seem obvious to me across to people who seemingly cannot see them at all. I’m getting better at this job, but it hasn’t been easy.
But look at this, from FreeTheAnimal.com: Fifty shades of bleak: Looking for love everywhere it isn’t. The comment stream is huge and growing bigger very rapidly.
Take note of this, which I wrote a couple of summers ago: Yuppie love: The egoist’s guide to mastering the art of frolicking naked with the one you love.
There is tons more in my catalog, and tons upon tons upon tons more still to be explored.
Here is what I see:
I think there is an afternoon TV show in there, Oprah-ville for real, but there are plenty of other opportunities this side of Sixth Avenue.
I am a visionary. I am rich, rich, rich in ideas no one knows to care about until I can convince them that they should care. But I am rich, too, in ideas that will make a community like the one I’m talking about work — possibly making it all the way to Sixth Avenue.
There is money to be made here, and not just a little bit. I need an investor, one with a burning urge to incite a media revolution.
I don’t go to your church. But I can show you and everyone how to get to mine.1 comment
Man Alive! elucidates the ontology of human social relationships, but it’s dense, tough sledding. Appended below is a easier-reading summary of some of these ideas. I wrote this as a speech for my Toastmaster’s Club in August of 2001. In the blog.world, I’ll throw out details about our lives, but that’s really just so much plastic fruit, local color. This is the world that I live in, the world I wish everyone lived in… –GSS
Shyly’s delight: Manifesting the secondary consequences of splendor.
I have a Labrador mutt named Shyly. She’s about three years old, but because she’s a Lab, she’ll always be a puppy. Always busy, always involved, always eager to be right in the middle of everything.
Shyly is the world’s greatest master at expressing delight. She has a fairly limited emotional range — sadness, boredom, territoriality and contentment. But at expressing delight, Shyly is unequaled. When I come home, even if I’ve only been away for two minutes, Shyly races back and forth through the house, her every muscle rippling with undiluted delight.
It’s an amazing thing to watch, funny and charming and sweet. Shyly’s joy is clean and whole and pure and perfect. Uncontaminated by memories of past pain. Unfiltered by guilt or shame or doubt or self-loathing. Untainted by envy or anger or malice. Unaffected by affectation. Shyly’s delight is impossible to doubt, and the day she fails to express it will be the day she has scampered off this mortal coil.
“What,” you may ask, “does this have to do with me?”
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “god is dead.” By this he did not mean that there had once been an omnipotent universe creator but that he had since expired. What he meant was that the manifestations of modernity had rendered religion unable to provide significant moral guidance to educated people. Unexpurgated religion had become inoperative as a moral lodestone.
This is actually non-controversial. When we make reasoned arguments about what one ought and ought not do, we do so by reference to philosophy or psychology or practical consequences, not to religion. Even members of the clergy do things this way, precisely because it is not possible to motivate educated people to take certain actions and refrain from taking others with promises of heaven and threats of hell. Received knowledge is no longer well-received.
I have a problem with this, actually. Reason is a much better guide to rectitude than is divination, surely. But half a truth can be worse than a lie.
I think god is not dead.
I think god has never yet even been discovered.
I know god. I have an on-going experience of god. I live in a state of the most devout, most enthralling worship of the one true god of human existence, the god humanity has always yearned to know and yet has never found. In the best and most perfect minutes of my day, in the cleanest and purest and most exquisitely splendorous days of my life, I am one with my god…
This is a fact: You are alone. This is the horrifying Existentialist wail, “The Scream”, the badge of honor of those who rationalize their lack of honor. But their despair and ennui notwithstanding, human beings are organisms, and all organisms are discrete, separate, unattached, unconnected. This is true of an amoeba and of my dog Shyly and of you. What is unique about you, compared to Shyly, is that you have a reasoning, recollecting mind, and therefore you can discover and acknowledge that you are alone.
Here is another fact: The “you” that is the real you is invisible to me. Shyly is who she is, and she can’t hide who she is. She can’t conceive of disguising who she is because she can’t conceive that she is. She just is.
You, by contrast, exist most fundamentally as you only within the silence and solitude of your mind. You have a body and I can see it. You do things and I can observe them. But I can only observe you doing those things that you choose to do in my presence. I can know you only by what you make manifest, reveal in your actions. Anything that you might choose to conceal or withhold is unknowable to me.
