As the children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” goes, there once was a vain emperor who cared very much about his appearance. Along came two con men who convinced the emperor that they could create for him the finest clothes in the land, which would be invisible to anyone “hopelessly stupid.” The emperor’s advisers were skeptical, but they played along to avoid appearing to be stupid. In fact, the emperor himself was skeptical, but the con men convinced him that they knew best — and, of course, he was not anxious to appear stupid, either!

The suit was completed and the emperor was “dressed.” All of the townspeople went about complimenting his fine clothes, as they certainly didn’t want to look like fools. Finally, an innocent child proclaimed what everyone else already knew: the emperor was, in fact, naked.

What does this story have to do with real estate? Well, the honest truth is that many of us go about our real estate business in the same way as the emperor, making classic mistakes only to find that we are without any clothes.

Shiny objects and magic pills

When was the last time you bought into a tool or service because someone told you it would make you look good or bring you wealth? Like the emperor, we are often conned into thinking that something that sounds too good to be true is true nonetheless. There are no magic pills in real estate, yet so many in this industry are still spending a lot of time looking for them.

And it’s not just tools or technology that can catch us up. Sticking with a business practice that doesn’t work is just as bad. Times are changing, and old strategies aren’t necessarily as effective as they once were. Are you following practices that were only designed to make you look good?

The customer is only right if I say so

The Internet is a marvelous thing, and if you search hard enough, you will always find someone who agrees with you. The trouble is that while the analytics rarely lie, it is far too easy to ignore them. We don’t seem to care what our customer is demanding. We are determined to plaster our ’80s glamour shots on billboards, avoid adapting to new ways of marketing and insist on forced registration on our woefully inadequate websites. After all, there is someone somewhere who supports that decision, right?

What is your consumer demanding? Are you listening? I hate to side with the con men in the story, but they certainly knew their customer.

Selective hearing

Like the emperor, we tend to listen only to those who are telling us what we want to hear. We discount those who have different ideas because they make us uncomfortable or because they mean we will have to change. We surround ourselves with people who think similarly, instead of seeking out those who will challenge us. This might be human nature, but it’s disastrous for our industry. The disruptors are criticized rather than applauded. When was the last time you sought the advice of someone who has a totally different approach than you do?


Let’s face it, being original is difficult. Listening to customers, formulating your unique value proposition and creating a content strategy … it’s all hard work. And many (some might say most) of the people in our industry aren’t willing to put in the work. And so they start to do what everyone else is doing. Just as the emperor’s advisers and subjects played along, we start to take on the mannerisms and habits of our competitors.

Instead of speaking up when we disagree, we follow the stream. Instead of focusing on what makes us unique, we endlessly compare ourselves to what everyone else is doing.

Success in real estate, as in life, depends singularly on the amount of work we are willing to put in. Jonathan Ives, in an interview about what he had learned working with Steve Jobs, said, “Hold the work that you do up above how you want to be perceived by others.” It is more about doing good than it is about looking good!

An interesting question to ask ourselves might be: What are we not doing in our business because we are afraid to look stupid?

Ultimately, we can learn a lot from the unfortunate, vain emperor. When faced with offers and opportunities in this business, do we make decisions based on how we’ll look, or on the needs of our customers? Are we thinking more about our bottom line than we are about service? Are we more concerned about appearances or about doing good work? And are we willing to stand up for something, even when others might disagree? Making the right choices might not always be easy, but you have a better chance of ending up both better off and fully clothed!

Valerie Garcia is a corporate trainer and international speaker specializing in real estate.

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