Real estate's year of competence and leadership

The ascent from JFK was bumpy. My back hurt. I had not slept well for days and spent inordinate amounts of time paying attention.

A week at Real Estate Connect. Exhausting but great.

I stared at the small screen on the seat in front of me, coming to the conclusion that cable television is much more interesting without sound. I tried to relate this to real estate without success.

I’m in the middle of re-reading The Grapes of Wrath, hoping to gain some perspective on the times, so I tried that for a while. This required too much concentration. I quit.

I then spent the next several hours shifting around in my seat thinking about what the week meant, trying to figure if some clear call to action had emerged from the chatter.

The vibe of the event was palpably pessimistic. Which I loved. No joke. In the closing session I said I was optimistic about pessimism and I meant it. It’s been over three years since the market started its slide and for too long too many kept on fantastically grasping at the merest hint of a quick recovery, which sustained people and practices that needed to be replaced. That was almost absent last week, and that rocked. The grown-ups at the event handled the truth just fine.

But a takeaway? A replacement for transparency? That was tougher to discern.

But here’s what I’ve got:

2009 will be the year of Competence and Leadership.


Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 presidential election by declaring “This election is not about ideology; it’s about competence.”

See, competence is boring. People like ideas. But I am thinking that for now we have enough good ideas in real estate.

Take online marketing. Most brokers and agents would probably find a session on ideas for leveraging microblogging platforms fun, but circling back to untangle a kludgey IDX solution would produce more results.

In one of the broker sessions I moderated, Nicolai Kolding from Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate [disclosure: BH&GRE is a 1000WATT Consulting client] explained to brokers in the room how to calculate company dollar per desk and offered some good profitability benchmarks. It struck me that many in attendance were not doing this, and probably lacked the operational resources and systems to even try. Twitter all you want, it’s this sort of basic business competence that will separate the winners from the losers in 2009.

This theme appeared in session after session.


In the same broker forum, we were talking about the how to straighten out a brokerage P&L by shrinking physical footprint and cutting the cord on low-impact, high-cost print advertising. The two brokers on the panel, John Vatistas, chairman of Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty and John Reinhardt, CEO of Fillmore Real Estate, explained how they had done both of these things with very little collateral damage.

I pushed them: “Don’t you find it hard to recruit without offering a private office?” “Don’t sellers and agents scream when you pull print advertising?”

As they explained how they got it done, how they made the tough calls, it became clear why they succeeded where many others perpetually struggle: They are leaders capable of articulating a vision. Force of personality coupled with sound business sense powered them through obstacles.

That sounds trite, but I believe it to be the truth. There are a limited number of exceptional leaders in real estate, and the pool got pretty diluted over the past decade. Many retired. A year and a half ago we asked the question “Where is real estate’s Steve Jobs?” We may not have found our Jobs, but I ran across some true leaders last week. You know them when you see them, and seeing them will become a lot easier as this market grinds on: They will be the only ones left standing.

If you have one of these people in your organization, get out of the way. If you don’t, hire one. Time is of the essence.


I was beyond fatigue when we hit the runway at SFO. My mind had been reduced to jelly during the last hour by watching Hardball without sound. Chris Matthews resembled a postmodern Howdy-Doody, all jawbone.

So take my impressions with a grain of salt. But that’s what hit me: Competence and leadership. It’s not sexy. It lacks the newness of “transparency” as a buzzword.

But it’s going to be what it takes in 2009. Bring it on!

Brian Boero