Inflection Point: Changes Coming to Notorious ROB

I began writing Notorious ROB on January 16, 2008, with Hello World:

I like blogging, from time to time. Since I am now working at a company that doesn’t have enormous legal departments and such wanting to look over my shoulders about what I do in my personal time, on my personal blog, I can get into things that interest me — and likely only me.

Most of those topics are going to be in marketing, the web, and real estate. However it happened, I ended up in the anachronistic real estate industry as a technology/marketing guy. So be it.

God only knows I’ve got opinions coming out the ear.

In the 14 years since that day, I have written over 1,500 posts, many of them as long as novellas, and most of them on the residential real estate industry in the U.S. and Canada.

I’ve had a great time writing them, learned a great deal researching them, and learned what I think about a topic (and how that thinking evolves) from reading what I’ve written. And I have been incredibly blessed with your attention over the years. I have even managed to kind of live up to the name of the blog, by gaining a bit of notoriety within the real estate industry.

I like to think that I’ve helped you along this journey as well, as we tackled some difficult topics, some heavy-duty analysis, in-depth, no-bullshit, no-agenda thinking about ideas and issues in the industry. I know I’ve had some impact on things like MLS policy, evaluation of different companies in our space. And best of all, I’ve made some true friends in and out of real estate as a result of this blog.

With all that being said, it is time for a change.

Let me explain.

Why I Write

When I began Notorious ROB, it was intended purely as an outlet for a frustrated writer. I wrote about whatever happened to interest me, and since I was working in real estate and part of the nascent, I wrote about real estate. Because I had a marketing and technology background, I wrote a lot about marketing, social media, and blogging.

This blog got me in some hot water with my then-employer as well, from time to time, but it also opened up a whole new world of friends, colleagues, and challengers.

I kept at it, partly because I needed an outlet for writing, but in major part because I truly love many of the people in this crazy industry.

I’ve told this story from time to time, but I think it’s worth retelling.

Alan, The Broker

I began my career in real estate at a boutique commercial real estate firm buying airplane hangars, but it really didn’t get going until I joined Coldwell Banker Commercial at Realogy (called Cendant back then). I thought it was a cool job, and as a startup guy, I rather enjoyed the steady paycheck and health plans and such. As the Senior Director of Interactive Marketing & Technology, I helped build out the tech platform of CBC, but more importantly, I got to participate in the pitch meetings with potential franchisees.

What I quickly came to realize was that real estate was filled with some of the best, most genuine, salt of the earth people I had ever met. Being from an Ivy League school, having worked on Wall Street, in BigLaw, Dotcom 1.0 in the late 90s, and a brief stint in Hollywood… most of my exposure to people were other super-smart, super-driven, super-ambitious, and frankly, super-dysfunctional human beings. (I count myself in that number.) Seriously, there has to be something off with you to pull 100 hour work weeks and wear it as a badge of honor.

In real estate, I found men and women who were sharp businesspeople, who were smart and savvy, but there was and still is an essential humanity to the business that most of the people hold on to. This is the only industry where I’ve gotten handwritten thank you notes from clients who paid me to do work for them. And even when things didn’t work out, or there was disagreement, so many of the human interactions in real estate were fundamentally decent.

That crystallized for me one day after we signed the largest independent commercial real estate brokerage in San Diego as a franchisee. The team had been working on this for months, years even if you count the relationship-building that the Franchise Sales team had done prior to active discussions. We had pitched the owner about our brand, our tech platform, our marketing, our education/training, financial benefits, etc. etc. … and the owner finally said Yes.

At the closing celebration, I distinctly remember the owner, Alan, looking me in the eye while shaking my hand and telling me, “I have put 40 years of my blood, sweat and tears into this business. Don’t fuck it up.”

If I remember Alan’s story correctly, he was a Vietnam veteran from the Midwest who landed in San Diego after the end of the war with a duffel bag on his shoulder and a couple of hundred dollars in his pocket, and decided to stay. He had a young wife and a baby on the way, loved the weather and people of Southern California in the 60s, and thought beaches and sun beat prairies and snowstorms.

Without a college degree, with no particularly marketable skill, this young Marine went to work for a local real estate brokerage doing whatever odd jobs they had, got his license, and started working 16 hour days for weeks, months, years. He told us stories of driving five hours in each direction to look at a warehouse complex for a potential client, of sleeping in his car to try to see a property owner at the crack of dawn, of the hustle it took to grow his business personally as an agent, and then as a small two-man brokerage company.