The you that is you most fundamentally — your soul, your spirit, your self, your ego — is never evident to anyone but you, by your own introspective consciousness.
Moreover, the actions and behaviors that you do make manifest — these are never more than secondary consequences of your life.
Every action that you take in your life is first taken by your ego upon your ego.
Not only are you alone with yourself, the sine qua non relationship of your life is with yourself. With your self, with the you that is the essential you, which only you can see, only you can know, and only you can act upon.
You are all there is to your life. The universe is everything there is, but the universe of your experience starts at your skin and goes inward. The actions you bring to the world outside of you are secondary consequences, and all of the events that happen outside of you are only as significant as you make them. By your choices, inside your mind.
Clouds don’t darken my mood. I darken my mood, then blame it on the clouds. Shyly’s delight doesn’t cause mine.
Do you want to see god? Close your eyes. Imagine yourself clean and whole and pure and perfect. Imagine yourself completed, burnished, glowing in exaltation.
Do you want to worship the god who is clean and whole and pure and perfect? Then be it. Be that god.
My Shylygirl can do things that are wrong, but she can never do evil, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because evil is taking an action that you know in advance is wrong. I’ll say that again: Evil is taking an action that you know in advance is wrong.
But I’m not here to threaten you with hell but rather to bring you the promise of heaven. So I’ll give you the complementary definition of rectitude: Rectitude is doing everything you know to be right.
In every choice you make, in every action you take, in each of your thoughts and in each of your deeds, you are acting upon your self. By your attitudes and your habits of mind and your internal and external behaviors, you are acting either to complete and burnish and exalt your ego — or to dismantle and deface and destroy it.
This is an inescapable ontological fact. This is what it means essentially to have a reasoning, recollecting mind. Skyscrapers and symphonies, on the one hand, and squalor and slaughter, on the other — these are secondary consequences. Every action in every human life is first taken by the ego upon the ego.
So do you want to worship your god, the only god who can exist in the universe of your experience? Then be that god. Behave always, constantly, in such a way that you will have earned and deserved your own self-adoration. Act always to complete your self and never to dismantle it, always to burnish it and never to deface it, always to exalt your ego and your body and your mind and your life — never to destroy it.
You’ll have to do this by yourself. The world outside your mind is at war with these kinds of ideas. Your pain, your guilt, your shame, your doubt, your self-loathing, your envy, your anger, your malice — these are the attributes of your character the world loves to see you manifest. These it will support and rationalize and subsidize. But to argue that self-destruction is not a worthy use of the precious gift of human life, to argue instead that the purpose of human life is to love one’s own self and to be a self worthy of one’s own unlimited adoration and devotion — merely to utter these words is held to be the worst kind of heresy.
And don’t be fooled into following false flags. Self-worship does not imply the abuse of others. This was Nietzsche’s egregious error. To the contrary, rectitude is doing everything you know to be right.
Nor is the modern canard, “self-esteem”, a substitute for self-love. Self-love is the joy and reverence you earn and deserve by the relentless pursuit of everything you admire, everything you desire, everything you aspire to. Self-esteem is the high regard in which you presume to hold yourself in appreciation for the accomplishment of absolutely nothing.
We are talking about self-adoration, not self-absorption. Egoism, not egotism.
But we are not talking about religion or philosophy or psychology. We are talking about ontology, what you actually are, in fact, irrespective of what anyone thinks about it.
I stand before you as witness to my god. I speak not from divination, not from revelation, but simply from direct introspective observation:
If you want to know Shyly’s delight, live it.
If you want to manifest splendor — unlimited, uncontaminated, untainted, unfiltered joy — then be the person who has earned and deserved undiluted delight — mental, physical and emotional — earned it and deserved it as the enduring secondary consequence of your choices…1 comment
This is the Big Reveal from the third act of the movie Punchline, a naked confession from Tom Hanks’ character, Steven Gold:
“If you’re sending someone down, you better send him fast — ‘cuz funny Steve’s going under.”
I understood that line much too well when I first I heard it. I’ve lived with it rolling around in my head for the past twenty-odd years, and now I’m living it in real life.
This is from mail Cathleen sent today to someone (one of many someones) we owe money to:
We do have a problem: Greg and I are broke just about to the point where we aren’t able to keep our business afloat. We have shut off notices for our internet and phone (we gave up TV months ago), for our electricity, for our gas, and for our water and city services. Our house is scheduled for foreclosure within the next three weeks.
