When Something is Missing

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An article ran on Sunday in the San Diego Union Tribune which occupied nearly a quarter of one page. It was an apology of sorts, and it was the important kind of piece worthy of a four-column span.

It seems that in the Easter Sunday edition, some 8,000 estimated subscribers received a paper with (get this) the previous week’s comics section! As you might imagine, this didn’t go unnoticed. Angry calls poured in. “Garfield already said that!” Sure, the other “filler” stuff that we have come to enjoy in our daily rag was somewhat contemporary, stuff about some war and a bunch of guys running for president of some country and something about a housing market crisis. I wonder what Garfield thinks about all of that? Sorry, you will have to wait until next week to find out.

Funnies are only funny, I suppose, when they are new and fresh, which brings us to the Big Announcement. It is with a heavy heart that I announce this morning the end of the San Diego Home Blog. It’s time for a change. We are approaching three years here, during which time we managed a to eke out over 660 posts, but we are tired. If we keep going at this rate, if we refuse to evolve and embrace change, we will be no better than the folks who stole Easter. I don’t want to be the one who drives the nice man in Clairemont to the therapist’s couch because he was given the same stats two weeks in a row. One more article on Zillow, and I risk throwing our readers (all six of them) into a state of despair reminiscent of the time they learned The Archies weren’t real people singing in a real band. Or the time Odie ate the cat’s lasagna – same lasgna belonging to the same cat for two consecutive weeks.

I am joining Redfin.

This makes sense because:

  • I am breathing.
  • I have a real estate license.
  • I know how to fill out online forms.
  • I am breathing.

And I am kidding, of course, being that it is April Fools Day and all. But the whole FunnyGate incident left me thinking about the idea of change. In a time when I can more than satisfy my Dilbert needs for the next geologic cycle with a simple, two-second online search, there is by all appearances a rowdy throng of agitated newspaper subscribers wanting, dare I say needing, their Sunday morning dose of cartoon hilarity. These people are fewer in number than those like myself who wouldn’t have noticed if the entire Currents Section was suddenly being written in Sanskrit, but they still exist. And these are the people that our current real estate industry still tends to model their business and their efforts around.

This is the one thing that Redfin got right.

It is also the very thing they got wrong. Niche marketing is great, and building an entire business around a single niche, assuming it is large enough to feed the corporate kitty, is also dandy. But, when we start identifying those niches with our stereotypical goggles on, we may find ourselves limiting our actual client base and alienating a larger number of potential customers.

Although I find the Sunday comics an antiquated and flawed humor delivery system, you will notice that I admitted to having read the article about the boo-boo. Call me crazy, but I still read the paper. I have a blog, I know a little html, and I am turning more geek every day, but I still bypass msn.com in favor of the local paper front page for my headlines. I am a hybrid.

If you are a real estate agent over the age of 30 and under the age of retirement, you are an agent in transition, and it is the hybrid that is going to be the cornerstone of your business for the duration. Redfin’s web site, and many others like it, provide an awesome search experience. The Sunday classifieds are going to continue to appeal to a few, but the vast majority of real estate consumers will be getting their news online. How they search and where they search, however, has very little to do with how they buy and sell and with whom. Hybrids.

I encountered two classic examples of this during the past week. The first was a couple who invited us into their home to discuss market conditions and the timing for listing their home. Both were highly educated, both had done more research on real estate current events and economic indicators in the past month than ninety-nine percent of the working agents I know have done in their lifetimes. They had a pile of spreadsheets more impressive than Mel Gibson’s rap sheet. But, now it was time to bring it home. They are hiring an agent. We were referred, and not by Google, but by a real person living in our community.

My second recent hybrid encounter was a buyer. She is a Ph.D who just relocated to San Diego. We have been out looking at homes before. She brought to this meeting a steaming mound of computer printouts with school boundaries and test scores and listings. And she called the meeting as a courtesy. Given the market and her timing flexibility, she is planning on waiting until the end of the year to buy. In the meantime, however, she wants to continue looking at homes every couple of weekends to keep current on the market and the products and the prices. “Are you okay with that?” she wanted to know, saying that she didn’t want to misrepresent or waste my time. Yes, I am always “okay with that,” because that is what we do. We help people buy and sell homes within their timeframes and on their terms. The whole “buying a home thing” is a pretty big deal, after all.

There may come a day when you can entirely automate and depersonalize this business of ours. There may come a day when the vast majority of real estate consumers will be prepared to kick the agent as we know him to the curb. Yet while we are an industry and even a society in transition, I don’t expect to see this day during my career. Our clients for the foreseeable future will be hybrids; they want their Facebooks online and their Doonesbury in print. They want their real estate information on the Internet but they want their closing at the kitchen table.

When you think about it, that’s pretty funny.

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