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28 August 2008

308 Days and Counting?

Posted by Nicolai Kolding

Yesterday, Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Mad Money “called” the housing bottom as coming in July of 2009.  Whether or not you agree with his analysis and prediction, I’m sure there are many (including some who see him as no friend of housing) who will embrace this as welcome news to an industry that so badly needs it.

I view this with muted optimism.  On the one hand (whether I like it or not), people like him wield some influence on the market and I can’t help but smell a self-fulfilling prophecy taking shape if more predictions like this make news.  On the other hand (and here’s where I’m focused specifically on professionals in the industry), headlines like this can have a way of getting people to lose focus on the pain that could still lie ahead.

Even if this prediction is right (and it’s towards the more positive end of the spectrum of what’s out there), the industry still has to get through yet another winter in a bear market.  And, as we all know, winter is a time of year when in even the best of times cash is tight.  Things may start looking brighter 308 days from now, but there could very well be many dark and cold days between now and then.

If I owned a brokerage company, I would go on the offensive.  I wouldn’t wait and react, I would act now so that, if Cramer was right, I’d be better positioned than the rest to grow when the market does.  But I’d presume Cramer was dead-wrong and that the worst is yet to come.  I’d look at all of my leases and see if I could get ever leaner and meaner.  I would challenge every last square foot of space, not only because it cuts back on a big line-item but because having a 4,000 square-foot cube-farm isn’t how I’d want to position myself for the future.  At the same time, I’d be looking around my market to see who was not in a position to survive the winter and look to acquire.  My goal wouldn’t be to stretch myself into a new market, but to strengthen my operations with good, productive, reputable agents.

Maybe he’s right and we have less than a year to go.  But what if July 1, 2009 isn’t the day the sun starts shining again?  What if it’s 2010?  2011?  Worse?!?  What will you do then?

Wherever you may stand, don’t lose sight of the difficult decisions that still lie ahead over the cold winter months (I’m writing figuratively, so you warm-weather brokers aren’t off the hook).  I believe the worst you can get from proactively cutting unneeded expenses while looking at possible “roll-in” acquisitions is better positioning for when your market improves, whenever that day may come.

Now is not the time for day-dreaming about a return to the good ol’ days.  Assume Cramer couldn’t be farther from right and act accordingly.  No matter how the market winds may blow, you’ll be stronger for it.

On a completely different topic, today marks the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.  I think these extraordinary and moving words are worth reading or listening to at least once a year.

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