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Confront Candidates by Crowdsourcing Housing Questions for Next Debate


Without a question about housing or any mention of investigations and lawsuits related to Trump University, references to real estate were revealing in last night’s debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

When a reporter asked afterwards if there were any defining moments, a Clinton strategist didn’t need to spin. Donald Trump’s lack of empathy for millions of Americans who were devastated by the real estate recession was revealing.

So was his response to fair housing violations.  In an article entitled, Donald Trump’s first presidential debate confirmed he has no idea what he’s talking about, Vox wrote:

“Accused of practicing racial discrimination in his businesses, he says being sued by the federal government is ‘one of those things’ and even though he paid up, there was ‘no admission of guilt.’”

He repeated “no admission of guilt” twice as if that would absolve him from the truth.

The truth is that Donald Trump saw foreclosures as  an opportunity to exploit people.  “That’s called business,” was his dismissive response when Hillary Clinton exposed Trump’s greed.  So if he lashes out at Fed Chief Janet Yellen for creating another “big fat ugly bubble,”  he needs to be held accountable.  If elected President, which version of Donald Trump would develop policies to protect millions of homeowners if they go upside down again on their mortgages again?

Is that a far fetched scenario?  Not according to some housing market observers.  Real estate is cyclical and storm clouds are already forming according to the co-founder of Keller-Williams.  The next president will need an enlightened housing policy to address numerous problems:

1.  Rent burdens are unprecedented;

2.  Not a single county has enough affordable housing;

3.  The wealth and income gap between millennials and baby boomers is a time bomb (disruptive demographics);

4.  Today’s lack of inventory will be replaced by homes no one wants, (Great Senior Sell-Off);

5.  We have only one affordable housing unit for every three seniors who need it.

Housing is taking a larger and larger share of household budgets, so some prominent people argue that affordable housing should have been more prominent throughout the primary and presidential campaigns.  Rather than waiting for debate moderators to ask, maybe ordinary home buyers and sellers should crowd source our own questions.

Bernie Sanders fans want to start here?

Mr. Trump, you made your fortune through real estate but your father developed thousands of units for ordinary people.  What’s your vision for housing a generation of millennials who are watching investors and foreign buyers remove starter homes and affordable condos from the housing market?

What about real estate professionals?  Why aren’t leaders in the industry stepping forward to confront the candidates on housing as they did at the bottom of the housing recession?

Posted in #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders, Affordable housing, Consumer protection, Foreclosure Prevention, Housing bubble, Housing policy, Real Estate Bubble, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance

Tidal Wave of #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders or Virtual Town Hall Meeting?

If “Foreign buyers at Millennium Tower show that Boston is on a world stage,” is that was a good thing?  Apparently not, if you scan over 130 comments from Boston Globe readers: (share via social media)

Across the river in Cambridge, concerns about soaring housing prices were mirrored by 80 neighbor-to-neighbor comments after one member of NextDoor, a neighbor-only site, expressed concerns about “how many members of the “public [hearing on affordable housing]” were developers, and how few were residents and advocates.”

Despite shared concern about rising costs, the gap between the two threads revealed a hidden problem:  how little is known about the role foreign buyers are playing in the current speculative cycle and their short and long-term impact on affordability.  What we do know is that:

While some some developers are trying to limit sales to investors to protect resales, a marketing consultant told the Boston Globe:

“It’s a little bit like holding back a tidal wave at this point,” … “There’s a much bigger market out there than anybody has tested.”


Why should “ordinary people” care?  Global real estate speculation is not limited to luxury towers; and even if it were, two articles in the New Yorker begin to explain indirect social costs:

Real Estate Goes Global (share via social media)

Why The High Cost of Big-City Living Is Bad For Everyone (share via social media)

Others fear that the housing market is being driven by external or shadow demand; #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders and more could make Housing Bubble 2.0 worse than the one a decade ago:

Housing Bubble 1.0 vs. Housing Bubble 2.0 – The Culprit is “Shadow Demand” … Again! (share via social media)

Finally, our concerns about spiraling prices and research into unprecedented bidding wars were underlined by this recent article:

China Might Be Blowing a Gigantic Global Housing Bubble

“…going back to 2013, recall that the People’s Bank of China allowed Chinese companies to lend money in renminbi to their offshore branches without any limit and without any requirement for them to first notify regulators.

