Have no fear, the fearless shall thrive. That was one of the main takeaways I had from Real Estate Connect NY last week. The news of the housing downturn isn't pretty right now but there are people out there growing and seizing opportunities to grow.
It usually takes me a few days to allow information that's thrown full force during Connect to sink in, marinate a little and then finally make sense. With that, I give you my closing thoughts on the New York conference last week:
The market is cyclical
The market at the national level is in the dumps and there's really no way around that. But while some local markets account for much of the correction at the national level, other markets or market segments are sailing on business as usual, seemingly untouched by the credit crunch and subprime mess.
Prices will need to come down more in some of these markets where prices soared to outrageous levels during the boom because first-time buyers are having trouble getting in, a problem that dominoes through the entire local market. (First-time buyers can't get in, there's no one able to buy the move-up buyer's house, so move-up buyer has problems selling, keeping them from buying, and so forth.)
At the end of the day, though, people are still buying and selling homes. Marriage, divorce, babies, new jobs -- all of the usual suspects which tend to trigger a home sale or purchase are still part of people's lives. We're just not seeing sellers who don't need to move right now selling and buyers who can't afford buying.
Some companies have already gone under and more likely will shutter. But it's not the end of real estate sales forever. Buying a home is still an essential part of the American Dream for most people.
In my opinion, we have more of a credit problem than a housing problem (again, at the national level). Those markets hit particularly hard by foreclosures right now definitely have a housing problem and it will take some time and critical leadership to get these cities back on track. But so far, at the national level, the damage from this correction resides mostly in credit markets.
Another interesting point made at the event was a close look at the homeowners going into foreclosure -- something I think anyone in real estate should pay attention to. John Vogel, a super smart real estate professor at Dartmouth, told us that these 2 million homeowners expected to go through foreclosure aren't who you'd expect them to be. They're not all speculators, victims of predatory lending or uneducated people who borrowed way more than they should have, according to Vogel. They're families who wanted to settle into homes and neighborhoods. (Read more on Vogel's presentation, "Foreclosure fix: 'The Last Chance Mortgage.'")
No room for the old world anymore
It's the end of the old world, but not the end of the new world. Open your eyes and get down to business. The bottom line: Agents who were around before this bust will be around after this correction if they want to be.
What is the new world?
The new world enables agents to be much more proactive online without having to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on template Web sites and paid search advertising. Be creative with blogging, social networks, online real estate forums and you can easily reach a new crowd of buyers who won't be shy about Googling your name before they agree to do business with you. Impress Web surfers with the content you create and the knowledge you show in various capacities where they may be searching for info.
Try on a lot of outfits but only wear what is most flattering and comfortable
There's a ton of stuff out there -- blogs, widgets, map mashups, virtual flyer services, listing syndication services, free listings marketing, podcasting, video sites and services, lead generation services, lead management services.
Try on a lot of stuff -- try Facebook, LinkedIn, Wordpress, Google Base, Craigslist, Jott, Utterz, to name a few -- whatever you have an urge to test, test it out and see if it works for you. If it doesn't work for you, then don't use it anymore. If it's not helping you sell real estate then why are you spending time or money on it?
Be honest and real
Today's consumers are used to transparency in many of their other purchase experiences. They consider buying a digital camera, for instance, and have unlimited access to consumer experiences with this product. They're looking for straight information without the gloss, without the frosting and without the sales pitch. Approach them honestly and personably with your online marketing and outreach on various networks and they will trust you. Break that trust and there's no turning back.
There's my elevator pitch of Inman's Connect NY 2008. We're in a down cycle. There's plenty of opportunity, but a long ride ahead. Take the time to invest in your business now and you won't be lost while the correction rides out.