Week 227 in Detroit. If you just signed up for Saturday Cup of Joe, welcome and thank you for signing up. If you’ve been reading for a while, I appreciate there’s enough value here to keep you coming back. My goal is to share the thoughts, articles and insights that I found or discovered this week. Often these are centered on housing, equality or equal opportunity, mortgage, innovation, tech, leadership and mindset. Pictures and quotes vary. Feedback is always welcome. Apologies on typos or minor grammatical errors as this is not my day job.
Though almost every conference call started with “it’s a short week” or “thank goodness it’s a short week” or “is it a short week?” or some other acknowledgement that most of us did not work on Monday, it did not exactly feel like a short work. I think of my days, especially when jammed packed and flying by as a blessing and a curse. Certainly the blessing is to be working and working for a role or company where there’s more to do than hours in the day. That’s privilege and I’m grateful to be working at all, frankly. The curse is the limitation of time. There is “never enough time” for all the things. Work, friends, relaxing, exercise and family.
Brad, my best friend, and I used to talk about “having it all.” Meaning that we could calibrate living all areas of our lives to the fullest.
I can hear you now — “how’s that going for you?”
It’s not easy, that’s for sure. But it’s not a failure either. I think I’ve learned a lot about perspective and what I can control versus what I cannot. In fact, it’s the reason so many motivation speakers and coaches talk about mindset.
I was reminded this week about perspective when I saw a video from Kara Lawson, Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Duke University.
She gave her team some perspective (later posted to Twitter): the difference between hard work and competition. “Millions of people work hard but did you compete?” The message is that hard work is important, but turning it into productivity is the goal. Competing, at the highest level, of what you are doing is having it all.
When I think about that, I think about the phrase — answer well.
I’ve always used “answer well” to mean pushing beyond hard work or good enough and “competing” in whatever I’m focused on at that time. It does not mean working all the time. There might be some long nights because I have to answer well to a big challenge at work. Those are not meant to become a lifestyle. Answering well means identifying those times and knowing when it’s time to balance it out.
Bill Emerson, the former CEO of Quicken Loans & current Vice Chairman of Rocket Companies, likes to say there isn’t work-life balance. There’s only life and how you choose to live it. Balancing all areas of my life is one way of answering well.
I fail at it all the time.
When I think about that failure, part of answering well is being honest and admitting it and then dealing with it and moving on.
Answer well. Each time.
Each time is a new opportunity to answer well.
It’s a helpful framework to make sure I’m bringing my intent and focus to family, work, friends, fitness and fun. Yes, you can answer well to fun. Plus it saves us all from “word hard, play hard.”
When given the chance to work hard, in Coach Lawson’s words, compete!
When you compete, answer well.
Zoom Towns and the 2 housing markets in America: There’s a lot going on in this article but NPR posted some data on home values and what it means (or might mean!) for the housing market. The catch is everyone is searching for proof the narrative they want to tell — people are leaving New York City and San Francisco for “the suburbs.” Yes, home prices are up nationwide and yes, the housing market is particularly hot in small and mid-sized cities.
What’s complicated is that while home prices are up — 7%, 8%, 10% — those hit by the pandemic, mainly renters, are even worse off than anticipated.
There are “Zoom towns” pre-COVID-19 that were always hot with homebuyers — Boise, Denver, Tampa, Reno — and then there are places seeing unexpected activity like Truckee, CA which is up 23% in home values. The assumption is that these buyers are coming from the cities.
The problem is that the article tries to bring it back to popularity of “the suburbs.”
This is where I get lost.
1. Let’s avoid fighting the last war. We’ve heard over and over that this recession is not following historic trends. Homebuyers (the 93% not in COVID-related mortgage forbearance) are weathering the storm quite comfortably and sales of homes are highly competitive. Renters and non-salaried employers are struggling and bearing the brunt of the recession (for now).
Supply has always been a concern. Fewer options means higher prices and more competition.
“There’s a tremendous shortage of homes on the market,” says Jeff Tucker, an economist at Zillow. “We see about 29% fewer homes that are actively listed compared to this time last year.”