That essentially meant that companies could transfer money out of China without having to worry about capital controls. Home prices started increasing strongly around the world since around that year.”

How can we raise awareness about #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders?  Here are two idea starters:

IDEA STARTER 1: Host Virtual Town Hall

Groups in Vancouver are hosting an affordable housing rally at 2pm (5pm our time) on Saturday, September 17.  Should we revisit an earlier proposal to host a virtual town hall meeting to learn more about their devastating new 15% tax on foreign buyers?  Ideally, the virtual town hall meeting could include others cities negatively impacted by #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders like the Bay Area, Seattle, Toronto, and New York.

IDEA STARTER 2: Use humor to raise awareness about #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders

We’ve shared this idea with a number of insiders, and invite feedback on using LAUGHTivism to expose #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders. Should we play with the idea sometime over beer at one of our #REonTap sessions? (share via social media)


Bidding wars are blind, so unless someone spills the beans, first-time homebuyers may not know that they’ve been outbid by a foreign buyer.  However, if the same buyer or investor pool turns that purchase into an AirBnb unit, it may be easier to spot and:

  1. Report to public officials monitoring the problem or Cambridge Inspectional Services if the units violates the city regulations.
  2. If short-rentals violate your condo by-laws or threaten to undermine financing options and resales, report to your condo association.
  3. Finally, if you’d simply like to sound off about the problem, record a one minute sound bite using this link via lap/desktop or your smartphone.  We’ll share it with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s staff, as Congress is investigating whether “short-term rentals may be exacerbating housing shortages and driving up the cost of housing in our communities.”

Posted in #REonTap, #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders, Affordable housing, Bidding wars, Bubble Hour, Consumer protection, Defensive Homebuying, Housing bubble, Housing Justice, Real Estate Bubble

#SpeculatorsWithoutBorders extracting affordable housing from Cambridge

A controversial protest organized by Black Lives Matter Cambridge resulted in extensive media coverage and an open letter last week in the Cambridge Chronicle entitled, Fight for affordable housing in Cambridge is fight for black liberation. Unfortunately, the same publication rejected my comment so posting here and eager to share with City Councilors, various affordable housing committees, and Envision Cambridge — the $3.3M citywide planning process.


Encourage affordable housing advocates to look at the impact “external demand” and bidding wars are having on a daily basis in Cambridge; and as reflected in the bullet points in the attached above, the long-term implications of the globalization of real estate. As you can see from this announcement posted on a Cambridge real estate agent’s Facebook page, it’s no secret that Cambridge real estate agents are courting international buyers and investor pools:

My sense, unverified at this point and potentially unverifiable unless policy changes are made, is that foreign buyers and investor pools are removing affordable housing (which they define as $500K starter condos) faster then they can be added to the housing inventory.

What can we learn from other cities about how to respond? Vancouver has imposed a new 15% real estate transfer tax on foreign buyers. Significantly, the tax does not come out of the sellers pocket or the developer’s proforma. As such, it essentially taps into Cambridge’s international appeal to raise funds to increase affordable housing.

Look into the future, and see the consequences if we continue to let #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders drive up prices and extract affordable housing opportunities: (share link via social networks)

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BOTTOMLINE: Add a 5th and potentially 6th bullet point to the list in the Cambridge Chronicle’s Guest Opinion?

5. Impose a buyer tax on foreign buyers, similar to Vancouver where international investors pay 15% on top of the sales price; or Singapore’s model: any investor / non-owner occupant pays a tiered buyer tax.

