Weekly Book Scan
Usually I try to point Book Scan readers to the written word, but occasionally I find a piece of audio worth recommending. Last time I pointed you toward a wonderful novel about a real estate agent, but this time I’m suggesting a podcast. Yesterday, I was listening to This American Life, an NPR radio show produced by my local station, WBEZ. The show produces one hour of radio a week, usually with several segments organized around a central theme. If you have never listened before, the Nov. 22 episode is a great place to start if you’re in real estate. The show, titled “House Rules,” addresses the idea of “destiny by address” through an examination of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
One might argue that real estate professionals know more than the average bear about the Fair Housing Act, since it’s so integral to the housing industry in this country. But here are a few items that you might not know about fair housing in America and the legislation itself.
1. The federal government pretty much invented redlining. Many associate this practice with private lenders, but they weren’t the ones to popularize the now-illegal practice. In the 1930s, the Roosevelt administration began backing loans to encourage home ownership… but only among the “right” groups. The government actually drew red lines on maps around certain neighborhoods and refused to back home loans in those areas. And it wasn’t just predominantly minority neighborhoods either; according to ProPublica reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, the government sought to disincentivize living in integrated neighborhoods as well.
“Your property values were going to go down because the government had decided that integrated neighborhoods were automatically less valuable,” Jones says in the “House Rules” episode. “Between 1934 and 1964, 98 percent of the home loans that were insured by the federal government go to white Americans.” She added that banks and other government programs, such as the GI Bill, simply followed the federal government’s lead.
2. Walter Mondale’s sponsorship of the Fair Housing Act was something of a fluke. According to This American Life producer Nancy Updike, President Lyndon Johnson “flattered” the young senator from Minnesota into taking on the project because everyone else had turned him down. Mondale later told Jones that it was a toxic topic among his colleagues. While they broadly supported moves such as the Voting Rights Act, northern-state lawmakers felt like housing reform made them look like hypocrites, because segregation was still a huge problem in cities far north of the Mason-Dixon.
3. One book that likely never would have made it to print today had a big impact. President Johnson convened the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission, to look at the causes of the race riots that rocked many American cities between 1965 and 1968. The public interest was so great that the commission’s findings were published and sold around 2 million copies, a remarkable feat for a government report. At the same time that some members of Congress were arguing that passing a housing bill would simply encourage rioters, the commission seemed to argue that housing segregation itself was at least partially responsible for the violence.
“Our nation is moving toward two societies: one black and one white, separate and unequal,” the Kerner report read. “Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans.”
There’s a lot more to This American Life’s “House Rules” episode, if you want to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the implementation of the act and the early years of HUD under former Michigan Gov. George Romney.
Also, the National Association of REALTORS® has a wealth of resources on fair housing, from publications to field guides to tool kits and more. In fact, I have one bonus fact you might not know about the Fair Housing Act that I gleaned from realtor.org’s treasure trove of information:
4. The Fair Housing Act had a legislative precursor… signed into law less than one year after Abraham Lincoln’s death. Yes, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibited all racial discrimination in the sale or rental of property. But because it did not contain any federal penalties for violators, more specific legislation was necessary during the civil rights era to actually accomplish many of the goals set out by this initial act.
Find much more at NAR’s online home for the Fair Housing Program. It’s not too early to start gathering ideas and supplies to celebrate Fair Housing Month this coming April!
The past week, I don’t think I passed one evening without spending at least a few minutes working on my Thanksgiving spreadsheet. I’m constantly updating the grocery lists, timetables, cleaning schedules, and more, with the hope that all this advanced planning will allow me to spend the day enjoying life with family and friends.
Because as much as the holidays are all about rushing around, they are also a great time to reflect upon and appreciate what really matters in life. And just in the nick of time, there’s a new book out there to help you do just that. Written by two real estate professionals and one CPA (all three of whom are sisters), the book explores their attempts to refocus on life after the recession.