Since the First of April, we’ve only closed four transactions, for a total of $9,220 in commissions. We have only one transaction in escrow right now, and that’s a short sale, so who knows when it will close. I’ve been busy getting two houses ready to list and trying to sell furniture, lithographs and anything else that might interest anyone to try to keep lights on and our pets fed.
I’ve been keeping a careful eye on our bank accounts, and right now, if we were to send you the money we owe you, we will have a bank balance of $0.00 in the business account and $1.19 in our personal account.
I’m sorry to have to share such bad news. We’ve been working like crazy to turn this situation around…
This post is not an appeal to pity. Too much the contrary. Two Foreclosure Notices ago, Cheryl Johnson tried to beg for money for us, and I shot that idea down with dispatch. The last thing I want is money I haven’t earned. But after a lifetime of working my ass off for about fifteen cents an hour, net, Greg Swann is going under — and not slowly.
This is so stupid. I am rich beyond anyone’s ability to conceive of riches. But I am rich in currencies no one else values.
I tore the lid off human joy, correcting 2,500 years’ worth of error in moral philosophy. Reader response has been gratifying if not terribly munificent, so far, but I can’t buy a review of Man Alive!
Just lately, I released my novel The Unfallen as a Kindle book. I hadn’t thought about it in this way until I had it published, but it’s a remarkably potent argument in a world where thousands of women are devouring books advising them to degrade and humiliate themselves as a strategy for attracting men. It’s also a beautiful book, a soaring symphony on the theme of romantic love. None of that matters. I can’t even get my friends to review it, and so of course it doesn’t sell.
I spoke over the weekend at The 21Convention in Austin. I ended up presenting two different times, and I could tell by the fire in the eyes of the people in the audience that I killed both times. I’ve sold two books, so far, as the result of my efforts.
And I’m having a great year in publishing! Our ability to sell houses, weak at best over the past seven years, started to dry up entirely about 18 months ago. Cathleen and I both started looking at other ways of generating income. I’ve shopped for partners or investors, and I’ve talked to people about business ideas, to no avail. I’ve been “monetizing” books, or trying to, because it’s something I can do that almost no one else can. I’ve been successful, too, relatively speaking: I’ve made far more from my writing this year than I ever have in my life.
The trouble with that observation is that “far more” is still almost nothing, quite a bit less than fifteen cents an hour for the work I’ve put in, not even counting work done in past years. I have the best laugh at my own expense, of course, since I have known for decades that writing for money is a dead letter.
I can write. I can speak. I can come up with ideas that no one has ever thought of before, ideas that awe and enflame and inspire. I can paint for you a picture of the world you have always longed to see. I can show you the life you have known in your heart should always have been yours. I can make you soar, make you weep, make you writhe and shiver and squirm and scream. I know I can do these things, because I can see it in your response to me — and I can feel it within my own skin.
What I can’t do, apparently, is make a living.
I’ve lived my whole life waiting for things that never happen, counting coins that never find their way to my pocket. More fool me, I know, but I knew all this going in. But I’m out of time to dick around. I reread The Unfallen over the weekend, and it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful book. It’s a book that deserves to sell, that has always deserved to sell, but it could not be more urgently needed than it is right now, in the age of Fifty Shades of Grey.
And so here I am, begging for attention however I can get it. I hate asking for anything from anyone; this is the white hot core of my own egoism, the place I started from when first I woke up in Fathertongue. But for thirty years, people have been saying things like this to me: “Gee, Greg, I love your writing. I sure hope you can make a living from it someday. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” Since late last year I have been asking with a steadily increasing urgency for that help, without very much in the way of results.
Maybe I don’t deserve it. Maybe the writing isn’t as good as I think it is, and maybe the ideas I am so rich in truly are of no value to anyone but me. Maybe I’m 20 or 50 or 100 years ahead of my time. Or maybe this is all just a matter of bad luck. But I am out of time. Whatever miracle I have been waiting for, there could not be a better time for the Big Reveal.
If you want to help turn this drama around, here is what I need for you to do: Read The Unfallen or Christmas at the speed of life, review them at Amazon.com and, most importantly, tell your friends to read and review them.
Permit me to repeat that last bit, since I’ve been saying it for the past nine months, apparently without enough emphasis: Tell your friends to read and review them. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, but I can no longer afford to wait for that crowd to assemble by itself.
