Main Dish

Tech-savvy Broker Reinvents Real Estate

January 30, 2010

If you saw him on the street, dressed in black with artsy spectacles he occasionally pushes toward the bridge of his nose, Darrin Friedman might strike you as a mild-mannered interior designer. Or a young advertising exec.

But what Friedman, 35, has launched is nothing less than a top-to-bottom redesign of an entire industry -  the real estate business. His efforts are already sending shockwaves across the region and beyond.

"When I took over this office in January 2007," he says, referring to the Coldwell Banker outpost he runs on Wisconsin Ave. north of Georgetown, "We were at the bottom of the bottom in every category. We built this office from the ashes. Now we're outpacing much of the competition. And we're just getting started."

Getting started indeed. In 2009, Friedman's branch closed 32% more deals than the year before. In December, with fewer agents than most offices, the branch initiated more sales than any other Washington area Coldwell Banker office.

Friedman, the brance Vice President, waves his hand across his newly redesigned office at a launch party Wednesday, with its luminescent video wall, curved desks and minimalist aesthetic. There are no papers in sight. There is no clutter. It's less office, more New York designer's loft.

Friedman is working the room as well as Bill Clinton. Hugs are dispersed. When you talk, he listens -- hard. But in looks and feeling, he reminds you of Cecil B. de Mille. On the set.

With a sweep of the arm or a tilt of the head as punctuation, Friedman is speaking passionately. "Now we have a physical representation of our business model. That means the world to me," he says.  "It's who we are -- the most innovative office anywhere, in terms of how we do our business and how we service our clients."

How does one do real estate differently? "It's everything from our blogging presence, social media, our involvement with other national innovators, and the advice we give our clients," he says. According to Friedman, the internet has radically changed the business, and those who don't embrace it fully will be crushed by the technology tsunami.

"Eighty-seven percent of buyers start their search for a home or a realtor online," Friedman continues, speaking in impossibly complete, rapid-fire sentences. "But most of the time, there is not an adequate online presence or social media vertical used to promote the property correctly."

With so much activity online, Friedman explains, if a property is not adequately marketed on the internet, using photos, videos, and social media, it just won't get noticed.

"I feel that in Georgetown, Foxhall, anywhere," he continues, "it doesn't matter if you have a $9 million or a $1 million home -- if the house isn't selling, you are not beeing guided correctly" by your real estate agent.

Friedman's comments seem accutely relevant in Georgetown, where sales have slowed to a trickle compared to previous years.

City-wide, Friedman's office closes more relocation business than another other Washington area branch. "We're not afraid of the big boys," he says.

But the tough talk and big ambition have a soft side. "Darrin treats you like a partner," says agent Mandy Hursen, a highly-regarded top performer who came over from Long & Foster to work with Friedman. "He gets involved and helps you. I've never experienced that in a real estate office before." Hursen has six homes under contract -- contracts written since the first of the year.

Friedman is getting recognized. He was one of five realtors in the nation nominated for the National Association of Realtors Technology Spotlight Award. "I didn't get it," he frowns. But that doesn't seem to be slowing him down.

"Some people will say that social media doesn't work to sell a $5 million home.  My office has a $2.5 million listing. Through social media, and getting the word out via You Tube and Facebook, the agent now has five new clients who want to buy in that neighborhood," Friedman says. "It just works."

Once you understand Friedman's premise, you start to wonder why anyone would do real estate the traditional, cumbersome way -- relying on the agent to search the market, with lots of time in a car driving to see properties. "We work in a way that's right now, not yesterday," Friedman says. "Georgetowners understand this in their own businesses, so why wouldn't they do this with their real estate?"

Would it be fair to call the fourth-generation real estate agent a wunderkind? "We're not necessarily younger, but we think younger," he says. "I'm 35 going on 12."

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Dr. Biden gets Hooked in Georgetown

January 29, 2010

Dr. Jill Biden joined a birthday lunch today at Hook in Georgetown with three young friends.  They all had signature salads (who wouldn't?) followed by tuna, salmon and other fruits of the sea. 

Hook teems with high-power Democrats partly because of its mission -- to serve outstanding cuisine while sustaining the planet. Hook regulars include Madeleine Albright, Rahm Emanuel, Sen. Al Franken and uber media consultant Mandy Grunwald

But not everyone in Georgetown is a Democrat. Bush heavyweight C. Boyden Gray comes in from time to time, as does Gen. David Petraeus. Does that make it "post-partisan?"

Founders Jonathan and Bethany Umbel have created a gem on a strip of M St. that long languished before they arrived. Today, Hook counts as one of the few true culinary destinations in Georgetown.

Today's revelers celebrated with Conundrum wine (that's the one Democratic policy leaders have been drinking) and enjoyed a glass of champagne on the house. Beautiful chef  Heather Chittum also sent out Madeleines and gingerbread with candied pecans and squash ice cream.  

