Category Archives: Manifesto

Worldwide Media Called me with this Special Offer (or Why we work with who we work with Part 27)

I am usually the rude guy who hangs up on the website phone solicitors. I only hang up, because they’re taught to never take no for an answer, and after I ask them to remove me from their list, they persistently badger me and I have no other choice.

Well today, that changed.

I just got a call from Worldwide Media Group. “You may know us, we help Reel-uh-turs end up on the first page of Google.”

I decided to play along.

He explained how it worked. They had found me because I was an active agent in Monument, Colorado. I stopped him. “No I’m not. I have buyers for up there, but I have no listings. And my office isn’t there.”

“Oh, well, where is your office?”

“You would know if you found me on the internet. Have you Googled my name?”

“Well, can you just tell me where you are?”

“I’m in Colorado Springs. It is south of Monument.”

“Okay, well it’s real simple, we put you in touch with 271 people who every week Google the phrase “Homes for Sale, Colorado Springs, CO”” and you can get the chance to work with them. We have two positions to put you on page one of Google for that search time. That would be very good for your business, right?”

At this point, I was so depressed at how bad this was, that I almost stopped playing. I replied “No, that wouldn’t be very good.”

Stunned, he asked “why not? You mean to say that if you had all those people you could sell houses to, that you would not work with them?”

I asked back, “let me ask you this, these are 271 strangers I have never spoken to, and I am supposed to go and spend 3 to 4 hours with each of them? I have the time to do that how exactly?”

“No one says you have to spend three or four hours with these people, we just get you on Google…”

“Who says I don’t have to spend three or four hours with each one of these? You? Do you know my business model, you who can’t find me in Colorado Springs, but somehow found me spidered in Monument? I have to research their house and their needs. I have to put together data. I have to interview them in person to really understand them, how long they’re going to be in the house. Then we have to get into their financial capabilities, and that’s a whole other story”

“Look, we get you on Google.”

Okay, well, look at it this way. I’m messing with you, because you obviously do not know how a successful real estate model should work, and I am trying to help you do your job better so you can at least talk sense rather than stick to the script. Because you don’t know your market and you’re still making a pitch, and it’s never gonna get anywhere. First off, if you wanted to buy a house in Colorado Springs, would you type into Google, ‘Homes for Sale, Colorado Springs, CO?’ No one does. They type two things: Colorado Springs Real Estate and Colorado Springs realtor. That’s what they type. And millions of people a year type that. 271 people a week is nothing. I also work with people who know me, like me and trust me. Let me ask you this: if you were me, and someone you did not know called you, and they owed $200,000 on a house, and it was worth $160,000, and they wanted to sell it for $220,000, would you work with that person? I should invest my time and my money for that?”

That’s when I heard the dial tone.

Permission Assets: A Tribute to Hugh MacLeod’s Social Objects

Five years ago, Joe Boylan introduced me to the crazy bearded dude who was the keynote speaker at an Inman Connect: Hugh MacLeod. Joe said he and about a half dozen others were all that was left in the room when Hugh finished his address (I’m betting Jay Thompson was one of those in there with Boylan). Most of “Real Estate” didn’t understand Hugh. They didn’t “get his gig“. Joe shared Hugh with me. I’m thankful. I’m pretty sure I get Hugh’s gig.

A lot of people “get” Hugh, and while you might call them geeks, the geeks run the earth. The sooner you “get” Hugh, the sooner you are to likely stop wasting efforts and start building a brand  worth building. What Hugh does is make sense of social media artistically, by taking “the conversation” and ascending to art. Most social media marketers sell a tool box of offerings that are disparate and geeky. If Hugh sells anything, he sells accessibility. In 2 to 10 words, he starts the conversation.

Hugh’s gig is a huge lesson for my industry. Real estate has been quick to embrace social media. There are many explanations for this. Number one, REALTORS like to advertise. I use to manage REALTORS and this was the standard arithmetic for a REALTOR advertisement:

Cost of add equal to or less than one transaction’s likely commission.

How is that for a durable business plan? In fact, I’d go one step further: when doing annual reviews with agents or discussing their business building strategies, I’d say the number one thing I heard most frequently was, “if I sell a single property because of it, it pays for itself.”

For the most part, Social Media is free. There is almost no barrier to entry. And that’s what makes it so hard. Instead of trying to be big on five to ten of the hundred or so channels a consumer might be on, social media instead requires sustainable connection on specific channels out of millions.  The Real Estate Market has been crippled, now going on month 66 of market correction locally. REALTORS are not stupid, they realize that the popular ways of advertising of the past like phone book placement ads and TV commercials are expensive and hard to pay for with their shrunken wages. But mastery takes time, and real estate’s embrace of social media has involved much shouting and the same slick images, and far less relevance and connection. It often lacks what Hugh calls “a Social Object“.