If you want to hire me to speak at your event, I love it. If you want to invest in me, I love it more — and I have lots of ideas for turning money into more money. If you want to regale me with tales of the big bucks I’m going to make when you don’t do what I advise you to do in the most brutal real estate market on the planet — well, that’s how I got to this juncture.
I think I’m worth quite a bit more than fifteen cents an hour. It could be that no one else agrees with that proposition, and that’s totally fine: That’s how we’re built. If you want to tell me all about how you want to help me except for the part about doing what I ask you to do when I ask you to do it, at least you’ll understand why I hate asking for things in the first place. But we are going under — and not slowly. If you really do want to do something to make a difference, there could not possibly be a moment more propitious than this one.
The American Enterprise Institute on the premeditated assault on the prime mortgage:
When it comes to a government centered society and its deleterious consequences, our Government Mortgage Complex is the undisputed poster child. There has been no greater economic failure than the collapse of the housing market due to decades of government intervention and crony capitalism.4 comments
Voters need to be reminded about how this disaster came about. It began with the premeditated assault on high-quality, credit-worthy prime mortgages. The perpetrators were Fannie Mae, community groups, and Congress, each of which had the means, motive and opportunity for undertaking this assault.
As early as 1991, community activist Gale Cincotta, was laying the path for undertaking such an assault in her testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. “Lenders will respond to the most conservative standards unless [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] are aggressive and convincing in their efforts to expand historically narrow underwriting,” she stressed.
Using Fannie and Freddie as the means to expand underwriting standards caused an immediate problem for existing subprime lenders and insurers. In 1992, about 14% of new mortgages had impaired or subprime credit with a FICO credit score below 660. Virtually all these borrowers were already served by private subprime lenders or those using FHA insurance. As Fannie and Freddie expanded into subprime, something had to give-subprime lenders would have to abandon the field or move further out the risk curve. They chose the latter, with the result that both prime and subprime lending got into much more risky loans.
The motives of Fannie, community groups, and Congress were clear. Fannie wished to protect its valuable federal charter by using trillions of dollars in flexible loans to woo and capture its regulator: Congress. Community groups like ACORN relied on flexible lending to create multiple revenue streams from banks, lenders, Fannie and Freddie, HUD, and others, since they made money from counseling homebuyers, assisting in loan originations, and counseling defaulting borrowers. Members of Congress viewed the many trillions of dollars in flexible lending announced by Fannie and Freddie as a superior form of pork to help them get reelected. It was off-budget, costless, and seemingly inexhaustible. This virtue was extolled by President Clinton in 1995: “Our home ownership strategy will not cost the taxpayers one extra cent.”
The opportunity was provided for by federal legislation and initiatives. While there were many, three from the 1990s bear special mention. The first was the ironically named “Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992.” At the behest of ACORN and other community advocacy groups and with the support of Fannie Mae, Congress imposed affordable housing (AH) mandates on Fannie and Freddie. HUD was established as their AH mission regulator. Within 18 months after passage of the 1992 Act, Jim Johnson. Fannie’s chairman committed the company to “transforming the housing finance system” and vowed to “provide $1 trillion in targeted lending.”
This was followed in 1995 by President Clinton’s National Homeownership Strategy in which HUD formalized and greatly expanded a long-standing policy goal: the reduction of down payments. It asked “[l]ending institutions, secondary market investors, mortgage insurers, and other members of the partnership [to] work collaboratively to reduce homebuyer down payment requirements.”
Also in 1995, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations were revised to be more quantitative and outcome based. Banks were now measured on their use of “innovative and flexible” lending standards, and their performance was compared to market competitors. As pointed out by Fed Chairman Bernanke in 2007: “Further attention to CRA was generated by the surge in bank merger and acquisition activities that followed the enactment of the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994.” CRA’s stick of denying a merger application was now combined with CRA’s carrot of announcing a big CRA commitment to flexible lending standards to help assure merger approval. The result was trillions of dollars in CRA commitments, largely “negotiated” by community advocacy groups.
By 2004, HUD would extol its, and Fannie and Freddie’s, role in its self-described “revolution in affordable lending:”
“Over the past ten years, there has been a ‘revolution in affordable lending’ that has extended homeownership opportunities to historically underserved households. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been a substantial part of this ‘revolution in affordable lending.’ During the mid-to-late 1990s, they added flexibility to their underwriting guidelines, introduced new low-down payment products, and worked to expand the use of automated underwriting in evaluating the creditworthiness of loan applicants…. Between 1993 and 2003, conventional loans to low income and minority families increased at much faster rates than loans to upper-income and non-minority families.”
