Media, media bo bedia,
Bonana fanna fo fedia,
Fee fi mo media — media!
Come on everybody, let’s play the blame game
The media’s effect on real estate was the conversation that rose most audibly from the panel sessions, lobby meetups, parties and hoopla in Las Vegas during last week’s National Association of Realtors show.
I couldn’t escape it. It popped up in nearly every discussion as an element of accepted wisdom about the past, present and future of our industry.
CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and the like are in devious congress, a cabal that’s intent on destroying the real estate industry as we know it.
I watch the news, read the articles and bear witness to my own real estate investment woes. I too have participated in the blame game. But as I sat at Gate B20 waiting for my flight home I started to think about how ridiculous this proposition truly is.
Maybe it was the shear exhaustion of the conference that lulled me in an open cast of mind. Maybe it was the two agents who sat beside me discussing the dead real estate market to which they were returning — the one the local press had “all but written the obituary for.” Maybe it was the fact that the security gauntlet I just passed through — and the “Orange Alert” status in which we all live — did little to dissuade me and 26,000 other real estate folks from traveling, living, partying, working and embracing life this week.
Sitting there, inside the terminal, about to board a United Airlines jet, I began to think outside my own box.
John Burroughs once wrote that a man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame someone else. By that measure, we are involved in a community failure. By assigning such power to the media we’ve assigned an equal amount of weakness to ourselves.
There is no conspiracy in the media. No cabal. No calculated destruction. I know of no summit that has taken place where editors gathered to declare a jihad on real estate. The victimization we are experiencing is self-induced, a product of our own failure to offer a countervailing force of opportunity.
If the media can be blamed for anything it’s their penchant for sensationalizing. But the only reason real estate is victimized by this is because, unlike other industries that are scrutinized by the press, real estate does little about it. Yes, you will say, “NAR has spent millions on ad campaigns to get buyers off the fence and highlight the opportunities that abound.” Put yourselves in the consumers’ shoes for a minute. Are ads like that really doing it for you?
Fast Food. Tobacco. Domestic auto making. Music. The press covers these industries with the same zeal and greater skepticism than real estate attracts. I read tons of stories about the dangers of trans fat, the backwardness of the major music labels and the evils of foreign oil dependency, yet Americans still pound their Big Macs while driving their gas-guzzlers.
What these other industries have and what real estate doesn’t are well-oiled marketing machines. They have a consistent message that deflects the heart attack in a box with a two-all-beef-patty jingle. Carmakers goose us with an idea of style that makes us figure that, hey, as long as the earth is melting, at least we’ll go out looking sporty. Local governments have mastered the art of beckoning residents to hurricane-prone, flood-worn and tornado-infested communities because they can — for better or worse — reach a place in the mind that triggers desire.
So if the American consumer is spooked by the media, what is real estate going to do about it?
Hey, let’s throw a party!
If you woke up the day after the NAR conference and read this headline, “30,000 Realtors whoop it up in Vegas while millions of Americans face housing ruin,” what would you think?
Or, if the writer spun the story of last week as “a massive gala in Sin City hosted by the National Association of Realtors where tens of thousands of real estate agents, blinking like Christmas trees, congregated in sybaritic suites and carelessly gambled away the profits from the recently ended real estate boom.”
Given the condition of the market, that’s exactly what last week could look like to the media. If such a story is written, we’d have only ourselves to blame for believing that what we say, write, put online, and do as representatives of this business goes unnoticed by the public.
Beating the media at its own game
I have a vivid recollection of post 9/11. The airline industry was decimated. Hotel rooms were collecting dust. Joke writers for Leno were glued to news. The country was handcuffed and afraid to go outside until first-term George Bush stepped up and told a frightened nation to get on with their lives, to fly planes, book hotels and get back to enjoying our American opportunities.
That is what a leader does. A leader gives marching orders that stimulate positive action. This is precisely what is not happening in real estate and why the media coverage of the market is getting so much unwarranted attention.
Honestly, anyone can be a leader. Real estate is so local, that while it would be great if NAR stepped up to the plate with a more convincing message, people would be unlikely to heed it. But they do know who their local Realtors and brokers are, and they are looking to them for reassurance.
Want to beat the media at its own game? Be a leader in your market. There are a few out there. They are holding town hall meetings with their customers, as one broker friend of mine has, where honesty about the market is the order of the day. They are the agents who have decided to turn off their lapel lights and turn on their imaginations. They are the veterans partnering with younger agents to connect more authentically with a new generation of customers.
They are telling a story of opportunity that makes griping about the media seem silly. You can too.