My Annual Rant About Do-It-Yourselfers

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At 58 I’ve yet to decide if those insisting on always doing things themselves are deluded, arrogant beyond understanding, or so much brighter than I am, I’m doomed to forever walk in their shadow. The unrelenting confidence oozing from the pores of Do-It-Yourselfers irritate thinking folk, even if only on principle. 🙂 How many times do they hafta reinvent the wheel — reborn as an utterly magnificent octagon — before discovering the problem is them? There are usually so many questions they don’t even know to ask — their ignorance basks in the glow of never ending faux bliss. Wanna know the problem with ignorance? Ya never know how much you don’t know. Why? Often cuz you’re a Do-It-Yourselfer. Today I’m speaking mostly to real estate investors and agents, but the principles apply to any job. As an agent your bottom line job description ain’t rocket science. You’re either finding property for someone or selling/exchanging it for them — both in a timely and professional manner. As simple as that is to state, we all know from experience that’s a bunch of overflowing plates on our daily table. All the skill sets required to become expert in those two jobs can be daunting when one wishes to actually, you know, be an expert. Those skill sets are learned. Mentors, company training programs, blogs, seminars/conferences, webinars, and even books are some of the vehicles carrying agents and real estate investors to the legitimate status of expert — combined of course with endless hours of repetitive study and practice. Yet how many times do we see a so-called expert, often self-proclaimed, wanting us to believe they did it all themselves? They end up with brown eyes eventually, cuz spewing that BS long enough eventually turns ’em that way. You’re not an expert in online technology. You’re not an SEO expert. (Though you and I may be the only ones online who don’t claim that these days.) You’re not a marketing expert in any way, shape, or form.

That includes both online marketing and DinosaurMarketing.

Allow me to tell on myself.

Back in the mid-80’s I thought since I was a hot shot real estate investor/Broker, (A hot shot in my mind only, btw.) I could write a letter designed to bring in new potential clients, whose patronage I could then earn. Oh, I could write beautiful letters alright. But my phone remained eerily silent, except for those calling to keep them off my list. 🙂 Then I called the guy — who proceeded to make endless hilarious fun of my efforts.

I hated what he wrote, and told him so. He said, and I quote: “I do this for a living. After reading what you’ve come up with, I’m surprised you can even spell Direct Mail Marketing.” Oh. Never mind.

From 1987-2003 or so, I was phenomenally successful using Direct Mail to narrowly targeted markets. Though I gave my new ghost writer input when he asked, I learned early on to shut up in order to avoid embarrassment — and keep the stellar results comin’.

Let’s not be ambiguous here, OK? In the years mentioned above I never made less than six figures as an absolutely empirical result of my Direct Mail efforts. In fact, three of those letters produced six figures by themselves.

Let’s look at an incomplete list of related areas of expertise for which Do-It-Yourselfers fail miserably while belligerently maintaining they’ve mastered them. What a crock. Using the web via blogs/websites to sell/list, invest in, or locate super-motivated sellers of distressed property. Successfully employing SEO principles online. Using ‘social media’ in general. Drip email programs. Direct mail marketing. Postcard marketing. There’s plenty more we could put on that list if we put our heads together, right?

Here’s how Do-It-Yourselfers convince themselves of their superior expertise. They compare their results to other Do-It-Yourselfers. Agents and investors do this incessantly on blogs and at conferences, seminars, and REbarcamps. If it wasn’t so sad it’d be at least entertaining. Don’t misunderstand me — this isn’t a blanket indictment of those media — but seriously, the person on the stage or blogging is often the one who’s merely a few chapters ahead of everyone else in the book.

In my time I’ve been a competitive bodybuilder, a marathoner, and an NCAA umpire, including post season. Was I a Do-It-Yourselfer?

No, as I had more respect for those who were — in fact — experts in those three fields than to demean their expertise that way. In the gym I was trained by a world champion one on one. When a runner, San Diego was blessed with numerous long distance experts who were nationally and sometimes even world famous. As an up and coming umpire, former major league umps and several with NCAA World Series experience trained me on the diamond, hands on.

The arrogance demonstrated by Do-It-Yourselfers who think they’re at levels they can’t even see, much less execute, is maybe exceeded only by the difference between what they think they know and reality. Or worse, by making less money than could if they actually were at the level they claim. The irony, of course, is that they don’t know their income is only 25-60% of what it could be. How could they know? Duh

This isn’t to say I don’t understand economic realities — or the difference between skill sets needed for hobbies vs skill sets needed to make a living. Of course, that last one depends upon whether or not ya wanna make a living or a LIVING. Some are actually happier making less than they could, but being able to say they Did It Themselves. WooptyDo.

