Nov172015

What happened to all the real estate blogs?

At the height of the housing bubble hundreds of bloggers wrote about the real estate market, but over time, the genre has almost completely disappeared.

Irvine_World_News_Cover_cleanThe 00s were the golden age of real estate blogging. Many people from all walks of life realized house prices were a real estate bubble, and legions of citizen journalists said so. Housing blogs proliferated, but rather than experiencing an over-saturation, the phenomenon fed on it’s own energy. It was a special time.

Unfortunately, all good things must end, and even the most interesting and exciting times fade from the headlines; life goes on.

After the Gold Rush

Posted November 6, 2015 by Joshua M Brown

… I wanted to touch on the state of financial blogging in general, to give you some context about how I look at the success of TRB over the years.

I haven’t cleaned things up in my RSS garden in at least four years. By the time I finished, it was a massacre, an absolute bloodbath of unsubscribed-to sites that I used to read every day. There were literally hundreds of blogs to unfollow.

Over the last several years, I also had to prune the weeds of real estate blogging sites that no longer contribute to the conversation.  satan-job

A quick catalog of the now-unfollowed sites from my list:

  • Blogs where the owner simply stopped publishing sometime in 2013 or 2014 (a fairly common timeframe among those who had given up)

Most real estate bloggers quit sometime during the crash, but the rate of attrition slowed somewhat thereafter. At this point, very few real estate bloggers remain.

  • Blogs where the writing moved away from finance and toward some sort of bizarre political hinterland …

8-dot-coms-that-spent-millions-on-super-bowl-ads-and-no-longer-existDuring the housing bubble, the craziest, most dynamic, and rowdiest real estate blog as Housing Panic (HousingPANIC – The Housing Bubble Blog with an Attitude Problem, 2005 – 2008). Keith was over-the-top, irreverent, and hilarious, and his blog best captured the Zeitgeist of the housing bust.

Toward the end of Housing Panic’s run, it devolved into a series of political rants decrying George W. Bush, and although I shared his disdain for the gross incompetency of the idiot I once voted for, his foray in a bizarre political hinterland diminished the blog. He tried to migrate his readers to Soot and Ashes: The World AFTER the Crash, but after three years, he lost interest and stopped blogging.

A copycat recently started HousingPANIC 2.0. He’s already lamenting the difficulties of blogging. I wish him well.

  • Blogs where the author was so incredibly wrong about how the recovery period would play out that there was no chance of me being able to read their stuff with a straight face

(See: When should pundits admit their mistakes?)

  • Blogs that had converted into a paid newsletter product or shoved a tip jar or donation link toward the top of the page
  • Blogs that had been abandoned, and then restarted, and then abandoned again (this was very common – no one said this was easy)

For an example of both, see Burbed, a survivor still on my blogroll — BTW, blogrolls are another forgotten or abandoned feature of the housing blog era. I would likely be in this category if I hadn’t discovered a way of making some money from my writing. It’s difficult to soldier on forever for nothing.

  • Blogs where the writer was now employed elsewhere …
  • Blogs that had become a parody of themselves and had failed to change with the times (perma-doom content, poorly plotted charts, endless links back to the writer’s previous posts, etc) …

It’s hard not to think about ZeroHedge when reading that statement. For a time, I was concerned Dr. Housing Bubble would fall victim to the perma-bear trap, and although he is still bearish, the quality of the content is consistently high, and he continues to add to the real estate conversation.

But one question lingered on – why did so many interesting and promising financial blogs die?

There are many cases where, for personal or business reasons, the writer had to devote more of their time elsewhere because there just wasn’t a lot of synergy between what they were saying and what they were doing in real life. This is especially the case among the subculture of anonymously penned blogs – we’re talking about an asymmetric equation in which career risk is never quite balanced out by the accolades from strangers on the web.

IHB Blue 3For the first 18 months I wrote for the Irvine Housing Blog, I did so anonymously because I was concerned about the potential problems it would create for my career.

It was never about money. I wrote because I wanted to save people from financial ruin. But no matter how well intentioned, no matter how pure the motivation for writing, it takes a great deal of time and energy, and if there isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it’s difficult to justify taking that much time away from family or work.