This may be a boon for the suburbs but I’m not sure it’s evidence of a commentary on the future of cities versus suburbs, particularly if you are grouping Lake Tahoe or The Hamptons into the suburbs (as the article does).
2. Innovation is crucial. Even with all the evidence (and anecdotal stories) pointing to the fact that this is not a recession following historic patterns, we do not seem to be approaching it much differently from any other recession. Enhanced unemployment and extended forbearance or moratoriums. Quick responses were important, to be sure. What I was looking for was the innovative, new solutions.
Incentives for first-time home buyers over corporate buyers or investment properties that don’t create unintended bidding wars (above asking).
Creation of job opportunities or investment in new home supply.
Retro-fitting commercial property into multi-family units that can be individually owned.
Risk-sharing across properties or even communities lowering the barriers to entry.
3. Homeownership as a commitment. I can’t help myself but comment on the “mozzarella sticks at Applebee’s” definition of the suburbs. Though I rarely defend the chain-store suburbs, I do not believe that Applebee’s is even a consolation prize for the suburbs. In fact, it is the suburbs that are becoming more like cities that are the most popular. These suburbs are not necessarily become more dense like cities but are adding features like cities: walkable parks, coffeeshops, creative restaurants and microbreweries. It sounds like all about food but a lot of it is about food.
Community is interacting. Sharing. Breaking bread.
Whether literally breaking bread as I’m implying above or figuratively, meaning that access to common, shared services — food, banking, education, when our definition of community expands, our understanding and willingness to help expands.
This is my definition of the value of homeownership. It’s not owning a home as an asset or wealth creation vehicle. Owning a home does those things, but the power of the American Dream is feeling included, feeling a part of something, feeling “seen” as a part of something bigger than ourselves. The link for me is that the feeling of stability, meaning and inclusion is the underlying feeling we’re all chasing. I can’t say that’s always been true but I’m making the case for my friends, for my communities.
Homeownership cannot be all about the money or potential value appreciation. We’ve seen too much risk undermining that framework over the last decade. It’s partly about that but it’s much more about a commitment to a place.
A flag in the ground, so to speak, that responsibility for the house, the property and by extension the community. Homeownership is part of choosing meaning.
We’ve been talking about millennial homebuyers for years now — how to attract them, how to reach them, how to engage, etc. — and yet we’re still using dollars and cents to make the case. Over 30 years, the time, effort, energy and cost of caring for, maintaining and updating a home is enormous. Time is the only resource we never get back or make more of, yet we only read about that in management / leadership books.
Homeownership = time. A lot of time.
Instead of running from it, let’s embrace it.
My message to fellow millennials is to find a community that is meaningful to you — it might be the one you already live in or it might be a new one — but make intentional choices to commit to it.
What I mean by intentional choices is not to come into a community and change it to meet your needs, desires and expectations. Of course, improving a community is part of committing to it. But what I think is more powerful is finding the place where you feel meaning and joining the community. Participate don’t displace.
My best friend Brad was one of the biggest fans and advocates of Detroit that I’ve ever met. He wasn’t born here. He found Detroit when he was assigned here in 2005 as part of a United Way fellowship, but Detroit quickly became his hometown.
Brad’s view was that intentional commitment is as strong, if not stronger, than obligation. Meaning, choosing a place is as strong as feeling tied to a place by family or length of time.
I also found it in Detroit.
My point in all this is that the strongest message to first-time home buyers might be tying homeownership to purpose, meaning purpose-in-place, and not wealth creation.
This, of course, acknowledges that first-time home buyers have a choice. Many do but many more do not. Historically, black and Latino communities do not have the opportunities of white America. Millennials and Gen Z are more diverse overall, but many black and LatinX renters cannot simply choose a place not to mention a new place.
Homeownership is still the strongest vehicle for wealth creation to bridge the wealth gap between whites and historically discriminated communities.
For that reason, one of the best things our industry can do is find a way to offer special protection and incentives for individuals trying to buy a home in the communities where they already live. Residency can be viewed as lowering risk. Ties to the community could be correlated to stability. Stability to willingness and ability to repay.
Especially for those that cannot choose place, innovation is needed.
For first-time home buyers, the message is that place matters, participation matters, and commitments provide meaning.