The ever-dutiful Secret Service sat at the bar. They had water.

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The Story the Post Lost

January 28, 2010

For a brief few hours today, The Washington Post was praised for a gutsy blog post on that acknowledged the "disconnect" between the Post's editorials and its newsroom coverage of high-flying schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. "Disconnect" is one way to put it -- "existing in parallel universes" would also be a fair description of the newspaper's reported facts about Rhee's ongoing management problems and PR blunders -- versus the endless, glowing praise heaped on her by the editorial page.

While Hardy school parents are justifiably outraged by the ongoing mismanagement of their school -- including the removal of a cherished principal -- Ellington students wonder if their institution will continue to exist in Georgetown, and DCPS teachers as a whole seem threatened with a new disparaging comment from the Chancellor each day, all one finds on the Post's editorial page is a Candide-like reverie showering compliments and applause.

Reporter Bill Turque, charged with reporting facts about Chancellor Rhee, finally spoke up about the contradiction on the newspaper's blog. City Paper quickly termed it the "Best Blog Post by the Post About The Post." But that link was broken several hours later and Turque's brave blog was no longer available.  Thanks to City Paper, here is Turque's blog "D.C. Schools Insider," in its entirety.


One newspaper, two stories - Bill Turque

Many of you may have noticed something more than a tad odd Tuesday morning in our coverage of Chancellor Rhee's now immortal comments to "Fast Company." My story, which appeared on the front of the Metro section, said that Rhee had yet to explain or elaborate, and that there would be no comment until later in the day. My Monday evening blog entry said pretty much the same thing

The editorial page told a different story.  Citing "information released by the chancellor's office on Monday," it said that of the 266 teachers laid off in October, six had served suspensions for corporal punishment, two had been absent without leave on multiple occasions, and one was on administrative leave for allegedly having sex with a student.

So, after asking DCPS about this since Friday--and being promised a response all day Monday--I read the answers in an editorial. Channel 4's Tom Sherwood also had Rhee's explanation on the air Monday.

But it's the disconnect between the editorial page and the news section that I feel requires some kind explanation. So let me try.

The news and opinion columns of The Post are wholly separate and independent operations. This assertion frequently draws a torrent of skepticism, but if this episode does nothing else, it should give the lie to the notion that there is some sort of sinister linkage. I have little-to-no contact with Jo-Ann Armao, who writes The Post's education editorials (full disclosure: Jo-Ann hired me in 2002 when she was the assistant managing editor for metro news; but we're all allowed a lapse of judgment now and then). About the only time we cross paths is at news events involving District education. Jo-Ann is a dogged journalist who pursues her own information.

That includes talking to Chancellor Rhee. And while I don't have their call sheets in front of me, I would wager that the Chancellor talks to Jo-Ann more than she does to me. (After a well-documented period of silence, the Chancellor started taking my calls and e-mails again last summer)

That's fine. Chancellor Rhee can obviously talk to whoever she wants about whatever she wants. While some of my colleagues don't agree, my view is that Jo-Ann isn't responsible for watching my back journalistically any more than I would be expected to align my reporting with her points of view.

The chancellor is clearly more comfortable speaking with Jo-Ann, which is wholly unsurprising. I'm a beat reporter charged with covering, as fully and fairly as I can, an often turbulent story about the chancellor's attempts to fix the District's public schools. The job involves chronicling messy and contentious debates based in both politics and policy, and sometimes publishing information she would rather not see in the public domain.

Jo-Ann, on the other hand, sits on an editorial board whose support for the chancellor has been steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring.

That's what editorial boards do. They form opinions and write about them. People can buy in.
Or not.

Where this gets complicated is that board's stance, and the chancellor's obvious rapport with Jo-Ann, also means that DCPS has a guaranteed soft landing spot for uncomfortable or inconvenient disclosures--kind of a print version of the Larry King Show. This happened last September during the flap over the out-of-boundary admission of Mayor Fenty's twin sons to Lafayette Elementary in Chevy Chase.

The chancellor repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether policies and procedures had been followed to place the kids in the coveted school. A few days after the dust settled, an editorial offered, without attribution, an "innocent explanation": the Fentys neighborhood school, West Elementary, had only one fourth grade class. Lafayette's multiple fourth-grade sections made it possible to separate the twins, which studies show is developmentally desirable.

Are Fenty and Rhee gaming the system by using the editorial page this way? Of course. Is this a healthy thing for readers of The Post? Probably not. Is it going to keep me from doing my job effectively?


We agree. Georgetown residents -- and all other readers of the Post -- deserve better. (UPDATE: After furious reaction from the blogosphere, the Post re-posted a toned-down version of Turque's blog at 10:41 pm.)

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