“Location, location, location”: so much to sell, so little time

In the midst of another economic recession-depression in less than a decade, we are being coached on what caused the last one and the differences therein.

2008’s debacle was caused by zealous real estate players, the current one ostensibly by business loan sharks and commercial real estate portfolio managers.

The common thread here is real estate, the “last resort” of investment hedgers. Business speculation is too risky, real estate, so the cliche goes, is “on the ground.”


Real estate operatives adopt hyperbole as a selling tactic. Words like “never” and “always” pepper their talk when in reality the domain of real estate sales is more nuance than “hit em’ over the head.” But “hit em’ over the head” is the common sales thread. Realtor jingo sometimes reminds me of the lyrics, “been in some big towns, heard some big talk” (Johnny Mercer’s song “My momma done told me”).

Realtors fear making an asset illiquid so they are tempted to parrot the inevitable, which in their field is also the most transient — where the property is “located.” We’ve heard the bromide, “location, location, location.”

Well, duh…

Reselling takes less effort than “developing the sale” (1) which in this arena is “developing the buyer.”

This discovery — not mine — brings us to consider the true business of real estate — the “people” business.

As an economy we have hardwired some cultural behemoths to subvert the “people business”: love of models, speed, transactional accuracy, branding.

Economists keep repeating that theirs is not the science of numbers but the science of value…that’s people. I am reminded of my sister’s wiseacre answer to a economics professor’s question “what is money,” Her answer, “paper.”

Ironic then that the next economic “bubble” is not real estate but commercial borrowing, another people business. What links these activities together is not the object but the nature of the promise or if you prefer, the hope.

A generation ago, a wise man wrote, “nothing really happens until a sale is made.” (2) In my opinion what he was saying is a caveat: you are not selling the present, you are selling the future, and that takes time and attention and mindfulness and empathy. Because bargaining in futures is the handmaiden of trust. Realtors may have the keys to the castle, but the bankers always show up at the sale.

Consider, if all we profess to sell is “location,” then what aren’t we selling? “Location” we cannot change. “Location” is cutely confused with “place.” Derived from the Latin, “locus” is where poetically, “birds alight.”

The birds don’t know why. My wife doesn’t know why. We bought a property a while back because as my wife said, “this is the place I always wanted.”

Try putting that on a map.

We don’t know why, which is the point — we have to discover for ourselves that intimate energy which makes of the world a better place. What we need is for realtors and other economic operatives to get on board, which is to say, get out of our “inevitables.”

‘So much to sell, so little time.’

June 25, 2020

(1, 2) Ted Levitt, “Marketing Myopia”



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Rodney Clough

Rodney Clough

Refuses to nap. Septuagenarian. Cliche’ raker. Writes weekly.