Blog : Real Estate Agents

Out Of Towners

Out Of Towners

I blame the television for this one. I also blame the internet, but it should be argued that the bulk of this blame lies with the television. Namely, the producers of the real estate shows that start with Million Dollar. The very name makes me cringe. But nonetheless, consumers like the entertainment that is found by watching brokers get rich by selling the homes of the rich and sometimes famous. The concern isn’t about the shows, since I watch them sometimes as well. In fact, the television shows are reasonably well orchestrated and have spent considerable time developing these characters. The concern is about the geography of it all.

Ryan Serhant sells real estate in New York. He’s good at it. I find him to be mildly obnoxious, but that’s not the point. Josh Flagg is in Beverly Hills, lounging poolside and driving vintage automobiles. I don’t fault him for the fact that his business only took off due to the tailwind that is having a rich and indeed famous grandmother. Josh Altman might be the most annoying of the bunch, or at least the most cheesy. If Josh weren’t making millions selling expensive real estate he’d either be a mortgage broker or an YouTube reviewer of expensive automobiles that he wouldn’t actually own. The other characters don’t matter to me. They are filler.

But this isn’t about these characters, it’s about what the television show, and their subsequent social media channels, have decided the game of upper bracket real estate looks like. It looks like this: Serhant in Manhattan. Psyche, Serhant helicoptering to the Hamptons to sell some new development. After all, he has a portfolio of wealthy New Yorkers, and what’s not to like about a portfolio like that? Switch scenes. Servant is in a helicopter again, this time over a ranch in Colorado. It’s barren. It’s desolate. It’s high desert. But alas, a lodge. Big and bold, elk antlers everywhere. Green Malachite bathrooms as far as the eye can see. Serhant peers out the window then makes eye contact with the camera. Before he says it we know what he’s going to say. Insane! Ryan thinks everything is insane, and this is no exception.

Switch coasts. Altman’s turn. He’s driving in a blacked out Rolls. Bird Streets, something-or-other. Shiny shoes. His wife has had some more surgery, maybe. Probably. Josh is working out in a cut off sweatshirt that says, DO WORK GET RICH RINSE AND REPEAT, probably, Or maybe not. Then, he’s off. To Tahoe, to show a customer a $45MM estate. Or somewhere in New Mexico. Maybe Aspen, I believe his wealthy parents live there. This is what a forty million dollar ski home looks like! His eyes alive with excitement, his shoes super, intolerably, shiny.

It’s not a problem that these guys are so successful, in fact, I think all success, in each of its forms, is wonderful. The problem here is in the assumption that the only concern with geography is the travel. Have helicopter or private jet, or access to both? Then geography is nothing. Travel to see some real estate, and I’ll help you. After all, if Altman knows rich people and their Beverly Hills behavior then he certainly knows rich people and their Aspen behavior, right? If Serhant knows the rich people in Manhattan, then it’s the same rich people in the Hamptons, which means he knows what he’s doing there just as sure as he knows what he’s doing in the city, right? The show assumes that high end real estate is the same everywhere, and in that, there is some truth. But that truth supposes the market itself is the same, when in fact it’s just the psychology that remains consistent. If Altman shows a $40MM home in Aspen, he can declare it be amazing, that’s fine. But did anyone ever consider asking the local market leader, you know, the Aspen guy, or gal, what they think of the house? Did anyone ever think that $40MM house is $10MM overpriced, and the listing agent is thrilled beyond belief that Altman is there to sell it, you know, because Altman doesn’t know anything about the actual Aspen market?