Frankly, I found making six figures in a month occasionally was more exciting than when I made six figures in a year. Wonders never cease. 🙂 Again — much thanks to The Guy.

Something is better than nothing, and OK for now can become much improved over time. I get it. I’m not endorsing the typical agent or real estate investor who’s forever getting ready to do something — just prior to throwing in the towel. We all do what needs to be done if we’re serious. But when there’s a choice, please, stop with the I can do-it-myself as well as the expert, cuz you can’t — and besides, you’re embarrassing yourself.

If you studied what a real expert does for six months you probably still wouldn’t know what they’ve forgotten.

Harsh? Not really. The word expert has been bastardized second only to the word ‘great’ in sports. Though a pretty decent umpire, on my best day I wasn’t within shouting distance of Hall of Famer Doug Harvey, a slam dunk expert, who was one of the best Major League umps who ever blessed a diamond with his presence. I learned to train and run ever improving marathons, but was never on ESPN. Heck, with one exception, I never finished in the top 10 WOMEN in my age division in any race. (Was 3rd woman in a 15K) 🙂 I competed in bodybuilding, once placing 7th in what I think was called Mr. Teenage So. California. Don’t be impressed though, as compared to the top three, my name could credibly have been Debbie. Though I was trained by an expert for two years, they’d been trained by experts for 8-10 years. The winner went on to have quite a career, making several magazine covers. Talk about perception meeting reality. Crestfallen doesn’t cover it. 🙂 Embarrassing? Lookin’ back, just my presence on the same stage was an insult to them.

Then why did I do it? You mean besides being the typically know-it-all, arrogant teenager? I was comparing myself to the local wannabes in my gym. They were a buncha Do-It-Yourselfer pretenders. Who wouldn’t look great next to those posers?

So can we please temper the Do-It-Yourselfer mania? It’s gettin’ on my last raw nerve. My son makes the argument the Do-It-Yourselfers in real estate related skill sets have been slowly fading for the last year or two. He bases that on the observation that he doesn’t read any more about agents/investors ‘…lying naked on the beach while the money pours in from leads generated from their miracle website/mailer, designed and engineered/written by them alone.’ Gotta love the way he puts things. 🙂 He further notes that those who’ve survived this latest cleansing have, to the extent affordable, ‘called the guy’ whenever possible. I pray he’s right, but fear he’s not.

Calling the Guy has been my M.O. since forever. I’m a real estate investment expert, but only a pretender when it comes to CRM, various forms of DinosaurMarketing, internet technology, and the like. Those thinking they’ve effectively mastered those skill sets are either kiddin’ themselves, or truly are way smarter than the rest of us. Still, it’s amazing how many answers I get to questions I never knew to even ask when talking with a real life expert. Why would anyone want less than the best results possible? What say you?

About Author

Jeff Brown

Licensed since 1969, broker/owner since 1977. Extensively trained and experienced in tax deferred exchanges, and long term retirement planning.


  1. Christopher Ronk on

    This article is funny cause it’s true. No really. I come across many do-it-yourselfers on a regular basis. I simply try and explain their faulty logic without sounding too condescending. If they accept my services or advice, great. If not, oh well. I try to make it a point to check back with them after a few weeks to see how things are going and to see if they are ready to use my services.

  2. Jeff Brown

    Hey Christopher — Your experience is repeated thousands of times daily. Sometimes it’s downright funny, as the prospect laughs at themselves while admitting, yeah, they really couldn’t do the job, or if so, couldn’t do it nearly as well or quickly as the expert on the other end of the phone call.

    An example in my experience is of the other side of that same coin — sad, injurious financial results — totally avoidable if hadn’t insisted they knew better.

    Back in 2007 I was shouting to anyone who’d listen to stop putting money into their IRAs/401Ks and into EIULs. I even opined that paying taxes/penalties was appropriate, even preferred in some cases. I was hung, drawn and quartered, then put in front of a firing squad for almost a week. I then tried a second approach on the same blog a few weeks later. Same result. Fast forward to the Wall Street debacle.

    In a post on the same blog last year I told of my clients makin’ 0-2% annually on their retirement capital, while during the same period those who’d assassinated my thoughts and character had lost 30-50% of their life savings. My only question was: “So, how’s that been workin’ out for ya?”


    Do-It-Yourselfers always know better…until they don’t. Oops.

  3. This would be funny if it wasn’t coming from the Real Estate Industry. You know, that industry that figured out how to sell millions of people homes they had absolutely no chance of being able to afford. Oh, I know that the bankers were in there in a big way, but most people who first decide to buy a home walk into a real estate office and get sold on the biggest, home imaginable.

    When did people need en suite bathrooms bigger than a high-school locker room? When did people start needing a sea of granite in a kitchen that hardly ever gets used? When realty “experts” told them it was better for resale. Formal dining rooms? They might get used twice a year in most houses.

