Ignore the noise and get back to real estate business

Letters from the Home Front

Maybe I’m just in a rut, I thought.

I’ve been feeling a little detached of late. It’s a feeling that rears its ugly little head from time to time, a feeling of "whatever" that tends to immobilize an otherwise perky and productive girl.

The symptoms manifest in many ways. The routine daily work tasks suddenly start to feel like a bad remake of a really old movie. The long-term projects on my plate — projects I couldn’t wait to tackle as soon as I had a block of "down" time — hold little interest now that I am indeed feeling down.

And, staring at a blank page that might feed my blog, or this column, if only I can muster a few hundred mildly interesting words, I find that I don’t have much to say.

Maybe it’s because my best material has left the building, I think.

For six years on my own blog and nearly four years here, I have somehow segued (albeit loosely and, often, poorly) the antics of two teenage girls and a very dumb golden retriever into an archive of real estate musings. Those teenagers have since grown up and set out to write their own stories. Then recently, we had to say goodbye, too, to the dog.

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Maybe it’s just March Madness. Come April, my husband will need to have the TV remote surgically removed from his arm. He can watch 36 hours of nonstop basketball and enjoy every dribble more than the last.

Despite my protestations that he can dispense with the Sweet 16 in a mere 32 minutes — because every basketball game is decided in the last two minutes — he insists that somewhere in between there is a whole lot of action and entertainment. All I know is that the game seems to have changed since I was a formidable sixth grade point guard.

There used to be this infraction called "traveling." Nowadays, I see the players sprinting from their cars to the basket and back to the locker room without ever causing the ball to hit the floor. New rules, I guess. Whatever.

And then I read Gahlord Dewald’s recent column, "Be social: Fight audience fatigue on Facebook," and I realized that my affliction has a name. I have audience fatigue. The audience he wrote about was the consumer — a consumer numbed by the modern-day barrage of pushed media messages in social sheep’s clothing. I count myself among them.

I have written before about how I tend to "watch Twitter." It’s a news feed, it’s a collection of op-ed pieces, and, if you look really closely, sometimes it’s still a little bit social.

Mostly, though, it just media — an overwhelmingly muddled bandwidth of self-promotion and helpful how-tos from businesses and "thought leaders" (who are also, by the way, businesses) determined to capitalize on the social marketing game changer.

As agents, we are both broadcasters and members of the audience. And when we aren’t engaging in (or, in my case, watching) social media, the idea that our survival depends on these platforms is being pushed and reinforced offline — by our brokers, our coaches, by our member associations, and by our digitally engaged peers.

The "new" media offerings, however, are coming fast and furiously now. At some point it becomes too much — especially for someone with a day job.

On a real estate industry Facebook group this week, a respected industry professional introduced an interesting discussion topic. He wrote, "Gang, what I am most intrigued by are the disruptive forces that lead to the destruction of old practices, creating innovative new ideas, products and practices that alter how (we) live, act and interact."

Disruption. Disruption can be an interruption of status quo for the better, but disruption can equally be simply the introduction of chaos and confusion into a formerly orderly situation. In other words, disruption for the sake of change alone is not necessarily positive.

"Instagram will let users import Hipstamatic photos in new partnership," read the tweet.

"Aaeeey!" I thought. Another thing I need to learn, lest I be ushered back to my flint-making ways. "I thought I was supposed to be pinning something (on Pinterest) this week! Right after I ‘skin’ my Posterous!"

And then I caught myself. I remembered my husband’s reaction years ago when I announced that we should have a blog.

"And how is that going to make us money?" he challenged.

That’s just the problem I am seeing. Somewhere along the way, agents bought into the notion that the goal was the technology. Somewhere along the way, being the smartest kid in the class where all things digital are concerned — or being the one with the most friends and followers (maybe even the best Klout score) — became the game itself, when it’s really that last two minutes that counts.

It’s about doing the work, closing the transaction, and having a satisfied client (not to mention, a paycheck) to show for it that counts. The rest is noise — noise that can overwhelm our thoughts, hijack our focus, and redirect our efforts away from the things that really matter.

Like Gahlord, I am not suggesting that we all ignore social media, new technologies or the online world. We can’t. Rather, we need to put it all in proper perspective.

A friend of my husband’s, a real estate agent, asked him to lunch this week to pick his brain. Her business, she said — like the businesses of so many agents in this market — has stalled. She said she needed advice on developing her online presence — a rocking website, a Facebook page, and whatever other "technology" she should be using to generate clients.

"What would you tell her?" he asked me. "If you were just starting out today, with no business and no past-client database, what would you do?"

At the risk of sounding unenlightened and having everyone humming the "Flintstones" theme song in unison, my answer is simple: Ignore the noise.

Ignore all of those innovative, "disruptive" forces. Get a website, sure. But remember what matters. The last two minutes of the game are where the closings take place, and they take place in the ‘hood, in real life.

Your work happens in the present, so start with your feet on the ground, not your head in the "cloud." Pick a manageable block or neighborhood and own it.

Meet people — real people — and do what you do best. Once you have built your reputation on a small scale, where it matters, then you can go tackle all of the online, innovative "must-do’s." By then, the list will have changed anyway, and you just might find that all of those game changers weren’t so essential after all.

It occurred to me recently that if the idea of texting our messages preceded the telephone, we would probably all be making phone calls like nobody’s business. "Hey, can you believe it? You can hear voices on this thing!"

New is not necessarily better. It’s just novel, and there will be something newer tomorrow.

An agent movement toward ignoring the disruption, one fueled by audience fatigue, might just be the most disruptive thing we see as a result of the current meteor storm of innovation.

For a business that requires personal interaction — a people business, a local business — getting back to business and focusing our attention on real people is such a crazy idea that it just might work.

Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.

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