My real estate wish for 2011

14 years ago, a storm similar to the one that has buried New York prompted me to pack up my family and head west.

I didn’t know it then, but that exit began my entrance into the real estate industry.

A window into real estate

When we arrived in California we settled into a short-term rental before searching for a home. After viewing many that missed the mark, our agent found us something that seemed promising. Upon making an offer he said we needed to arrange a home inspection, a practice I was unfamiliar with.

After explaining what a home inspection was, he offered to send his guy to do it.

I thought otherwise.

My guy spent five hours on the home and presented us with a list of defects that made a Bronx tenement seem like a palace. Nothing had been upgraded since the house was built in the 1940’s. Safety hazard after safety hazard jumped off his report.

We decided to pass.

Our real estate agent fumed when we told him, referring to our inspector as a “deal killer.” And here I thought the guy just saved me from making the worst mistake of my life.

It made me wonder who was really representing me.

I got to know the “deal killer” after he inspected the home I ended up purchasing. Our relationship gave me a peak through the hairline cracks in the foundation of the real estate industry.

This was 1997. You hardly ever heard the word “consumer” in real estate. For brokers, the consumer was the agent. To the agent, the consumer was a lead. A deal. A commission. A rung on their ladder to Top Producer status.

I believed that wasn’t right. Smart. Or cool.

I decided to do something about it

I started a little media company. My first product: a newspaper column about home inspection written by my deal-killing friend. Within a year, I syndicated his column to over 400 newspapers across the U.S.  –  The LA Times. Houston Chronicle. Denver Post. Miami Herald. Washington Post. The list went on.

I joined Inman News a year later to help them build their own successful content syndication business.

By 2001, I was speaking at conferences. Writing articles of my own that I’d email to tolerant colleagues. I used my pen like a wrecking ball, swinging it into the concrete and steel of real estate’s “Fortress of Suckitude.”

I didn’t win any popularity contests that year.

Post 9-11, we needed something to make us feel good. So we did what we are best at – consume. Low rates, insane loan products and listings available online fueled a home buying frenzy.

Brokerages grew in size. Many recruited warm bodies with cold hearts and dead minds to sell the Dream of Homeownership. I read the letters sent to my deal killer inspector/columnist from all over the country. The stories of under-trained or unscrupulous agents were sickening.

As a result of the boom, the industry got worse. Not better. My own personal quest – a resounding failure. Or so I thought.


A revolution is hardly ever the result of one person’s efforts. It requires many contributors with similar desires spreading their influence to the small audiences around them. If the gods are aligned, these influences converge and a movement ensues.

Unbeknownst to me, this is exactly what was taking place within real estate behind the din of hype that characterized the early 2000’s.

People like me were making their voices heard in new ways. Blogs. Comments. Fora. Online communities.

These voices would outlast the hype that threatened to drown them.

A reminder

Over the holiday, I read this Blog post by Michael McClure featuring a list of writers who are – in ways large and small, loud and soft – moving this industry forward.

A week prior, Inman News published their list of the 100 most influential people in real estate.

These people are part of a slow revolution changing the real estate business. They are exposing it to new ideas and increasing its capacity to envision an industry of capable professionals that honor the sanctity of property, family and homeownership more faithfully.

They are sandblasting the concrete, demolishing the steel and rebuilding this industry one new, good brick at a time.

The dawning of a new age in real estate

The close of 2010 is at hand. Think back to December 2000. You can feel the difference.

What I feel is the accumulating effort of thousands who no longer accept the real estate industry as a feedlot within which the professionally doomed chew away their fate.

It’s the little emerging brokerages entering – and thriving – in a down market that are doing it. The national franchise owners making soul-wrenching changes. The independent brands re-discovering things they had lost. The MLS leaders who won’t wait another year for a simple data standard. The real estate agents who are just as dedicated as I am to ridding the industry of the sort of bozo that “represented” me 13 years ago.

To all of you: your words, your efforts and your actions matter. You’ve made the dream of a better industry seem more attainable.

There’s more work to be done.

My wish for 2011 is that we find a way to work together and finish what has been started.

Happy New Year real estate!