Weekly Book Scan
I’ve never really been comfortable that oft-quoted stat that humans are more afraid of public speaking than death, or abnormally large spiders even. Giving a speech doesn’t often kill a person, President William Henry Harrison being a noted exception. At the very least it’s a much less common cause of an untimely end than certain spiders or, indeed, death itself.
Of course, now that I have a speech to write and recite to a large audience of my peers this summer, I’m beginning to understand the sentiment a bit more clearly. I’m incredibly excited, but it’s also nerve wracking. Still, I’m comforted by my knowledge of the tricks you all have likely heard many a time: know your audience, rehearse, shorten your sentences, breathe (and keep breathing and make eye contact and don’t stop breathing…).
It was that kind of advice I was expecting to read in Michael Parker’s It’s Not What You Say: How to Sell Your Message When It Matters Most (Perigee, December 2015). And that type of stuff is definitely in there. But there were a few thoughtful messages and tips I hadn’t heard before that seemed worthy of sharing with you guys—who, as real estate pros, have to make mini speeches and pitches every day.
- Don’t jump into writing too quickly. If you don’t give yourself enough free-thinking time to fully consider the questions your speech should answer, you might come up with an obvious response that won’t wow the audience. They ultimately want to learn something new. So spend some time investigating the less-predictable solutions to the main struggle you’re addressing. As I thought about this point more deeply, it occurred to me that even if what you dream up isn’t the direction you decide to go in, your audience will likely see that you thought carefully about the subject. Also, these alternative theories might emerge in the Q&A period, if not in the speech itself.
- Outlining the points you’re going to make later won’t ruin the surprise. I’ve always had trouble with this practice. Why should I tell the audience what they’re going to hear before I’m ready to say it? But Parker notes that not only will mentioning your main points before you present them point you in the path of a successfully finished presentation, it will also help your audience remember your assertions long after the speech is over.
- The audience is not your enemy. Now, this one might seem obvious at first, but think of how many times you’ve heard someone tell a nervous speaker to imagine the audience naked. That’s a combative move designed to bring listeners down to one’s level (or below, really). And while it might calm the speaker down a bit, it’s not going to help get the listeners on your side. When you’re giving a listing presentation, it might feel like those potential clients are sitting there, waiting for you to screw up. But really, they’re not being held against their will. They invited you to make your pitch because, presumably, they wanted to hear it. So treat them like the willing participants that they are.
- If you’re talking too fast, the solution isn’t necessarily slowing down. Parker points out that slowing your natural rate of speech is actually pretty difficult. What’s much easier, and tends to have the same effect on your audience (making it easier to understand and absorb what you’re saying) is to pause frequently and meaningfully. And contrary to how it may feel, Parker says you’ll come off as more confident if you allow for more space in between your thoughts. Build these pauses into your speech proactively.
- Right before you’re ready to begin, decide what mood you’re in. This might feel a bit disingenuous, but Parker suggests this as a shortcut to the frequent body-language admonitions we’ve all heard in relation to speechifying. He says it’s easier to physically adopt a feeling than it is to keep in mind the 700,000 body-language signals that are available to you at any given moment. Choose a mood that you can easily imagine yourself inhabiting (optimism, happiness, eagerness, etc.) and your body will play along.
The book itself is a very quick read and pleasantly broken up with expressive illustration from Sandra Salter. And while it’s true that the book does also include some of the more basic tenets of effective public speaking that might already be known to many real estate professionals, we all need a reminder to make eye contact and breathe once in awhile.
Usually I try to limit my reviews to books, but every once in awhile I’ll find an excellent real estate nugget inside a long-form article that I can’t help but share. That happened this week while reading the March 2016 issue of The Atlantic. In it, one of the magazine’s national correspondents, James Fallows, described what he learned about resilience after spending the last three years visiting small towns and modest cities around the United States in a single-engine plane.
In the dark days that lead up to a presidential election—wherein candidates inevitably benefit from pointing out all the ways in which our country is failing—it can be tough to see the path to better times. That’s not the case for Fallows, however. He says that while many ordinary Americans he met were similarly pessimistic about the country at large, they generally felt their particular communities could claim a bright future ahead.
So why, at a moment when Americans are feeling rather low, are small towns and cities thriving? In the course of his 54,000-mile journey, Fallows compiled an impressive list of traits that marked successful places, or at least areas that were on the mend from some pretty difficult circumstances. I encourage you to read the whole piece, as many of the patterns he picked out are both surprising and encouraging. But for our purposes, let’s look at just two of my favorites, shall we?
The first, perhaps unsurprisingly, is real estate. Specifically, homes that are in the affordable range. Here’s what Fallows has to say about the effect that has on a community:
A great, underappreciated advantage of “everywhere else” in America: The real estate is cheap. In New York, San Francisco, in a half dozen other cities, everything about life is slave to hyper-expensive real estate. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota; in Allentown, Pennsylvania; in inland California; across the south, costs are comparatively low. This has an effect—on how much you have to work, on what you think you need, on the risks you can take. Every calculation—the cash flow you must maintain, the life balance you can work toward—is different when a very nice family house costs a few hundred thousand dollars rather than a few million.
…In Fresno, Heather Parish, the publicity director of a successful arts festival called the Rogue, said that cheap real estate would be the basis for the city’s artistic future. “Fresno is the bohemia of California,” she told us when we visited. “That’s because you can afford to live here!”