The problem is what to do with Social Media. The nice thing about a static phonebook ad was that it didn’t have to say anything. Use a fancy font, come up with a great moniker, have a good, trustworthy picture and you were set. The problem with social media is that you have to say something relevant. Merit applies. It has to be a point of connection. It has to be worth sharing.

All the links I’ve shared for Hugh route you back to one of his permanent manifesto pages, this one called “SO” short for “Social Objects.” Hugh’s obviously brilliant contention is that human beings do not gather randomly, that socialization happens for a reason: “Human beings do not socialize in a completely random way. There’s a tangible reason for us being together, that ties us together. Again, that reason is called the Social Object. Social Networks form around Social Objects, not the other way around.”

The purpose of this blog is to create lots of relevant social objects. Hannah and I formed Pikes Peak Urban Living because we both believe in the value of social organizing. This isn’t necessarily political; it is thought-leadership. Our job with our clients is not to sell them something, or sell something of theirs. Our job is to create something more durable, a permission asset, with each individual client. We take that permission asset which is founded on trust and relevance and pretty importantly, truth, and we collectively form plans of action in concert with our clients.

Here are some takeaways from Hugh, a quick sample of some of our favorites from http://www.gapingvoid.com. Follow Hugh @gapingvoid.com.

Note 3.14 of Hugh’s Social Object’s Manifesto: The most important word on the internet is not “Search”. The most important word on the internet is “Share”. Sharing is the driver. Sharing is the DNA. We use Social Objects to share ourselves with other people. We’re primates. we like to groom each other. It’s in our nature.

Pretty Brilliant. Thanks for helping us organize our thoughts, Hugh.

Epi Central: Co-Work arrives in Downtown Colorado Springs, and of course, it took Hannah to do it

A quick, but big, kudo to business partner Hannah Parsons.

Hannah Parsons

Hannah was just featured this week in the Colorado Springs Business Journal for her entrepreneurship, and practical action of opening the downtown’s first co-working space. They do offer advanced degrees in entrepreneurship, and that was Hannah’s MBA focus. A participating member of our unique and charming downtown, Hannah is consistently looking for opportunities to take “quaint” and make that “thrive”. Next week, the “downtown offices of Pikes Peak Urban Living” become official, as we join other entrepreneurs at Hannah’s Co-Work Venture, Epi Central in the 400 block of Tejon. To the jealousy of the real estate community, Epi Central is across the street from PPAR.

Part of the real estate future shock is that money is rarely in the brokerage. The money isn’t even in the dirt. The money is in the ideas. The money is in the process. The money is in the relationship. The money is in the tribal leadership. Yep, real estate needs to start acting like something buzz-worthy. I have many times referred back to Seth Godin, from Purple Cow to his address to the National Association of REALTORS in 2007. Seth saw the end of business as REALTORS knew it in a single cursory glance and seeing all the frailties, and all of the unimaginative reinventions it was avoiding. Among Seth’s best pieces of advice was to start a blog. That probably made the majority of the old guard real estate practitioners in attendance roll the eyes, but that’s because they missed the sentence that came after “start a blog”. That sentence was “in order to organize your tribe.” You can’t glaze over that sentence. You can run like hell away from it, but you can’t glaze over it.

In other words, you can blog about real estate. You can regurgitate facts. You can do “market reports”. You can showcase the trim on a house. You can talk about the walkability of a neighborhood. You can check in with Foursquare. You can become the mayor of a coffee shop. It’s all nice. It might be helpful. But what about being a thought-leader? What about building a permission asset?

At the core of it, that’s what Co-Working is all about. That’s why Hannah is so cool. Hannah is about building permission assets. She is about sharing. She’s about strange bedfellows. She’s about attorneys sharing space and white board with social media marketers, putting designers and architects and gardeners in the same room, and giving them lots of fun seats and flex space to spur on their creativity. She’s about being lean, but not mean, practical while still encouraging depth.

Entrepreneurs don’t take instructions very well. They’re too damn inquisitive. They learn by doing and sometimes, that means ignoring the instruction manual. It doesn’t mean throwing out the rules or bypassing ethics, in fact, on the contrary. It just means that business as usual should always be questioned. Co-work is kind of like a thoughtfully inexpensive Montessori for professionals. Coming from me, who has given five years to Giving Tree Montessori (yes, the Indy’s best childcare/preschool two-years running), that’s a compliment.

