OpinionAgent

How flashy upstart Bamboo Realty bamboozled the real estate industry

The pop-up brokerage spun an irresistible, spineless story

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When I read about the mess at Bamboo Realty, a real estate pop-up that crashed and burned, I thought of the Milli Vanilli lip syncing debacle 27 years ago.

The dance-pop duo Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus never sang on their own hit debut record, a musical scam that sank their careers.

Like Milli Vanilli, Bamboo founders Sarah and Brian Jones appear to have bamboozled an entire industry — this time, real estate. (Including Inman News, who rained the company with awards, positive news stories and stage time over the last several years).

Fab Morvan (left) and Rob Pilatus (right) pose with National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (Grammy) president Mike Greene at the 1990 Grammy Awards – rehearsal – February, 1990. Photo by Alan Light / Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In many ways, their alleged actions are far worse than Milli Vanilli’s deception.

Aggrieved Bamboo workers filed a lawsuit last year in Houston, and last week 12 former agents in Colorado and Texas sued the now-shuttered millennial-focused brokerage, charging that its free-spending owners withheld $140,000 in commissions.

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Agent Andrea Lightfoot of Houston and 11 other former Bamboo agents claim the Jones duo repeatedly failed to pay them on time or, frequently, not at all, according to court papers.

Bamboo was a master at social media, feel good activism and spinning a story that was seemingly irresistible. As it turned out, it all looks to have been a charade.

The Bamboo pop-up went pop on August 18 of this year, closing its doors, laying off its employees and putting its agents on the street.

That week, I had dinner with Marsha Rand, the founder of New York-based Better Homes & Gardens Rand. She made me think of another musical band, the Gipsy Kings, a group of flamenco and salsa musicians from the south of France. They perform in second-rate US venues without any Lady Gaga or Beyonce fanfare but they consistently deliver a great show.

They treat you to inspiring instrumentals, passionate and romantic lyrics and are early Beatlesque innocence in their authenticity. This is a family enterprise with a loyal and diverse fanbase that has been around for decades.

The Gipsy Kings remind me of the many unique family-owned real estate brokers. These operations are not pop-up brokers with clever branding and fancy new business models that over promise innovation but can’t figure out the bottom line. Many are real estate lip-syncers who never make it, whereas the Gipsy King brokers last through good times and bad.

Take 70-year old Rand, who keeps playing on and on and on.

With 1,000 agents today, she began as an agent with a small Century 21 office almost 40 years ago. She then bought into that franchise, and in 1983 she separated out the ownership so that she could own the company.

Today, she owns the business with her four sons. They stand for integrity and stability in their community with employees who have been at the company for as many as 39 years.

Their top agent, Margo Bohlin has been with the company since 1987, and another half-dozen top agents have been peddling real estate there for 25 years. Thirty-one agents have worked there for 20 years, and 250 agents have been there for 10 years or more.

The company’s first office was a small 1,500-square-foot space on Main Street in New City, New York. The small detached garage in back was the “Rental Office.”

When they began Bamboo, the founders were smug about companies like the Rand family enterprise, suggesting that traditional real estate firms were dead.

Rand is not dead. Bamboo is, good riddance.

Lots of lessons here, for me too, as a cheerleader for new companies and innovations.

New acts often get all the press. But you know what they say about the classics: they never go out of style.

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