Of course, this revelation is nothing new for the real estate industry. But coming from a publication that has established itself as a deep thinker on the future of cities, I take it as a good sign. Perhaps it will give some permission to tone down worries over slow home price appreciation in their individual communities and appreciate the silver lining of affordable homes.
And how about the gold lining I promised in my headline? Yes, the very last—and perhaps most certain, if you read it closely—of Fallows’ “11 signs a city will succeed” is related to beer. And as a homebrewing author myself, I couldn’t let that pass without note:
One final marker, perhaps the most reliable: A city on the way back will have one or more craft breweries, and probably some small distilleries too… A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur, and a critical mass of mainly young (except for me) customers. You may think I’m joking, but just try to find an exception.
OK, I can drink to that.
After spending years on the sidelines of conversations between real estate professionals, I know you guys like to talk shop just as much as I enjoy nerding out about grammar and publishing platforms with fellow writers and editors. People who are passionate about their craft want to share thoughts and ideas with others in the same position. (Also, it keeps us from constantly boring our partners and non-industry friends by talking about stuff they may not be quite so passionate about, am I right?)
That’s why I recommend picking up Matt Parker’s Real Estate Smart: What Your House Does to Your Life, and Why You Should Learn About It. From the title, it’s clear that Parker’s self-published book is targeted at consumers. He positions it as something home buyers should read when they’re trying to decide whether they should buy their own domicile, and what they should be looking for. It offers a great deal of deep thinking in terms of how our homes define our lives and bodies (alongside research references to back it up). But it’s important to recognize that the book is also something of a manifesto from Parker, as he seeks to convince readers of his points of view on purchasing real estate (don’t buy more square footage than you need, put health and well-being first, etc.)
And that’s all well and good, but I’m more interested in what makes it worth reading for you as a real estate professional. As a new home owner, of course I found myself reflecting on his points as a reference for how my home might influence my future. But as someone who writes for the real estate industry, I found Parker to be the type of thinker with whom I’d like to sit down and debate important issues facing property ownership at large. These two points of view merge when Parker emphasizes some of the smart practices you should urge your buyers to undertake before they make an offer, such as walking around the neighborhood, and paying close attention to the amount of greenery, noise, and amenities around a house. He does some really novel math with the downsizing argument, offering up equations that purport to measure the amount of money, time, and energy that each extra square foot of space will cost a person. He also makes some very interesting observations about real estate niches he’s had contact with (he explains why it’s hard to find modestly-sized new construction and why you should avoid waterfront property in areas where neighbors are likely to have inherited their property, for example). Overall, it’s fascinating food for thought, even if certain parts come off as a bit random. After all, every good conversation has to be allowed to ramble a bit!
I have spent most of my life studying stories, with the exception of that brief unfortunate period as a child where math was required. (OK, by brief I actually mean the eleven years that it was required, but you know.) Needless to say, math is neither my forte nor my favorite. Upon entering the workforce, though, I realized that it is quite necessary to daily life in one specific way: finances.
So when I picked up The Philosophical Investor by Gary Carmell, I hoped to learn something about making investment choices, even though I dreaded wading through math and financial information.
What I found was a pleasant surprise for my story-loving soul. With technical terminology woven into a memoir of experience, Carmell makes investment approachable. He teaches his readers through the same method he found most effective in his own fiscal education: mentoring through storytelling.
Carmell has worked in the real estate investment market for the past thirty years, currently serving as the president of CWS Capital Partners, LLC. His company is one of the longest functioning real estate investment firms to date, which is particularly notable in this period after the Great Recession. Simply surviving makes for quite the success story in that field, demonstrating deft hands in managing many changes in that have rocked the real estate investment industry in recent years.
In The Philosophical Investor, Carmell chronicles the history of CWS from prior to its founding through the present. He shares the philosophies that have made it a successful venture and demonstrates how decisions stemming from these philosophies worked out in practice. It is a very engaging narrative, weaving personal stories with those of his ideological mentors, so that the fabric of a particular mode of investment becomes colorfully clear.
Carmell doesn’t shy away from any part of his story, sharing the good times and the bad. This is incredibly important, as it’s clear some of CWS’s successes have come through learning from their mistakes. This is true for so much of life, but Carmell’s willingness to include in detail some of the negative impacts of decisions made early in the company’s history really shapes readers’ understanding of how his company grew to function so successfully.
Throughout the first half of the book, Carmell recreates the way he was thinking as he and his partners made decisions about CWS. By doing this, he is helping the reader see his investment philosophy unfold in real time. Rather than taint the storytelling by realizations he came to later in the process – insights gained that would have made a difference in the past – he takes the reader on the journey with him, letting us see the decisions he made with only the data he had at that given moment. Since his book aims to teach readers how to make decisions in the future, this narrative technique is extremely helpful in relating a philosophy and understanding how it works.
The second half of his book consists of a compilation of the many great sources he used to form his philosophy of investment. From playwright William Shakespeare to philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer to physicist Richard Feynman to Depression-era Federal Reserve Chair Marriner Ecles to his own family, Carmell has steeped his ideas in the same waters as some of the greatest minds to create truly interdisciplinary thought. I particularly enjoyed his chapter exploring lessons from Shakespeare, as a heart-warming tribute to human nature with all of its amusement and challenges, from which he draws principles applicable to both investment and his personal life.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to a great variety of readers. It’s targeted to those seeking to learn more about investment, particularly in the real estate sector. But it is also helpful for those working in real estate who might want to better understand some of the factors that led to the recession of 2007. Either way, it’s a good read for the beginning of a new year, with financial dreams simmering and bright hopes for the future.