Monthly Archives: February 2009

It Would Be Nice to Have a Central Clearinghouse for RE Bar Camps

[Because Teri Lussier hath commanded me to do this post, and her wish is my command.]

RE Bar Camps are one of the fastest growing events in the real estate industry.  What the hell is a RE Bar Camp?

Well, start here.  The first one was put together by Andy Kaufman, Brad Coy, Mike Price, and Todd Carpenter in July of 2008, prior to Inman San Francisco.

It is, basically, an “un-Conference”.  Any number of people get together with no preset agenda, no preset speakers, no preset topics.  Then, anyone can basically post a panel or a presentation or a discussion topic, and whoever wants to go participate just goes there and does just that.

It’s very fluid, very dynamic, and the format lends itself extremely well to a give-and-take, open-discussion that is so sorely missing in other event types.

I’ve now been to a couple of these RE Bar Camps (hereafter, “REBC”) and they’re really quite fun and educational.  It helps that all the REBC’s so far have been free to attend.

As a result, there are REBC’s popping up all over the country.  Next week, I’m going to Virginia for REBCVA.  I missed going to Seattle, but looking at Phoenix, Los Angeles, maybe Houston, and there are REBC’s coming up in Portland and Denver as well.  I suspect we’ll see more.  (Although I’m still waiting on REBC Virgin Islands and REBC Oahu.)

My employer, Onboard Informatics, has sponsored a few and will sponsor a few more this year as well.  We support the REBC movement itself, and frankly, the sponsorships aren’t very expensive.

They are, however, from an events standpoint a bit of a pain.  Because each REBC is organized by an ad-hoc committee of volunteers, each and every sponsorship is a separate thing we have to work out.

At the same time, it would be a bad thing to deprive each local organizing committee of their passion and their commitment.

So I’m thinking, what would be great is some sort of a single, national (global?) clearinghouse for things like sponsorships.  Such a clearinghouse makes it easier for national players to sponsor REBC’s — I could see someone like BHG willing to step up with a national sponsorship.  So could someone like, say, Trulia.

Such a clearinghouse could also help the local organizers get bulk discounts on things like tags, T-shirts, posters, and other supplies.

I don’t think it should become the organizer, or start putting rules and such into place (except the obvious unavoidable ones, like “don’t run off with the money”).  But it would be helpful for those of us interested in sponsoring REBC’s.

-rsh

A Challenge to the Realestistas

And so the gauntlet has been thrown!

And so the gauntlet has been thrown!

First, go read this series please.  It is a 20-part series by a practicing attorney on “What It Takes to Be a Great Trial Lawyer”.  An explanation of the series and its goals:

As I said in my first post on this subject, a great trial lawyer need not have all of the attributes set forth in this series of posts.  Admittedly, the “great trial lawyer” hurdle has been set  high.  Very high.  Indeed, if complete fulfillment of all of these attributes is required, the great trial lawyer may not exist at all.

These words and  high standards are not meant to discourage lawyers from embarking upon the path to becoming a great trial lawyer.  Every time a lawyer meets one of these super-standards clients will be better served,  professional reputation will be enhanced, and profession satisfaction will increase.    Thus, I believe that virtually every trial lawyer, even those who choose not to make the commitment to be a great trial lawyer, can benefit from the thoughts expressed in this series of posts.

These writings capture and applaud what I have observed  in lawyers whom I truly admire.  It includes observations I made while following my father around courtrooms in Central Wisconsin four decades ago,  insights I gained in  law school during an unforgettable speech by Ramsey Clark and discussions with a number of extremely competent professors, and my experiences during my  almost 27 years at the Bar.    As I mentioned at the beginning of this series of posts, the work of my mentor, John T. Conners, Jr., put me in the position to learn much of what I now know.

Second, I may write a lot of stuffzorz on industry and marketing and so on, but really, there’s no way I can offer anything on what it takes to be a great real estate agent.  But some of you can.

So I challenge you — all of you who are qualified — to put pen to paper (virtual paper even) and write “What It Takes to Be a Great Realtor”.  If you send me links, I’ll link to them.  Hell, I’ll put up a permanent page and put all the links up.  But don’t do it for me — do it for yourself, and for the others who could learn from your collected wisdom.

I would love to see smart, experienced, with-it Realtors really get down and dirty with something like this.  As a former lawyer, reading the Trial Lawyer series really resonated with me — mostly reminding me why I would never have been a good trial lawyer.  The industry needs something like this.