There is ample evidence that these lending flexibilities accomplished Ms. Cincotta’s desire for “aggressive and convincing” loosening by Fannie and Freddie. For the revolution to succeed, the Five Cs of Credit – capital, credit, capacity, collateral, and confidence – had to be abandoned.
Why Does Zillow Hate my House?
If you are a real estate geek like me, you are obsessed with real estate valuation. It’s bad enough that I spend most of my day performing real estate valuations for numerous investments, but my passion for real estate sends me off to open houses on Sunday’s just looking. You know it’s bad when the realtors know your name and worse when they give your that disapproving stare of disdain as you ask them for the 50th time, “how long has this home been on the market”?
To be fair, my fiancé and I are in the process of searching for a brownstone in Brooklyn. While we probably won’t be in the market for two or three years, I like to stay on top of pricing and opportunities, so I can jump on any wayward / misinformed price. Plus, I am a real estate nerd. Given this, I am also considering selling my New York City condo. It’s too small for a family, and I haven’t lived in it in three years now. It will make an awesome pied-a-terre when I am 50, but I am not sure I want to keep paying the gap between my rental income and the very large mortgage / ever increasing condo fee. I dread the day when the fee will be larger than my mortgage payment, but its coming.
This leads me to a very real problem. How can I determine the true value of my home without putting it on the market? I work in real estate private equity. To determine the price of an asset, I can call an appraiser, three or four brokers and ask a friend what he might pay. Averaging all those numbers gives me a good approximation of the price of my asset and best of all its free and takes about 10 mins, including idle chitchat.
But what about my home? It has become easier to see what other people have recently sold their homes for. Websites like Property Shark, Street Easy, etc. offer a good real estate detective past sales data of comparable property. The major problem is that I cant tell how their home looked compared to mine, new kitchens, bathrooms, etc, so it becomes rather hard to triangulate on a value. Let’s look at the issues one by one.
Appraisers… I would trust an appraiser to value my house as much as I would trust Bernie Madoff to manage my money. Did you know on many refinances, the bank only requires the appraiser to do a drive by? What the hell is a drive by? How can an appraiser tell me what my house is based on by not even taking one step into my home? Additionally, appraisers use historical comparables sales data as their #1, #2 and #3 valuation metric. It’s why they are always low when the market is hot and high when the market is awful.
Brokers… Given the spectrum of people they deal with, they like to err on the side of insanely optimistic. Where the appraiser will either be high or low, you can guaranty a broker will always be high. I wish I could strike a deal with a broker where if they didn’t sell the house for the first quote they gave me, they would be forced to buy it from me or pay me some kind of “liar’s penalty.” I understand their motivation, after all, if they tell me a low number, I am likely going to keep renting the property and they will get nothing anyway. Too bad they can’t pay their mortgage with my respect and admiration.
Phone a Friend… I am always shocked at how little people know of the real estate market, often parroting the latest sound bites from the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Aside from that, no one wants to tell their friend that their home is worth 20% less than they paid for it or worse. Still, this is likely the best option.
All of that leads me to Zillow, a non-biased (or so they say), algorithm that somehow takes a walking tour of my home when I am away and gives me a value of my home. It is also kind enough to update me every 30 days with the steady, albeit, depressing decline of my home value. Strange, since home prices are increasing like crazy in my area. The problem? I live in New York City. There are literally hundreds of homes on each block and every building is very different. Some are pre-war, beautifully, renovated buildings, others are shiny state of the art new construction and still others are shabby 1950’s crap. And they could be right next door to each other. On my block alone, there have been sales for $800 – $5000 / sf.
Additionally, while Zillow can see my house, it can’t seem to see my doorman or the building specific new renovations or the fact that I am right outside of the entrance to Central Park on the positive side. On the negative side, it can’t see that my unit gets very little natural light, sits next to the trash compactor on a low floor with no view and needs several touch up renovations on the interior.