    So you go on and congratulate yourself on your expertise, and go out to lunch with all the mortgage brokers, property appraisers and other “experts” that bankrupted this country over the past few years, and drink a toast to being an expert.

    Maybe you can meet up with all the “expert” stock brokers who brought us the dot com bubble in the 90’s for drinks at 5.

    • Debra –
      I don’t disagree that people in the real estate business played part in the housing bubble, but so did greedy home buyers, government officials, and many others. I don’t see you targeting them. Not sure why, though. Anyway, I think your rant might put Jeff’s to the test.

      • Oh, there is plenty of blame to go around. But your average home buyer has no clue what they can afford when they walk into a real estate office. That office has a list of cooperating brokers (and home inspectors and appraisers) who are all focused on getting the largest commission. Forget about anything else. Tell someone they can’t afford that home? Mention little things like expected changes in the tax bill (if you live somewhere there is a homestead exemption) or estimated utility bills come next summer? That might just spoil the deal. But I digress….

        No, what I objected to is the “we (the in-crowd) are in the know, and so much better than the mere peons who couldn’t dream of knowing the secrets of our arcane discipline” attitude. You find it everywhere. Among lawyers, bankers, real estate brokers, stock brokers, (and a related group – fund managers – who as a whole never manage to beat the market averages) and web programmers. All of them have expertise. But the world wouldn’t stop if we decided to do without them.

        And the hubris to see “our expertise is indispensable” coming from Real Estate on the heels of the real estate collapse and the economic downturn it helped foster was just to much to pass by. (How many real estate agents have gone to and apologized to people who the told “this house will be a great investment?” Or my personal favorite, “You can’t lose money in real estate” since people lose money in real estate collapses on a regular basis. Or did you experts not know that groups of mortgages sold as financial commodities have caused some level of financial collapse – and real estate collapse – seven times since the end of the Civil War? (This wasn’t the first housing bubble in the US, and since no one studies history, it certainly won’t be the last. Who wants to take a crack at the idea that countries never go bankrupt?)

        If the RE industry disappeared into a black hole in the morning, the rest of us would muddle through with Craigslist, eBay, or whatever. It might not be as easy, and it might not be as pretty, but once we figured out that we didn’t need to pay really high commissions, I think some of us might grow to like it. Or, we might decide like our grandparents generation, that we didn’t need a kitchen big enough for a restaurant, or seven bathrooms, or we might decide to live in the same house for 15 years or more. You know, if people weren’t screaming at us, and having reality TV shows on how great it is to buy a bigger home. Or flip houses. Or whatever.

  4. Jeff… this discussion really hit a cord with me. For many entrepreneurs the belief is that they can’t afford to hire someone (meaning their business is undercapitalized0 to they end up toiling deep within their business trying to everything… all of it half-a$$ed as opposed to working ON their business and orchestrating the efforts of others.

    The other great theme you have going on in this article is the notion that “you don’t know, what you don’t know”. Many of your recent articles have referred to reality and have gotten me to be more aware that sometimes… you just have to call in an expert.

    For an entrepreneur to do otherwise only sabotages their businesses full potential.


  5. “Do you like to Do-it-yourself?” as Steve Carell so elegantly put it
    And my response is the same as that skinny blond nympho… “Sometimes”

    I’m a young entrepreneur just delving into the RE arena (2 years full occupancy on buy / hold SFRs)
    What have I done myself…. basically everything, minus a few bucks from paying out friends.
    Interior painting? I never used an airless paint sprayer before, but now I can write a book on the methodology of COMPLETELY airless spray painting the interior of a home, including prep, all the way through finishing, flooring, etc etc (not to mention some tips and tricks that YOU don’t know). Was I born knowing how? No! Did it take a little practice? Yes! Will I learn more, you know it!

    OK, so yes, I have some basic skills and maybe I am smarter than you! But I can’t help but be a little bit upset about this article. I’m a firm DIYer IF the time / value ratio permits. My time is extremely valuable to me (as it should be), but so is retirement. And since I’m looking at the beginning of the road, rather than the end, I’m gonna KEEP on DIYin’ until… well, that is a darn good question!

    Do I want to DIY all the time? Heck no, who wants to change a door knob, or a light bulb, or show an apartment, or find a deal, or crunch numbers, run comps, do due diligence, go see potential properties…. EVERYTHING can be done by someone else.

    So DIY detracts from the business? Well Sir, Not Mine!

    DIY means you’re proactive, love a challenge, don’t mind getting dirty, enjoy learning…
    how could those attributes possibly hurt business?

    and to end with another great movie quote “You’ll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle!”
    Enjoy the ride!

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