Friday Flash: The idea

I believe in homeownership because I am an American. And homeownership is a deeply American idea.  

You can trace the idea from John Locke to the founding fathers, from the Homestead Acts to Levittown, straight through to the McMansion and HGTV.

The blending of the individual and private property is basic to our thing.

Long way of saying: I support the notion, and possibilities, inherent in the National Association of Realtors.

But when NAR falls down – on RPR, on HouseLogic, on the credit union, on Realtor University, on the matter of saving itself from institutional entropy, even the stupid logo – it is ultimately a loss for anyone who believes it is important that people own homes.

We kind of miss that end part, or gloss over it. The fallout.

Why, for example, have we (and I include myself here) been saying that last December’s tax bill was a “win” for NAR?

Because it could have been worse? I’m sure it could have. But how is hacking the MID by 25%, turfing the property tax deduction and constraining Americans’ ability to leverage their personal balance sheets via home equity loans a win in any reasonable sense?

I don’t think it is a win.

But we want it to be. We believe in homeownership. If you sell real estate, you feel this personally. It makes lives better. Neighborhoods better. Our country better.

My grandfather, aged 92, lives in a comfortable senescence at a top-notch care facility only because he bought a home in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1966 and sold it in 2016.

My wife, an agent, attended a muslim home-blessing ceremony this week for a young family she represented. It took everything they had to claw their way into their first home in a crazy sellers’ market. The ceremony marked the moment: their lives had transformed.

You have stories like this, too.

Part of me feels bad for criticizing NAR here. I’m just a guy in the crowd. I’m not a Realtor, not someone who’s run a trade organization, not a lobbyist trying to gain an edge in the pro wrestling match that is the United States Congress.

But, yet… this is important, right? We should all say something. Because every time NAR falls down, it’s more than just NAR that gets incrementally weaker.

The idea it represents does too.

Amazon released something called “Alexa Blueprints” this week, a tool for creating your own voice apps. It’s basic, but paints a picture of a not-too-distant future in which we will be able to build our own assistant.

I continue to think that voice computing will be significant in real estate. Consider how hard it is to get agents to do something like use new listing presentation software. Training, hyping, cajoling… all to get minimal adoption.

Wouldn’t it be nicer if an agent could just say “Alexa, prepare a listing presentation for Mark and Julie Nixon on Beechwood Drive,” and be done with it?

I touched base with a friend this week, a former brokerage CMO who recently moved out of the industry.

He said, “It was all fear, fear, fear – it wore on me. Fear of agents leaving. Fear of change. Fear of everything.”

Telling. I feel it too, particularly among big brokers. I get it. Real estate brokerage is a tough business these days. But the fear is corrosive and compounds already-significant challenges. Agents can almost smell it. New entrants play off it. Our industry narrative uses it to position big brokers as retrograde.

I’m not sure chasing tech wins can ease the fear. Neither will throwing money at it. I think it comes down to the tiredest – but also truest – of real estate brokerage tropes: culture.

In a large company, where it’s tough to spread an inspirational leader or manager around, storytelling is the most powerful implement of culture.  The best, most positive, big brokerage leaders I know are constantly sharing the story of their vision and values. Their marketing teams find a way to communicate that across the enterprise.

In the absence of this, the default state is fear.

Scary.

Big consumer-direct lenders are a giant sleeping right under real estate’s front porch. Really, I should have included “lender agent panels” in my Nodes of Production.

Quicken now has 25,000 agents as part of its In House Realty brokerage company, and you get the sense they have something much bigger coming. Mello Home, LoanDepot’s new play led by former Keller Williams CEO Chris Heller, is likely to be a big deal. I talked with another person leading an agent network for a large lender this week. They are quietly (for now) killing it.

This giant shouldn’t be scary. A more integrated mortgage/real estate experience for the consumer, with standards enforced by companies that understand direct-to-consumer relationships isn’t a bad thing.

More to come on this. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend.

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