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Seth Godin Has An Idea for You

January 21, 2009

He thinks real estate brokers should start local newspapers:

What should not-so-busy real estate brokers do?

Why not start a local newspaper?

Here’s how I would do it. Assume you’ve got six people in your office. Each person is responsible to do two things each day:

  • Interview a local business, a local student or a local political activist. You can do it by phone, it can be very short and it might take you ten minutes.
  • Get 20 households to ‘subscribe’ by giving you their email address and asking for a free subscription. You can use direct contact or flyers or speeches to get your list.

Twice a week, send out the ‘newspaper’ by email.

Of course, quite a few local realtors are already doing this, so this is one case in which realtors > Seth Godin.

The other problem with Seth’s idea is that unlike newspapers, a realtor has some definite issues with transparency.  For example, politics.

You can’t call yourself a local newspaper of any quality if you’re not providing information and news about the going-on’s inside governmental units.  Whether it’s the zoning board and its decisions, or some bribery scandal at City Hall, or an alderman’s take on property taxes, I expect a journalist to uncover things that folks might not want uncovered.  I expect journalist-types to rail against problems and highlight issues.

How do you do that, while making your living from selling homes in the area that you’ve just called “the hive of crime in Essex county”?  Will your sellers be thrilled with your expose on corruption in your county when you’re trying to convince buyers to spend hundreds of thousands on their house?

And if you don’t call things the way they really are, then what kind of newspaper are you?  If you never criticize, never talk about negative things, never talk about what’s bad about your town/area, then you’re not a newspaper; you’re propaganda.

Less Market, More Community

Realtors, however, could and should listen to Seth as to the core concept:

Local newspaper is about the local community, not the local market.

I touched on this on this post on the Onblog, but I’ve since had the opportunity to evolve my thinking a bit.

I believe that one concrete change most local realtor blogs (and attendant newsletters and such) can make is to shift the focus from blogging about the local market to blogging about the local community.  Rather than thinking of your audience as potential buyers/sellers, think of your audience as existing and future homeowners.

Far too many realtor blogs have only “Local Market Conditions for Town XYZ” as the only substantive post for weeks on end.  That tells me pretty clearly that all you’re interested in doing is telling me about the price of housing in the hopes of getting me to buy/sell.  Peppering articles/posts about “How to Sell Your Home in 90-days” or “Staging for Success” isn’t giving me any reason to read your stuff if I’m not in the market.

Instead, give me information that I might care about as a resident in your town/neighborhood.  Tell me about the water main break on Main St., so I know to go around it on my way home.  Tell me about the new town ordinance against dogwalking being discussed.  Tell me about the new Home Depot moving into the next town over, since that might impact my favorite local hardware store.  Tell me about the new restaurant that’s opening next week.

And so on.

I am far more likely to follow you, read your blog, and sign up for your newsletter.

Would that compete with true local media operations, like a Baristanet?  Probably not.  But do you need to compete with local media?  Probably not.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2009 9:20 pm

    Generally speaking, Seth Godin is right on. I did not get the sense that he was suggesting Realtors become investigative journalists per se, but tather that they begin to see themselves, in part, as media companies. Real estate company as publisher of quality news relating to market conditions, lifestyle issues, neighborhood association topics, developments, insight into school and transportation realities within a community are exactly what Realtors should consider engaging in.

    One of the reasons I don’t subscribe to the “Robnecks” view of the future of big brokerage dominating the rea; estate space is because I believe the biggest change is cooming from the ground up, not the top down. Realtos who fuly understand and leverage the power of new media, especially the early adopters, will, INHO, dominate the local landscape. They will own the local conversation around real estate. It is at this micro level that we will see the genesis of the next big trend in brokerage.

    In March, I will be lauching my new website– (or It will contain a growing library of quality video productions focused on real estate and lifestule issues at the hyperlocal level. I will be interviewing local business owners, neighborhood asscoiation leaders, politicians, etc. I will be covering zoning issues as well as the permitting process in Boston. Also, expect to see lots of stuff on parks, schools and transportation.

    My goal, in time, is to become the local real estate conversation hub–we will see if it’s successful. Oh, and by the way, I have 30+ agents assiting me in the discovery and storytelling process. Talk about lveraging your assets.

    So yes, Rob, real estate companies as local online newspapers makes perfect sense…but I’m looking at it more as a news studio and broadcastting or multicasting system than say a newspapers. Wish me luck–I’m gonna need it.

  2. January 21, 2009 10:42 pm

    Realtors’ blogs can never replace local newspapers for all sorts of reasons, but first and foremost is the time needed to sort, process and vet information before publishing. There is just far too much for an individual – or even a team – to do.

    But – what a Realtor blog can accomplish is this – becoming a part of the community, part of the fabric of conversation, a source for information and opinion.

    Funny you write that about community; one of my goals for my blogs this year is to focus on building and contributing to the community. I want my sites to be hubs – the default location for people to go to when they want to find out an expert opinion on what assessments are doing, how to challenge them, what impact a downzoning might have on them and their neighbors … the topics are endless.

    It comes down to this – be the expert. Not an expert – the expert that people turn to.

  3. January 21, 2009 11:18 pm

    @Tim –

    I would love to track your progress — I’m assuming that you’ll be blogging about the ups and downs and unexpected challenges and the like, or at least video-blogging it. 🙂

    The thing I’m most curious about are issues surrounding transparency vs. authenticity for realtors.

    For example, I’m wondering if these ‘media’ activities means you are not considered a realtor while engaged in there, and therefore not subject to the various FHA type rules against steering and the like.