By the time we at Coldwell Banker Commercial got interested in trying to sign him, he had built the largest independent commercial real estate brokerage in San Diego, and had become a millionaire with a perpetual tan, bright white smile, and a Mercedes. But it took decades of work, of successes and setbacks, of multiple near-bankruptcies, of sleepless nights, of stress and anxiety, of recessions and boom times and tragedies and victories. It was such a human and such an American story, and with that effort, he built a company up from nothing.

That was the company he was entrusting to us, to our brand, to our systems and platforms. It wasn’t just a company; it was a man’s life.

I felt such a weight of responsibility then. This was beyond just business, beyond just money. What we did, what I did as a part of the team, impacted the life’s work of a truly good, truly decent man.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to have worked with other entrepreneurs like Alan. They all have very similar stories. I have not once met a real estate broker whose story went, “I had this idea, raised $3 million in venture capital, hired Stanford grads, and then we went public.”

The reason why I stayed in this industry all these years is because it is an industry filled with Alans. Many are named Sue. They might not be Wall Street wizards, or coding geniuses from Silicon Valley, and might not be sophisticated corporate chieftains, but they are genuinely good people who have worked their asses off to achieve what they have.

The REALTOR Movement

Because I love the Alans and the Sues of the world, I couldn’t stand what was going wrong with the industry as a whole.
One of my earliest posts on Notorious, dated January of 2008, ends with this:

Forget consumer-generated content — that’s the current rage. How about having agents that aren’t idiots? That has some actual lasting value, and is the single biggest competitive advantage that real estate companies have as compared to the dotcoms trying to muscle in.

Still relevant today.

And along my journey, since one of my early clients was MRIS (now BrightMLS), I learned about the wild and woolly world of organized real estate, of MLSs and REALTOR Associations.

From the very beginning, I saw the promise of the REALTOR Movement, captured in the Preamble to the Code of Ethics:

Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization. REALTORS® should recognize that the interests of the nation and its citizens require the highest and best use of the land and the widest distribution of land ownership. They require the creation of adequate housing, the building of functioning cities, the development of productive industries and farms, and the preservation of a healthful environment.

Such interests impose obligations beyond those of ordinary commerce. They impose grave social responsibility and a patriotic duty to which REALTORS® should dedicate themselves, and for which they should be diligent in preparing themselves. REALTORS®, therefore, are zealous to maintain and improve the standards of their calling and share with their fellow REALTORS® a common responsibility for its integrity and honor.

In recognition and appreciation of their obligations to clients, customers, the public, and each other, REALTORS® continuously strive to become and remain informed on issues affecting real estate and, as knowledgeable professionals, they willingly share the fruit of their experience and study with others. They identify and take steps, through enforcement of this Code of Ethics and by assisting appropriate regulatory bodies, to eliminate practices which may damage the public or which might discredit or bring dishonor to the real estate profession. REALTORS® having direct personal knowledge of conduct that may violate the Code of Ethics involving misappropriation of client or customer funds or property, willful discrimination, or fraud resulting in substantial economic harm, bring such matters to the attention of the appropriate Board or Association of REALTORS®.

Realizing that cooperation with other real estate professionals promotes the best interests of those who utilize their services, REALTORS® urge exclusive representation of clients; do not attempt to gain any unfair advantage over their competitors; and they refrain from making unsolicited comments about other practitioners. In instances where their opinion is sought, or where REALTORS® believe that comment is necessary, their opinion is offered in an objective, professional manner, uninfluenced by any personal motivation or potential advantage or gain.

The term REALTOR® has come to connote competency, fairness, and high integrity resulting from adherence to a lofty ideal of moral conduct in business relations. No inducement of profit and no instruction from clients ever can justify departure from this ideal.

In the interpretation of this obligation, REALTORS® can take no safer guide than that which has been handed down through the centuries, embodied in the Golden Rule, “Whatsoever ye would that others should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

Accepting this standard as their own, REALTORS® pledge to observe its spirit in all of their activities whether conducted personally, through associates or others, or via technological means, and to conduct their business in accordance with the tenets set forth below.

I have always been an idealist; I am one still, despite years of reality trying to teach me otherwise. And these beautiful words, these beautiful ideas, this aspirational reaching towards impossible perfection … they affected me then, and they affect me still.

