Better question? December 15, 2011 7:32 AM   Subscribe

This question didn't get much of a response - one answer on the green, and one in mefi mail. Why not?

Is the topic not interesting? Its a little specialized by not exactly obscure.

Or is it something I said? Is the tone too pointed? Could I have phrased and presented the question better - that is, in a way that attracted more interest and substantive responses?
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy to MetaFilter-Related at 7:32 AM (44 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I didn't answer because I don't know the answer.
posted by netbros at 7:41 AM on December 15, 2011 [34 favorites]

To my mind it just seemed a little specialized and maybe we don't have real estate geeks here? There's nothing really wrong with it, though I guess if I were asking it, I'd open it up a little more and have fewer examples. It sounds like you're looking for very targeted academicky studies and if you've got more of a "just curious" approach you could be a little less specific? Nothing wrong with it, to my read, just maybe not of overlap between what you're looking for and people here who share those interests?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:44 AM on December 15, 2011

You're asking about a pretty obscure area of expertise -- people buy and sell houses and have lots of opinions about their realtors, but not many people care about academic research about their realtors, so your question is inherently limited in the audience it'll find. I don't think there's anything wrong with your question, or that people who know the answer are choosing not to answer it. They just don't know.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:44 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sometimes it's like that. The hivemind isn't the Oracle at Delphi.

I think the problem isn't lack of interest, I think it's lack of knowledge. Like netbros says, we didn't answer because we didn't have anything useful to say.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:45 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The question is both broad and specialized, if that makes sense. It has to attract people who are interested in "critical theory on real estate" in the US (or really I think what you're looking for is real estate economics, and more specifically residential real estate economics), then it asks them to provide, not an answer on a specific subject, but essentially a primer on their resources. It's unclear how much research you have already done in these fields, which tends to make experts tentative about answering ("Is this too fundamental? Is it too advanced?")
posted by muddgirl at 7:45 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's very specific and requires specialized domain knowledge. It's crap-shoot if a subject-matter expert sees it or not. Sometimes you get lucky; sometimes you don't.
posted by bonehead at 7:45 AM on December 15, 2011

maybe if there was a way people could share questions like that with their real estate agent know... all those old people who use email.... hey great idea Blake, why not put an "email this" button on askmefi?!" (Sorry, could not resist)
posted by Blake at 7:48 AM on December 15, 2011

To me, your question reads fine. But yeah, that's specialised stuff. It might be a combination of the esoteric nature and the luck of time/day which you can't really predict in terms of who wanders by and reads the question.

I mean, you could try rephrasing it -- to be perhaps more open-ended rather than over-specified -- and repost it (not sure how frowned upon that might be). I think it's perfectly possible that it's not going to get much response though. But your double-dip Meta could be productive.

Maybe think about posting your question(s) in a more specialised forum or enquiring with some professional body associated with the industry for leads. (if you do repost the question, maybe asking where you can find the info as opposed to asking for the info itself would be more fruitful?)
posted by peacay at 7:50 AM on December 15, 2011

also, it sounds like you're asking other people to do your lit. review.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:51 AM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

When I saw that question I originally I thought, "huh I bet that will be really cool," but I guess it's a more specialized question than I thought.

One thing about examples is that they're generally a double-edged sword; they both help askme understand what you're looking for and also tend to limit answers to just those examples. And those examples are all pretty specific, which might have thrown a couple people off. Perhaps rephrasing it as, "for example, what's been written about the 6% commission?" or "is there a realtor lobby? what do they work on?"

Another thing is that it's not tagged with the word "economics," which is probably the type of info you're looking for, right? That means it might not have shown up in the "My askme" tabs of people who could actually answer the question. More tags like "realtor," "housingcrisis" and "housingbubble" may have put it on the "My askme" radar for relevant parties.
posted by lilac girl at 7:56 AM on December 15, 2011

Man, you're complaining about that question not getting enough answers? I couldn't even get a single response when I asked for a recommendation for a kennel in London! Are there no London dog owners in the entire userbase of metafilter?! I didn't come crying to metatalk about it, though.

