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May 26, 2018

Weekly Book Scan

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Would Mom Be Proud of Your Business?

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 16:35

When my husband was interviewing for his current job, his future boss warned him that he has this kind of weird question that he asks all applicants: “Do you think you are a good person?”

Hearing this story from my husband’s point-of-view, I froze with fear thinking about how I would answer this question. But he had the perfect response. “Yes, I do. Because my mother is a good person, and that’s what she raised me to be.”

It’s a great answer to a tough question precisely because that’s what mothers do for society. They teach us how to be good people. And that’s also what makes the title of Jeanne Bliss’s new book, Would You Do That to Your Mother? The “Make Mom Proud” Standard for How to Treat Your Customers (Penguin, 2018) so compelling.

The book is all about how to run a business your mother would be proud of. In it, Bliss offers countless real-life examples of how companies get this right and wrong. She punctuates these case studies with concrete ways to “#MakeMomProud” and a collection of simple yet revealing questions. (Would you send a pile of paperwork to your mother? Of course not!)

The final chapter—which is helpfully titled, “Stop the Shenanigans!”—offers a #MakeMomProud-o-Meter to help you determine how well your business measures up to Bliss’ lofty yet entirely sensible goals. Here are a few of my favorite questions from this last chapter, along with some of my own reflections specifically for the real estate industry.

  1. Do customer goals drive innovation in products, service, and operations? It’s easy to base expanded offerings on what you or your brokerage does best, or what might bring the most new customers to your door. But have you asked clients what they really need from you during the real estate transaction? This is a good mindset to employ when you’re looking at the types of questions you ask in a feedback form, for example. What are their pain points and how can you solve for them?
  2. Do we understand vulnerable customer moments, and design services and gestures to support them? It’s not fun to think about, but there’s potential for a fair number of difficult or embarrassing moments for consumers throughout the transaction. Buyers might get turned down for loans or have their offers rejected. Sellers might not be able to see how they’re getting in the way of obtaining the sales price and terms they want on their listing. Make sure you’re ready to react to those moments with compassion and understanding.
  3. Do all of our “hellos” start with honoring the human in front of us? In an industry that can get a bit obsessed over leads and the sales funnel, it’s important to examine the experience prospective clients have when they first reach out (whether that’s calling about a listing, walking into a brokerage office, or filling out an online form). Are they being treated like human beings in these interactions, or leads? Strive for the type of hello that your mother would appreciate.
  4. Do we recognize and reward actions that keep valued customers? This one is more applicable for brokers, but it’s an important question for the industry as well. In real estate, the bright lights are often reserved for top producers, not top caretakers. But clients are more interested in being taken care of than the bottom line. To secure a company’s future, make sure you’re recognizing those who create repeat customers just as much as you congratulate the rainmakers.

What It’s Like to be Evicted

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 10:19

It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be evicted, perhaps because the impacts of evictions are so wide-ranging. Household items are put on the curb and lost if the evictee can’t afford a storage unit. Having an eviction on one’s record makes it harder to rent a decent place to live. Constant movement to different housing leads to children falling behind in school, jobs lost, mail and benefits misdirected, and community bonds being broken. Research has also found that evictions can even lead to depression and suicide.

Credit: pippalou, Morguefile

While it may be difficult to put yourself in such shoes, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in The American City (Penguin Random House, 2016) makes it easier.

Author Matthew Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, followed eight families in Milwaukee and their struggles to find and remain in decent affordable, private housing. The author—whose family was evicted from their home in Arizona during his childhood, giving him first-hand knowledge of this problem—immersed himself in the world of the urban poor in 2008 and 2009, living in a trailer park, and then in a rooming house in one of the poor urban areas of Milwaukee. He also shadowed the landlord of the trailer park and an inner-city landlord. At the start of his journey, Desmond clearly identified himself as an author and let his subjects know that he was writing a book about them.

The subjects of the Pulitzer-prize winning Evicted have many obstacles to overcome—poor housing stock, a high percentage of their low income going to rent, hardened landlords, family issues. But Desmond shows how multiple evictions and moving into ever worsening housing in more dangerous neighborhoods compounds these already serious issues. Over the course of his research, Desmond became close to the book’s subjects. He helped them move, went to church with them, slept at their houses, babysat their children, and accompanied them to eviction court.

A chapter on Milwaukee’s eviction court opened my eyes to the extent of the eviction problem, particularly among poor African-American women. The author notes that in an average month, three in four defendants in Milwaukee’s eviction court were African-American. Of that group, three in four were women. Few have legal representation. One solution proposed by the author is publicly funded legal services, “a cost-effective measure that would prevent homelessness, decrease evictions, and give poor families a fair shake.”

