No brand's land

My father mentors a teenage boy who lives in East Oakland, a treeless expanse that is one of the most violent, intractable ghettos in America. I sometimes drive this young man home after he’s come along on one of our family outings, venturing into territory where no one owns an iPhone, knows a hedge fund manager, or gives a rat’s ass about widgets.

Usually I notice the obvious things. The houses jacketed in chain-link and iron; the sheer number of places to buy food that rots the body and drinks that cloud the mind; the kids on the street more likely to be headed to prison than college.

But on my last visit I noticed the for sale signs. Lots of them. And not one recognizable brand. Just lots and lots of sole practitioners and small shops serving this community no big broker or franchise will touch. I thought about what a Realtor blog covering this neighborhood would be like and instantly felt stupid. Blogging felt stupid.

It made me think that perhaps there was something more real here. People in the community helping other people in the community. Real estate brands — or, more accurately, people — tied to and benefiting from real social networks. Pros who work a farm not because that have chosen it, but because it has chosen them.

I don’t really know if it’s good or bad that Prudential, RE/MAX or any other brand has avoided this market. But I do think there is something to be learned here. Perhaps, as the market craters and companies contract, there will be a return to the sort of community-based brokerage that once existed everywhere, but which persists today only in those untouchable pockets of America off the industry’s radar.

Would that be such a bad thing?

Brian Boero