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How Your Grandfather Euphemistically Bought the Farm

Is there an old economy industry whose roots go any deeper than real estate? If there is one, it’s buried beneath it.

Wars have been fought and lives altered on the real estate that some of us call home. Cold war or hot war, they are contested daily and can change ownership rights that affect entire nations. Since war as an industry isn’t our topic, let’s pick it up at the point where the rule of law applies and peace more or less prevails. The real estate process, the real estate industry as we know it has evolved from common law and codified law with some age-old customs woven into the fabric.

With all due respect to Hammurabi, Napoleon, the Romans, the Torah, and Canon Law, our present interest is in how our current real estate practices evolved. Without the rule of law, force was the only way to preserve ownership rights. Let’s take an historical look at how the process evolved.

In the agrarian-based economies, land for farming and raising livestock made it necessary for landowners to own hundreds or thousands of acres. With social reform and an industrial economy, cities grew and the ownership of real estate grew with it. Large populations required large farms and ranches and delivery systems to support the commerce they generate. And that’s when great grandfather bought the farm.

With the emergence of a privileged middle class, social and economic change largely fueled by the industrial revolution vested real estate ownership in the hands of more and more individuals. Private ownership before that was reserved for the ruling class and wealthy business moguls. Improvements in agriculture and farming technology provided greater yields per acre. At the same time cities began to spread out and claim the land they needed to grow. Grandfather, recognizing the higher value of the farmland and tired of competing against bigger and bigger farming operations began selling off the farm. In the process, he became something of a real estate tycoon. The next thing you know, we have Donald Trump.

Donald’s theory was that you amassed wealth by buying high and selling low; and the great American Dream real estate boom was anointed. Actually Donald didn’t dream it up, but he fit into the scheme quite well. People needed places to live, work and play within the city, and the next thing you know we have New York—blame Donald on New York.

Enough ancient history and poetic license; what was that about commoditizing real estate? History is redacted from time to time, and most of us tend to dwell on the past or its future. Since we can only “live” in the present, we all require a place from where to carry on our lives; we need our own piece of real estate. The domestic real estate process has evolved from parochial interest. There exists a need for a product or service, and a system is developed to provide it. The real estate process was not envisioned with the end objectives in mind. The process or system had to be evolved to fit the needs of each business model. As a result, we have a loosely integrated and somewhat disparate system for buying, selling, financing, refinancing, improving and conveying real estate. There are many redundancies and the forests of North America have been cleared for the reams that document the process. That no longer need be the case. We have the tools and resources to make the process as slick as the technologies we have developed. All we need is a concept and an application.
In the present, we have at least six uniquely identifiable industries that support the real estate process. Our immediate focus is on residential real estate; however, the process is analogous for all sectors of the industry. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and are randomly presented.

• New Home Builder
• Resale (Realtor)
• Mortgage (Lender)
• Legal (Documentation & Review)
• Title & Escrow (Title Insurance & Escrow Providers)
• Ancillary Services & Products (Various Providers)
• Public Notice of Ownership (Recordation of Registration)

The next article in the series The New Economy Real Estate Model—a Soft Sell Concept considers how, over the past four decades these unique industries have been evolving, and then presents a case for commoditizing the market.