7F Words for Living a Balanced Life contains plenty of first-hand recollections from each of the sisters about how they take time to make sure each of their days addresses the seven Fs: focus, faith, freedom, family, finance, fitness, and fun. The book is packed with actionable advice on how to bring the 7F Words to life. Below, I’ve chosen one tip per word, to get you started this holiday weekend.
- Focus: Make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound).
- Faith: Jot down five things that you’re thankful for every day. Be sure to save them somewhere (digitally or in a physical journal) so that you can go back to them from time to time.
- Freedom: Give yourself permission to say “no” to commitments that don’t fit your plan.
- Family: Make a list of your “significant seven”; the people who matter most in your life. Ask yourself: Are you giving a fair share of your time and energy to these seven people?
- Finance: Figure out what you’re earning hourly by taking your net annual income and dividing it by 2,000. It will give you a new perspective on spending when you know how many hours of work it takes to make enough to buy those cute shoes.
- Fitness: Block your daily exercise routine out in your planner or calendar, just like any other appointment. That will make it harder to skip.
- Fun: Stop feeling guilty for having fun by figuring out ways to inject fun into being productive.
Do you have your own tricks for maintaining balance in your life? Share them in the comment section below!
Last Monday, The Coca-Cola Company announced that it would be killing off the consumer end of its corporate website and would be slowly working to do the same to its “press release PR.”
In the place of these vehicles for the Coke message, they’re hoping their year-old online magazine Coca-Cola Journey will step in. Here’s what Director of Digital Communications and Social Media Ashley Brown says Coke learned after launching this social-driven twist on public relations:
Stories that are bright, fun, and brilliant are hits. Readers voted for more Coke-focused stories than un-branded content. They gravitated to stories that focused on Coke’s rich heritage, innovation, careers, and our marketing programs. Virtually all of our coverage of Coca-Cola’s business is a winner. Our readers turned out to be newshounds, travel buffs, photographers, cooking enthusiasts, technology early adopters, sports fans, and music lovers. They left us thousands of comments, and shared our stories tens of thousands of times. We are positively stunned that nearly two-thirds of them are under 34, and that millennials are our most engaged readers.
Now, as a person who uses press releases and corporate websites to do a lot of initial research into my writing, it feels like trends such as these are created to make my job more difficult. But from the corporate standpoint, it makes perfect sense. Instead of handing off a press release to a member of the media and hoping they write something [positive] about you, this is complete control over the communication between you and your customers. And it’s not without precedent. In fact, Coke did pretty much the same thing back in October of 1954. They began distributing quarterly mini-magazines called Pause for Living. They contained mostly decorating and flower arranging tips and ideas with a bottle of coke on virtually every page. I actually acquired the whole set a couple of years ago, and they are a blast to look through. (The scans I feature here are actually from a really entertaining piece about the booklets from the blog Retrospace. I highly suggest you check it out for more fun imagery—it gets weirder.)
This bizarre little marketing gem—“targeted to garden clubs, sororities, Junior Leagues, church groups, PTA groups, women’s clubs, beauty salons, and dentist offices,” according to Coke— hung on until 1969. The sweet editor’s note stapled into the last issue of Pause for Living doesn’t come right out and say it, but my guess is that the magazine couldn’t justify its costs in a world of changing priorities and demographics. And that’s the same problem a lot of brands have today. We talk a lot about blogging to improve your SEO online. But who can defend the value proposition of producing costly content that isn’t a direct ad push? It’s certainly not easy.
Well, Coke’s new answer to this age-old question of marketing costs is outsourcing. In the November 11 blog post referenced above, Brown also announced the launch of The Opener, “an exclusive, invite-only contributor network that will bring the best food, culture, and innovation writing to the pages of Coca-Cola Journey.”
Will we be dismissing Coca-Cola Journey as a bizarre salvo to customer loyalty in fifty years? Maybe, maybe not. But we’ll probably still be drinking Coke.