Hannah: way to go. Thanks for questioning business as usual. Again.

The Redfin Agent Scouting Report

"Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword" indeed...

Sometimes, someone else’s blogpost is so much more salient than anything I can write.

Other times, you have to head off the train. The Redfin Agent Scouting Report is such a train, and some agents will hate/be terrified/jump out of the way of this train.

In a nutshell, the Agent Scouting Report extracts MLS data on agents and maps it. Think about that for a second. Just like Congressman have to disclose who gives campaign donations, just like Fantasty Football uses Moneyball-style Sabermetrics, just like publicly-traded companies have to disclose their financial reporting, a private company (Redfin) extracts MLS information (constructed for and by local dues-paying members) on those practicing it and displays it in a mapped format showing who sold how much and where.

Glenn Kelman said (in)famously in the 60 Minutes piece 4.5 years ago “I work in the most screwed up industry in America”, and most of institutional real estate is going to hate Redfin all the more. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Agent Scouting Report, but some of that has to do with my entrepreneurial-side saying, “Why didn’t I think of that first?”, and the other part is “I really don’t care.” I would have no fear that this information will show my occasional sales in BRI, N/E and TRI (I use the passive “would” because Redfin presently serves the Denver Metro Area, but not Colorado Springs, and I doubt they’ll enter our market anytime soon for economy-of-scale reasons) and I would like the fact that it shows how much I sell in N/W, and it actually really pleases me when it shows which listings I had that didn’t sell (strangely… they were overpriced!). I don’t think this information in the public’s hands would have any negative impact on my business model and can see how it would have a positive impact. But I’m practical like that, and I don’t get bent on polemics behind MLS data being used in ways that don’t support the monster-brokerage business model of 1999.

The major reason why The Agent Scouting Report won’t effect us much (for good or for bad) is that Pikes Peak Urban Living uses a word-of-mouth business model, not a production-centric business model. The Agent Scouting Report is another one of those attempts to distill everything down to a quantifiable, economic datapoint, and funny, I’ve never had a buyer buy a property due to overwhelming, quantifiable, economic datapoints, and thank goodness, I can’t think of a single client that worked with me for overwhelming, quantifiable, datapoint reasons. Hannah likely seconds this. The people who end up talking to Hannah and I end up talking to us because there is something “other” about us that they want access to. It could be that we don’t pretend to be smart about areas where we know nothing (um, Falcon. Park County. Southeast Colorado Springs. Broadmoor Resort Community). It could be that we use a defined system that sellers and buyers both readily understand carries a benefit for them (The Home-Selling Catalyst with pre-sale inspections, professional staging, professional photography, custom sites, social media distribution, use of Postlets and Zillow; Our Home-Buying System which calculates probability of sale, previews properties and leans on the knowledge of The Stat Pack to help facilitate a smart buy of a perfect property). It could be that we are accountable, honest, accessible, and like our employing broker Cherise Selley, tenacious on behalf of our people.

Hannah and I are both having our best ever financial years, with Hannah already at her highest-ever sales volume, and I’m on pace to have my 2nd highest year ever in terms of sales volume and units (better than 2005). Yesterday’s closing put me ahead of last year’s units. I have four more under contract and I’m working ten buyers that want to close in 2011. So the Redfin Agent Scouting Report is fine by us. Here is something else that’s fine by us: the “Why” behind why Glenn Kelman decided this was in Redfin’s best interests (from The Redfin blog, but courtesy of the brilliant lads at 1000WattConsulting):

In some cases, what you’ll see is that an agent at another brokerage is a better fit for that neighborhood, an inevitability that has been a source of great controversy within Redfin. Why would we ever help anyone realize that a Coldwell Banker agent is her best choice?

But once you ask that question, you’ve already framed the debate in terms of short-term consequences rather than long-term principles. It leads you down a path where every market analysis concludes that it’s a good time to buy, and every review of a Redfin agent is five-stars.

The world doesn’t need more brokers like that. It needs a broker who will just tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We’ll win more clients that way than we’ll lose — and we’ll win everyone’s trust.

Authentic Exhaustion

Last night I commented to my wife, Amy, “I wonder if I will get to see June this year.”

Real Estate, like so many other industries, is in the midst of transformation. I often write about how buyers’ desires are changing, how builders need to adapt, how sellers need to consider these changes. Previously, I obsessed over how real estate brokerages could and should adapt to this new climate. I got sick of complaining and joined the vanguard.

But there is a new tyranny that I don’t have answers to. It’s exhaustion. I see a therapist from time to time, and I brought up with her a month ago how I am always in the throes of other individual’s crises. She basically annihilated my theology declaring that I make things about good and bad and not about life and death and pointed out – helpfully – how ill-equipped I am to be sucked into the vortex of other people’s “stuff.”

