Because Google Said So
I am a real estate expert. Make no mistake about it. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Google. They talk about me there a lot, mostly whenever someone asks about my name or the local communities in which I do business. I have a web site, and I even blog! This gives me instant credibility. The problem is this — I am not an expert on all things. In fact, I am not an expert on most things or even all things real estate, yet I and thousands like me have this platform to use and, regrettably, abuse. How is the consumer to know the difference?
I found myself pondering this recently when I was reading an article written for a very prominent and respected business magazine. The New York-based author was quoting local “specialists,” and one happened to be playing the role of hyper-local expert witness for the small San Diego community in which I do the majority of my work. Except, in the 20 years I have lived here and the eleven I have been working in real estate, I have never heard his name, nor have I ever heard of his company. I have never seen his yard signs. I have never had the pleasure of having him on the other side of one of my transactions. Yet, I am told he is an expert in my neighborhood by a Manhattan byline. If I didn’t have first-hand knowledge, I suppose I wouldn’t question it. After all, this was the mainstream media talking.
Just Ask What’s-His-Name
First, let me say that I am not attacking the agent. He may be the best agent in the Delta Quadrant and is just new to these parts. He may compensate for experience with superior mental acuity. Heck, he may even actually know what he’s talking about! In fact, I know he does, because I asked Google, and they gave me directions to his blog. I’ll give him this — he is learning how to work the system. BusinessWeek called him and not me.
One of my favorite AG writers (you’re all my “favorites,” of course) once eloquently said of bloggers, “We are all full of sh*%.” Sometimes it does feel that way. The noise is getting deafening. There are just too many on-line voices, Trulia and otherwise, and self-policing only goes so far. It has to be a matter of time before the public catches on.
Overtaking Your Mentor
I hope they do. I hope they catch on, and I hope the by-product is that they question the authority of all of us who are professing to be experts either deliberately or implicitly through our participation in this medium. I liken it to the evolution of a young student. In grade school, you never question authority because the teacher is the larger than life sage. By college, you begin to question the legitimacy of everyone who teaches and preaches because you have learned that you have both the right and obligation to do so.
Blogging is stuck somewhere in middle school. I hope the administration, both the bloggers and the mainstream media, are courageous enough to be responsible and truthful in their lesson plans. Then, again, I also wish for world peace. Good luck with that! So, instead, I cling to the notion that our students will come to recognize that it is not only OK but essential that they question authority.
And, since you read this on a blog, you can be sure I know what the hell I am talking about.
September 7, 2008 at 7:33 pm
If they say he’s an expert, he is. That’s the problem with the media. They don’t distinguish between quality and good PR.
September 7, 2008 at 7:41 pm
Am I reading the same BusinessWeek article that you are?
September 7, 2008 at 7:42 pm
Kris; I thought I was your favorite , but I don’t remember saying that 😉
You make the point about print providing validation which trumps reality every time. But its an old game – people in every business claiming expertise without the substance to back it up or making statements without providing facts to back it up. In fact I know you’re the best ’cause I read it right here –
The sad part is that any consumer who is fooled by the specious claims of this nouveau expert will not have the expertise of Berg the Bodacious Blonde Blogger who would Be the Best Bet for Brilliant results –
September 7, 2008 at 7:48 pm
Except no one made a claim anywhere near that in that article Bill.
I can’t find anywhere where the author uses any of the characterizations to describe that agent that Kris uses.
September 7, 2008 at 7:52 pm
Bob – Yes.
Bill – Thanks for the wit, but this really isn’t about the article or the agent specifically. It is a bigger issue, and I suppose it has always been there. Now, though, we all have this new platform from which to chest-thump, and it comes with a lot of (faux) authority but sadly not a lot of responsibility.
I was chatting with my collegiate daughter yesterday, a Journalism student, and she was telling me about her entire lecture devoted to the blogging medium. I think that conversation was subliminally stuck in my psyche. She was told that citizen bloggers have a huge voice, but it is the responsibility of the professional media to fact-check, if you will, the free-lance messages. Read them and use them, but use them cautiously and build on them. I am taking this one step further — Ditto the reader. Just because I have an Internet connection and a server doesn’t mean that I am bringing the tablets down from Mount Sinai. Blogging as we know it is mostly op-ed, and when we start to portray it as the gospel, we are irresponsible. Given our growing numbers, many are going to go that route, so my hope is that the readers will get it and filter the information accordingly.