Additionally, the ad model probably didn’t work for a majority of DIY bloggers. Firms like Business Insider began producing so much content that CPM click rates dropped through the floor and then kept on dropping. I know the biggest and most widely-read bloggers in the industry – believe me when I tell you that none of them can earn a living from banner ads anymore.

OCHN_AuthorityGoogle Adsense is a joke. Nobody makes a living from advertising. In fact, the payouts are so poor, it’s more financially productive to search the cushions on the family couch than it is to write a blog and monetize it with Google Adsense.

But there are other reasons for the rapidly shrinking population of independent financial bloggers.

Here are a few:

*Mainstream media figured out how to get their journalists blogging and they’re better at it (see the WSJ’s MoneyBeat for the example par excellence). It’s hard to compete with professional journalists and trained writers backed by superior resources.

This is probably true in financial blogging, but as regular readers here are aware, the quality of real estate writing in the financial media is somewhat lacking.

Content is king on the Internet. Writers who publish good content can find and sustain a readership; those who put out garbage joist with windmills.free_posts

*They ran out of stuff to say or lost their edge. One of the most common things I’ve seen is that a new blogger begins as though they were shot out of a cannon, with weeks worth of incredible material. And then, when they’ve written the 10 or 20 posts that had been bursting to come out for years, they’re spent. …

After writing over 2000 posts, I can attest first-hand to the difficulty of coming up with new concepts or ideas.

However, an advantage of writing so prolifically is that I can explore many related concepts and ideas in great detail. Often when I write, I previously explored many of the premises in key arguments, and I link to them as I write. If someone wants to attack one of my arguments by claiming the premise is faulty, I already responded to that attack in a previous post. Of course, the downside to this approach is that it shortens the discourse in the astute observations.

Those readers who don’t read the astute observations miss out on the discussion that drives the ongoing narrative. This blog is blessed with many wise and active commenters who freely share their wit and wisdom. These discussions challenge my arguments and deepen my understanding of these issues. Without the contributions of the astute observers, the content of this blog would suffer.

Astute_Observatios2

*”Writing for exposure” used to be a thing people did, even when they couldn’t put their finger on exactly what all that exposure would mean for them once they had it. …

So far I’ve resisted contributing articles to national sites where my “exposure” would go up significantly. I never really saw the point. Exposure is extremely difficult to monetize. One of my goals for 2016 is to start contributing to national sites to see what happens. I anticipate I’ll get more exposure — and make nothing for my efforts.

*A job change – especially within finance – almost always means a rethinking of one’s public commentary. Especially if the writer goes from a small firm to a larger one. The large financial industry firms already have people doing PR, thought leadership or research for public consumption. The last thing they’re interested in is a freelance opinion-haver from within the ranks proffering an “off-message” take on a given subject. …

I was not hired by a major real estate market analysis firm for this very reason.OCHN_every_day

*A lot of the blogs that sprouted up during the crisis found themselves rudderless when the the chain reaction of economic explosions finally stopped. In the absence of a major disaster unfolding, the authors realized that they didn’t have much to say about the status quo, … so they walked away. …

I thought about quitting. When the housing market reached a point where the emergency passed, the urgency to save people from ruin was gone. I decided I needed to keep writing to educate the next generation about how real estate works. If I didn’t, who would? realtors? I couldn’t abandon innocent future buyers to that unseemly bunch. Spend some time reading the OC Register, and you’ll see what I mean.

And then there’s a much smaller list of financial blogs that have kept the fire burning. There’s Eddy and Tadas and Barry and Epicurean Dealmaker and Howard Lindzon and Yves Smith and Bess Levin, people whose sites predate the financial crisis and are still delivering each day.

My reading list of real estate blogs has dwindled to four:OCHN_good_news

Dr. Housing Bubble is an old stalwart, Logan Mahtashami is new and good, Professor Piggington rarely posts, and Seattle Bubble is another old blog maintaining high quality content.

The slow death of the Irvine Housing Blog was painful to watch. It still exists on life support, but the content, while useful, is not as interesting as it once was.

