Surf’s Up Baby! And Other Absurd Ways to Ruin Your Business

I am writing my blog post this morning from paradise. I’m in Cabo San Lucas, a place I love second only to my beloved Chile, not only because of the beach and climate, but because it reminds me of San Diego in the 1960’s. Relating to the 60’s in a beach community like this is good perhaps for setting a tone in a bar or restaurant, but it can be deadly in the current real estate market.

I have made lots of  friends here in this marvelous community founded by Desi Arnaz and Ernest Hemingway, both locals and those from Canada and the USA who now call this home. I’ve shared  dinners with some of the leaders of this town, tourism directors and more, and in just about every industry but one, they really have it together here.Cabo understands technology, publicity, and marketing communications.

That excellence in marketing and acumen in business communications however, unfortunately, does not extend to the majority of local real estate professionals, in my view. I have been stunned by the lack of sophistication and technological savvy in our industry here. It’s almost as if most are “stuck” in the 1960’s, both attitudinally, as well as technologically.I’m not just talking about the fact that if you mention “Twitter” or “blogs” most realtors here look at you like you have something on your shoe; I mean they are not even using email correctly. Let me explain.

There’s a famous true story in both L.A. and St. Louis that date backs to the mid 1960’s when the McDonnell Aircraft Company, as it was then known, purchased the Douglas Aircraft Company. On one of its first post-purchase visits to Long Beach, executives from the conservative Midwestern-based McDonnell were surprised to find the Douglas plant virtually empty of staff and executives one Friday morning. It was around 10:00 AM, there were planes to build, yet whole departments sported empty desks from wall to wall.

As the story goes, “Mac” himself, the founder of McDonnell Aircraft, turned to his Douglas tour guide and said, “Where the hell IS everybody? Didn’t they know we were coming?”

Without a beat, the Douglas liason, replied, “Well, yes sir, but you know, it’s the tide tables and all.” Noticing the “deer in the headlights” look on James McDonnell’s face, the Douglas employee realized that “Mac” was not tracing with his Southern California lingo, so he restated his answer more clearly:

“I mean”, he said in all seriousness, “surf’s up this morning, baby!”

Yep, most of the key staffers had gone surfing! It was only then that McDonnell realized that the culture “out west” at Douglas aircraft was much different than in St. Louis, and if they intended to make this merger work, they’d have to do something about this antiquated mentality!

  • Months before arriving here in Cabo I used the Internet to find local real estate professionals. I selected a half-dozen or so that looked good based on a directly listing I found, and emailed them all a full page of details about me and what I was looking for. How many do you think actually responded? A grand total of two. One of the two responses was a castigation e-mail by one of the oldest realtors in Cabo, scolding me for using email! I quote “This is a small town and we all know you sent multiple emails. This was bad form,” she said, in tones that at best could be described as discordant. Can you believe it? I actually had the temerity to send multiple emails!
  • After being here a day I saw a property near the house we are renting, and called the phone number shown on the For Sale sign. Spent about 5 minutes answering “qualifying questions” with the agent on the phone who told me he’d “call me right back.”Three days later, I called HIM back. He didn’t have a clue who I was.
  • Went out to my car the third day here and found a very savvy real estate agent had stuck a bumper sticker advertising his firm on my back bumper. No, he didn’t ask, nor introduce himself. I called his office to politely suggest that this kind of thing was better done “with advance permission from the car’s owner,” but after three attempts to reach the Broker, leaving my name and number, to this day still haven’t received a return call. Maybe he’s do busy with his bumper sticker business.

Yesterday I walked past a well known real estate brand’s office in the heart of Cabo who had pasted literally EVERY square inch of their front windows with listing sheets. I do not exaggerate when I say I could not find a quarter-sized hole in the glass to look into. It was around 9:00AM, tourists were on the street, shops were open, but this office was wallpapered shut. No one around. I tried to find an email address or phone number on the door, but to no avail.

  • Then I opened up the local Cabo 4-color magazine and found three full-page ads for new developments- beautiful ads by developers up and down the corridor, all targeting US buyers, with gorgeous shots of their homes overlooking the Sea of Cortez. I called all three. First one: phone was answered by a “temp” who spoke beautiful Spanish but no English. Second call:phone rang 43 times and never answered. This was at 11:00 AM. Last one? got a recording, the number was out of service.

Could I have pushed those calls more? Of course! I speak Spanish, I know how to redial the phone, but that’s not my point.

Even though Cabo hasn’t experienced as deep a recession here, or as dramatic a “bubble”, it seems to me that they should get with the program. Their customers of today, and the future, are connected, blogging, tweeting, Blackberry, iPhone laptop users, who do not have time or inclination to read listing sheets taped to windows, or wait three days for return phone calls.

Now the good news is, there are exceptions. Both Snell Real Estate and Ehrenberg & Associates are doing it right, using e-mail, the Internet, and cell phones well, in a real-time basis. If you email them they’ll respond professionally, and immediately.

Some of these other folks, well, all I can say is, don’t be surprised if you find a bunch of empty desks and a part-time janitor explaining that the reason your emails, tweets, or calls haven’t been answered is because “surf’s up, baby!”

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About The Author: Geoffrey Thompson is an owner and founding partner of Colibri Real Estate, LLC. Since 1996 the companies under this banner have offered online real estate licensing and insurance licensing courses as well as online real estate exam prep and insurance exam prep.