It was the first day of a new decade, yet it began like all others, save the fact that I felt like someone had beat me repeatedly with a tire iron while I wasn’t looking.
Our house had been commandeered the previous night by a throng of reveling teenagers, leaving my husband and me to ring in the new year sequestered in our room — one we had redecorated for the occasion with a couple of kitchen chairs positioned opposite the miniature television, circa 1996, in what stagers call a "conversation grouping."
Of course, possessing a finely honed attention to detail and being long on preparation, we also remembered to bring in a TV tray to hold the little hot dogs wrapped in doughy stuff. We Bergs sure know how to party!
In all honesty, I didn’t exactly witness the dawning of the new decade; rather, I was left to rely on hearsay. I fell asleep somewhere during Daughtry’s 16th set, long before Dick Clark made his Rockin’ New Year’s Eve cameo.
As for my headache, I blame the little hot dogs. And as I sat before my laptop the day after, pretending to do important work but really just trying to keep my head from hitting the keyboard, it was just any other morning.
It was a national holiday and all, but "Party Girl" had a full weekend ahead. I had an impending listing appointment, and there was the client who wanted to write an offer.
Moreover, the stager with whom I had spent New Year’s Eve morning had put me in charge of Operation Throw Pillows. My mission was to secure three burgundy and two goldenrod, or maybe it was the other way around. On that morning, I was starting to doubt myself.
Deciding to scrap the whole important work angle, I opted for a more passive activity: reading. I hit my feeds, I checked out a few sites belonging to other local agents, and I lurked on a dozen or more real estate blogs. I went looking for the news. And what I found was nothing new at all; it was just any other day — a sea of sameness.
Everyone was rewording and republishing the same tired report, trend and sound bite from the mainstream media’s front page. Many appeared to be doing this under duress, like a homework assignment, because someone told them they must.
Mostly, though, they seemed to be doing this by rote because they were told they must — to generate eyeballs and business. What few were really doing, however, was making a real effort to put thought into the message.
If we are all saying the same thing in the same way, are we really speaking to anyone at all?
As I was left to ponder this particular differentiation conundrum, bored to tears with the report-by-repeat trend popularized with the advent of the blogging platform, my husband and I continued our morning ritual. …CONTINUED
Like every other day since Ben Bernanke was first learning long division, my husband sat to my left reading his "newspaper" thingy. And like every other day, I was getting the familiar play-by-play.
"Here’s a good article on the housing market … Boy, it was quite a decade … How ’bout those Chargers?" he shouted in rapid succession in my good ear (the one not currently in contact with the "shift" key). And then it started.
"Oh my God," he shrieked. "Wild boar! In San Diego!"
"Cool," I mumbled into the "caps lock," now taking another short break.
"You’ve got to read this," he continued, relentless in his quest to deliver the news.
I was able to temporarily deflect the whole feral hog issue by feigning death. And when I returned from the Throw Pillow Store later in the afternoon empty-handed (they were closed — something about a national holiday), I found him in the kitchen talking to Daughter No. 1, waving the same "news" paper wildly above his head.
"You’ve got to read this article. Wild boar! In San Diego!" he was chirping.
"Why the sudden fascination with large pigs?" I wondered, suddenly concerned that he had been hitting the pigs-in-a-blanket again.
True, boars are not native to North America, but I once saw one on Catalina Island, proving that California hog sightings are not unprecedented. And I’ll take a boar over that big spider in my bathtub any day of the year.
This preoccupation with pigs continued throughout the day. We heard about them during the commercials, at half-time and once during my own injury time-out. Thankfully, it turns out that my husband was not fascinated by the article’s content but by the article itself. He couldn’t believe it ran.
Resistance is futile, so I read, and one paragraph into the expose, my mascara had migrated to parts south. It was hysterically funny. And that’s the problem. It wasn’t supposed to be.
One quarter of a page — in the Sports section, no less — had been devoted to an interview with a woman who had nailed a couple of these wild hogs while "driving back (home) with a load of furniture."
Finding it odd that this piece was filed under "Sports" (running over wild boar is only sport if you do it twice), I read on. "The first one went under the truck when I hit it," she told the newspaper. "When I hit the second one, the truck went up on two wheels for a few seconds… They were big and scary and mad." …CONTINUED
I’d be scary and mad too if someone just ran over me with a pickup full of box springs, but that’s beside the point. I couldn’t believe the waste of ink, but then I suppose it’s hard to fill that column space every day. There are only so many box scores.
She went on. "I got a good look at them … after I got out of the truck to get my furniture off the road. One was black, and the other was lighter — more pinkish-gray. They both had about 6-inch tusks."