Sure, lots of times they’re saying things that have already been said, but most readers don’t care. As long as they’re seeing the information presented in a fresh, interesting way, the readers will click and share. There’s no shame in revisiting these well-worn paths. The award-winning and highly regarded investing writer Jason Zweig describes his gig at the Wall Street Journal like this:

My job is to write the exact same thing between 50 and 100 times a year in such a way that neither my editors nor my readers will ever think I am repeating myself.

That’s because good advice rarely changes, while markets change constantly. … And while people need good advice, what they want is advice that sounds good.

It took me quite a while to really understand and accept this. For the first three years of my writing, I never repeated a topic. I felt that once I wrote about it, the matter was fully discussed, and there was no need to revisit it again.

An up and coming blogger can still do canonical stuff with a topic that’s already been covered because brand new investors are arriving every year.

I finally realized that my readership changes. Although many people reading today have been readers since early 2007, most are not. The average reader discovers me because they are looking for more information on the housing market, they read for months or years until they buy a house, then they lose interest and move on. With this constant turnover of of my readership, repeating topics and rewriting old posts is necessary and appropriate.

When I read the closing of this author’s post, it resonated so strongly with me that I felt that he took the words out of my head and wrote them for me. As you read this, consider these my words as well.larry_roberts_money_magazine_2015

Which brings me to today.

Five years ago, people used to ask me “How do you have so much time to blog?” Nobody asks me that anymore. They get it. …

Writing this blog every day for seven years and having an amazing reader base to share my thoughts with has quite literally changed my life. I never could have dreamed that my free wordpress account would open up so many doors. This blog has directly led to thousands of events, connections, relationships and friendships that would have been unimaginable without it. If you’ve been with me since the beginning and have stuck around through it all, then you’ve been a big part of that and I can never truly repay you or thank you enough.

But I can try.

And so I’ll end here with a commitment to you, all of you, that I will always do my best to keep you informed about the markets and the economy as I see them. I’ll continue to link out to the most crucial and entertaining articles and posts, as they come spilling in over the transom each day. I’ll attempt to be fair about the subjects I cover, even when fairness isn’t deserved. I’ll keep my opinions informed at all times and I’ll always consider the other side of an argument before I dismiss it.

Most importantly, I will remain open-minded and willing to change when the facts no longer support a long-held belief. Even if it means I’ll have to admit to being wrong – especially then. I like to think you come here because I keep it real, not because I think I’m always right (believe me, I’m not).

The intent of this blog was always about discovery and learning, for both readers and myself. Continuing on that mission is the least I can do to say thank you for an amazing seven year run.

Cheers and thanks!

– Josh

Ditto,

Larry


In The Great Housing Bubble, I provided a partial list of prominent real estate bubble and related blogs:

The Irvine Housing Blog – http://www.irvinehousingblog.com/
Patrick.net – http://patrick.net/housing/crash.html
The Real Estate Bubble Blog – http://www.thehousingbubbleblog.com/index.html
The House Bubble – http://housebubble.com/
Implode-o-meter – http://ml-implode.com/
Bubble Markets Inventory Tracking – http://bubbletracking.blogspot.com/
Housing Doom – http://housingdoom.com/
Southern California Real Estate Bubble Crash – http://www.socalbubble.com/
Calculated Risk – http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com/
Housing Panic – http://housingpanic.blogspot.com/
Professor Piggington – http://piggington.com/
Dr. Housing Bubble – http://drhousingbubble.blogspot.com/
Bubble Meter – http://bubblemeter.blogspot.com/
The Real Estate Bloggers – http://www.therealestatebloggers.com/
Housing Bubble Casualty – http://www.housingbubblecasualty.com/
Housing Bubble Bust – http://www.housingbubblebust.com/
Real Estate Realist – http://www.realestaterealist.com/
Housing Wire – http://www.housingwire.com/
Sacramento Area Flippers In Trouble – http://flippersintrouble.blogspot.com/
Seattle Bubble – http://seattlebubble.com/blog/
Westside Bubble Blog – http://westside-bubble.blogspot.com/
Marin Real Estate Bubble – http://marinrealestatebubble.blogspot.com/
Sonoma Housing Bubble – http://sonomahousingbubble.blogspot.com/
New Jersey Real Estate Report – http://njrereport.com/
New York City Housing Bubble – http://nychousingbubble.blogspot.com/

See for yourself what’s become of them.

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