Forget transparency: Let's find a new clarion call in 2009


That’s my mortgage broker, letting is all hang out.

My Realtor? When my wife and I sold, I knew exactly what she netted. I knew her split. I asked.

The closing costs on my recent refi were of course conveniently broken down for easy scrutiny. “Document preparation fee” sounds like bullshit, can we get rid of that? Done.

Many called for “transparency” in the real estate business over the past few years. It became an easy Web 2.0 buzzword. I put a lot of stock in it too: If we just make the information available and uncloak the sales games, the real estate experience will improve. Zillow raised $87 million dollars on this idea.

I was wrong. Very little changed. Buyers and sellers, though armed with comps, Zestimates, school reports and trend charts, still ended up paying an under qualified agent too much money far too often. Brokers got less profitable. Good agents suffered armies of fools. And the public’s view of real estate is more jaundiced than ever.

In reality, consumers could always see the compromised links in the real estate value chain quite clearly. They certainly knew the score on commissions. The light of day can shine with the power of a thousand suns into the dark corners and clauses of the real estate transaction. The real problems, which are structural, remain.

Yes, some people did get burned. But that wasn’t for lack of transparency in most cases. It was a double helix of profit motive and magical thinking that is, in retrospect, nearly impossible to untangle.

So as I head off to Inman’s Real Estate Connect conference today, I am looking for a new clarion call for all of us who want the real estate business to be better.

See, real estate matters. We’re not selling ringtones here, folks. We’re talking about shelter. Lives. Families.

We can do better. But can has seldom been enough. Perhaps now, in a time of must, it will happen.

Coming down

Well I woke up Sunday morning, With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt. And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, So I had one more for dessert. Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes, And found my cleanest dirty shirt. An’ I shaved my face and combed my hair, An’ stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

I’d smoked my brain the night before, On cigarettes and songs I’d been pickin’. But I lit my first and watched a small kid, Cussin’ at a can that he was kicking. Then I crossed the empty street, ‘n caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken. And it took me back to somethin’, That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way.

That’s Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down. Real estate’s coming down pretty hard too. And many are finding they’ve lost something along the way: Perspective. Business sense. Integrity.

I’m hoping we can get it back this year. But to do so we’ve got to move beyond believing that if we open things up a little it will all be okay.

With what, then, do we lead the charge to a better industry?

Honestly, I’m not sure. People smarter than me have suggested possibilities in the past few months, but it’s not clear to me yet.

I am hoping I’ll come back from Connect with some answers.

But please: Let’s drop transparency. It didn’t do the trick.

Stay tuned.

Brian Boero