Ever gotten a letter of intent from unrepresented buyer offering to purchase your listing for exactly for 63 percent of your list price, subject to an armload of caveats and stipulations? How about a minimalist purchase contract from an LLC, missing many, if not all, of the forms required by the local, state or federal government?
The letter probably came right out of a book, ripped out by someone who recently attended a seminar on how to “get rich quick” by investing in real estate. This type of scheme was detailed in a recent Washington Post piece by real estate lawyer Harvey S. Jacobs of Jacobs & Associates in Rockville, Md. Jacobs warns readers not to pay the thousands of dollars these presenters charge for their books and CDs:
“…instead of spending thousands of dollars for a course put together by some large national seminar company, you should attend local events. There are local real estate investor associations run by folks who have done and are doing local real estate deals and who are willing to share their expertise and resources. Many libraries have excellent real estate resources available for free.”
I’d add “contact a local REALTOR®” to that list. But what I thought was most interesting about the Washington Post piece was the comment from a RE/MAX listing agent named Charles Sullivan (he’s where I got all those details in my first paragraph about the 63 percent rule). He says he sees it all the time:
“I can always spot someone fresh from a get-rich-quick, get-rich-easy real estate seminar… The guiding philosophy seems to be ‘Send out a thousand slipshod, lowball offers and hope one confused seller calls you on the phone.’ I have never seen a transaction result from one of these ridiculously inept solicitations.”
It got me wondering: Do you see these types of solicitations in your day-to-day work? Have you ever warned your sellers about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Every year at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo, I find new authors and books to explore. But what if you want to get a jump start on the meetings coming up this November?
Well, I don’t know about you, but the flight from Chicago to San Francisco is not a short one. And I never travel without a book. Maybe like me, you need to pick up some reading for the trip. Why not bring something directly related to a conference experience? If you grab something from one of these six authors who will be presenting at the conference, you might also try and get it signed at their session.
- I saw Darryl Davis speak during Midyear this year and really enjoyed it. You can find his book, How To Become a Power Agent in Real Estate (McGraw-Hill, 2002), at the REALTOR® Store.
- If you’re looking for something outside of the sales arena, pick up Immaculée Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (Hay House, 2007). This inspiring true story of how the author hid with seven other women in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s house for 91 days to survive the Rwandan genocide in 1994 will undoubtedly leave you with a fresh perspective on life.
- Luke Williams’ book Disrupt: The Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business (FT Press, 2011) promises “a steady stream of disruptive strategies and unexpected solutions to stay ahead of the game.”
- The former editor-in-chief of Wired, Chris Anderson looks at innovations in American manufacturing in his latest book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution (Crown Business, 2012). You can even get a free PDF of the first section of the book at his site.
- Or maybe you want a whole book for free? Download Value Beyond Cost Savings: How to Underwrite Sustainable Properties (Green Building Finance Consortium, 2010)—part of Scott Muldavin’s attempt to help “quantify and articulate the value of sustainable property investment” beyond simple return-on-investment-type calculations—for free at the Green Building Finance Consortium’s site.
- Finally, Peter Knight details a “simple, 17-step plan” that promises to help you address business problems and opportunities in his book The Highly Effective Marketing Plan (HEMP): A Proven, Practical Planning Process for Companies of all Sizes (FT Press, 2008).
What are you bringing to read on the road to San Fran? Let me know in the comment section below!
There are two kinds of people in this world: cooks and bakers.
I’m a cook. I like to have the ability to toss in a little extra garlic, or cook the bacon extra crispy. If I have kale in my fridge, I like a recipe that will allow me to toss some in before it goes bad. Bakers, on the other hand, have to be precise. If they add too much baking powder, the cupcakes might rise well over the pan, not to mention the bitter taste. If a baker beats the butter just moments too long, their cookies may just collapse into pancakes. Neither of these is perfectionism, mind you. I get just as frustrated when my stirfry is a tad over-salted because I dashed in too much fish sauce as a baker might when their flour scale fails them. Instead, it’s a different conception of how distinct a mix is.