Why I mention that is because I start emailing around 6 in the morning each day. It’s a bad habit, but I wake up, check my phone, and start replying. I usually make my last check around 9 or 10 at night. This year, the market started to pick up pace the last week of February. I’ve been going solid every day since. The one day that I didn’t do at least a couple hour’s work since that time was Easter. This includes our four-day mini-vacation to Glenwood over Spring Break. This is my tax-season.

But unlike CPA’s hammering out returns, I get to deal in the objective world of material facts and the subjective world of personal motivation. A great deal of business I am transacting right now is the by-product of what I call “the put-off inevitables”… Divorce. New jobs. Commutes that kill. Sour tastes in one’s mouth. There are stated goals:

  • “we need to sell this house by July”
  • “we need four bedrooms up”
  • “Sigh… my mother-in-law is moving in”

There are the unstated realities:

  • “We are crippled by fear”
  • “The emotional cost of this move is killing us”
  • “I am upside down $100K and my boss is making me move to keep my job”

It’s a difficult place to be. I live in a mysterious decade, a 35 year old white male in suburban middle America, in an industry that has been in a five-year downturn. I plod off to work at a time in my life when many young males start “building their empire” and announcing their legacy to the rest of the masses, and as an entrepreneur, the temptation to achieve my own manifest destiny is there every single hour of every day. Yet I am also surrounded by the joys, trials and foibles of fatherhood, of trying to scratch open two hours every other week in my calendar to date my hot wife, of inferences whispered into my past, and some others that were proclaimed to my face at regular volume.

What I’ve learned this year sounds like a litany of “hates” but is really a desire for greater authenticity in the midst of daily turmoil. I have learned that I hate lists. I hate writing down all the little things I have to accomplish each day. I hate the ones that don’t get crossed off. I’ve never had a list 100% complete. I hate obligatory songs and dances. I hate other people’s financial voodoo, the deep sadness of showing short-sales, another agent celebrating a sale of their own property that cost some bank $200,000 or more, and you and I greater regulation and tighter lending restrictions. That was a fun elevator ride. It was like a scene from Borat… “High five!” At the same time, I love revelatory statements. I love it when a client makes a statement about a house that is literally 6000 square feet of chachki in 3300 square feet of house, “oh, she’s feeling the pain of it.” I love it when people think without thinking, and just arrive at decisions. I love it when my middle child, the prophetic 5 year-old Isaiah says to me “Dad… you’re complicated.”

Most June’s come and go in a blink. I promised two months ago to update readers on the streams of Colorado. I still don’t have a 2011 fishing license. It’s on my list of things to do…

Personally Speaking: Why Optimism

Our mothers: “You’re just so optimistic. I guess you have to be.”
Our selling clients: “Will painting and staging and new fixtures help?”
Our buyers: “So you’re optimistic about our chances of this offer going through?”

Life’s choices create an odyssey. Choose to listen to the little voices and allow fear to set in and dominate. Or choose to emotionally re-arrange the landscape, create, reinvent and break rules, and silence those voices.

There’s a reason to our optimism, this prevailing mood that many others at first-blush associate with madness. The reason is this: we can’t help ourselves. It’s what we do. We work from a place of optimism and that optimism becomes manifest in our work. We don’t dip into the tool bag and unearth the Optimisticator 3.1 with Malware-override. We don’t don optimist’s cloaks. We are believers in good futures. That defines optimists.

Without optimism, entrepreneurship is a dead-end. In today’s real estate market, entrepreneurship is required to get successfully from point A to point B. The key word there is: successfully. Anyone can get you there, consequences be damned.

Hannah and I are huge Seth Fan’s, and this is from his seminal opus on work: Linchpin. We are both re-reading it now. Of course it’s not used with permission. Seth would never require permission to explain something as critical and salient as optimism. It provides a convenient description of why we do what we do.

