My Big Takeaway from HearItDirect SoCal

Buyer Panel Q&A at HearItDirect SoCal

It’s been a busy week or two. The highlight was the HearItDirect Southern California event held on Monday, October 1 at the UC Irvine campus. There have been some reactions already out there on the Interwebz from (the Presenting Sponsor), Linsey Planeta, and Lori Ballen. I wanted to post my thoughts from the event, but I just couldn’t find the time between life and the NFL. It is football season, after all.

But this was an important event for me. I mean, I learn something new with each event, but this one solidified a few of my thoughts, with one major conclusion. Let’s get into it.

Setting the Tone

The Master of Ceremonies, Jeff Turner, set the tone early with an amazing and inspiring call to action for the brokers in the room. I can’t do his presentation justice in a short blogpost, so let me put it this way. Jeff’s point is that brand is nothing more than the actual values of a company, visible to the outside world, especially to customers. You are what your customers say you are, no matter what you think, no matter the slogans on the wall, no matter the advertising and the spin and the excuses.

The Consistent Theme

In all of the panels, the consumers told us all fascinating things, got into detail, and so on. But there was a consistent theme throughout all of the panels, whether Buyer, Seller, Gen-Y, or Distressed. And it is this:

REALTORS Don’t Do Enough.

I heard time and again that consumers wanted more communication from their agents. They wanted their agents to work harder for them. They wanted more advice, more expertise, more caring, more time, more attention. If you were in attendance, you couldn’t possibly have missed the message.

I know there were some who felt they already knew all that. I read the responses to surveys HearItDirect sent out. I know some of the brokers and agents yawned their way through the panels because they weren’t hearing about the latest magic bullet that would somehow put money in their pockets simply by pushing the “On” button. “I don’t need this crap; I already do a great job, and already communicate, and know my area like the back of my hand.”

I got something for all you Super Agents later on.

For others, I think the biggest wakeup call came during the Gen-Y panel, when two of the panelists straight up said that real estate agents were useless and on their way to irrelevance, like travel agents. A third panelist was furious at the agent she used for all-around frustrating and unprofessional behavior.

They all but said that the real estate agent to them is nothing more than a lockbox. “You guys are a tool for us, just a means to an end.” But given that they had just spent a bunch of time telling all of us that they use all the tools, they have access to all the information (one of them actually subscribed to RealtyTrac and other online data sources, and knew how to check public records himself), they can run analytics themselves… what else do they need a REALTOR for except to open the door to a house?

During the Q&A, and in numerous conversations afterwards, I heard a number of agents rationalize what they had heard.

“That guy was just an arrogant prick.”

“You can’t read too much into what five people say.”

“Those two guys were investors; they’re not representative of Gen-Y.”

“All of those were buyers; they’ll feel differently when they have to sell their homes in a few years.”

And so on, and so forth.

Well, I went outside and ended up speaking at some length with one of the two young investors, and I got news for you. You need to pay attention to those two guys and what they’re saying, even if they’re not “representative”. Here’s why.

Gen-Y and Disdain for Real Estate Agents

First thing to understand is that our young investor is self-aware. He told me several times that he recognizes that he’s not your average Millennial. He admits that his family has money. He admits that he’s got a career unusual for any generation: he’s the Comptroller of a major waste management company, part of the senior management team that makes multimillion dollar decisions every day. He recognizes that he’s on the front edge of Gen-Y (early 30’s).

But you know what else he recognizes? He and others like him — the elite of Gen-Y — are the only ones with the kind of income that would let them think about homeownership at all. He told me about some of his friends, some of the people he went to school with, who are working at Starbucks and either living at home with Mom & Dad, or renting an apartment with roommates. He didn’t think any of them would be looking at buying a home anytime soon, which is why he’s buying investment property: so he can charge them rent to live in his buildings.

When you consider the economic factors facing the Millennials — record student debt, the worst employment environment in 50 years, fiscal situation more or less ensuring that they will have higher tax burdens, possible economic crisis lurking just beyond the horizon, and hitherto unseen social milieu — you have to think even harder about the Elites. The ones that will be employed, have some family wealth, and have the savings and income to consider homeownership.

One of those Elites basically told me that real estate agents are nothing more than a lockbox to him.

