What? Who? When? Where? Why? How?
In simple terms, those questions drive story-telling. Beyond the “what?”–which obviously covers a lot of essential ground–the most vital question to answer is “why?” Tackling the “why” of something that has happened or is happening requires expertise and insight and nuance and, yes, even sticking out your neck with speculation.
It’s a high-risk, yet also high-return query to address. And the risk is lessened when you solicit input from people with the right qualifications to roam into rumination territory.
On the other hand, leave out the “why?” and you may have a story, but you almost certainly lack oomph and impact. OK, thanks for telling us what we already could have found out ourselves–just the facts, ma’am.
With all that as preamble, it was a disappointment to see the Oak Leaves this week swing and miss, right out of the gate, on a story on local real estate sales being downright desultory. The piece was largely a recitation of statistics with Realtors offering quotes that didn’t advance the story but simply re-hashed the numbers.
This was epitomized by the piece’s opening paraphrasing of a Realtor. This individual, magically given the authority to speak for all her professional peers, indicated that Realtors “don’t really know what’s causing slower sales this year.”
“It is an anomaly for us this year,” the Realtor is quoted as saying. “We’re used to very robust sales, I don’t know why it’s different this year.”
Sure enough, in a literal sense, these professionals don’t “know” with any absolute precision. But there are plenty of top Realtors on the front lines who collectively are talking to thousands of buyers, sellers, and tire-kickers. And they most certainly have at least a few pretty good ideas, based on what these folks are saying, of what’s miring the market.
The consensus of Realtors that I know is that higher property taxes have had a chilling effect on sales. For one thing, even if someone can afford to purchase a home, they cannot stomach covering both the mortgage and the sky-high property tax bill. There are countless other factors at play, too, and journalists serve their audience better when they dig in and press for those particulars.
It’s not all about price tags. There is the matter of value, so that paying more isn’t such a concern when there is a belief that what you receive in return more than covers those additional dollars and cents than you’d shell out elsewhere.
In the case of Oak Park and surrounding communities covered in the story, there are a variety of “X” variables, such as:
*Crime, or the perception of crime. Oak Park, for example, isn’t Chicago in this regard–but neither is it Mayberry.(for those who recall The Andy Griffith Show);
*Academic reputation. Good schools are routinely cited as the top factor in attracting newcomers. On the flip side of that coin, schools seen as mediocre can repel people. Are schools locally being viewed less favorably than schools in communities that are in the mix when prospective residents house-hunt?
Unfortunately, the reporter didn’t talk to enough Realtors who delved much below the surface to get at the “why.”