Hard truths and no argument

I found myself in cool mountain air, suited up and ready to speak to a group of real estate leaders about “The state of the industry.”

They had gathered at a lodge tucked between two mountains – a mossy escape from the day-to-day.

I like doing these talks, but I was uncomfortable in my clothes. And I was uncomfortable with what I had prepared for my presentation. I believed in what I had to say. It would even be useful. But it was incomplete.

I was leaving out that which was most important about the present state of the industry.

So just before my presentation began, sitting in the lobby of this lodge, carried away by the smell of wood smoke, I added three slides at the beginning of my presentation:

Intractable truth number 1:

Most real estate professionals are bad at what they do. This is not sustainable.


Intractable truth number 2:


Most real estate brokers and brands are wholly disconnected from the markets they serve. This is not sustainable.


Intractable truth number 3:


It is VERY difficult to foster excellence in this business. But survival dictates that we stop sustaining stupidity.


I know: It would have been better to throw down a bitchin’ Twitter strategy. But these truths – which have always been so but are now morbidly problematic – just had to be reiterated.

The slides stayed in.

I spent ninety minutes exploring the forces with which those in the room would need to contend in 2011. I was constructive. I gave concrete examples. I shared my opinions on how they might account for major technology developments.

But I did not – I could not – tell them how to recruit more new agents, keep more members from falling off the rolls, or keep those with a toe-hold’s grasp on the profession of real estate in the game.

Battlefield surgery


I spoke with a Realtor association executive after my talk. “How do I focus on supporting the true pros in my organization when I need to cater to bad agents to keep my doors open?”

Yeah, that’s tough. Coming from other people, this might have been “How do I grow a real estate brand and not enforce standards? Or “How can I create a great consumer experience when I have to accept that my sales force is 50% butt-heads in order to make money?”

My answer to these questions was….well, don’t.

It hit me, as I looked at this gentleman, that I was recommending suicide. This was not so helpful. It was stupid. But so was failing to address the problem. Like the accumulated toxins of a decade’s cigarettes, the disease within his organization would get him sooner or later.

What might be in order, then, is a sort of battlefield surgery – a bloody, screaming rescue in the open air.

Big and dumb or smaller and smart?

Can the NAR protect the mortgage interest deduction with 300,000 members?

Can an MLS charging 10,000 subscribers $50 per month survive charging 2,000 members $250 per month?

Can a brokerage grown fat on the empty calories of sub-professional agents get in shape without driving itself into the ground?

Maybe. I think it comes down to stomach and money. Do you have the stomach for the bloody mess? Do you have the money to ride out the short-term hits?

Many don’t. They’re drained of spirit and cash after 5 years of pain.

But some do.

I think the NAR does. If there was $20 million to throw at creating a database that already exists, well, then, there may be a few dollars to create a public-facing national database that shines light on the question of just who does business in this business.

Some MLSs do. MRIS, for example, has embarked on a strategy to deliver value to the active professionals in their ranks [Disclosure: MRIS is a 1000WATT Consulting client, though we can in no way take credit for what they are doing]. Bob Hale at HAR went for it last year with his Agent Match application. Who’s next?

Brokers are in bad shape. But there are brokers taking the steps to focus on quality. Some of them are our clients. And let me tell you: It’s absolutely possible to create a real estate company you can envision existing 20 years from now.

We’re on the same page


What’s funny about saying things like I said at the beginning of my presentation is that no one ever disagrees. You might think that stating that half of all the real estate professionals in existence are so bad at what they do that they threaten the livelihood of those that are good would provoke some argument.

It doesn’t. In fact, despite all the whining about the media’s Realtor bashing, the most virulent Realtor-bashers are inside our industry. They are the thousands who can only chuckle, rant or shake their heads at the fact that our industry is so troubled.

It’s sort of an inside joke.

I’m hoping we come up with a better punch line soon.