Oh wait, yes I did!
posted by Grither at 7:59 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Grither: "yes I did!"

Dang, I was off by 1 digit in my link guess!
posted by Grither at 8:01 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've asked a few q's that were strike-outs - a song name, special bindings for x-country skiing - and a few that I thought would be strike-outs but were home-runs, most notably the title of an obscure, out-of-print book and how to find jeans that would fit my wife.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:05 AM on December 15, 2011

Sometimes when I see a question that goes unanswered, I want to say "No idea, sorry, but good luck." just for the sake of having some sort of evidence that the question actually got read. A comment like that would probably get deleted right away, and rightly so, but sometimes we just don't have useful answers.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:08 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your question reads like an essay prompt, whether that's what you intended or not. It's quite verbose above the fold, and a quick scan wouldn't give me an immediate idea of what you're looking for. When I have to read the question several times to understand what you want, unless I already have the answer immediately, I won't take the time to come up with a good answer.
posted by litnerd at 8:15 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're not the only one!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:19 AM on December 15, 2011

Part of the problem is the nature of the subject. I think people who develop an expertise in real estate do so with the intent of making money. And the organizations that have an interest in sponsoring academic research on real estate tend to represent the industry.
posted by mullacc at 8:22 AM on December 15, 2011

When I read the question it struck me as something one should be asking an academic librarian, and more specifically a librarian in a business school. It's not the kind of stuff that will be general knowledge.
posted by needled at 8:25 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

The hivemind isn't the Oracle at Delphi.

posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I do actually know the answer to this question, but I'm not answering it because frustrating people is really fun.

Wait, no. I don't know the answer. It is an interesting question, and I'd be interested in the answer(s), but as others have pointed out, it is pretty specialized.
posted by rtha at 8:42 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The correct answer is in my pants.

You know what else is in your pants?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:47 AM on December 15, 2011

You think that's specialized?? Please.
posted by iconomy at 8:53 AM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by wheelieman at 8:53 AM on December 15, 2011

I kept that open in a tab, because I was interested in the question. Unfortunately I don't have any answers and I prefer not to create noise by speculating.
posted by atrazine at 9:01 AM on December 15, 2011

If you're looking for discussion, maybe try your question on reddit? You still won't get any useful answers, but you'll get a lot of responses from 19 year olds who lived in a house once and want to share their thoughts.
posted by atrazine at 9:03 AM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I think it's neat that the culture on the green means that people who just don't know can't chime in with jokes or crazyballs answers or anything. Sorry you didn't get any responses. If you'd like to broaden the scope of the question by adding "also, can someone please recommend a Todd Rundgren record?" I'll be there for you when the rain starts to pour.
posted by mintcake! at 9:15 AM on December 15, 2011

You said in a follow-up comment:
I ... am struck by the lack of information, discussion and even response here.
When you make a negative comment about the answers (or lack thereof) so far, that can discourage people from answering in the future. You're not entitled to receive a certain level of response.
posted by John Cohen at 9:22 AM on December 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

I didn't chime in because I don't have the answer to your question. Also: I dunno, maybe it's the way it's phrased, but it sorta sounds like somebody looking for the hive to do their econ research project.
posted by easily confused at 9:31 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I read the question it struck me as something one should be asking an academic librarian, and more specifically a librarian in a business school. It's not the kind of stuff that will be general knowledge.

I am a librarian at a business school. I also happen to be of a family of real estate and mortgage practitioners.

For whatever reason, I didn't see that question. Honestly, though, while I poked around a little to try answering it (as I did this morning when I saw the MeTa) because there's an OC blog on the mortgage crisis that the OP might like when I couldn't find the answer, I left it alone.

Why? It's too much work for a subject I'm not much interested in; this is busy season at my actual job so I don't have the extra energy.

It also happens to be busy season for professors, which might explain why now is a particularly bad time to scout AskMe for real estate or economics professors. Best of luck next time, OP.
posted by librarylis at 10:00 AM on December 15, 2011

The question asked as I understood it basically was:

"Please MeFites, give me some really great web sources or articles which analyze in depth, and from all sides, the processes of buying and selling real estate in the US and the potential consequences of these processes for individuals, companies, and the United States as a whole."