ARTISTS ARE OPTIMISTS
The reason is simple: artists have the chance to make things better.
Other people often make the choice to be victims. They can be the flotsam and jetsam tossed by the waves of circumstance. Until they make the choice to be artists, they sadly float along.
Artists understand that they have the power, through gifts, innovation, and love, to create a new story, one that’s better than the old one.
Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow. And all artists have this optimism, because artists can honestly say that they are working to make things better.
This is why organizations under pressure often crack. All parties can see that their current system isn’t working, but they’re unable to embrace a new one because they’re certain that it won’t turn out perfectly, that it can’t be as good as what they have now. Organizations under pressure are stuck because their pain makes it hard for them to believe in the future.
Optimism is for artists, change agents, linchpins, and winners. Whining and fear, on the other hand, are largely self-fulfilling prophecies in organizations under stress. (Linchpin, p. 98)

Neither Hannah nor I would characterize our business or personal lives as fitting a real estate-theme. Before real estate, it fits into an entrepreneur’s-theme first, but beyond that, the prevailing theme is optimism. It is art. It is kids. It is gardens. It is new development. It is making do with less to go further. We believe that we are what we program, that what we create is more important than what we produce. We can only work with a finite percentage of the marketplace for this reason; and for that percentage, that’s just fine.

Two pages before this riff, Seth let slip some grand heresy: “the easier it is to quantify, the less it’s worth.” The mantra of the last three decades of business, from E-Myth to MaxAvenue has been “if you can’t measure it, it’s worthless”. This is changing profoundly. Lizard Brain thinking that embraces being a cog in a machine embraces expandability and finite life cycles. The most devastatingly accurate point Seth makes in Linchpin is that all a modern resume does is show what’s missing. The employer has their keyword search filter on high not to look for what’s there, but the absence of what’s there.

Optimism doesn’t translate to resumes.

Optimism does translate to change, improvement, future-tense and you get the picture.

I (Ben) can’t measure why my Thomas and Thomas 3-weight rod is my most delightful rod in the quiver. It’s 14 years old and unless smashed or destroyed has an infinite life ahead of it. I can’t say the same for my 7 or 8 weight rods. Hannah can’t measure the satisfaction she gets from unearthing mounds of soil (it certainly has nothing to do with the ridiculous amount of zucchini in her freezer). Are either of these worthless? In fact, the reverse is true.

The easy route is to go the route of quantifiable. The hard route is the one of enduring quality.

A Unicorn in the Balloon Factory: Presenting Pikes Peak Urban Living

Seth Godin has this image he uses when he speaks of a unicorn in a balloon factory.

The balloon factory isn’t really a bad place to work if you rationalize a bit. It’s steady work, with a bit of a rush around New Year’s. The rest of the time it’s quiet and peaceful and not so scary.
Except when the unicorns show up.
At first, the balloon factory folks shush the unicorn and warn him away. That often works. But sometimes, the unicorn ignores them and wanders into the factory anyway. That’s when everyone runs for cover. It’s amazingly easy for a unicorn to completely disrupt a balloon factory. That’s because the factory is organized around a single idea, the idea of soft, quiet stability. The unicorn changes all that.
The balloon factory is all about the status quo. And unicorns (leaders) change the status quo.

Welcome to changing the status quo.

Hannah Parsons and Benjamin Day have created a marketing partnership to take care of their people. Yes, there is a possessive in that last statement… their people.

Combined, the two of us have been in the profession for 17 years. In that time, we have completed 450 some real estate transactions. The greatest challenge that exists to the real estate professional in this day and age is sustaining the energy required to navigate the story that unfolds before, during and after a real estate transaction.

It takes guts to be in your client’s kitchen hearing of their familial loss.

It takes guts to find alternate lenders on deals that have died the day before closing.

It takes guts to persevere through a “professional colleague’s” negotiation tactics that amount to references like, “little lady” or “this is not my first rodeo”.

It takes guts to help clients out when life has thrown them a brutal curveball.

It takes guts to have real skin in the real game.

The Balloon Factory doesn’t want the factory workers to have skin in the game. That’s the entrance of a unicorn.

Pikes Peak Urban Living is about helping clients with sustainable financial decisions. It is about placing relationship ahead of profit. It is about durable strategies embodied in life-giving actions.

“Life-giving actions? Are you REALTORS?”, hoots the balloon factory.

What is precious in this frenetic world is also highly disruptive. Two suggestions to disrupt the frenetic: time and space.

The consumer-centric principals of Pikes Peak Urban Living are that consumers deserve quality, but they also deserve the opportunity to let something breathe. They need to be informed objectively, but they also need to allow their right brain to come in and play with the decision. We are guides in the process, facilitating better, more productive outcomes. We catalyze positive action in our community, from our church, to Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, to The Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, to our preschools and elementary schools.

We are parents.

We live here.

We are building a road, via real estate, for people to live better lives and enjoy a better story.

Road-building isn’t always sexy work. But sometimes, it helps the unicorns find the balloon factory.

Benjamin Day and Hannah Parsons have formed Pikes Peak Urban Living at The Selley Group. Today is day two of boutique brokerage empowering consumers with both measurable data and human empathy.

Thanks for joining us on this journey!!