-rsh

Be the Virus, Todd (Three Thoughts on NAR Social Media Manager)

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

- Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charge of the Light Brigade

Todd Carpenter (@tcar on Twitter) has been named as the first ever Social Media Manager for the National Association of Realtors.

After an extensive search, we hired Todd Carpenter, a founder of RE Blogworld and of mariah.com, a network of real estate and mortgage web sites including lenderama, REMBEX, and Denver Modern Homes. Many qualified candidates, both inside and outside of the real estate industry, applied for the position, and I asked a small set of finalists to prepare assignments detailing what they would do during their first 90 days in the role and how they would handle a challenging issue leveraging the power of the RE.net and the blogosphere.

We loved Todd’s ideas, his easygoing manner, his reputation and how knowledgeable he is about social media. We also really valued his relationships with so many REALTORS® who are using blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media channels to connect effectively with one another and with potential clients and customers.

As I have recommended Todd for this job way back when — albeit layered with concerns — I am of course thrilled for Todd, and wish him the best of luck.  I have also been privileged to be invited to converse with NAR leadership about their social media strategy, with an emphasis on what the NAR Social Media Manager’s role ought to be, and have given them further thoughts on that.

Here, I want to expand with three further thoughts.

1.  Yours Not to Do and Die / Yours But to Reason Why

With due apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson, I’d like to stress what this role cannot become: the voice of NAR for “social media”.

Becoming the “voice of NAR for social media” does two disservices: one to NAR, and one to you.

For NAR, it ghettoizes social media as “just another marketing channel” just like print, TV, radio, or email.  What is needed is not another “marketing channel” but a wholesale change in approach to how NAR connects with its members, with the public, and with policymakers.

For you, the disservice is that rather than becoming a change agent able to drive cultural change from within NAR, you become yet another communication channel — of which NAR has plenty.  I likened the proper role of the Social Media Manager to be something like a “cluetrain conductor“.  And I think that remains the case.

Yours is to reason why NAR does or does not speak to its constituents and the public on a particular topic, in a particular way.  And to force the organization itself to ask “Why?” or “Why not?”

2.  It is the Valley of Death

Well, perhaps “Valley of Death” is a bit dramatic — but it fit with the whole poetry theme!  Let’s rather call it the “Valley of Slowly Getting Co-Opted”.

What you know already is that the people at NAR are delightful.  They’re smart, dedicated, professional, and truly cares about the industry, about their members, about consumers.  Contrary to some of the portrayals of NAR in the media and RE.net, I have found that everyone I’ve met at NAR is just wonderful.  There isn’t a person who works at NAR that I’ve met personally who I wouldn’t want to go have a beer with, or talk policy with, or even just talk about our favorite movies with.

This is a danger to you.

Because it is far too easy to become “one of them”.  JeffX’s twitter joke is actually profound:

@JeffX: Hey TNar, i mean @tcar will the NAR allow you to maintain your Ninja rights?

It isn’t simply NAR allowing you to be the person they hired; it is also you staying the person they hired, instead of slowly transforming into “one of them”.  You can’t stop the blipstreams, now that you have this “important position” in the real estate world.  You can’t stop blogging, can’t stop Twittering as @tcar, and can’t suddenly become “respectable”.

Of course, NAR can’t try to stop you — that plainly defeats the purpose of bringing you inside the fold.

3.  Be the Virus

The remedy, then, is to internalize that one of the biggest values you are bringing to NAR is to be the “virus from without”.  Your task is to make NAR more like you: open, authentic, honest, and constantly in touch.

Just as you have been transparent to the RE community over the years, so you must “infect” the rest of NAR to become transparent.  Just as you have always been one of the most authentic human beings on RE.net over the years, so you must infect the rest of NAR, the state associations, the member organizations, and indeed the NAR members themselves to be more authentic, be more human, and be more connected.

Through those efforts, I know you can bring in the fresh voices, the new perspectives from the RE.net and realestistas everywhere to the mainstream of the industry.  And you know that you have friends and allies who support you in those efforts.

So once again, congratulations to both you and to NAR.  You have my best wishes, and my pledge to support your efforts to become the Cluetrain conductor we so desperately need.

-rsh

(PS: I posted this publicly because many of the thoughts here are applicable to any large organization that is starting up social media initiatives, and to anyone working at those organizations.  And because some of these things are worth discussing.)