Zillow chooses to make an example of my home and prices it 5 – 10% lower than it should. Given Zillow’s influence, can I sue them for libel? I am a minority; is this a hate crime?! Or is Zillow just an algorithm that works well in areas where there are a lot of very similar homes frequently transacted, if that area even exists? You be the judge, I am going with libel, hate crime…6 comments
My novel The Unfallen is now available as an Amazon Kindle eBook. Here is the way I blurbed the book when I wrote it:
The Unfallen is a very sexy book about philosophy and a very philosophical book about love and longing. It’s written about and for smart, productive people who live to love their lives…
I can summarize it Ari Gold-style with three quick synopses:
1. It’s a very romantic novel about philosophy.
2. It’s a send-up of genre romance fiction, a literal inversion of the bodice-ripper how-to book called “Adventurous women, dangerous men.”
3. It’s fifty shades sexier, celebrating the splendor of real love, not the squalor of degradation.
Here’s an extract from The Unfallen, the poem that was the instigating cause of my own marriage:
you come to me by starlight
in a gown of gauzy white
your sacraments revealed concealed
high priestess of the night
you whisper vespers whisper prayers
whisper vows of faith and fear
in still and silent grace you stand
as i in trembling awe draw near
i kneel in worship grasp your hand
press it to my searing lips
pray god to know the endless peace
flowing from your fingertips
you come to me in night divine
your glory lit by crowning gold
you consecrate by hungry glance
devotion’s heat in evening’s cold
you come to me i kneel i stand
you lay me on the dewy ground
you guide my worship guide my hands
lead my heart your heart to sound
you speak to me with loving grace
you catechize in passion’s glow
you reach you teach you seethe and burn
and i am blessed by truth to know
you come to me in gauzy gown
high priestess of the night
i lay in awe in faith in fear
lifted to your heaven’s light
I want you to buy this book, but before that, I want you to help me promote it. If you’d like a free review copy, just say so. The quid-pro-quo is that I will want you to write a review of The Unfallen at Amazon.com. And I would love it if you would recommend the book to your warm network by email, blog or Facebook.
My vow: The Unfallen will more than repay your involvement in the form of a happier, sexier, more-fulfilling marriage. That’s what I wrote it for in the first place, as a roadmap to my own Splendor.1 comment
Warning – long post ahead. I had a lot on my mind.
This last week and my trip to Inman has been a whirlwind and I just walked in the door from the airport.
I have literally been too busy to write some of the things that I experienced and I really want to have some time to put them in context and “digest” some of them so that I can (hopefully) use what I saw to provide something useful in future posts.
That said, the first of my impressions was the most clear and thus most easy for me to put out into the arena of public ideas while it is still fresh. One of the panel discussions was the “Syndication Discussion” which included the usual representatives, (Saul Klein, Spencer Rascoff from Zillow, Errol Samuelson from Realtor.com, and others) including Mark McLaughlin of Pacific Union. (Note to Mark – I don’t know you personally, but nicely done. The crack about “I’m not outnumbered the audience is on my side.” was priceless. There were many people in that audience that wanted to get up and say something, but did not…)
Ok, now to my main point. At one point in the panel, Mr. Samuelson turned to Mr. Rascoff and pointed out that they include FSBO listings on their site at which time Mr. Rascoff replied that REALTOR.com included non-REALTOR listings in THEIR site as well. (gulp–start the music and Mr. Samuelson proceeds to do the “Inman 2 Step – a dance done by executives when they want to avoid continuing the line of discussion that THEY started…) This is a point which I had made recently in a post on Real Estate Industry Watch. And the folks at Realtor.com had actually asked to meet me about at Inman (and we did…).
If you read what I wrote at REIW, I specifically was concerned that REALTOR.com has a HIGHER LEVEL of ACCOUNTABILITY because they are the OWNER of the REALTOR trademark. (Please, we can leave the anti-NAR stuff for a later post, I am trying to stick to one issue here) Since they HAVE our trademark, I do NOT believe that they should be able to water it down and put non REALTOR listings on the site with the REALTOR trademark. That in my opinion, while not Fraud, is deceptive in that they KNOW non REALTOR entities are using it to tell their sellers that there is no difference and that they are advertising listings on REALTOR.com. And there IS a difference. (again, let’s please leave the fact that some folks would not mind the REALTOR brand and NAR to go away entirely out of this for now…)
If you can flag these listings and put a little itty bitty image that says REALTOR listing that noone sees, then you sure as heck can push the delete button REGARDLESS of what the MLSs have to feed you. At the end of the day Mr. Samuelson, the ball is in YOUR court. I told the people in your organization that I would totally praise REALTOR.com for doing the right thing here and I will… if you get it right. IF you stand behind the intent of being REALTOR.com – the domain of the REALTOR brand.