"Did she just ID the boar?" I thought. Fortunately, the reporter pulled it together in a tidy little who-what-when-where package for me. "She and her passenger were not hurt. The only damage to the truck was that it will need to be realigned," he wrote.
I chalked it up to all that stuff I have been hearing about the mainstream media needing to reinvent themselves. They are feeling the hangover of our all-access online party of the past decade. Everyone is a cub reporter now, and the shelf life of a scoop is seconds, not days. So they went for the local angle.
They failed. While this piece was admittedly entertaining, it blasted yet another gaping hole through the credibility of my local paper, one already looking like a battered target at the shooting range. It was laughable when it was meant to be serious; it was irrelevant to any sane reader; it was poorly written; and it was out of context.
The only thing they got right was that it was unique. I am certain I won’t be finding this content anywhere else.
What does this have to do with real estate? Quite a lot, actually. Blogs are as commonplace as business cards now. So consumed are we with the notion that we must do "it," we aren’t taking pause to consider what "it" really is — or should be. Consequently, I see a lot of people wasting their time.
Real estate blogging is not for sport. It is intended as a commercial undertaking. But we aren’t trying to monetize the news itself; we can’t. We get it for free, and we pay it forward.
What we are really trying to monetize is ourselves; we are selling a body of work. How do you do that when your product looks like all of the other brands on the shelf?
News media companies are struggling every day with this dilemma of how to monetize their own reporting efforts, whether it is through subscribers, advertisers or both. The answer is easy — be unique. People will pay when they perceive value, something that no one else can deliver. The execution, of course, is far more challenging in a world where everyone is delivering the headlines.
And so it is for agents, but our challenge is far less insurmountable. We just need to think smaller. We can’t scoop Reuters, and drive-by readers won’t pay the pizza guy. Our news has to be different. We need to think in terms of building an asset.
Every day, our marketing efforts online and on the ground are about making a distinction. Where blogging is concerned, unless your uncle is Rupert Murdoch or you have your very own Associated Press account and know how to use it, you will not be breaking any news, so you are left to parrot the news.
In doing so, the key is to bring your own perspective — a unique angle the reader might not find anywhere else. This can be by providing depth, by offering local context, or simply by being more entertaining. Otherwise, you’re just like everyone, which makes for a bad business plan. …CONTINUED
Once a month, I see hundreds of blogs spewing the latest Case-Shiller numbers. You can set your watch by it. But as agents, that’s not our news. Our scoop is in the narrative. Ditch the "who-what-when-where" and think long-form (and by long, I don’t mean 10,000 words like this, but long on context).
Last time I checked, neither Case nor Shiller had taken many listings in your ZIP code, let alone previewed most of the homes for sale. I suspect you have.
Your customers have already heard Diana Olick report on CNBC 27 times on the homebuyer tax credit, but Ms. Olick didn’t show five homes yesterday in your neighborhood. Her clients’ children weren’t spilling Goldfish crackers in your backseat on Tuesday as you discussed the local schools and parks; yours were.
But, promoting your new listing is local, right? Wrong. That new listing has already been seen on 100 third-party sites by the time the customer finds your blog. It’s like the client I have who remains glued to his PDA throughout each of our showings — he favors a site I’ll call "BlueGill."
I know I can’t compete with BlueGill online, but I can kick hiney in the ‘hood. This client gets his news from them and his local flavor from me. And he engaged me from my blog.
It pains me to see the enormous effort being expended by well-intentioned agents, many of them writing on broker-sponsored or third-party sites, seemingly with no plan; agents who are going about "it" like they are going to build long-term brand loyalty by channeling USA Today. USA Today is having a hard enough time doing that. Think smaller.
And, by the way, you don’t have to have a blog. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. If you do choose this medium, however, approach it with purpose. It also helps to be able to write sort of well.
Blogging is not dead, and neither is professional news reporting, but simply having a blog is no longer news, and simply filling column space will not win over readers. The field is crowded, and the nature of "it" is changing.
Like traditional media companies are being forced to reinvent, so must we if we are going to continue to have any success in this space.
Anyone with a mouse and a search bar can re-report the news, and there are literally millions of blogs that give testament to this. Like stem cells in a Petri dish, we are all the same until we differentiate.
Providing thoughtful commentary, context, and — yes — local flavor will allow us to do athat; boring the socks off of our readers by offering them the same old box scores will not.
Give my local newspaper and their boar article credit. The execution lacked, but at least they are trying. It was different, and it was definitely entertaining.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.