6. To calm the current speuclative cycle, declare a two-year moratorium on #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders, too?

Tagged with:
Posted in #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders, Affordable housing, Bidding wars, Consumer protection, Housing Justice, Investigative Reporting, RE2020, Real Estate Consumer Bill of Rights, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance

Let’s declare Holy War on BLIND Bidding Wars

There’s been a flurry of more than 30 comments on @NextDoor following a recent Cambridge City Council meeting on affordable housing.  Mine is shown below.  Want to share yours offline tonight at #REonTap? Let’s meet at the Podcast Garage where we’re learning to expand our voice and invite yours as well.  If you can’t attend, you can still reply to the conversation starter below:

Robert, I like your question: What would you like (data) to prove? My hypothesis is that the globalization of real estate = supply of affordable units going in reverse in Cambridge. Consider these bullet points:

1. Price is not the sole measure of affordability, ask anyone who’s been told they need to pay $100K/+ over asking price to win a bidding war in Cambridge (ironic for a city with its own Peace Commission);

2. While Cambridge has added nearly 1,000 affordable units; how many others have been extracted from the existing housing stock by investors — foreign or domestic; short-term rental (like @AirBnB) or crowdfunded pools looking to maximize long-term rents? Marc McGovern & Robert Winters, my guess is that the number FAR exceeds the 200 affordable ownership units added since 1998.

3. Other cities including Vancouver are responding with innovative solutions:

3.1 Regulating the BLIND bidding process used by real estate agents to increase transparency, and

3.2 Taxing foreign buyers 15% on top of their purchase price. That’s calmed demand from #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders and put downward pressure on prices.

With blogs on Forbes & Financial Times hyping Cambridge real estate as a great investment:

… time we also explore emergency regulations to protect the “Common Good” from multiple perspectives: existing residents who’d like to downsize but can’t find anything affordable, businesses who’d like to attract employees put off by housing costs, and our adult children who’ve been priced out of Cambridge?

Historical overview of bidding wars available on

Posted in #REonTap, #SpeculatorsWithoutBorders, Affordable housing, Bidding wars, Bubble Hour, Buyer agent, Consumer protection, Defensive Homebuying, Dual Agency Detective, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance

Who will put savings back into buyer agency?

My assumption is that many buyer agents who take fiduciary duties seriously have worked with buyers willing to pay over asking price because they believe rising prices will offset their leap of faith. In 1988, Nobel prize winning economist Robert Shiller and Karl Case said those kind of calculations turned homebuyers unknowingly into the drivers of a speculative boom / bust cycle as 6 to 10% of homes sold over asking price. In some locations like Cambridge, Massachusetts that pace is now up TENFOLD, as bidding wars are at a dangerous unprecedented pace.

Recognizing that, this stunning finding asks what role are buyer agents playing. By one quantitative measure of ROI or ROA – Return On Agency, buyer agents generated savings beyond their paycheck in just 17 or 217 transactions in Cambridge. That’s a paltry 8%:

When buyer agents pioneers launched their practices two to three decades ago, they routinely quoted excerpts like this:


“If you ever doubted the value of real estate agents who work solely for home buyers (as opposed to traditional agents who report to sellers, consider this: A recent study by U.S. Sprint found that 232 relocating Sprint employees who hired buyer’s brokers paid an average of 91% of a home’s list price. People who use traditional agents typically pay about 96%. On a house originally priced at$150,000, that’s a difference of $7,500.”


“…Buyers average a 5% savings when represented by a buyer’s agent rather than a seller’s agent.”

What happened, and what will happen when the market changes? Will we see a repeat of 2008 when clients began suing counterfeit buyer agents?

With Keller William’s founder warning about a shift in the housing market —, is it time we develop a meaningful if not quantifiable measure of buyer agents effectiveness that exposes fake buyer agents? Maybe something as simple as:

Put the savings back into buyer agency?

