Yes, that extra 30 Feet Make All The Difference in The Word... and many don't know it
Wow, it seems everyone I bump into this summer has an opinion on the US real estate market and the Canadian real estate market: It’s a bubble; there are too many condos; there are not enough condos; it’s going to collapse; it’s a great opportunity; it’s better to rent than buy… and on and on. The internet, the summer parties, the media airwaves… they’re all filled with impending doom or unheralded confidence in the real estate market (both ends of the scale).
Never, in my over 21 years of studying real estate markets has there been so much ‘noise’ surrounding the market. And sadly, I am finding, with a little bit of investigation, that most of the noise is coming from people who have never invested in even one piece of real estate. Not only is that sad, it is also dangerous if you don’t have the tools to filter it out.
In Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Anti-Fragility, he points out the importance of differentiating between ‘signals’ and ‘noise’ due to the fact that, right now, we are innundated with much more instant information (Twitter, Facebook, Smartphones etc) than ever before. The reason this is bad is that his research proves that many people make bad decisions because they confuse the general information flow (noise) with the things that really matter (signals).
Human beings are hard-wired for protection so therefore when walking through a forest you are more likely to think a rock is a bear (danger) than a bear is a rock (safety). That is why we are drawn to ‘seeing danger’ in the information flow. We skip over the important information to get to the perceived ‘danger’ signs. And that is why you see so much fear being pitched in headlines, articles, blog-posts etc… because that is exactly what humans are programmed to look for.
Knowing this pre-wiring, the strategic investor has to master their ability to filter, to discern between noise and signals. By focusing on signals we can see opportunities, we can look for REAL danger signals, we can stop being caught up in the “Availability Heuristics” that the general populous think are truths.
The Simple Yet Extremely Effective Filter Strategy
One of the simple strategies I follow as part of my filter system is really quite easy. In fact, it is a simple yes/no equation. Here’s how it works:
As I write this I am sitting on the patio of the local Starbucks (supposed to be prepping for a meeting) and I overhear a conversation at the next table. The subject? No, not the weather or hockey - it’s real estate again. As I listened I both chuckled at the mistaken myths they were sharing AND was a little saddened as they were making big decisions based on these often repeated myths.
With candor, one young 20-something is sharing her enthusiasm/opinions on real estate. In just 5 minutes she included:
- “You won’t believe the deal I can get on a time share in the Okanagan – for only $80,000 I get two weeks a year at NO CHARGE. That’s like a free holiday every year! The rest of the year it is rented out. Too bad it isn’t by a ski hill but summer should be great!”
- “Downtown Vancouver is not that expensive – my friend has a 380 square foot condo and only pays $1,400/month rent.”
- “My friend really wants to get a piece on US Real Estate ‘cause (sic) the dollar is so strong – I told him it was a great idea and that a bunch of us should pool our money then share the profits ‘cause there is no tax as a Canadian down there.”
- "Canadian Real Estate is so done"
From the gist of the conversation it was clear than no-one at that table had any experience with even one real estate transaction, yet they were speaking in declarative statements as if their comments were written in stone. They say confidence is good, no matter how mis-informed – I disagree.
This one young lady’s declarations were so strong, her friends were accepting them as real estate gospel (even those substantially older than her). She even stated clearly that she hadn’t ever bought a property, but had read a “Ton” (sic) on it so she knows how it works. Although not lacking in confidence, what she lacks is what I learned to call The Final 30 feet experience. Missing this critical piece to the success puzzle makes her confident declarations and opinions so very dangerous not only to herself, but also all of those she confidently shares them with.
You’re right, a few people having a conversation about real estate is not overly “dangerous”. We all have to find our way in the world by making mistakes and learning from them. However, it does get dangerous when I start to hear misinformation and opinions coming from people calling themselves ‘real estate experts’ who also lack The Final 30 Feet experience. As mentioned earlier, the amount of misinformation spewing around right now is unprecedented and that makes my ‘Final 30 Feet’ Rule even more important than any other time.
The Final 30 Feet Experience
My understanding of The Final 30 Feet all began while hearing how Buddy Hackett (veteran comedian) warned a young and upcoming comic on how to deal with the mountains of advice that TV executives, promoters, friends and family will give her as she builds her comedy career. Buddy’s advice was simple yet profound: “Listen politely, smile and allow them to feel helpful… then turn around and seek out advice only from those who have walked The Final 30 Feet.”
The obvious follow-up question was: “What do you mean the Final 30 Feet?” When I heard the answer he gave to the stand-up comedian, I saved it and have used it ever since. Buddy said:
“Only take advice from those who have walked the final and most important 30 feet from backstage to alone in front of a mic with nowhere to hide. Then, and only then, will you know the advice comes from reality and not theory. They’ll understand the emotions, the work it takes to get it right. They’ll have made the mistakes and created the laughs, not just read about how to do it.”
This truism can be transferred into any business, career or investment decision. He is, in essence, saying that there are enough inexperienced pretenders out there who can and will steer you wrong (even if they are confident that their opinions are correct). He is not saying listen to those who have a mic, he is saying ONLY take advise from those who have done what you are planning on doing and been where you are about to go. Theory is great in school… experience is what counts in the real world.
The Strange World Of Starbucks Conversation...
Back to the conversation at Starbucks. I’m sure that young lady thought she was repeating truths; she wasn’t deliberately misleading her companions. However, without having bought, owned, managed or experienced a lot of real estate transactions in all market conditions she truly didn’t have The Final 30 Feet of experience – standing alone, in the real estate market with the emotions and realities.
Book theory, number analysis, charts and graphs mean very little if you haven’t experienced what it really takes to be a great investor. Books, friends, media and ‘experts’ can give you theories, math equations, opinions and analysis, but in the end theories are just that – theories. Veteran investors know there is no theory when you are in the trenches making real life decisions.
That is why Buddy Hackett’s Final 30 Feet advice has served me so very well as I built my business and real estate portfolio into what it is today. I continually sought out people who had already achieved what I wanted to achieve, who had solved the problems I wanted to solve, and who had made the mistakes I wanted to minimize. I let the inexperienced share their theories and opinions, I politely smile, then quickly moved on.
You can simply ask “How Much Property Do You Own or Have you Owned?” as an initial check. Then of they give you a number, ask them “When, Where and under what circumstances?” to ensure that they are giving you advise based on where YOU are going and under the same conditions you are entering.
Those With No Facts Quickly Personalize an Argument To Hide
Another way to filter out those who really don’t have strong technical arguments is to watch them to see how fast they personalize their arguments. As soon as they leave their arguments to attack the person who’s argument is different to theirs, you immediately know they don’t really have a strong position.
A strategic investor, whether buying Canadian real estate or heading over teh border to buy US real estate, knows that a real life and helpful debate comes from parties stating their arguments, supporting them with their research and experiences – and NEVER, EVER enter shift their arguments to attacking the other side personally. As soon as this happens, most of us walk away in disgust even if the person had some good points to share.
So as you move forward in your real estate, your investments, your life, please keep the Final 30 Feet rule in mind. If someone has real life provable experience (both good and bad) in a subject you need answers on, seek them out for advice. What you will find is that those with the Final 30 Feet experience are often more difficult to find than the empty theorists (who have never left ‘back-stage’, leaving them with lots of time to post, share and pontificate). Let these empty theorists have their say. This is your cue to smile, turn on your heel, and speak to those who have taken that critical 30 foot walk. Your business, your real estate and your ‘future you’ will thank you for it.