I started thinking about this difference reading Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information, by Ithamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen. The book revolves around the theory that each customer is influenced by three factors: their own feelings, the advice of others, and marketing. The key is finding out what mix of these three factors your industry or product is beholden to.
So let’s concentrate on that middle factor: the advice of others. Simonson and Rosen’s instructions for how to determine your industry’s mix really explains why referrals are so important in real estate in particular, without even mentioning the industry by name. Here are some of the factors they say make consumers more likely to consult others when shopping for a particular product or service:
- The more important the decision, the more likely customers are to consult others. I think it’s fair to say buying a home is pretty darn high on the importance scale.
- How big is the difference between good and bad? If there are really bad real estate agents and really good real estate professionals, consumers are more likely to research so they don’t end up with a really bad one.
- Risk, uncertainty, and complexity: These items are all pretty high for property purchases, which means people are more likely to depend upon advice from others.
- How fast are things changing? Customers want the best product today, not last year’s best. This item may not correlate with real estate as strongly as say, smartphones, but with the ever-changing economy you can bet that they’re going to want someone who has bought a home relatively recently to hand them referrals. So check out your testimonials: Do you have any from your most recent transactions?
Of course, the authors caution that many of these items depend on the type of consumer we’re looking at, and also note that these factors shift over time. But it’s a nice reminder of what we all know to be true: Referrals are particularly important in real estate.
Last week, I interviewed Bruce Poon Tip, founder of travel company G Adventures and author of the new book Looptail: How One Company Changed the World By Reinventing Business (Business Plus, 2013).
Tip’s book is a deeply personal story of his long journey from fired McDonald’s employee to the founder of one of the most innovative travel companies of all time. The book is a New York Times best seller and is being lauded by CEOs and business thinkers across the board. And yet, the glowing forward to the book is written by none other than the Dalai Lama. I’m not sure many books can claim both those distinctions at once.
The interview itself was so interesting and wide-ranging that I thought I would give Book Scan readers a special sneak preview of the full article, which will appear in our Last Word section at REALTOR® Magazine online. So here are two questions from the interview that have a little more to do with the new book, though it’s clear the driving force behind Tip’s success is pretty uniformly inspiring across the board. And stay tuned for the full interview on REALTOR® Mag online very soon.
What advice do you have for real estate professionals who want to tell their company’s story with authenticity?
That’s a big part of leadership, and another part of my book. I’m trying not to shamelessly promote my book [laughs], but as you know, in the book I talk about how the best leaders of our time are always the best storytellers. For me, I’m laughing because I’ve spoken at all these literary festivals, but I’ve never fancied myself a writer by any stretch. But here I am, talking to you about a book I wrote. I’ve always said I’m a good storyteller, but that doesn’t mean you can write a good book.
But as an entrepreneur you have to be able to create a story. If you are creating a movement with your business and you really believe that you can transcend what you do, and you look at business as creating a movement, and people believing what you do and coming on your side to buy your product because you stand for more than just real estate, you have to be able to build the story. You have to be able to convince people to join your movement. And business and sustainability and all the things we talk about in the book are all about looking at your business very differently. We all have at our fingertips very different tools today with which to engage customers.
How is what your company does similar to the business world inhabited by real estate professionals?
Real estate is an interesting business, because it’s like travel in that there are lots of people who run their own businesses. And they think, “How can I create something bigger than just me and a few people in my shop, or me as a lone real estate agent? How do I create that purpose in what I do?”
And that’s the best part about Looptail. There’s nothing more common than the travel tour. What I was able to do was to transcend that. There are literally millions of travel companies around the world that run tours. So the question for me is how are you able to transcend that and what can you do as a small business owner to create that purpose? And everyone can do it because the opportunities have never been greater. These are the kinds of people who can create differentiation in a business model that’s in such a crowded space. I’m just a real believer that the potential is there.