Abraham Lincoln found himself in court one early morning arguing a case for the defense. Later that afternoon, he pleaded the same type of case, in front of the same judge, this time for the plaintiff. When the judge asked how he could argue both sides, Lincoln replied, “Well, your honor, this morning I was wrong.”

Last week I found myself taking both sides of an argument. The topic: commissions. At an industry gathering early in the week, I argued that the traditional commission structure was broken. Later in the week at dinner with friends, I argued forcefully for commissions my tablemates found exorbitant.

Voice one

An agent takes 100 shots with her $350 digital camera, shoots video and uploads it to Wellcomemat, produces a Real Estate Show, blogs about the home, adds it to Zillow, creates a vFlyer Web site and syndicates the listing to 20 additional Web sites — all within a couple hours. The listing then appears on the screens of thousands of agents and consumers who view the photos, read the blog post, and map out a drive-by.

When it’s time to make an offer, the agent tees it up on her $1,000 PC and shoots it to another agent who counters the offer using electronic signature software without ever touching a piece of paper. The deal flows through the pipes of a transaction management system and the clients receive two trees’ worth of paperwork on a flash drive when it’s all over.

The agents do a knuckle handshake and head to the spa.

Six percent is insane.

Voice two

Same scenario. Same argument. Knuckle handshake. Same spa. Only this time, good vibes abound. Everyone is stoked, including the clients. Why? For the same things we recognize as superior in other industries. For the same thing we buy into and trade up for without a second thought. From plastic surgeons that nip and tuck in minutes using modern-day tools to cars we shell out six figures for because onboard computers now perform in an instant the very same things our eyes, ears and noses alerted us to in the past.

Automation. Technology. Efficiency. Specialized knowledge. Pinpoint mapping. Quick ping communication. Time saving. Real estate has performed Olympic feats in these areas — the very things we reward in other industries.

Americans love technology. We place high value on expertise. We’ve shown how much we’re willing to pay for the benefits these things offer, as long as those benefits are explained.

It’s amazing the things agents can do today. They snap their fingers and millions of dollars worth of amazing technologies service our every need.

Six percent is not enough.


Sitting behind every agent at the core of this industry are people, innovation, investment and processes that would blow anyone’s mind. The problem is how these things come across to the public. Like Shirley Manson, real estate’s multiple personalities, multiple voices and conflicting expressions muddy up the core. The industry often speaks in tongues, using words, terms and acronyms that mean little or nothing to the average person. It offers way too much of one thing and much too little of others. Consumers are required to wade through the industry’s psychosis and struggle to find where the real value lies.

Example: Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes for a moment. Take a walk around your own Web site. View these elements and ask the consumer in you:

What does “Top Producer” mean?

What does “Featured Listing” mean?

What does MLS mean?

Why are there several home-search links instead of one?

Why does the tab for Get a Free Market Analysis of Your Home lead me to a form?

What do GRI, e-Pro, SRES, RECS, ABR, CBR and CRS mean?

Millions of consumers encounter these things and scratch their heads, or worse they simply pay no attention at all. And bam — the essential value proposition that you could be banking on is lost.

The many faces

Launched in 1997, Grey Goose built a campaign around ingredients, process and experience. French winter wheat from the south of Paris, distilled in a continuous still and alpine spring water that has been filtered through the limestone plateaux of the Massif Central all done at the distillation plant in the Cognac region of France. Its $2 billion sale to Bacardi speaks volumes about the benefits of experiential advertising.

We see it at work everywhere — Apple, BMW, Calphalon, Samuel Adams. These companies invite us in and tour us through the process. Verizon has a guy that walks the face of the earth to make sure we can hear him now.

Real estate has a process. It’s filled with MBAs, Ph.D.s, venture capital, IPO, hundreds of millions of dollars invested in technology, and a horde of Santa’s elves churning out code upon code that make it possible for Joe Q. Public to sit down at his computer, conduct a search and have thousands of homes appear just like that. The public should be in awe each time they view a virtual tour, or get an e-mail update featuring a new listing that meets their criteria, or crunch through a mashup of community and school data on a Google map. And that aura should spill down through the ranks, through every single experience by virtue of every single practitioner.

But the public doesn’t do that. All this great stuff lies buried, hidden behind the many other faces of real estate — its many personalities.

Fix that and we’ll change more than just a perception.

Marc Davison is a founding partner of 1000watt Consulting. He can be reached at marc@1000wattconsulting.com.

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