September 7, 2008 at 7:54 pm
I really hope that consumers do dig deeper than what is displayed on the monitor. I think they will, at least in the computer savvy generations. They know about webscams and spammers. They are clued in on phishing and false profiles. They tend to question what they see. That is definitely a good thing. They will take it that one step further with their questions beyond the display.
September 7, 2008 at 7:57 pm
Bob – I can’t be emphatic enough. This is not about the agent they quoted! I am sure he is a great guy. It just got me thinking. But, sense you insist, here is the quote (and I think you might have been speed reading):
September 7, 2008 at 7:57 pm
Sense is “since,” lest you think I am an idiot.
September 7, 2008 at 8:07 pm
Google’s achilees heel is, that while it touts its search results as authoritative using page rank, quality score etc, after all that is taken into account, the web sites that show up on Google’s page one may appear to Google to be authorative, when perhaps in reality they are just the best designed and manipulated to appeal to Google.
In short, the people and businesses behind the sites that occupy the top slots on google may not be the best local experts but rather the best at making their web sites/blog attractive to google.
There can be a huge difference between the two.
September 7, 2008 at 8:08 pm
Hopefully our blogging will help consumers realize what kind of people we are as REALTORS. They will then make a decision about contacting us to help them with what ever situation they need to borrow our expertise for. I feel certain that people who read your blog or Bob’s blog in San Diego may very well come away with different feelings about which one of you is the expert for their situation. Both of you are experts in your own right perhaps just not in the same area.
September 7, 2008 at 8:16 pm
Kris; I agree the issue is more serious than my earlier response – just had to get rid of all the extra “b”s in my new computer 😉
Bob: Thanks for correcting me – there is however a presumption of expertise when someone is quoted in an article or on television or radio. In fact the value of press releases or articles in which someone is placed as an authority far outweighs any marketing the individual or company can do on there. Own
For example in the piece you blocked out it said “Kevin Wunderly, a Realtor with Avalar San Diego, said he isn’t surprised the Scripps Ranch Zip made the list. Sales have slowed in the past year because of tight credit. But the number of homes on the market isn’t large and hasn’t grown much. Homeowners in the affluent neighborhood don’t feel as much pressure to sell as homeowners in poorer, foreclosure-heavy neighborhoods because they have the means to ride out the downturn, he said. “A lot of people are waiting on the sidelines.”
There are a number of presumptions that a reasonable reader would make here (probably on an unconscious level) – they might include, but not be limited tothe following:
1. Because the author has chosen this individual a reader might assume that the individual has substantial background and has assembled enough empirical information to be considered an authority
2. That the individual has enough experience and empirical evidence to be able to analyze the reasons and causes of the variance noted by the writer.
3. That the individual deals with enough “homeowners in the affluent neighborhoods” to be able to make statements regarding an overall trend in their motivations and reactions, and to be considered expert in that field.
Kris’s knowledge and exposure of the market being substantial, and agent’s knowledge of their active competition being fairly thorough (in the case of the really good agents), her unfamiliarity with the agent would lead me to believe that the agent was the first available agent rather then the best available agent (with all due respect to their actual experience). And that should not be good enough.
Sadly, writers having deadlines, and shows having air times, it is too often the case. I can remember an occasion where a local Broker was interviewed in our market for television and completely misquoted the agent’s responsibilities under a specific article of the Code of Ethics- he looked good and presented well but didnt have the right information. I have to agree with Kris that the journalist (and we as citizen journalists) have a substantial responsibility to check and validate the sources we use in our writing.
@Elaine – With all due respect I think the majority of the public doesn’t differentiate – it takes more time then we are usually willing to give – if that weren’t true there would be a lot fewer chain e-mails
September 7, 2008 at 10:05 pm
I am not sure I found the context helpful, but I see Kris’s point. Information on the internet can be mistaken for expert advice or analysis when it is sometimes only advice or analysis (absent the “expert” part).
When I look up medical information, I am careful which source I use. I have a sense of which sources are more authoritative than others. I tend to consult univeristy medical institutions over “natural health” blogs, for example.
But, I do worry because a close friend of mine doesn’t. She sees, for example, a natural health blog written by a medical hobbyist as being equally as informative as what she calls the sites of the medical “establishment,” e.g. a research university. In my mind, the two sources are no where close to being equal: the research university has decades of scientific research backing up its claims, the natural health blog may have one author, who may or may not have a background in medicine.
One saving grace is that medical websites provided by the likes of the Mayo Clinic do have a incomparably wider following that of the average crackpot. So, perhaps being a local expert means proving yourself over and over again and demonstrating your high standards so consistently over time that you become the local real estate research source and not the local ‘flash in the pan’.
