Friday Flash: The Firewall

File this under “Be careful what you wish for”:

The CFPB took a big hit this week in a federal appeals court battle with PHH mortgage.

The Bureau went after PHH a couple years ago for alleged kickbacks and hit them with a $109 million fine. PHH fought back. CFPB lost the fight yesterday and got its very existence questioned on constitutional grounds in the court ruling.

A boomerang, right between the eyes.

Real estate celebrated. This is understandable. The CFPB, brandishing a slew of new regulations, has turned real estate and mortgage transactions into something like an absurdist play acted in slow-motion.

But I wonder if the celebration is prudent.

I often say that government regulation is the only reason real estate is unlikely to be meaningfully disrupted at some point in the future.

Think about it. No true technology barriers to real estate e-commerce stand in the way. And there are, no doubt, plenty of ways to reduce the fees associated with buying or selling a home, or getting a mortgage. We all know real estate is an asset uniquely variable and laden with emotional attachments, but is this exceptionalism to forever be a bulwark against change?

The dead-eyed regulator could be your firewall if a future of AI Realtors and mortgage bots keeps you up at night.

That’s a perverse bit of thinking, I know. But I think there’s some truth there.

This is interesting: Tinder, the dating app, released a feature called “smart photos” that automatically presents the photo in your profile that gets the most engagement. This is interesting on a couple levels. People seem to put a lot of effort into presenting their best, most appealing selves in the digital world, or at least what they perceive that to be. Now, data can tell us if our self-image is valid. Weird.

But of course, I’m thinking about real estate here. We’re not too far off from apps that will grab the couple dozen photos an agent might take of a property on their (increasingly amazing) smart phone camera, make them look beautiful automagically, and optimize their presentation for maximum interest.

In other words, I’m thinking tech might finally rescue us from bad-listing-photo hell.


Speaking of apps, I have a 12-year-old daughter addicted to something called So are all her friends (and many more – the company just raised $100 million). is kind of like Instagram, but rather than photos, the content is videos of users synched to music or funny bits of dialog. It’s hard to describe, but really cool.

My daughter walked me through it, which was pretty mind blowing. As with Snapchat, the user experience appears complex and unconventional to middle-aged eyes. But the tween cohort finds it frictionless. It makes you wonder how long before the now nearly uniform design conventions of real estate mobile apps begin looking as old-timey as rotary phones to this next wave of homebuyers. Lots of food for thought here.

But the most amazing thing about this app is that, like Instagram, the magic lies in making users feel creative and good about themselves. It’s touching to see awkward kids earnestly singing some Arianna Grande song, or dancing freely in a way they’d never dare to in public.

Find a 12 year-old and have them show you what I’m talking about. It’s worth it.

In a client meeting yesterday we were talking about a big partnership announcement when someone said, “we’ll issue the press release during NAR.”

This bit of conventional wisdom isn’t that wise in my experience. Most of the people you want to reach are preoccupied during the show – either holed up in meetings, enjoying expense account dinners or otherwise partaking in the distractions inherent in a congregation of 25,000 real estate people.

Plus, you’re competing with every other company with something to say.

But this NAR is even worse. It’s scheduled just as this Very Special Election Season reaches its gruesome climax on November 8.  You really think your announcement about partnering with the XYZ Association of Realtors is going to get interest amid that mess?

Wait a week.

Enjoy the weekend.