My first professional job out of college – let’s not count the time I sold gourmet coffee beans at the Boston equivalent of Dean & Deluca – was on Wall Street. I was trying to figure out the working world (something I’m still attempting some 20 years later) so I would always classify the people I worked with. In this case, I was working with stock analysts, so they’d each become specialists on a specific industry, like computer software or clothing stores. And most of them absolutely loved to see their names in the newspaper – what reporters would call “press whores.”
But I worked for one guy who absolutely didn’t dig it. Forbes would call: “no comment;” The New York Times would call: “no comment”; the big granddaddy of them all, the Wall Street Journal would call: “I’m sorry, I can’t comment.”
I asked him why he was so reticent when all his co-workers were falling all over themselves to get their names in the Journal. “We have restrictions on trading the stocks we cover,” he said. “And when we talk to the press, those restrictions get tighter. And in this job, the information flow and being able to trade off of it is worth more than they pay me.”
Well, maybe that’s the greatest side benefit of becoming a real estate agent – learning how to get better quality information. Hubby and I threw around the idea of selling a property we have, and buying a condo in Newark, N.J. How on earth do you figure out what condos there are in Newark? I went to Google and typed in “Newark NJ Condos” – and what I got was just all over the map. The first thing that comes up is an electronic yellow pages, and there are a bunch of agents that have searchable listings that don’t make any sense. The winner is actually Foxtons, a brokerage I don’t usually think of as having a great Web site, but in this case they have a bunch of cleanly organized listings with pictures.
But even their site doesn’t truly tell me what I want to know, which is “where are all the possible condo buildings in Newark?” For that I have to dive into GSMLS – as an agent. It still takes a while to figure out that “condo” is an “ownership type,” but after three hours of beating up the computer I learn what I was looking for in the first place. There are four locations where you can buy condos in Newark: 1) Society Hill (where they’re townhouses, not high-rises); 2) the Ironbound (where buildings get sold off plans, New York-style); 3) Forest Hill (where you can get both townhouse- and apartment-style units) and 4) Downtown (where there’s one big building and entrepreneurs chopping up brownstones).
Now why couldn’t I have found that on the Web? There are a lot of possible reasons, one of which is that Newark doesn’t have enough condo buildings for anyone to specialize in them. Or that a Realtor wants to lure me into his or her office before imparting that much information. Or perhaps it causes a legal or ethical tangle for a sales agent to sort and hierarchize info.
But it does raise the point that if you, dear broker or sales agent, try acting like a consumer for even a couple of hours, you’ll realize why they hate us. We have unleashed a torrent of information at them, without bothering to provide the piping that turns it into hot and cold running data.
Is it worth doing the organizing? I don’t know. Stick info out there on the Web and it’s copyable and it’s free, so how you keep other agents from using it, I don’t know. Or how you keep consumers from running off with it and not paying your commission, I don’t know. Or whether it’s worth it, in the interests of truth and justice, to organize all inventory, whether or not it’s yours, I don’t know that either. But I do know that when you go to a grocery store and you want to buy fruit, you don’t have to pick the apples out from the oranges. Maybe it’s not crazy to expect that to be done for you.
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