It is frustrating, however, when it is the ‘flash’ who gets quoted in Business Week. 🙂
September 7, 2008 at 10:16 pm
Of course not.
The BW didnt refer to him as a “specialist”, and they did not tell anyone he was an expert in your community, and by you own admission, he wasn’t wrong.
The kid caught a break, that’s all. He is trying to break into a market and he is doing it by following the advice of many. You referred to that as “playing the role as hyper-local expert witness”. You used this kid to make a point about challenging credibility. Not cool.
,blockquote>yet I and thousands like me have this platform to use and, regrettably, abuse.
this I agree with.
September 7, 2008 at 10:31 pm
Bob, –I think you make a very good and important point. I just want to say that my comment was not in disagreement with yours. I was addressing the theme of the article rather than the specific reference to the Realtor who caught a break.
Reading your comment, though, makes me want to re-phrase the last part of my comment. I shouldn’t assume that the BW Realtor is a ‘flash-in-the-pan.’ He may be a knowledgeable agent who did, in fact, catch a break. I think you make an important point, there. We need to be careful about how we characterize people. Thanks! 🙂
September 8, 2008 at 9:22 am
OK, Bob. I am going to give this one last shot, as I am feeling a little misunderstood. This was not about the individual who was quoted; it was about a larger concept. I personally don’t care if BusinessWeek includes quotes from every licensed agent in San Diego except me in their next article. A healthy ego does not pay the bills. This simply got me thinking about blogging in general. It served as a reminder to me that there are a whole bunch of people with a big, global platform handing out information and advice wrapped in their self-proclaimed expert cloak, myself included, but who is checking the credentials? The fact that they didn’t call him a neighborhood expert or specialist or what have you is immaterial. The message was there by inference, this individual having been selected as the source. And, once again, they may have spoken to the best real estate mind in our city. I don’t know him, so I can’t say. Again, it’s the bigger picture.
Having a blog does not make me an authority. Saying I am knowledgeable or experienced does not make it so. Blogging is still marching on mostly unchecked. If there is one point I really wanted to make (and I apparently failed miserably) it is this – There are a whole lot of people making a whole lot of claims, and again, myself included. Some have earned the right, and others have not. It’s a powerful platform, and I am beginning to see how the consumer who doesn’t have the time or take the time to dig beneath the rhetoric can be confused and even mislead.
It reminded me that I have a responsibility to be honest, and to represent my opinions as opinions and not absolute statement of fact. It reminded me that we all find ourselves from time to time on the verge of being a little too big for our britches, forgetting that we did not write the book but that we are just living it. It reminded me that every time I write about real estate, I had better really know what the heck I am talking about because there are potentially thousands of unknowing eyes which will take my keystrokes on faith and to the bank. (Well, not on my blog, but hopefully you get the point.) And it reminded me that unless we hold ourselves to a higher standard, the noise will just dilute and eventually entirely block out the message and the medium.
I have been guilty of preachiness, and I have been guilty of dispensing opinion in the sheep’s clothing of “wisdom” when I really didn’t have the depth of knowledge to justify my position. So, this served as a reminder to me to write honestly and responsibly, not to overstep or overstate.
Admittedly, the nexus may seem a little weak, but that is how my brain works. And my sincerest apologies for sounding “uncool” when I was simply having a deep moment of introspection.
September 8, 2008 at 9:50 am
I so totally get Kris’s point…and thank her for this very relevant post. Nothing is more frustrating than meeting someone in 3-D and they aren’t nearly the person they’ve propped themselves up to be in 2-D.
I’ve just started (thanks to the multi-author model of AG, you guys rock) inviting the pro’s I partner with, like my insurance agent, loan brokers, title reps, etc., to write up something of interest and value for my blog. I always credit them, and link back to them when possible. The great thing about this is that I relieve myself of being all things to all clients, and my readers (potential clients) not only get to know me, but my partners as well, and even better, get to know us as a working team of professionals.
September 8, 2008 at 1:02 pm
Dear Miss Understood –
I dunno, I understood the point completely.
Yesterday afternoon, I got a call at 3:00 from a local news reporter. She left a voice mail asking me to go on-air at 5:00 to opine on the fed bailout of Fannie and Freddy. I missed the call as I was absorbed in the opening weekend of the NFL.