Some say the next major housing crisis will be generated by “disruptive demographics,” and in retrospect, it may be clear were’s headed for another lost decade in housing. What’s your take?

Are we approaching a tipping point in housing?  Should you or your buyer agent be concerned?

If you’re in Greater Boston, join us offline for our next “Bubble Hour.”  Follow @RealEstateCafe for the next #REonTap

Posted in Bidding wars, Bubble Hour, Buyer agent, Defensive Homebuying, Dual Agency Detective, Great Senior Sell-Off, Housing bubble, Housing forecasts, Real Estate Bubble, Savings & Rebates, Seasonality, Timing the market

#RE2020 radar screen includes Blockchain & much more


Since the early 1990’s, Real Estate Cafe has scouted innovations at the intersection of real estate + technology + consumer advocacy, but we’ve never attended a streak of events like the past month. As new technologies and players come into the emerging real estate ecosystem (#RE2020), we’ve expanded our radar screen to include innovations in RETech, FinTech, LegalTech, Smart Cities, Smart Homes, Internet of Things / Internet of Me, and Blockchain.


Significantly, two events this week (2Q2016 / WK 20) will address Blockchain in Real Estate. Would anyone in Boston / Cambridge like to meet offline for some or all of today’s event via Twitter or any Livestream, Blab or Periscope that event organizers might share?

05/17/16: International Blockchain Real Estate Association Conference

Matt McKibben from will be in town to participate in this MIT event. Should we invite him to demo their blockchain solution for title? If so, are there people we should invite from the #RE2020 ecosystem to expedite adoption / expand awareness?

05/19-20/16: MIT World RE Forum (includes “edge track on blockchain in real estate”

+  +  +


Our the past four weeks, we’ve scouted #RE2020 trends and innovations at nine events — seven in person and two virtually:


04/25-28/16: VRM Day / Internet Identity Workshop (IIW)

05/02-03/16: Concensus 2016 (Blockchain conference in NYC)


04/16/16: MIT FinTech Conference

04/22/16: MIT Future of Cities Conference

04/17/16: Real Disruption

05/6-7/16: Global Legal Technology Lab


05/11-12/16: National Association of Realtors Mid-Year conference

05/12-13/16: RE.Work Connected Home Summit

+  +  +


What events should we watching or attending in coming weeks to continue to monitor changes in the #RE2020 ecosystem?

WEEK 21: 05/22-28/16

WEEK 22: 05/29-06/04/16


For the past two decades, the Real Estate Cafe has hosted technology debriefings after major technology events. We’re currently updating our ongoing list of Best of Breed money-savings apps and the reVRM-Minifesto we first drafted in 2010. With that in mind, we’re pleased to learn that Doc Searls, of ProjectVRM or Customer Commons, is drafting on The Castle Doctrine that will address the use of personal data in Smart Homes.

If you’d like to cocreate the emerging future in real estate, join or follow what others are doing via #RE2020

Posted in Best of Breed, Blockchain, Consumer protection, Disrupt Real Estate, IoT: Internet of Things, RE2020, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance, reVRM, Tech Trends, VRM

How will AirBnB’s move expedite, expand uses of Blockchain in Real Estate?


Eager to see what kind of ripple effects this news will have at the upcoming VRM / IIW conference, and PersonalData and blockchain communities in Boston and beyond.  AirBnB’s acquisition and 17 million users certainly raise this question:

How will AirBnB’s move to adopt blockchain expedite, expand uses in real estate?


