Sunday, June 24, 2007

Portrayal of Wasteful Realtors in Movies

My daughter learned to ride her bike without training wheels, and promptly broke her arm. Just in time for summer when she wants to spend her time in vigorous activity and swimming! To compensate for her frustrations, we have taken her to the movie theater frequently. Twice now, there have been Realtors portrayed as bad characters.

The first one was in Nancy Drew. I almost died laughing when the Realtor identified herself as "Barbara". The way she says "Barbara of Barbara Barbara Realty" is almost exactly how we say "". I was looking for a movie picture of the character to put here. I thought I had finally found one, when I double checked, and it was a real Realtor. Overdressed just like the character.

The second one was last night in Evan Almighty and this time it was not simply the overdressed opulence being portrayed. This Realtor was excited to sell ridiculously over sized houses on land that used to be a pristine wilderness. The theme of the movie was green, and I thought fit perfectly with a point I want to make here.

Portrayal of Realtors as the bad guys is not entirely unfounded. These characters are funny because they hit a chord of truth. They are only interested in the hero of the story when they are buying or selling a house. If the hero is not buying or selling a house, the character is trying to talk them into buying or selling a house. The hero doing something financially unsound is cause for celebration with champagne for the Realtor.

Already I have been to meetings for Realtors counseling us to be pushy. On one level it makes sense because the industry is set up to only reward the Realtor for sales. I have been told many horror stories of Realtors investing a ton of money, time, and energy on someone who uses all their hard work only to turn around and give their friend's cousin the commission. Experienced agents learn not to invest their emotions in anyone until they are certain that person is committed to bring them money in the end.

Both Realtors portray the attitude of "consume, consume consume" instead of "location, location, location". We laugh as the characters encourage the purchase of something the heroes don't need. Then they try to sell more of it. Run out of room? Tear down all the trees and make more so they can sell some more!

There is definitely a housing shortage in the Silicon Valley. All the orchards and farmland have gone for great big boxes with no yards. Everyone loves to blame the builders for these monstrosities, but they wouldn't build if it were not constantly being bought. There is a demand for housing near all these jobs, and that demand needs to be met. Realtors have clients in need of a home, and they want a big home. Tear down and build so we can sell them!

The rental market here is ridiculous. The cost of maintaining an apartment complex is more expensive than any rent income by tens of thousands of dollars each year. The only money to be made as a landlord is to purchase a complex, and sell it years latter at such a higher cost it makes up for all the losses while they owned it. So how do we as Realtors advise someone to make money in rental properties? Consume, consume, consume!

This can all be done sensibly though. The National Association of Realtors is the largest political action committee in the United States. The purpose of a PAC is to influence laws and lawmakers. Right now we influence real estate laws to be like that of a multi level marketing scheme. Simple changes in the structure we espouse, would mean less money for the top of the pyramid, but a healthier relationship with our clients. Realtors should be independent contractors, or salaried employees of the broker. Not an unbalanced combination of the two with legal ramifications for being too independent or too organized.

City ordinances disallow places to live to be combined with places to work. There is no such thing as an apartment above the bakery shop. The lady handing you your cruller had to commute from Los Banos.

It is also illegal to rent out a room in your house. Granny units are highly regulated. An apartment above a garage is unheard of here. Wouldn't it be nice if an elderly couple could charge rent that a school teacher could afford? This would prevent them from commuting to work to supplement their pension.

Most importantly, we need to demand smaller houses. I am not saying you need to give up the "American Dream", although for some people a small ecological footprint is the dream. If the space in our homes were used as efficiently as possible to maximize the use of the resources available, many homes could have the look and feel of the huge monstrosities on the inside without the imposition of real estate on the outside. We do not need to reinvent the wheel here. Other countries have glamorized living small for centuries.

These are all sweeping general policy ideas that have very little to do with your personal efforts of making the home you have more green. I do not ask you to start any crusades for these causes unless you want to. I do ask that you keep these ideas in the back of your mind as you make purchasing decisions that influence public policy. When dreaming about your dream home, look for smaller inspirations. If housing polices are being examined in your area, speak up for allowing home businesses, granny units, and blended zoning.

When you run into a Realtor that fits those movie stereotypes, give them some understanding for their circumstances. Try to keep in mind that we are not all like that. Some of us are even actively trying to fight such behavior.

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