The real estate industry has been in a major state of flux for two years now, with new technology and innovation entering the market constantly. It’s truly an exciting time to be in this industry. Some of the technology has really benefited the consumer and real estate agents alike. Many agents are becoming much more efficient and are offering much better service than ever before. Some technology (virtual tours, online fax) has become so common and accepted that many would not want to think of working without it.
One of the areas that has seen major growth is in the third-party, tech-guy’s turned real estate entrepreneur’s, listings.bot arena. First there was HouseValues, which was an innovator in that it saw how weak real estate agent’s were at attracting business from the internet so it capitalized on that weakness and got it’s own internet leads and sold them to real estate agents. Then, Lending Tree jumped in with it’s bid-for-mortgage business model becoming a bid-for-anything-real-estate-related model, and it now sells leads to agents as well.
And Realtor.com was actually doing this before any of them. By being the official website for the National Association of Realtors (NAR) it was given exclusive access to all the content from all of the MLS’s across the nation. So, did it take this MLS data and use it to further the industry and pursue noble Realtor causes? Of course not, it sold leads back to the agents, just like the other guys. Realtor.com used to charge $1000′s to be the “designated” Realtor for an area and get those area leads. Now it charges agents to place their listings at the top of the results and to have the agent contact info and property address shown.
Today we have Trulia, among many others, who have a new business model- Give it all away for free and be the agent’s best friend, grow really big until the agents depend on you, then charge them and make a bundle.
Trulia takes the listing info and sends the leads back to the agents with no charge. Everyone loves that. But when you have VC money you’ve got to make profit and giving stuff away doesn’t bring in any profit.
Trulia has always sold ads on their website, and at the beginning claimed they were only interested in making money from those ads. But, now that they have grown and are getting a lot more traffic (and have investors), Trulia is changing, as I thought they might. They are no longer just making money from advertising. Now Trulia sells placement of listings to the agents, just like the other guys. And it’s only a matter of time before they begin charging agents to be a “designated” or “premier” or “showcase” agent, and then only a matter of time before they charge for the leads.
Not that’s there’s anything wrong with that. They certainly have a right to have their business model, and their search function and information is superb. They offer a lot of info and have some really cool tools on their site. But it’s just data- they have no real estate knowledge or expertise because they are not real estate people. Trulia was founded, as most of the other listings.bot websites, by tech people. Just a couple of tech guys- not real estate guys, tech guys.
A better alternative for brokers and agents (and the consumer), would be to have their own destination website that is not only full of rich content and great search functionality, but offers the individual agent’s local knowledge and personality. Because, while real estate technology is expanding and becoming global, the transactions and business are still based on relationships and personality and trust between Realtors and their clients.
It is wonderful to have great data and technology, but a successful real estate business still needs to be founded in service and relationships. And no national website can offer people the personal touch of a local agent, with their intimate knowledge of an area and the excellent service they provide to their clients.
There is a difference between information and knowledge. These mega-websites can offer tons of data and graphs, charts, statistics, reports, and other information, but at the end of the day- none of them can advise a local buyer like I can.
Agents and brokers could, as an alternative to feeding the machine of these mega-sites, create their own online brand, their own online real estate destination, and offer the same cool data and technology, and fill it with their own personality and their own knowledge and experience. Instead of contributing to a mega-site knowledge base, they could offer their own, local knowledge bases. If I am buying a home in Salt Lake City I want to know about the Salt lake City area and local market conditions and get expert advise and guidance for that area and I really don’t care about who is the top agent in Grand Rapids or what ten agents say about the market in Boston.
My founding BlueRoof360, stemmed from the dozen or so monthly emails and phone calls I receive from agents and brokers asking me if I can help them build a website or help them convert online leads or help them with their online services.
Agents can now have their own websites and blogs and have innovative technology and cutting-edge search tools and data, and keep their business for themselves and offer their own personality and knowledge, without spending $100,000 and twelve months designing a custom website. I’m not just trying to be noble- I want to make a profit, just like the next guy. But I’m doing it in a way that helps, not hurts, the agents and brokers in the long-run.
Unlike Trulia, or Zillow, or Redfin, or many of the other tech.bot real estate sites- I am not a tech-guy trying to make money in real estate. I am a Realtor using technology to offer better service for my clients.
And now I’m using technology to help other agents grab hold of their fair share of the internet business that so many of the tech-guys are trying to take from them. Using these mega-sites is not bad, but it shouldn’t be an agent’s only source of online business.
Real estate professional know real estate better than tech guys or anyone else, and with the right technology won’t need these outside mega-sites because they will be one of their own.