Why did this reporter call me? Because I write a local blog. And maybe because the last time she called with a 2 hour notice I was able to work it in. She clearly didn’t call me because I was an expert in the nuances of the govmint bailout. I am nothing close to that. None-the-less, had I picked up the phone, I could have found my smiling mug on the 5:00 news and even if I had explicitly said, “I am no expert on this”, someone out there in TV land would have probably thought “that guy must be an expert! He’s on TV!”.
And that is rather sad. And scary.
September 8, 2008 at 9:49 pm
Whether we write on a blog or not we have a responsibility to be professional and honest. Writing on a blog enhances that responsibility because it’s all there in black and white. Honesty for me can be different for someone else – honesty is often also an opinion. Whether it’s Google or an ad in Homes and Land, the consumer is left to decipher for themselves the reality of any agent’s ability.
Being published or quoted makes an instant expert. It doesn’t have to be stated that the person is one. It’s insinuated by the quote, article or post.
Kris’s point is one that I constantly struggle with answering: How does the consumer learn the truth of an agent’s ability before they’re hired, not after they’ve signed an agreement?
The number of sales, awards, Google standing or quote in itself does not necessarily make one an expert.
September 9, 2008 at 10:47 am
@Kris – I didn’t read it that way. My apologies for missing the point.
I’m not sure I have a clue about “some have earned the right”. With real estate, what are the credentials? Top producer? Company president? I have seen more absolute self serving BS come from these types than anywhere else. I still have the email sent to me by the president of CB in SoCal outlining an opinion piece he wrote that was published in the paper about how the market had bottomed out an buyers should jump in to the market ASAP. Anyone who followed his “expert” advice and bought then (early 2007) likely is upside down today.
I must have missed that point as well. Reading her follow up comments, I got the feeling that Kris is dealing more with the issue of honesty and integrity, not a skillset; but that just may be my warped perspective as I look at this industry with more disdain than most of my colleagues. Some of the agents that sell the most (and therefore the most skilled?) are the last ones people should listen to when it comes to honestly and objectively discussing the market and a buyer or seller’s best interests.
So how is the consumer to know who to listen to or trust? Without looking at an overall body of work, and I do not mean sales stats or awards, they can’t know for sure. That is where the blog can help. A new agent with a new site can get away with faking it for a while, but the consumer is still taking a flyer on that agent. However, a Kris Berg with a documented and lengthy archive can be accurately vetted. If they view the archive Kris has of her published market trends they will see firsthand the objectivity with which Kris covers her market.
While I clearly missed the point Kris was trying to make, it is because I believe Kris misses the accuracy of her own title, “I Am An Expert. Ask Google.” Google IS the consumer’s background check. If all you published in a down marketplace, over and over again like a NAR economist, was that “Now is a great time to buy” while the market continues to roll down hill, then the consumer can see the agent’s “self-serving vs objective quotient” for themselves.
We can’t keep the BS that is published by others from being found by Google, so the best we can do is try to position ourselves above it, both figuratively and literally. The key here is that you do have to “work the system”, but you can do so without selling your soul, which is what it sounds like to me that you think (based on a few of your Google themed posts) is the case with Google.
You and I both know for a fact that in Scripps Ranch, you are the consumer’s best advocate, and Google is the best way for you to get that message out.
Would it be stating the obvious if I said I agree wholeheartedly with that?
September 9, 2008 at 11:07 am
Bob – I read your last comment several times – there is so much thought and consideration there that I had to make sure I got it all. I have a lot to add but the bottom line is: Well said.
September 9, 2008 at 11:59 am
Bob, Now if Lani and Benn would just swap out my post with your last comment, we would be getting somewhere. Well said.
September 9, 2008 at 12:21 pm
Vicki – thank you. I stepped away from the keyboard several times over the last 18 hours. Written communication is hard.
Kris – Nah. Just don’t take my comments personally. They are never meant that way. I’ve lost my ability to kiss up so I just stick it out there and hope that people are willing or brave enough to engage long enough to find common ground, or at least define the differences.
September 9, 2008 at 12:44 pm
Glad I stepped out of my reader to read this entire discussion. Thoughtful and a great conversation.
September 9, 2008 at 7:38 pm
“Best agent in the Delta Quadrant” does that mean that he comes up in Excite, but not Google?
This is one of those posts, where I got a lot from the post and even more from watching two professionals bring varied views together.
September 24, 2008 at 9:58 am
Yeah the “expert” in the area that you have never heard of always kills me. I think the same holds true for the “top bloggers” that don’t do any business. I have seen in it in many areas, but since they don’t make sales transparent from the MLS systems I think it is a tough cookie to crack.