Here's what you can do

Soon after Katrina devastated New Orleans, Arthur Sterbcow, President of the local Latter and Blum Real Estate brokerage, took out a full-page ad in the local paper (as soon as they were able to get back to the presses). The ad didn’t try to sell anything. It didn’t try to whitewash the devastation or airbrush the issue. With his business all but destroyed by flooding, Arthur simply placed the ad to support the paper. After all, who bothered reading the real estate section at a time like this? His goal: To send a tiny beacon of hope out to people all around New Orleans. And write checks to keep his local paper alive until things turned around.


Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this guy.

Each person in real estate has a chance to be Arthur Sterbcow. You don’t have to write checks. Or take on the charge of carrying your paper or even an entire city. But in your own way, there are little things you can do to quell the unrest in your community.

Here’s what you can do:

? Every newspaper is hurting. They are cutting paid columnists in the real estate section. But they need copy. Write editorials and submit them. This is an old marketing gambit. But this time, explain your market vs. that of the nation as a whole. You know the market inside and out. Show your stuff – and level with folks.

? Video blog. Take thirty minutes out of your day and make a video explaining the day’s events. What the financial crisis means locally. The good, bad, and ugly of it. Talk about your local real estate market. The historical highs and lows. Explain what’s going on. Sterbcow like. No sales pitch.

? Publish market reports — every week. Anyone read The Goldman Report? Avram Goldman, CEO of Pacific Union publishes it every two weeks. I read it religiously even though I live four hours from San Francisco. I am compelled by his truth.

? Do a gut check on your ad campaign. I’ve taken shots at NAR’s “Now is the right time to buy” campaign. Not because it’s wrong in every instance but because it’s shallow. Because it casts too wide a net over the issue. Now could be the right time for some folks. But seriously, imagine how insensitive that campaign may seem to the throngs of people who just lost their homes. How about something like “Now is a great time to better understand your options in real estate.”

? Focus on strength. If your strength is transactional, steer clear of making claims you cannot back up intellectually. The cashier at my pharmacy is transactional. Imagine if he dispensed medical advice. If your strength is sales, if you are new to real estate, and you don’t know if now really is the right time to buy, say so. Own up to being as confused as everyone else. People will respect. Stick to what you do know.

? Blog. As Kris Berg wrote in her latest Inman article, write what you know. If you have economic insight, if you can paint a clear financial picture of the marketplace, focus your blog on it. Be militant and cover the issues. Link to facts. Mine the data lodged deep inside your MLS vault. Hammer that info home.

It’s true – I skate on the edge. I test your patience and often times write things that make people uncomfortable or angry. But I know this: You can’t build muscle unless you break, bend, and create tension.

Latter and Blum bounced back in the years following Katrina. For me, it’s a model I keep proselytizing. If you do the right thing, and do it right, humbly and truthfully, the fruits of that labor will carry through to the good times.