In his new book, The Social Animal, David Brooks takes the reader on an extraordinary journey through the various life stages of a human being, exploring psychological, sociological, biological and anthropological avenues. As The New York Times (for which Brooks is also an Op-Ed columnist) wrote, the book "assemble[s] the evidence for a certain conception of the human mind, the wellsprings of action and the causes of success and failure in life, and to draw implication for social policy." Given all these loosely scientific descriptors, why does The Social Animal have any relation to the world of real estate? Well, on page 264 of Brooks' work, he writes:
"...receptiveness can happen only when you are physically there. Not when you are reading about a place, but only when you are on the scene, immersed in it. If you don't actually visit a place, you don't really know it. If you just study the numbers, you don't know it. If you don't get used to the people, you don't know it. As the Japanese proverb puts it: Don't study something. Get used to it."
Get used to it. In other words, understand the life on the street and in the buildings, the feet on the sidewalks, the wheels on the pavement. There is too much at stake to not comprehend how it feels to live or work or shop or visit these places from a humanist point of view. Charts and graphs and tables of supply and demand indicators result from what is happening in real time - they are statistical reports from the field that accumulate past events and use those to predict future outcomes. Those actual future outcomes are not neatly plotted trend lines, but rather they are outcomes borne of the ups and downs of countless other forces.
As has been written on this site previously, there is not enough of a focus put on the sociological components of real estate investment and development. There is a tradition, which has grown ever more omniscient with the institutionalization of real estate finance, of letting solely the spreadsheets act as the strategy controls. Instead, the spreadsheets should act as the dashboards - providing the readouts and trajectories of what is happening - rather than the hands on the steering wheel guiding the real estate ship from an on-the-ground perspective.