‘D’ Stands for Duplicity. The many faces of D. Sidney Potter

Tell us your name and a little about yourself.  

My name is D. Sidney Potter and I write about real estate and politics.

Appreciate your humility Mr. Potter.  Since our audience may not know that much about you, let me outline your writing background.

Your first book was released in 2010, entitled The Flip: The True Life Story of How a Successful New Tract Home Investor Went from Zero to Hero, Back to Zero, and received critical acclaim from New York Times best sellers, PhD’s to HGTV hosts.  Your second book, published in 2017, entitled The Essayist: Reflections from a Real Estate Survivor, was a Jack Kerouac style book wherein you traveled the country for 5 years from 2011 to 2016 and worked as a mortgage operations professional for such companies as Accenture, Deloitte & Touché and Bank of America. And your most recent effort, published this past December 2020, The Broker: Deals, Steals, and Moving Forward, recounts your meteoric rise at Marcus & Millichap in the late 1990’s, a national commercial real estate brokerage. 

Where do you get your book ideas?

Like any good writer, at least if you’re a non-fiction writer, you write what you know about.  I’m no different.  I write about real estate and politics, since I majored in political science. Coming from a family where my father is a black Christian, and my mother, a Jewish Italian, the issue of race was never far away. Probably the most jarring moment was in Los Angeles in 1974, soon after the Patty Hearst kidnapping, and the LAPD pulled over my father with the whole family inside – which was me, my mother and three siblings. We were in Beverly Hills and that was my firsthand experience of observing a black man, who happen to be my father, get pulled over for being black – and suspect, given the Symbionese Liberation Army was an ethnic paramilitary group composed in part with blacks.

At this point, the Patty Hearst kidnapping was a big deal and my mother had an uncanny resemblance to her. As a nine year old kid at the time, I saw the disrespect LAPD had for black men.  Even in Southern California, it was unusual for a black man to be seen around with a white woman, and worse yet, a car full of bi-racial kids.

To answer your question more directly, I write about things I’ve experienced. Even if they aren’t pretty. And race and real estate seem to be a common thread.  But at the end of the day I’m a storyteller. I’ve got 3 to 5 books left in me over the next 10 to 12 years.

Can you talk about The Informant?  You mentioned that book before the interview.

I’d prefer not to say that much about it given the sensitively of the subject matter. In short, its about Patriotism, and cooperating with government investigators when you observe a criminal act. The criminal malfeasance was unfortunately a mortgage fraud ring that had stumbled upon me. Luckily, it worked in my favor, and I got to walk into the sunset, exit stage left, roll credits.  Things could have ended a lot differently. Apparently, my handlers saw value in my presence.  At least that’s what they implied after my participation ended two years later, in 2012.

You care to elaborate?

No, not really. Just glad it’s over and happy to have put the bad guys in jail.

You mentioned in The Broker that you’ve litigated with and without lawyers over the past fifteen years. Why is that?

In a perverse way, I find that ennobling.  It’s so easy – metamorphically speaking, to get your ass kicked in the real estate mortgage business – and probably in life just general.  What I found, instead of getting physical, it pays to use your brain in some situational scenarios.  Typically, I use to think of an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ as a mediation strategy. For me it was black and white. It was biblical. Up to about my early forties that was the way I rolled. But ultimately through lawsuits and strategic litigation, I discovered that the pen is mightier than the sword. And this is from whistleblower cases, breach of business contract suits, to just simple car insurance claims, where an adjuster and I don’t see eye to eye.

Do you actually win these cases?

A surprising amount yes.  When it comes to complex litigation, I leave it to the professionals, and will hire a lawyer. But a lot of this comes down to standing up to exploitative powers that are ruthless to everyday people.  Some of the wins, where checks had to be written, were against the IRS, University of Maryland, Wells Fargo, FTI Consulting, Enterprise Rent-A Car (twice), and H&R Block (almost twice). I lost the second case against H&R Block on a technicality. The cases have ranged from small claims to the U.S. Supreme Court, where that case was denied on certiorari.

This sounds like a future book

You never know. Maybe I’ll title it Rage against the Machine.

Any cases that stand out?

Probably the IRS and the University of Maryland.  Both of those cases took nearly five years apiece and were exhausting, given I litigated them myself.  The Ninth Court of Appeals in California affirmed in my favor on the IRS case. As for the University of Maryland, I won both in California and Maryland, but lost in the Special Court of Appeals in Maryland. And one of the most memorably case was Wells Fargo, given a prominent firm in Minneapolis represented me.  It was a fair settlement. They did a decent job on my behalf. I love the small of a litigation check in the morning.

There seems to be a common theme here.  Almost a David & Goliath thematic?

That’s an excellent allegory. When I think of books that capture that essence, its’ Horatio Alger type stories of overcoming the odds, which is totally what David encountered.  Or even J.D. Salinger’s classic, Catcher in the Rye, which opines on a different conceit, such as the vanities, superficiality and gross arrogance – almost criminal arrogance, of the gilded age, which was a byproduct of capitalistic exploitation. Which is in a roundabout way on how the legal industry is built. It’s a type of litigation industrial complex. But more importantly, a way to right the wrongs (theoretically at least). And for someone like me, a way to operationalize The Golden Rule and make people accountable.

Let’s skip around here a bit.  Have you had a best seller?

Of course not, but thank you for asking.  I’ve had some of the big publishing houses respond to my inquires, but never a second read.  The closest I’ve come to that is when the Canadian imprint of Simon & Schuster took a look at a book I was writing, but ultimately took a pass.

What was the name of the book?

I actually can’t remember, because I never finished it.  It was a book proposal only, which is basically an outline of a book and had to do with the aftermath of the 2008 real estate implosion. This was several years ago in about 2012, and the title was something like: After the Implosion. Now What? 

Of the three books you’ve written, The Flip (2010), The Essayist (2017) and The Broker, this past December in 2020, which one do you like the best?

That’s like asking a parent which child he likes the best?  A cruel question at best, but fair in its scope. I like each book for different reasons.  At the moment, I’m focused on The Broker, given its been on the shelf for the past twelve years, but couldn’t be timelier. Wherein The Flip, was about the buying and rapid resell of tract homes in the early 2000’s, it isn’t as warm hearted as The Broker, which is an 80/20 book about real estate and race, and chronicles my success at Los Angeles office of Marcus & Millichap in the mid-1990’s.

Thank you for talking about your books, perspectives, and aspirations.  We look forward to more of your writings.

Absolutely my pleasure. Take care.

 

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