And just like I couldn’t stand the problems of the industry that were creating problems for the Alans and the Sues of the world, I couldn’t stand (and still can’t) when reality falls short of the ideals. Just because we might never reach the ideal doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try; and over the years, I have seen far too many people and organizations who have simply stopped trying.

Criticism and Analysis

That is why so many of my posts are critiques, and have been from the start. Of course, I try my best to be honest in my analysis, try my best to research a topic or an issue. But ultimately, so much of my public work (client work is very different, let me assure you) is critical in nature.

Because I love this industry, love the men and women in it, and love the REALTOR Movement… I want reform. I want things to be better for consumers, for great professionals like Alan and Sue, and for society as a whole. And that means criticizing the current system, current organizations, and current initiatives that fall short. It means not holding back when people and companies do stupid things that actually harm Alan and Sue and consumers and society.

A mentor who is also a consultant in real estate told me years ago that my problem was that I was asking too much from the people who ran our big companies and massive organizations. I might be right, but they simply didn’t have the ability to undertake that kind of transformational, sweeping reform.

He’s probably right. I know he’s right. My own experience over the years tells me he’s right.

But I can’t be other than who I am. I would rather make less money, have less “success” and truly help a client whether big or small make real change that helps them step up or helps them prepare for disruption.

Which is why….

It’s Time for a Change

Usually, I go through my self-evaluation and business planning around this time of the year. I look at the year that has been, look at the year ahead, think about major trends I’m seeing, and decide what I want to work on in the upcoming year.

As I started that process this year, something felt different. Maybe it’s because of some of the in-depth projects I got into this year. Maybe it’s because of the obvious changes and trends that anyone who is paying attention can see. Maybe it’s just something in the air. Maybe it’s because I turned 50.

But things are different at the tail end of 2021 in some profound ways.

Some of my critics think I’m a Chicken Little spinning conspiracy theories about the end of the world. Maybe. It cannot be doubted that real estate is awfully resistant to change. Look at my quote from 2008 about idiot agents – that hasn’t changed. Look through some of my older posts from 2010 or 2015 and the issues I raise in them. Those remain evergreen.

And yet, in the aftermath of a global pandemic and the response to it, I can almost feel a confluence of major trends coming together to create real disruption that none of us are ready for.

Let me list just a few of these major trends:

  • The government’s war on commissions
  • A storm of lawsuits
  • Devaluation of the currency
  • The resulting shift in buyer demand
  • Political instability and division
  • Massive battles between titans shaping up inside the industry (think Zillow vs. CoStar vs. Opendoor)
  • Rise of crypto, blockchain, and web3
  • Rise of DeFi (decentralized finance)
  • The coming Metaverse
  • Exponential acceleration of technology
  • Demographic decline in the West

These things are coming together in the next few years, and the real estate industry is smack dab in the middle of all of these trends.

How could it not be? Real estate is the largest asset class in the world at near $100 trillion globally. Just in the U.S., residential real estate is north of $30 trillion in value, and all of it is built on top of economic and financial systems that are teetering on the edge.

Maybe I’m wrong, and if you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I’m happy to be wrong… but I think the next 3-5 years will be an inflection point in the economic history of the country, of the world. And real estate will be right in the middle of it all.

Not one of us, not one company, not one institution, not one organization in real estate today is ready for such an inflection.

In an environment like this, I’m not sure what value there is in criticizing or analyzing the latest IDX policy. Talking more about commission compression seems a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic when the iceberg in front of us might be the end of the global financial system.

And the whole thing is made worse by the fact that real estate historically resists change. People, companies and organizations talk the talk about innovation, but do everything in their power not to walk the walk. We resist innovation and do everything possible to maintain the status quo.

Which means that change, when it comes, will be forced on us.

More I think about where we are, more I think about my particular skillset, more I think about how I could add some value, more I am convinced that it is time for a change for Notorious ROB.

Less Criticism, More Futurism

I think my critiques of the industry are pretty well known by now. I think my enemies and my friends know what I believe needs to happen with brokerage, with agents, with MLS, and with the REALTOR Association. I think readers know the general themes and principles I use to break down industry issues, and recommend changes.

I have never set out to be a thorn in somebody’s side, nor to be, as many have said, a shit-stirrer. It just so happens that speaking the truth tends to stir the shit in our industry, because so much of it is wedded to some narrative or another – kind of like politics. And since I write for myself, for Alan, for Sue, and for those who want to see things better, I tend to piss off those who are wedded to the narrative.

I used to care about fighting those narratives, and the people pushing unhelpful narratives. Now, I don’t.