    Or even if we’re not talking legal issues, the big question is whether a real estate broker can speak negatively about an area, or an establishment, etc. For example, say you’re writing an article on a park that happens to be a seedy hangout. Do you say, “So Macarthur Park is dangerous after dark, and you can find crack vials on the playground — avoid it at all costs”?

    I do think it’s a worthy goal to become a local resident news/info center; I’d just like to see how it’s done by real estate people instead of media people. 🙂


  4. January 22, 2009 8:36 am

    I think that you can report on the facts about a community without being negative. For example, a housing trends report is based on actual historical statistics, as you are well aware Rob from your association with Infomatics. Now, lets say that on any given month the sats don’t tell a postive story about what’s going on in the RE market. Am I going to report? Absoultely, on the front page of the site in fact. It’s about offering the conusmer transparency and access to factual information.

    By the same tolken, am I going to report on the recent mugging in the park? The answer is no, but I will provide an active local news api on the front page that tickers through local storys covered by the more generalst-type publications. If a story pops up on that api about the park mugging, then consumers can go ahead and click on the link and read all about it.

    Newspapers, or media outlets, come in many shapes and sizes. The New York Time is one model, Vanity Fair is another…and still entertainment Weekly is a third. My point is not to get hung up on the term “newspaper.” In fact, I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that newspaeprs of the future won’t look anything like what they are today. Rather, they will be nodes in a vast network of news, but that’s another story.

    I guess, what I will be doing can best be described as a real estate digest which will include some original reporting, but also links to other soruces that extend the conversation further. My philosphy is to do what I do best and link to the rest (thanks Jeff Jarvis).

    Finalyy, shortly after the launch of the new site I intend to launch an industry facing blog that will cover the trials and tribualtions of my own experience with this project…so that otherss may learn from my successes and failures.

  5. January 22, 2009 9:56 am

    @Tim –

    I think I see what you’re saying. Your focus, then, is still on the local real estate market, rather than the local community. From that perspective, sure, going negative isn’t a problem.

    What I’m wondering about is this: “active local news api”. Where is that coming from? If there is a publication/organization that is providing that news, then they are the true local newspaper, not you.

    And FWIW, I think there’s value in being the “real estate digest which includes some original reporting”. What I’m suggesting, however, is that the audience for that then still remains real estate consumers, not residents of an area.

    Compare any realtor website for Montclair, NJ with Baristanet and you’ll get a sense of the difference I’m talking about. I’m very curious to see how realtors get around these issues myself, so will be tracking your efforts, Tim. 🙂


  6. January 22, 2009 10:42 am

    Not quite. Let me try once more, and then we’ll just have to let the publication speak for itself.

    First, it is my belief that real estate professionals should see themselves as “ambassadors” to the communities they serve. So, what does that mean? It means that they live the local lifestyle story–they own it. The understand the local politics, the state of the school system, the condition and amenities offered by the parks and recreational facilities in the neighborhood. They live and work in the community–they know the lifestyle.

    As such, they can report on it from a unique perspective–one that goes deeper than the average resident, and one that propsective new residents might enjoy hearing (seeing).

    And, yes, it’s about real estate. It’s about explaining the local zoning codes and the impact it has on value and character of the community. They can explain the permitting process and can convey that knowledge to residence who are mostly unawares. They can also (via video) capture some home improvement projects going on about town–whether it’s putting a dormer on a roof, or putting in a new kitchen–and this can be documented and shared with a video of the project, interviews with the homeowners, the contractors, city officials, etc. They can also, with homeowners permission, publish .pdf documents that show invoices and timelines, so that other residence can get a sense of cost and scope. There so much that can be done.

    With repsect to the local news API, I can add a widget on my home page that is connected to multiple local news sources, from the community newspaper to the city paper and even to other local bloggers. It’s a live feed, and I control which publications feed into it. There will also be a real estate news api, which will connect to a variety of publications that focus on the real estate (both residential and commercial), finance, new developments, etc. On this api, I will act as a “curator” of the news, selecting only what I consider to be the best individual artilces from a vaireity of sources. The idea is to delver value to my site visitors.

    There will also be a standard blog that focuses on both real estate and lifestyle issues. So you see Rob, it’s much more than just another local real estate blog–it’s a community platform with a tilt toward real estate and lifestyle.

    Me thinks, Rob, your idea of what a newspaper is might be too narrow. Everything is not on the level on the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal–and it doesn’t have to be.

    Consider this, in time (if I do this right) I fully expect some “traditional” newspaters to approach me and say “Hey, some of our readers might benefit from your insights on local lifestyle and real estate matters, would you like to be a part of our network.” Again, keep in mind news of the future will be all about networks and nodes within networks.

    One last extremely important item–a fact that is lost for the most part in the While we are out there collecting stories, video taping events, interviewsing community leaders and local businesses, just consider for a moment the amount of real life networking that is going on during all of this. This is the real value, getting out there and networking with your community. It’s what the real estate business is built on. This canno be underestimated, and in many ways is more important that publishing the story, the video, etc. online. Think about it.

    I’m sorry for going on, but I have so much to say on this topic and am very excitied about the future of news. I figure, in about a year after much content is added and I have a good read on the analytics, then we can decide on what exact category the sites falls into. Thanks Rob, I’ll remain silent now.

  7. January 22, 2009 10:55 am

    Hey Rob, I don’t think you meant to link to my Short Hills town “static” page. Here’s the link to the blog articles:

    I do agree with you Rob ( shocking!) Most realtor community articles ( including my own) are very surface, but for all of the reasons mentioned above, we have no choice!

    So instead, we talk about restaurants, schools, etc.. Community threads like those on or are really where you can get the “heated discussions” on our local communities and read the passionate ( and many times ignorant) comments.

    Its kindof the same thing we were talking about w/ @garyvee on being transparent.

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