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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

Can everything — including buyer agency — be ‘Uberfied?’


Last October, a pundit in Huffington Post asked, “Where is on-demand headed next?”  His answer:

We’re now entering what I like to call “phase II” of the on-demand economy…

…up the ladder to higher-end professions. It won’t just be drivers and dry cleaning, but also lawyers and architects, as we’re already seeing.

But where are the limits of on-demand? The question came up recently when watching tech giants like Amazon and Google move into the biggest on-demand category of all: Home Services.

…But on-demand home services have proven difficult… just ask Homejoy (which closed).

On-demand vs Fee-for-Service in Real Estate

If a homebuyer is working with an exclusive buyer brokerage, are “fee-for-service” and “on-demand” the same thing? Maybe, maybe not — depends on what service the homebuyer chooses from an agency disclosure form (see state mandated form in Massachusetts).

If the real estate licensee is simply acting as facilitator, then non-agency services rendered the SAME DAY of the showing have a place when offered “on-demand.”

However, if the real estate professional is offering fiduciary-level buyer agency representation, SAME DAY showings and rushed offers are IMHO imprudent if not irresponsible.  To paraphrase marketing guru Seth Godin who praised the Real Estate Cafe’s hourly fee model a decade ago, “‘On-demand’ could be the refuge of a DEALTOR or non-agency business model that has no experience or expertise to add value.”

Over the past two decades, our time sheets have typically tallied 25 to 45 hours, but those billable hours are spread out over months, often over years as shown in the image above — and nearly always PREPAID. If you’ve seen the movie The Big Short, you know why this graphic shows that patience is more valuable than speed:

  • In declining housing market,
  • During uncertain times (like before an election), or
  • Negotiating with / waiting out the owner of an overpriced property.

Would you believe that nearly a decade ago, our goal was to help our buyer clients save six figures on every home they bought?  Impressive as that sounds, it’s important to remember that real estate is cyclical and there was a time when three listings failed for every two that sold.  Think speed matters in that kind of market?  NO, over eagerness is actually counterproductive — especially this time of year!

On-demand vs Being proactive

Right now, some homebuyers in Greater Boston / Eastern Massachusetts are waiting for more inventory to come into the market during 2Q2016, but we’ve got proactive househunting strategies and special incentives that could help you save money on both the real estate commissions and purchase price.

From our perspective, that’s more valuable and credible than the “Urberfication of everything.” If on-demand services appeal to you, why not propose your own fee and rebate — one year, one in three of our buyer clients did.  Want to talk about it in person over beer at one of our upcoming #REonTap sessions, or communicate via

Posted in Buyer agent, Commission Reform, Discount real estate, Fee-for-service, Inventory, Price reductions, RE2020, Real estate rebates, Savings & Rebates, Seasonality

The beginning of the end of “CONCEAL estate”?


Earlier today, the publisher of a leading real estate news site posted this comment on Facebook:

“Foreign buyers are not as active as before due to the value of the dollar, says Realogy CEO Richard Smith, but not meaningful to the business.”

My response there:

Is it just the “value of the dollar” or are we beginning to see the beginning of the end of “CONCEAL estate”? (share via social media)

Wonder why the impact of foreign investment hasn’t become more visible in the presidential campaign. When newspapers like the NYPost are beginning to address the issue, can progressives like Bernie Sanders be far behind?

“…countries inundated with illicit cash are developing real estate bubbles and high housing costs for ordinary residents.”

Money laundering and real estate speculation may not be meaningful to “the business,” but tell that to a generation of millennials who are bidding against foreign buyers, or places like Vancouver that are becoming economic ghost towns, or boomers in Greater Boston who are discovering that the economics of downsizing no longer work.

What’s to be done? We’ve got thoughts — in fact, to our proposal to use blockchain to regulate blind bidding wars won first place in an MIT hackathon a month ago (see intro video). Who wants to explore that approach and other policy options, online or offline in Boston / Cambridge?  One city councilor is interested, who else should be invited?  Send nominees via email to

Here are some idea starters from around the world, courtesy of an article pushed yesterday in Vancouver Business:

“Whether it’s a surtax on luxury homes offset by income, as proposed by a group of University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University economists, or a stamp duty on foreign buyers (as in Hong Kong and the U.K.) or outright restrictions on foreign ownership of certain properties (as in Australia, Alberta and Prince Edward Island) or different property transfer tax rates for non-residents or a progressive property tax rate, it’s past time for a co-ordinated government effort…” (share via social media)

What would a coordinated effort look like in Greater Boston — should we explore that with the civic tech community as well as planning efforts currently underway in Boston and Cambridge?  At a minimum, might be a good topic to convene two MeetUps at the intersection of a transformative new technology — Boston Blockchain & Massachusetts Legal Hackers.


Posted in Affordable housing, Bidding wars, Blockchain, Consumer protection, Housing bubble, Housing Justice, Luxury housing, Real Estate Consumer Bill of Rights, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance

Beyond blockchain: Elevating real estate, delivering billions in consumer savings


“What’s Next?” was one of the themes at #ICNY / #ICNY16 and a day after two blockchain gurus wow’ed that audience in NYC, a blockchain-enabled Bidding War platform quietly won an MIT Hackathon!  Here’s the problem statement:

What’s next for blockchain in real estate?  The Realtors have started an impressive lab — @CRTLabs — that’s Powering the Internet of Things for Realtors.  Does that present an opportunity to collaborate or are consumers better served by their own lab?  What role might innovators in Boston play?


Building a multiple offer / bidding war prototype is just one point of entry for dozens of blockchain-enabled use cases in the real estate ecosystem.  RESO — Real Estate Standards Organization — is also exploring blockchain as a solution to their PUID (Property Unique ID) — arguably the digital cornerstone of the MLS.

For unofficial background on this baseline opportunity, visit the wiki from the Future Commerce Hack at MIT in November 2015 to see slides, links, and (dated) discussion of PUID:


Three opportunities are emerging:

1.  First, if you would like to seed a Blockchain in Real Estate MeetUp in Boston, join one in Washington, DC, or start one in your local community, please let us know.  We’d like to see cross-sector groups of consumer / civic tech / OpenGov advocates, as well as real estate innovators and app developers form nationwide, even internationally.

2.  Second, if you’re a real estate innovator who would like to co-create an open ecosystem in real estate industry capable of delivering billions in consumer savings annually, that’s the goal of #RE2020.  Please follow that hashtag on twitter, and share any time one of your clients (or DIY homebuyer / sellers) saves money!  Our goal is $30 billion annually by the year 2020.

3.  Finally, the National Association of Realtors is bringing their annual convention to Boston during November 2018.  Traditionally, they’ve placed the real estate agent at the center of the transaction, but consumers need a “New Deal on Real Estate Data” that places personal data at the center of the transaction.  Want to participate in a series of activities over the next three years to address this question:

Reform or disrupt? Where will real estate be in 5 years?

What opportunities do you see, and how can we work together?  The headwinds that face the housing industry in the emerging future need cross-sector collaboration. What to contribute to the conversation, online and off, on the road to Boston in 2018?  We need your insights to elevate the conversation!

Posted in Bidding wars, Blockchain, Consumer protection, Disrupt Real Estate, IoT: Internet of Things, RE2020, Real Estate Consumer Bill of Rights, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance, Savings & Rebates, VRM
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