Lessons from Counterinsurgency, Part 2: Petraeus on Local

Forward Operating Base Gibraltar, Afghanistan

Forward Operating Base Gibraltar, Afghanistan

In part 1 of this series, we discussed Information Operations and the importance of integrity in counterinsurgency strategy.  I took lessons from the U.S. Military, and the author of those doctrines Gen. David Petraeus, and applied them to the real estate industry.  In this installment, I’d like to take a look at another key principle of counterinsurgency and how those lessons apply to Big Real Estate: Importance of Local.

Petraeus On Local

Counterinsurgency is intensely local, and reflects lessons of Fourth Generation Warfare. Digression follows!

First generation warfare is all about formations, line and column, and massed infantry.  It is what Napoleon was a master of, and conquered half of Europe with, until he ran into better-trained British infantrymen.  [Making this digression even more of one, for a really entertaining look into first generation warfare and what that looked like, check out the Richard Sharpe series from the British historical novelist Bernard Cornwell.]

Second generation warfare emphasized massed firepower (aka, “massed artillery” and machine guns ) instead of massed manpower.  The idea was that artillery would bombard the enemy into submission, while the rifleman simply mops up the mess.  World War I was mostly a second-gen affair.

Third generation warfare emphasized speed and maneuverability (“blitzkrieg”) to neutralize the advantage of massed artillery.

All of these approaches concerned themselves with taking on an established, uniformed opposing army.  When the enemy disperses and become guerrilla forces or insurgents, then these strategies are of limited utility.

Fourth generation warfare is precisely this sort of war — insurgents, terrorism, propaganda, information operations, where the line between combatants and civilians is intentionally blurred, etc.

With all that said… here’s Gen. Petraeus:

Securing and serving the people requires that our forces be good neighbors. While it may be less culturally acceptable to live among the people in certain parts of Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, it is necessary to locate Afghan and ISAF forces where they can establish a persistent security presence. You can’t commute to work in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations. Positioning outposts and patrol bases, then, requires careful thought, consultation with local leaders, and the establishment of good local relationships to be effective.

Positioning near those we and our Afghan partners are helping to secure also enables us to understand the neighborhood. A nuanced appreciation of the local situation is essential. (Emphasis added)

Conducting counterinsurgency means getting close to the local situation, having boots on the ground in the local community, providing security to the local area, and truly understanding the local neighborhood.

He may as well have been talking about real estate. Continue reading

Lessons from Counterinsurgency Pt. 1: Petraeus on Integrity

In all sincerity, the best and the brightest our nation has to offer.

In all sincerity, the best and the brightest our nation has to offer.

It may be completely inappropriate to compare the life-and-death work of our military in Afghanistan to the buying and selling of real estate ensconced in our safety… but I could not help but read this with interest:

We also must strive to be first with the truth. We need to beat the insurgents and extremists to the headlines and to pre-empt rumors. We can do that by getting accurate information to the chain of command, to our Afghan partners, and to the press as soon as is possible.Integrity is critical to this fight. Thus, when situations are bad, we should freely acknowledge that fact and avoid temptations to spin. Rather, we should describe the setbacks and failures we suffer and then state what we’ve learned from them and how we’ll adjust to reduce the chances of similar events in the future. (Emphasis added)

General David Petraeus

General David Petraeus

That is from a recent speech that General David Petraeus gave at the Munich Security Conference talking about the very real, very serious problems of fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan.

But if he were speaking at just about any real estate industry conference, I don’t know that those words would be any different.

How often have we heard condemnations of NAR, and specifically of David Lereah, former Chief Economist for NAR?  There are even whole websites set up to rant at Mr. Lereah.

And according to at least one real estate professional, David Lereah and the whole ‘head-in-sand’ approach to the RE market hurt her directly by undermining the credibility of the profession, forcing her to un-educate then re-educate consumers, and establish her own credibility as a realtor.

What’s more, not one big brokerage or big brand in real estate was sounding the alarm back in 2005 or so, while individual realtors were starting to get real skeptical of home values, and blogs like Patrick.net were in full bubble-warning mode in 2005.

What has that done to the brand image of all Realtors?  What has the failure to freely acknowledge that situations are bad, the failure of so-called ‘real estate experts’ to warn about the housing bubble, the failure of so-called ‘mortgage experts’ to warn about the credit bubble, and the failure of so-called ‘ethical professionals with fiduciary duty to clients’ to properly advise buyers during what was obviously a bubble done to the industry?

Post-bubble, has there been any major statement by NAR or by a major brokerage acknowledging the “setbacks and failures” and stating “what they’ve learned from them and how they’ll adjust to reduce the chances of similar events in the future”?  If so, I missed it. Continue reading