The Doctor is in, please be seated

Over the holidays after weeks of badgering from the next generation members of our household, my wife and I downloaded and devoured the entire five season, 62 episode run of Breaking Bad. And the son person was right. It was one of the best TV series ever.

That got me to thinking about other long running, highly acclaimed shows I missed over the years of being way too engrossed by career pursuits to stop and smell the

G-G Mafia video roses along the way. The Sopranos came immediately to mind. I had seen a few of the later episodes and I enjoyed them despite not knowing the full back story or character motivations. I promised myself I would go back some day and catch up. We just finished season one’s 13 episodes and we’re hooked again. The Sopranos isn’t just another gangster story in the shadow of Godfather or Goodfellas. It’s more of a study in the human psyche told through the revealing conversations between protagonist Tony Soprano and his psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi.

Sopranos[Spoiler Alert – if you haven’t seen the entire Sopranos series, stop reading now. Go turn on your HBO On Demand service wherever you subscribe to it and watch it now. All of it. Then come back here. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.]            [OK, welcome back!]

Tony is torn by sometimes conflicting requirements in trying to take care of two families: his home family (wife, two kids) and his crime family (a collection of neer-do-wells with their own agendas). Tony has a deep-seated sense of right and wrong, good and evil (using his definitions of both, which may or may not coincide with either religious scripture or criminal law) but it is unfortunately offset by a misguided sense of when to pick which and a sociopath’s need for consistent overachievement. Add in an abusive mother and an uncle who wants him whacked (a move that may or may not have been condoned by the mother) and you can see why he spends a good portion of each episode talking to a shrink.

Tony operates under a code of conduct that has not evolved over the decades to address more contemporary dilemmas. Justice, vengeance, and vendetta are all black-and-white issues, with no room for any shades of gray. Often the retribution delivered today in a cloud of self-righteousness is merely the foreshadowing of a misunderstood or unintentional misstep by the victim some time before. Then the guilt sets in and the cycle continues.

What’s this got to do with us, Bob?

Well, glad you asked. I see some strong parallels between the moral mental tug-of-war of Tony Soprano and the current debates facing the real estate industry. (No, I’m not implying a connection to the Mafia. We’re talking about the man here, not the crimes of the man.)

Organized real estate, our catch-all term for the collective of participants in the business of, or the support of the business of, real estate is facing some deeply divisive issues, issues where not just the outcome but even the debate generates derisive commentary.

What is good for brokers may not be good for agents. That which helps the MLS stay solvent may conflict with the business practices of the brokers that the MLS serves. When an Association sucks money from the MLS operation rather than raise dues to cover its own program costs, is this treating the membership respectfully, honestly, and transparently? And will they resent the MLS or the Association for doing it – or both?

We have already heard or read (here, here, and here) many predictions about what lies ahead in 2014 and beyond. There are more on the way. Each prediction has multiple permutations and each of those a cause and effect relationship with multiple alternative outcomes.

Since starting Procuring-Cause.com I have had the pleasure of addressing various organizations on some of these issues, pointing out the pro and con arguments on each and helping them grapple with the local implications of any of their possible decisions. My presentations are not directive. I offer insights, but I don’t advocate a specific course of action because, honestly, if the local leadership doesn’t create its own long term strategy and embrace a tactical blueprint that the field generals can execute on, any direction I might offer would fall on deaf ears.  I offer options, facilitate conversation and debate, and help them create a plan they can own. For many, a single plan isn’t enough. What do we do if Plan A doesn’t work – what is Plan B?

In the course of these engagements I see similarities between these group leaders and the aforementioned Mr. Soprano. Many MLS CEOs stumble when trying to serve two masters with different agendas. Many MLS boards of directors, composed of both agents and brokers, fail to look out for the best interests of not only the shareholders but all stakeholders. The realty version of Omertà prevents the industry from policing or measuring itself internally and at the same time rejects any outside efforts to do the same. There’s only so much hair one can pull out before the psychiatrist’s couch starts looking like the better alternative.

LucyboothI’m no doctor, especially no shrink. I don’t even play one on TV. But I can help you grapple with the pressing questions and develop answers that will shape the future of your organization. Once again, industry leaders will be gathering next week in New York for the winter Inman Connect conference. If you feel like you need a psych evaluation, look me up or shoot me an email. Taking a page from the Lucy rate card, the first office visit is just 5-cents.

I hope to see you there.

For this post:
Cause: the Prozac quit working
Effect: I want a new drug

Zillow Strikes Again

On the newswire this morning was a press release announcing the broadcast of an interview with Senators Bob Cocker (R-Tenn) and Mark Warner (D-Va) conducted by Zillow Chief Economist and all-round trend prognosticator Dr. Stan Humphries. The senators are co-sponsors of co-sponsors of Senate Bill 1217, the Housing Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act of 2013 which seeks to replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government sponsored enterprises (GSE) that were deeply embroiled in the housing crash of this past decade. Their bill would completely replace F&F with a new system of regulations designed to prevent future housing bubbles and crashes.

Casey-at-the-BatTo my thinking, this discussion is hugely important to the future of the housing industry. But who is holding it may be as significant or more so in the minds of some. Remember back in August when Zillow hosted a housing conversation with President Obama? Remember the uproar from the REALTOR membership asking why their trade association wasn’t involved? Multiple questions of “Why Zillow and not NAR?” led to the release of an excuse document, called a “Special Report” by NAR explaining that this wasn’t a real serious discussion on housing policy but just a “chat” sponsored by a “housing entertainment website.”

Well, guess what! Things are getting entertaining again. This time Zillow has snagged the two named sponsors of one of the most significant pieces of legislation pending before the otherwise do-nothing congress. And once again, NAR is nowhere to be seen in the discussion.

In pooh-poohing the Obama interview, NAR contended that one of the main reasons they were not involved was because NAR is often at odds with the Obama Administration over housing policy. To quote from NAR’s Special Report, “Our defense of issues that directly impact Realtor® business and the ability of Americans to own and invest in real estate sometimes contrasts NAR’s positions with those of the administration. Because of NAR’s leadership in the advocacy arena, our sources tell us that the White House did not want to get caught in a conflict of interest with us.”

But no such conflict of interest exists between NAR and DC over GSE reform. In a position paper published by NAR, the REALTORS support Senate Bill 1217 stating,

In the Senate, S. 1217, the “Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Act” (Corker R-TN; Warner D-VA) offers comprehensive reform of the secondary mortgage market but maintains a government guarantee. Though there are issues that remain to be addressed, NAR is supportive of this bipartisan approach which will accelerate the conversation necessary to reform our housing finance system.

So, without the potential conflict of interest, why is Dr. Humphries, not Dr. Yun, hosting this discussion? While the tape of the discussion hasn’t been released as of this writing (it’s due out tomorrow morning), I doubt NAR can play the same trump card as last time. This isn’t merely a chat done for entertainment purposes. This issue needs a serious policy discussion and supportive action by the leading home ownership lobby in Washington. Seems to me this would have been a perfect opportunity for NAR to seize the moments following the first Zillow interview and line up the senators for a follow-up conversation. That didn’t happen. There was no carpe in NAR’s diem schedule.

Here’s one final suggestion for NAR: host a serious discussion of tax reform, specifically the mortgage interest deduction (preservation of which NAR strongly supports) before Zillow goes three for three – and takes all the joy out of Mudville.

For this post:
Cause:  Fool me once . . .
Effect:  Fool me twice . . .

~bb

This post also appears on Notorious R.O.B.