To me, this is highly specific, and does not lend itself to being answered by a MeFite who isn't in a very narrow field of expertise who would know of such a site, book, or article offhand. At the same time, it excludes those who may have knowledge of this arena through personal experience or employment, but do not know a really good web site where all your questions would be answered.

Lastly, the way the question was phrased:

I'm looking for websites and information - both academic and more polemical - that critically analyze the process by which real estate is generally bought and sold in the US, and the consequences of that process for individual buyers and the economy as a whole.

is a bear to read, and I found myself tuning out the words coming into my brain.

For me, I would be much more likely to respond to something like the below:

I'm looking for some sites, good sources of info, or informed opinions from MeFites, which really analyze the standard procedures by which real estate (houses, commercial, warehouses?) are bought and sold in the US. I'm interested to find out detailed information as to the inner workings of this process and the consequences for all the parties involved... the buyers, the sellers, the lenders, and ultimately the economy as a whole.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:10 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hey at least the mods are answering your questions here! Poor Jim Jones was denied even that.
posted by Melismata at 10:17 AM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

That's still quite a bear, Debaser626.

I think in situations like this, where I'm having a hard time getting a question down to one concise sentence, instead of asking for resources I will ask for help defining my question. So I would probably ask something like:

"I have an interest in what I call "critical analysis of real estate," but web searches haven't brought up any helpful topics. Is there an established academic field that covers my interests? Are there any web resources in that field?"

More Inside: "To me, a critical analysis of real estate would cover the (intended or unintended) consequences of the residential real estate process in the US. For example, how does the 6% sellers fee blah blah blah?"

Instead of being a specifically broad question, this form is both a lot narrower (so experts will feel that they can answer constructively and concisely), and a lot less specific (because people who don't specifically know about real estate academics may know what field you're looking for).
posted by muddgirl at 10:20 AM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

I can suggest one way you might have gotten more responses, but I'm not sure they'd be of the type you'd want.

There are some questions of the type, "Why does [unusual and possibly counterintuitive phenomenon X] happen?" And MeFites are plenty willing to offer their uninformed (and occasionally informed) speculation on why X happens, plus maybe a few people who can suggest readings on what people who study the area have said about X. All of those types of answers are fine for that question, since the question is simply "why does X happen?"

Then there are questions of the type, "I am interested in reading more about why [unusual and possibly counterintuitive phenomenon X] happens. Can you direct me to some [websites|books|articles] that knowledgeable people have written about X?" And then you will still get random speculation from MeFites about why X happens, even though the question was specifically looking for pointers to things to read, not MeFite speculation. I find this rather annoying, but it seems to be largely tolerated.

I'm not sure if you were interested in that type of random speculation or not—your initial question suggests not, but your followup ("I agree and am struck by the lack of information, discussion and even response here.") [emph. mine] suggests maybe you were after all. But unlike either of the question types you listed above, you didn't ask about a specific unusual thing X, just a topic area, so there's really nothing there for people to randomly speculate about. So depending on whether you wanted random MeFite speculation (and "discussion" on the topic, although AskMe isn't really for general discussion, though there can be some back-and-forth which goes towards answering the question), asking about a specific phenomenon might have been more productive.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:41 AM on December 15, 2011

It's up my alley professionally and interest-wise. When I saw it, I was tired and thought you were supporting an argument elsewhere or something like that. It seemed for some reason like a lot of work to phrase an answer the right way, too.
posted by michaelh at 10:54 AM on December 15, 2011

I didn't answer because I haven't been following lately. Have you tried looking at Calculated Risk?
posted by scalefree at 11:31 AM on December 15, 2011

Real estate makes almost everyone I know a little anxious.

It makes me a little anxious.

