Friday Flash: What a racket

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

—Joan Didion

The real estate industry is a cartel.

A cartel.

Like that image you have in your head of berobed sheiks convening in the desert to manipulate how much money you’ll spend on gas this month.

It’s that bad. 


6% of a home’s value to put a sign in the lawn? Criminal. 

These realtors. What a racket. 

It should be easier than this. Like Amazon. Or the guy who drops your dinner off on your porch.


You’re being screwed. We’re all being screwed. 

Thank god we’re here. 

We’re going after these people. For you. So you don’t get robbed. So you can stop buying these realtors Teslas and tennis bracelets. 

We’re with you. You’re with us, right? 

Of course you are. 

Sometimes I think I overplay the importance of a good story because I do this for a living. I’m wary of the “if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” effect. 

But then I see something like the narrative swirling around the DOJ/NAR/class action lawsuit/REX conflict and I am renewed in my belief that a good story, and proper framing, is everything

Those coming after the real estate industry seem to understand this. Those defending the industry don’t. 

REX, a low-fee brokerage that uses artificial intelligence to connect buyers and sellers outside the MLS, is setting the tone here. They’re telling a great story. To regulators, to the press, in court, to anyone who will listen. 

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial from REX’s general counsel a couple weeks back titled “Warning to the real-estate cartel.” It’s not as unhinged as the dramatization I wrote above, but it didn’t need to be. The professionalized story they’re telling triggers the same associations and emotions. That’s what good stories do. They activate things that may already sit within us. 

Meanwhile, the NAR, now thrown back into a defensive crouch, responds with arid, self-congratulatory, or flatly counterproductive arguments about “free market principles,”  “commissions always being negotiable,” and brokers and agents having “endured some of the most significant COVID-induced financial hardships this year.”

Forget about what you or I think and know about these points. Do you think, maybe, that they might cause other peoples’ eyes to glaze over or, worse, strike them as gaslighting bullshit?

Surely there’s a better counter-story.

There’s an obvious villain to work with here: “big tech,” the venture-backed, AI-powered overlords trying to shatter one of the last bastions of people-powered social mobility in America: the neighborhood real estate agent. The zeitgeist is electric in this territory right now.

The hero is compelling. We can relate to her. Many of us are her. But she needs to be more fully drawn.

And there is conflict galore to be exploited. Remember when Sarah Palin lit things up with her language about “Real America”? There’s plenty of opportunity to tap into that energy (in a far less cynical way). 

But it’s not happening. 

Those trying to shatter the way things are are telling a much better story than those who wish to save it. 

My main purpose, in any event, is not to bash NAR. It is to remind myself, and you too, that this art and science matters.

We have only 8 memberships remaining for 1000WATT Inside. They have been snatched up far faster than we expected. Member companies are loving the live workshops, original consumer research, weekly newsletter and more. 

If you want to get in, now’s the time. 

Have a great weekend.