Listening to Tim Ferriss interview Chuck Palahniuk on Tim’s podcast, I caught a quote that seemed to explain a lot about our work culture in many of our organizations. Chuck was talking about writing characters and scenes and said “motion carries its own authority.” He meant — keep the character moving. But what I realized was how often we mistake motion for importance or, better put, motion for meaning, in our teams and our companies. Simply being busy, attending meetings and overbooking your calendar might make you an interesting character in one of Chuck’s stories but it doesn’t mean you are working on the right things, the important things. Often we do many things as fast as possible and that gives off a sense of authority, without our even having to say so. Instead, doing fewer things better and deeper is the real win and the real long-term authority.
It makes me think of 2 marathon runners.
The first trains daily and methodically preparing their body for the race. They eat the right things, run the proper amount of miles leading up to the big day. In the days leading up to the race, the runner gets healthy sleep, stretches and eats well. On the day of the race, the runner is tired and sweaty but comfortable, loose and calm at the finish.
The second trains intermittently. Mostly getting the running in but not as long or often as the first runner. The second runner has a life, right?, and eats the best they can but is not able to avoid foods that do not support the goal. In the days leading up to the race, the runner goes about their life the same as always. On the day of the race, the runner finishes exhausted, sweaty, coughing and diving, almost falling, over the finish line. The runner is totally spent, unable to stand up without swaying, but accomplished and finished with a medal around their neck.
We look at the second runner and praise their effort. “Look at how hard they worked.” “Look at how much they gave to the race.” “There is someone who really cares about this race.”
We praise, but fail to appreciate, the first runner’s sacrifices and true success.
This is true of our teams and our businesses all too often. We see the sweat, hear the pain and recognize the accomplishment of the most distressed, visible team member. But did they do it the right way? What are we celebrating?
Finding a way to not only celebrate but incentivize and multiply the first runner. That’s the true value. That’s how we ensure our teams are not just working hard but also competing at their most valuable. Well prepared, well executed and able to go one with the rest of their day, their lives afterward.
Do you have the best friend you call that just seems to always know what to say or always has what you need to hear?
My friend Dave is that guy.
Dave sent me the right message at just the right time on just the right day. It was a picture from Alan Cohen’s “A Course In Miracles.” We were going over last week’s Saturday Cup of Joe. You know, me taking on the weight of the world; trying to determine if I’m “doing enough.”
Dave’s question — why are you not enough?
For instance, the world needs to change. The thought process spirals from there. I need to do more. There’s so much unfairness. I owe it to … to… to the world? To who?
There’s a real sense of responsibility — that’s good — but changing EVERYONE’S mind — that’s too far.
Cohen writes, ego finds it more appealing to try to change the world than to change yourself. The idea is that it is easier to imagine all the things that need to change before finding peace with one’s self. “Ego finds endless prerequisites for inner peace.”
Inner peace is a big goal, obviously. The point is the process. This year has generated questions of awareness, privilege, responsibility and equality. Focusing on inner peace may be too abstract. Focusing within, on one’s self, is enough. The other side of justice means doing nothing is insufficient when injustice exists but doing what you can and trusting the process is.
Inner peace does not mean inactive. It means appropriate perspective.
Inner peace is not ignoring injustice. Being unsatisfied with injustice is right.
Inner peace recognizes our own ability to make change, specifically what we can control and what we cannot.
That advice and my thinking about it all week really help put things in perspective. I want to continue to lead my team with an awareness of for social and economic issues. Black Lives Matter has raised an awareness that caused many people and CEOs and leaders to what to act, to enact change, to make a difference.
It can take on the feeling of “do everything” and “do it now.” Ego than shifts the focus on everything that needs to change before we can define our own peace (not to mention social peace). Ego creates a distraction.
Keep up the progress.
Trust the process.
The process can be protest. The process can be policy. The process can be personal. Trust the process doesn’t mean allow the status quo to continue.
Ego is the enemy. (shout out to Ryan Holiday)
I’m finding contentment in being enough.
Quote: “Time is now. Time to work. Trust the process.” — Bradford Frost
Bonus Content: Baby names by state, Liam and Olivia are the winners.
Continued success and continue to answer well,