“…blockchains might allow Airbnb to share its user profiles with other companies. “The question is whether there’s a way to export [a user’s reputation] and allow access elsewhere to help other sharing economy models really flourish

could become a trusted form of digital identity, a bit like the profiles that credit bureaus create for individuals. If these identities can be “exported” to other platforms

potentially hugely useful, ways of using blockchains, such as door locks that open or close when a user sends money to a homeowner over a blockchain…”

Market-making implications

Last Spring, the VRM / IIW community recommended setting up a working group to explore VRM as a “market maker in real estate.”  To get that started, hosted 1st real estate unconferences in Boston and set-up Loomio site to form subworking groups.  See thread related to blockchain in real estate: (share via social networks)

To reach the masses, using hashtag #RE2020.  Hope to expand awareness of money-saving options for “ordinary” homebuyers, sellers, renters, etc. by asking “Where will real estate be in the year 2020?” (share via social networks)

Start chatter offline

If you’re in the Boston area, want to meet to discuss the implications of AirBnB’s move over beers? Follow #REonTap for details

Posted in Blockchain, Disrupt Real Estate, Personal data, RE2020, Real Estate Roundtables, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance, reVRM, Tech Trends, Unconference, VRM

Beyond rethinking, reset real estate ecosystem by 2020

As I write, the students from Harvard’s law, business and design schools are co-hosting a Real Estate Weekend inviting students and innovators from around the country to rethink real estate.  Four years ago, the National Association of Realtors engaged tens of thousands of their members in interactive workshops entitled: RethinkFuture.

Both efforts reflect a growing awareness that real estate is changing, a recognition that’s attracted $3 billion dollars in investment in the past three years.

That number is tiny by comparison to what’s at stake:  a potential $30 billion dollars annually in consumer savings.  How do consumers — ordinary home buyers and sellers, not to mention a generation of Millennial challenged by unprecedented housing costs — get there from here?

#RE2020:  What will real estate look like in 2020?

Last weekend, a number of collaborators launched a bold experiment — a cross-sector unconference to ask, “What will the real estate ecosystem look like in the year 2020?”

Our goal is to reform / co-create a real estate ecosystem capable of delivering BILLIONS annually in consumer savings by the year 2020. With smart homes, smart cities, wearable devices, blockchain, drones, robots and more, the real estate ecosystem is expanding and new players are changing the existing business model.  In fact, a year ago the Realtors own strategic planning committee published a list of 50 ways the industry is vulnerable to disruption,:


Last weekend was the 1st in a series of unconferences and other events leading to November 2018, when the National Association of Realtors host their first annual convention in Boston. If anyone would like to follow our attempts to reform / disrupt the industry:

1. Follow / use #RE2020 —;

2. Join one of the working groups on our collaboration site:

3. Help identify ways we can work through existing organizations and MeetUp groups in Boston and beyond to transform this multi-trillion dollar industry.


Realtors know that the real estate ecosystem is changing, and if you look at their DANGERReport as an opportunity, we’d like to invite you to collaborate on coming events, including #RE2020’s next unconference.

The slider above shows a sample of them.  For more information, follow

Posted in Uncategorized

Big Deals, Real Deals and need for New Deal on Real Estate Data


A leading real estate site recently asked, “Is Donald Trump the Real Deal?”  To fact checkers, the answer is as straightforward as Huffington Post editor note: “Donald Trump is a serial liar…” and accusations that Trump University “lured students to spend up to $35,000 on real estate seminars.”

Even if everyone who’s seen The Big Short agrees with John Oliver’s assessment, “Starting [Trump] mortgage company in 2006 was one of the worst decisions you could possibly make,’ dismissing questions about what’s real in real estate as quickly as some would dump Donald Dumpft would miss some teachable moments.

There are multiple meanings and uses of the word “deal,” and envisioning them in an infographic would be a  complex but interesting exercise.  For example, compromising can be a virtue in “Art of the Deal” (name of the book coauthored by Trump in 2009), but compromising should be constrained by values, notably those people consider a BIG DEAL!


That’s where unfolding headlines about the dispute between the FBI and Apple Computer add important angles to this discussion.  Two weeks ago, a headline in USA Today read:

Here’s why the FBI forcing Apple to break into an iPhone is a big deal (share via social media)

Apple, The F.B.I. And Your Privacy (share via social media)

Trump has a tarnished track record, and that’s important to expose.  But polls suggest a surprising number of people agree with Apple – exposing their personal data to misuse is a BIG DEAL!   