You know what else? He was somewhat sheepish when he told me this, but… he doesn’t know me. He’s not looking to make friends. He was brutally honest. What he told me is that he deals with lawyers, accountants, consultants, technology guys, and business people all day long. He basically said flat out that the real estate agents he’s worked with just didn’t seem that intelligent. They just weren’t that smart, he said. This is a young executive who manages hundreds of people; he said that the real estate agents he’d met were lazy.


But then I read through a typical day’s worth of posts on Raise The Bar, and I wonder how anyone could be surprised.

One If By Land…

Consider this post my official Paul Revere’s Ride:

One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm

I and others have been hinting at these problems, talking about these issues, gingerly mentioning some reforms the industry might need, etc. Well, I am ready to ride and spread the alarm for the good REALTORS to be up and to arm.

You Super Agents can feel smug and secure, knowing that you’re not a dumbass and you’re a hardworking professional whose clients love you. That’s fine. But that Gen-Y executive thinks you’re a lazy moron, because he’s been exposed to nothing but lazy morons. The Gen-Y doctor who had to beg and threaten her agent to show her a house, to have the agent refuse “because we qualified for a higher priced house” isn’t going to take a whole lot of time to distinguish between you Super Agents and the others.

The Elites of the next generation, the Millennials you have been counting on to lift the housing industry out of its doldrums, think that you as a whole are nothing more than a lockbox. Laugh it off, if you’d like. Discount them, if you’d like.

But I have a question for those of you who think you’re a great conscientious professional. Answer it honestly: Are there more of you, or more of them?

Self-Preservation, Meet Moral Imperative

We then come to my Big Takeaway from the HearItDirect SOCAL event.

The time for comity, the time for covering up for each other, the time for turning a blind eye… that time is over. The time now is to compete like hell for your sake and for the consumer’s sake as well.

Good agents have a moral imperative to take business away from crap agents.

It isn’t just self-preservation. The continued existence of bad real estate agents providing crappy service and making a bad impression on consumers threatens the future of the industry. As an industry, real estate cannot afford to have smart, informed consumers who have access to information think of REALTORS as stupid and lazy people who don’t communicate.

It’s more than self-preservation. It’s a moral imperative. If you are a good agent, if you give a damn about consumers, if you cared one bit about the horror stories coming from Hear It Direct and other consumer focus groups… you would realize that these buyers and sellers — often dealing with a huge emotional life-changing event — are not well served by the crap agents out there. You must help them instead.

If you’re a great agent, who provides excellent service, you have a moral imperative to take Raymona’s business away from the shyster who worked her over.

If you are one of the Super Agents from HearItDirect SOCAL who was scoffing as the uselessness of hearing what you already knew, feeling great because you do things like buyer consultations, communicate constantly, and so on… I have a charge for you. Get to 100% market share. Tell me that there are zero unprofessional morons running around ruining consumer experiences and tarnishing your reputation as a whole in your market, and I’ll consider your job done. If there are a dozen other agents you respect, who care about the consumer in your market, then the thirteen of you needs to be doing 100% of the transactions in your area.

Don’t relax and be satisfied that you’re #1 in your market with massive referral business. Every single consumer you do not serve is being “served” by crap agents, leaving a crap taste in their mouths. Get to 100% market share, for the sake of self-preservation if not the moral correctness of helping someone through the home sale process.

Self-Preservation, meet Moral Imperative. The future of real estate will be determined by that meeting.

The Silver Lining

Lest you think that HearItDirect SOCAL was just Moses come down from the mountain striking down Israelites… fact is, there were consumers who said wonderful thing about their wonderful REALTORS. Even on the Gen-Y panel, one of the consumers worked with a REALTOR who was professional, helpful, knowledgeable, and said that she had a great experience through a difficult period. Some of the buyers and sellers were downright grateful for the assistance and professionalism of the REALTORS they worked with.

And sitting there in the auditorium, I realized that there are hundreds of professionals in Southern California  who gave a damn. And I know across the country, there are thousands of professionals who take pride in the excellent service they provide to buyers and sellers. They don’t claim to be perfect, but boy, do they try hard. Some of them even read this blog once in a while.

So when a conscientious professional meets a consumer in need of service, the result is happiness, referrals, and positive feelings. There is hope, real hope.

But the time for overlooking crappy agents doing crappy work is done. Do it for consumers. Do it for yourselves. It is time to be up and to arms.

Take business away from bad brokers and agents, and drive them out of business. You have a moral imperative to succeed at their expense.


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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