You are not Spencer. He does not claim to be the protector of the REALTOR trademark. He does not have to rise to that. There is no difference to you SEO wise, because you have a page for the homes that are NOT for sale as well as the ones that are. What is the difference (precisely) between a FSBO and home listed by a non-REALTOR and why are you going to list one and not the other?
It would seem to me that the most defensible position to take would be “We are the defender of REALTORS and we list the listings represented by them”…especially since a HIGH percentage of your traffic to your main page is type in traffic for the term REALTOR.
Or alternatively, you could take the position that we are not the protector of the REALTOR trademark…but saying one and doing the other is not consistent (in my opinion). So which is it? The folks at Zillow, while I am no friend of their business model, do not have the same level of duty to REALTORS that someone does who owns that brand.
If left alone this problem will only grow as more people leave NAR (and I know there are a few people here who would be happy with that, but I am not among them..I am still a work from the inside out kinda guy) in pursuit of lower fees and a way to “game the system”. They are only facilitated by the protectors of the REALTOR brand not protecting it.
I would love for there to be some open discussion about this (sparing us the NAR is evil rhetoric for the moment) so that we can see if REALTOR.com will actually defend REALTORS. You have the opportunity to do the right thing, Mr Samuelson, and not the Inman Two Step. It is my understanding that protecting the brand was NAR’s intent and was in the spirit of the agreement (no matter how much I disagree with the sale of R.com, it happened).
I hope that you in fact WILL do the right thing.2 comments
Pre-2007, I am not sure this topic would have even been controversial; people not only regularly utilized their home as their “primary investment”, but often, treated it as their personal piggy bank. In hindsight we can all judge others as we secretly lick our own wounds from a vicious downturn no saw coming, but that experience left a visceral taste in many mouths.
Most experts would suggest that your primary residence is not an investment. Why, you ask? First, you purchase a home based on need. Your buy and sell decisions rarely spring from analytical thinking around market timing. Instead, most times, they are rooted in your changing life needs. Second, investment strategy wages a secret war with your personal desires. For example, I want a tricked out man cave equipped with a full wet bar, bathroom and other appropriate amenities. Am I thinking about the return on my investment, or the endless joy my friends and I will have watching football on Sunday, Monday and Thursday? Sure, I will likely increase the value of my home with these upgrades, but the anemic return on investment, if any, would never be worth the money. Said differently, would you make the same upgrades to your rental property; probably not.
If it was that easy, I wouldn’t write the article.
I will start with a question. Is it easier to invest in stock or buy a house? Right now, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK.A) trades at $128,175 per share. Its five year performance has been strikingly similar to the performance of many real estate markets. If you have a job making $50k and $7k in the bank, do you think you will ever in your lifetime own a share of Berkshire Hathaway A outside of a very lucky lotto ticket? The answer is unequivocally no. You don’t qualify for the right to buy on margin and even if you did, where would you get the 50% required to do a margin buy? And how would you live on the prison food when the margin call comes? All important questions to consider…
Now, let’s take that same fellow and put him / her into a working class neighborhood. He sees a for-sale sign and the asking price is $130k. He walks into his local bank branch gets a pre-approval letter and in 30 days, he is the proud owner of a similar $128k asset. Interesting… Are these two assets really that different? Sure, the risk profile is different, but not as different as people would have thought 4 years ago.
The real difference is access. Leaving aside the risk of foreclosure and the costs associated with credit repair, moving, etc., this person has $7,000 at risk and unlimited upside. Additionally, there is no other investment available to them with a lower risk profile or higher upside. This person probably could not even qualify for a real estate investment loan, but interestingly, they can get one chance to basically play with house money.
I would humbly submit that your primary residence is what you make of it. You can treat it like an investment, moving to an up and coming neighborhood every 4 – 7 years, investing in only the Spartan renovations that meet a certain return threshold, or you can treat it like your home, “investing” in renovations that make you smile a little bit every time you walk in the door. The choice is yours, but importantly, it is a choice. If you treat yourself as you would a tenant and you make sound investment decisions, you very well could do well with your primary investment. Given the easy access to financing, it may just be the biggest, safest investment in your portfolio. Or not, its really up to you.14 comments