Because what is coming our way renders the narrative and my fight against it irrelevant.

Let me give you just one example. In my recent post about needing to get NAR out of the MLS business, I touched on the new data rules that NAR passed. Then I mentioned that I am having trouble remaining interested. I kind of wondered why.

There was a time when I would have dug deep into such important MLS data policy issues. Why was I unable to motivate myself this time around?

The answer is that when what is headed our way is likely to make the entire edifice of the MLS go poof, what some trade organization with no real power over real estate data thinks is irrelevant. The FTC certainly doesn’t care what NAR thinks, but more importantly, technology doesn’t care what NAR thinks.

What that means for me is that neither the FTC nor technology cares what I think about what NAR thinks. My critique is meaningless, since it’s all going to have to transform and pretty fundamentally so. All that the critique does then is piss off the defenders of the status quo for no reason, since the status quo can’t be defended by them, by me, or anyone else.

I have no interest in that.

My interest now as it has always been is to be of some value, some service to the Alans and Sues of the world, to the MLS executives and leadership trying to do the right thing, to the brokers and agents who try to live up to the REALTOR ideals, and to consumers. I am not a REALTOR, but I believe in the REALTOR Movement’s call to civic responsibility and patriotic duty, because real estate and housing are so important to our economy and our society.

Today, that value must be in trying to lay out what the future brings and what possible courses of action are open to those who want to come out on the other side of the transition better than they went into it. In my presentations, I talk a lot about anti-fragility as not merely withstanding disruption, but being made better by it.

That has to be the focus going forward, until we’re on the other side of this inflection point.

Out of necessity, that means I’ll be engaging in more futurism than I have in the past. It also means that I will not put any kind of emphasis on criticism of the industry, industry organizations, of brokerages, of business models, etc. I think I have already said most of what needs to be said. I might put together a list of posts as a resource of sorts for anybody interested in industry reform, but frankly, I’m sort of done with reform efforts.

New Voices

I also plan to actively expand the content mix to give some kind of a platform for those who remain interested in discussing industry issues publicly. I hope to find voices that are relevant to brokers, agents, and industry participants who can provide actionable insights and no-bullshit takes on what’s going on in the industry.

Of course, I reserve the right to pipe up now and again on industry issues. It’s just not my focus going forward.

Analysis Continues in VIP

I still remain invested in analysis of the industry. The quarterly earnings calls, the news announcements, the wave of regulations headed our way, the legal opinions, all of those still matter. So I’ll keep doing those, but roped-off in Notorious VIP.

I just don’t see the applicability of industry analysis to the everyday brokers and agents who are busy trying to make a living and serving their clients. Those who are in leadership positions, who are investment analysts, they can get my take in VIP.

I’m on to new things in the public sphere.

Wrapping Up

If you’ve read to the end, boy, I sure do appreciate you. Since all of this was entirely navel gazing.

So let me summarize:

  • More futurism about big major trends, from blockchain and web3 to major regulatory moves
  • Less industry critique, reform efforts, and public discussion of industry topics from me
  • Analysis moved entirely to VIP
  • New voices that will continue to add value to the everyday broker and agent

You might have noticed that there is a new category on the site: Blockchain and Web3. That is a sign of things to come.

Thanks for riding with me these last 14 years. Here’s to the future, as we navigate the inflection point together.


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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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7 thoughts on “Inflection Point: Changes Coming to Notorious ROB”

  1. ROB,

    Read to the end? I didn’t exhale until the end.

    Looking forward to your insight and thoughts on the future of things 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your hard work!


  2. Always appreciate you Rob. Even the things I don’t see the same way, or maybe don’t play out exactly the way you put them out there, still cause me to think and step out of my own head. I look forward to the futurism posts. We won’t move forward by sticking fingers in the dike, better to let the water of progress flow freely and not try to dam it up. Welcome to 50!

  3. Rob, I so appreciate what you have given to the industry and how you always give me perspective. Don’t give up the good fight but I agree, we can only say it so much. I think everyone is sort of holding their breath and waiting for the next shoe to drop. Those of whose care about the industry have to lead by example and move forward in the right direction to strengthen and not just go along to get along.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective and I will keep reading.


  4. Rob…you are spot on when it comes to industry issues. I have loved your righteous voice across the Technowaves and your advice has been wise. You have indeed said it all. Moving in this futuristic direction is probably good for your health:) and enlightening info for your readers to look forward to. Happy blogging, Rob!

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