Contentious panels at recent real estate technology conferences suggest that data ownership is a big deal within the real estate industry.  But what about personal data — confidential data about homebuyers in particular?

MIT professor Sandy Pentland calls for “New Deal on Data” in his article in Harvard Business Review entitled

With Big Data comes Big Responsibility (share via social media)

Think it’s important to extend that to a “New Deal on Real Estate Data?”  Think blockchain and VRM business models will enable that era?  We do, that’s why we’re encourage homebuyers and homeowners to read this article:

US intelligence chief: we might use the internet of things to spy on you (share via social media)

If the government admits that IoT can be used to spy on you, does a research lab dedicated to “Powering the Internet of Things for Realtors” raise questions about privacy and data ownership, too?


In December, we were delighted to read that the default setting for Zillow’s recent acquisition, DotLoop, seems to be raising the privacy bar in real estate to favor the consumer.  Their Data Privacy Guarantee reads:

“Dotloop customers own all their data and dotloop will not use the data without customers’ permission.”

Will that give consumers the ability to control the access and use to their personal data? If so, that would be a BIG DEAL because it’s a step towards a new era of user managed access (UMA) in real estate that would reduce confidentiality breaches, set the stage for an agency revival, and ultimately empower consumers to leverage their personal data for financial gain.


We’ve written in the past about using personal data in real estate as a use case for a New Deal on Real Estate Data.  In January 2016, we proposed starting blockchain in real estate working groups in Boston and beyond. took the lead to launch a MeetUp in Washington, DC, where Congress is hearings arguments today about privacy versus security concerns.  We’ll extend that debate to include privacy issues and conflicts of interest in real estate via our series of debates on  Join us there to help share the future of real estate:

What’s “out of sync” with housing? Can we solve by next #LeapYear: 2020? (share via social media)

Or if you’re in Boston, offline to create collages while listening to NPR’s rebroadcast  (see tweet above).


Posted in Blockchain, IoT: Internet of Things, Personal data, Privacy, Real Estate Consumer Bill of Rights, Real estate deals, Real Estate Roundtables, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance, reVRM, Tech Trends

What’s “out of sync” with housing? Can we solve by next #LeapYear: 2020?

Let’s use what’s left of this Leap Day to catapult into the future by asking what will the real estate industry look like in the NEXT Leap Year — 2020?

Because we’re eager to begin creating a public awareness / consumer education campaign on, this blog post will be short on text and long on keywords.

Click on any of the links below, and you’ll see a history of what RealEstateCafe has blogbed about over the past decade.  Our passion is at the intersection of real estate, technology and consumer advocacy, but we recognize that you can’t talk about the future of housing and cities without addressing the emerging ecosystem — smart homes, smart cities, the internet of things, climate changes and disruptive demographics.

As we’ve written repeatedly, our goal is to cocreate an open ecosystem in real estate capable of delivering $30 billion annually in consumer savings – hence the hashtag #RE2020.  What’s on your list of “Top 20 Issues facing Real Estate Consumers” and would you like to be a guest on our chats in coming weeks?

What’s your vision of 2020 — the next Leap Year?  Jump in wherever you like.  Audio responses are easy to make by tapping on @Anchor link, but are limited to one minute. If you’d rather join this or future conversations offline in Boston follow #REonTap on Twitter for details (and photos below).


Posted in Affordable housing, Bidding wars, Blockchain, Commission Reform, Consumer protection, Defensive Homebuying, Disrupt Real Estate, Fee-for-service real estate, Great Senior Sell-Off, Housing Justice, Impact Rebates, Intentional Communities, Pope's Encyclical, RE2020, Real Estate Consumer Bill of Rights, Real Estate Roundtables, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance, reVRM, Trend analysis, Unbundling the Commission
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