I have a general unease that we are doing a bunch of wrong and completely unsustainable things about real property that will cause problems when we're old and haunt our descendants-- like building residential housing on 'cleaned up' superfund sites, for example, and polluting ground water essentially forever for a few years of cheaper natural gas, not to mention building in floodplains and on our best farmland and making ourselves even more dependent on oil as population numbers go through the roof-- but it's all almost too depressing to talk about, really, like discussing the layout of the kindling for the fire next time.
posted by jamjam at 11:38 AM on December 15, 2011

Not too specialized at all, but yes it was too pointed. Like, any answer to that question would feel to the answerer as either vague "let me google that for you" stuff or else requiring people to really work, and maybe even declare an ideological stance that they don't feel comfortable revealing.

For example, let's face it, on average real estate commissions are way too high. Agents have to work hard, just like everyone else in our society, but what they do is mostly thrashing. They don't spend an appropriate amount of time, in relation to their commission, selling YOUR house. If you are a real estate agent, are you really gonna get on AskMe and start admitting that and linking to sources that prove it? Are you going to disingenuously claim it is all great and perfect and the way it should be? Better to just move along..
posted by Chuckles at 12:06 PM on December 15, 2011

You got the "right answer" in your first response. is an excellent jumping off spot to just the kind of information you're looking for. Read it for a couple of weeks (look at archives too) and you'll find what you're looking for. The forums on tend to be pretty useless, but the links can be a goldmine. Kinda like another site I'm familiar with.
posted by telstar at 12:19 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks. Especially for the comments about more concise language. I hope this will be helpful to others looking for suggestions on framing a question.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 12:48 PM on December 15, 2011

One factor is, the stakes come into play when people are deciding whether or not to answer. Imagine two perfectly good questions about the same subject: one is "I need help with X because I'm stuck in this situation and I don't know what to do." The other is "I'm curious about X and looking for more information."

Researching and composing an answer takes time. Sometimes more than others. The more technical the question, the more time and effort it's going to take to answer it. People are more likely to go the extra mile for someone who needs help, versus someone who's "just curious."

I don't know squat about real estate. But I can tell you that there have been questions roll past on the green where I've thought "I could probably answer that pretty well, but it would take a lot of juice, and the questioner doesn't have a lot at stake, they're just curious, so... eff it."

It doesn't happen very often, but as a freelancer it falls under my category of "It's Not Like I'm Getting Paid To Do This."

You're posting a lot of hyper-technical questions in a way that makes me think you want to have an intellectual discussion. Which isn't what askme is for, and also doesn't give me any sense of urgency in the answer.

In the case of that specific question, you might have gotten farther by pitching it as, "I want to learn more about real estate, what are some resources?"

Alternatively, bring it home. WHY do you want to learn that stuff? Are you involved in an argument with a friend? Are you broke and angry at the system, and trying to figure out how The Machine ground you to a pulp? Are you thinking about getting a real estate license? Are you floundering with an academic project?

If you can make the question personal, tell us why it's relevant to you, you have that hook of "I'm helping someone" as opposed to "I'm scratching someone's intellectual itch."
posted by ErikaB at 4:18 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

As posted, it seems to be the kind of thing that is best explored with the help of a research librarian.
posted by calgirl at 7:30 PM on December 15, 2011

It's a difficult question to read. It took me three tries and a running start before I could force myself to actually read your entire question, because my brain kept balking in the middle somewhere. And I've been doing things lately like reading U.S. Statutes at Large for fun (well, for a slightly screwed-up definition of "fun"), so it's not like I'm categorically against dense material.
posted by colfax at 9:12 PM on December 15, 2011

I think a better way to phrase the question would be "Freakonomics argued that real estate agents are overpaid, and result in an inefficient housing market. Help me learn more about this."

Your question seems to ask for scholarly/academic papers. As a rule, scholarly papers discuss very, very narrow topics. No one has written a paper called "The US Real Estate Market Is Screwed Up." There are lots of papers entitled "Examination of principal-agent conflicts in real estate transactions in Florida 1980-1987", and such. Tying dozens of papers together into coherent reading is a TON of work and takes a real expert.
posted by miyabo at 6:23 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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