What happens after an eviction? Former tenants may become homeless; move to a shelter; live with friends, relatives or strangers; or move to less costly housing. In Milwaukee, the government housing assistance list has been frozen at 3,500 names for four years, leaving many still waiting for help. But even this meager chance at assistance isn’t available to many of the subjects of Desmond’s book because of their eviction records.

To supplement the personal narratives, Desmond conducted the Milwaukee Area Renters Study on evictions and housing to get hard data on renters. His research found that one in eight renters went through at least one forced move in the two years prior to the survey date. The Milwaukee Eviction Court Study, also created by the author, provided a snapshot of the court’s evicted population. Desmond found that having children in the household almost tripled the odds that a tenant would receive an eviction judgment.

Desmond’s epilogue traces how America has dealt with low-income housing and offers ideas for how to stem the tide of evictions. He demonstrates how tenements and slums gave way to high-rise public housing projects in the middle of the last century. Over time, these projects deteriorated and were torn down. From this failure, the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher Program was created. This program provides housing subsidies for the private rental market. However, 67 percent of poor renters in the United States did not receive housing assistance in 2013.

Besides providing publicly funded legal services, the author proposes making the Housing Choice voucher program a universal entitlement for all low-income households who qualify. This expansion of the Housing Choice voucher program calls for families below a certain income level to receive a voucher to live at any location, as long as the housing was not too expensive or in bad shape. The family would provide 30 percent of their income to cover housing costs and the voucher would cover the rest. The impact of this housing program would ripple out through the family—fewer evictions, increased income to buy healthy foods and provide educational materials for children, job training, and the ability to save. This universal entitlement may or may not come in to being, this could certainly bring improvement to poor families.

Facts, figures, and proposed solutions aside though, seeing eviction through the eyes of those who have experienced it is an invaluable benefit to any reader of this book. Real estate pros who read this book will discover the scope of the eviction problem, both in Milwaukee and the United States. Also, Desmond recently launched a website to share the findings of his Eviction Lab, a project out of Princeton University that compiles millions of records to provide a better understanding of the impact that the eviction crisis has on local communities. Use the lab’s search, maps, and rankings to see how your area fares.

The 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

This review is part of Books in Brief: Lighting the Path to Housing Equality, the Weekly Book Scan’s series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. Learn more about how fair housing makes us stronger at fairhousing.realtor.

Books in Brief: Lighting the Path to Housing Equality

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 15:34

No matter how passive it may seem, reading is an activity. It can be an acknowledgement, a political act, an act of remembrance—and at its best, it’s often all three wrapped into one.

April 11, 2018 will mark 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. So much has changed since then, and yet so much hasn’t. Here at the Book Scan blog, we’ve been commemorating this anniversary by reading and reviewing books (specifically, the ones that appear on the National Association of REALTORS®’ list of reading material that touches on this subject).

But we wanted to invite our readers to join in the commemoration as well. Check out the list below (and our linked reviews, where available). Pick out a book, see if it’s available in the NAR library or your local library or bookstore, and take in this moment with the help of the written word. Let me know if we’re missing anything on this list. And stay tuned for more reviews of these books in the coming months from NAR staffers and members.

  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein (read Hathaway Hester’s review)
  • Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, by James W. Loewen (read my review)
  • When the Fences Come Down: Twenty-First-Century Lessons from Metropolitan School Desegregation, by Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
  • The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, by Natalie Y. Moore
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond (read Anne-Marie Siudzinski’s review)
  • Living Apart: How the Government Betrayed a Landmark Civil Rights Law, by Nikole Hannah-Jones
  • Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, by Ian Haney-López
  • Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea, by Mitchell Duneier
  • The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It, by Richard Florida
  • Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America, by William H. Frey
  • How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, by Peter Moskowitz
  • No Place like Home: Wealth, Community, and the Politics of Homeownership, by Brian McCabe
  • Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart, by Christena Cleveland
  • Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America, by Beryl Satter
  • Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress toward Racial Equality, by Patrick Sharkey
  • Evicted! Property Rights and Eminent Domain in America, by David A. Schultz
  • Unfair Housing: How National Policy Shapes Community Action, by Mara S. Sidney
  • As Long as They Don’t Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods, by Stephen P. Meyer
  • American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass, by Douglas Massey
  • High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing, by Ben Austen

The 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

This review is part of Books in Brief: Lighting the Path to Housing Equality, the Weekly Book Scan’s series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. Learn more about how fair housing makes us stronger at fairhousing.realtor.