In Lake Geneva, the upper bracket liquidity is unique. We can say that often, but still not grasp it. Not only is it unique, it’s likely the most powerful resale market in the Midwest. Sorry luxe condos in Chicago, I said resale market. Because of this, it attracts agents from all over. Agents who come to town with a buyer, because they know the buyer. Buyers work with these out of towners because they trust them, based on something favorable that has happened in the past. These buyers show up hoping to buy something, and their agent, the one who isn’t from here, aims to understand the market simply by looking through the MLS and driving around. I’ve spent 23 years in this market, each and every day, and I still find the market to be confounding at times. Imagine then how lost an out-of-town agent might be, plying these waters with little more than MLS access and perhaps a lengthy history of having taken a tour boat ride three summers ago. I don’t blame these agents for trying, they’re just emulating what they’ve seen on television. In case you haven’t seen these shows and you’d like a primer on showing expensive real estate in markets that you don’t understand, just take a lesson from Serhant. Proclaim every home to be Insane! and sales are sure to follow.



I might have figured out what’s wrong with me. It’s not that I don’t want to write something every other morning, as I have for the past nine years. I do. I really, really do. I drive to this desk and I think along the way, what should I write about? I play through the usual suspects. Spring? Green Grass? Blooms? Wisconsin is the best but Lake Geneva is better?  Something sold? Something listed? My teeth? My back?  Dumb sellers? Dumb buyers? Foreclosures?  These are the common themes. But the first thing I do when I sit down is scroll through the new inventory. Sometimes it’s just a few listings, sometimes it’s thirty, or forty. I look at the pending and sold listings from the night before. I read the descriptions.

And that’s when everything goes dark. I read about immaculate ranches with dazzling backsplashes. I read about heaven, often. What it’s like, who is there, how it’ll all be. Apparently it’s going to be a raised ranch with new carpet in the lower level and stainless appliances.  Sometimes, I wonder about perfection. What is it, can we achieve it? Is there something we should be doing? The answer, after the morning scroll, is yes. It is achievable. It is something we can do. All we need is an above ground pool and a few freshly planted Impatiens. That’s it. Perfection, achieved.

This is what’s wrong with me, but it might be what’s wrong with everyone else. The real estate business wishes it could change. It really does. Like a drunk who just wants a little sip on a  Saturday, it doesn’t want to want this. But real estate can’t change, it won’t change. It’ll always be the same. And that’s not because of the real estate agent, it’s because of the consumer. If Joe Blow Realtor Guy can write about how elegant a house is just because it has white carpet in the dining room, how can we stand a chance?

Not just as real estate consumers, but as a civilization. If so many are having their breath taken away each and every day just because there’s a wood stove insert stuck into the failed chimney, can mass extinction be that far behind? If buyers are so readily interested what they might achieve in their life, can you blame a Realtor for saying, in all caps, ALL THIS CAN BE YOURS?  If that promise of delight doesn’t get to you, perhaps this one will work? It’s a ranch in Elkhorn, but what you don’t know: IRRESISTIBLE GOT TO BE SEEN RANCH.

I can’t, and so I won’t. But that’s what’s wrong today. It’s what’s wrong every day. The world is dumbing around us and the world of real estate is leading the exodus from intelligent dialogue.  En masse, buyers are looking for kitchens with decorative ceramic tile backsplashes, and if this is what they want, who are we to stop them? If I’m to be reminded of a  bygone era each time I walk into that vinyl sided colonial in that corn field subdivision, can you blame me for wearing these plowing boots and chewing on this large piece of field grass? How could I work, knowing this bygone era is waiting for me each and every time I go home? Why would I ever leave?

So I suppose that’s what’s bothering me. How can I play in this game when the whole game is reduced to a blithering mumble of absurd adjectives? I know lots of adjectives, but how could I use them to describe a kitchen with HotPoint appliances? Stainless Steel, I suppose. Or Shimmering Stainless Steel, because then I evoke emotion and alliteration, and what is one without the other?  Want immaculate perfection and an amazing mud room with mini fridge, for those moments you walk in the door after a long, multi-day cross Saraha hike?  Well then you’re in luck, it all exists in a $120k condo near Pell Lake.

These seemingly random examples of horrific real estate ad copy were not figments of my imagination. They were all culled from the new inventory this morning. This is why I will never understand how to effectively write ad copy, because most of these homes will sell, and right now someone is reading about that elegant white carpeted dining room and realizing that they’ve waited their whole life for such elegant, European sophistication.