[photopress:richard_williams_mining.jpg,thumb,alignright]In response to my post highlighting how great the technology behind Trulia is, I received some emails from real estate agents who completely disagreed with me, although only one agent, John Lockwood , took the initiative to responded on the record). Thank you John! I’m going to pick on your comments in this post only because you had the willingness to state a lot of agent’s fears publicly… With that said, I continue to welcome your feedback!
Hoarding the data? That’s a good one. Have you seen my Sacramento Search Page — to name just one place where I’m not hoarding it? I make my living publishing the data, and I’m licensed to make my living publishing it.
John, I clicked on your search site the other day for the first time, and I felt like I’d seen the site a million times before. The search is bad and does not serve your clients well. Sure you’ve published the homes that are for sale, but you haven’t added anything of value that I couldn’t get from 1000 other real estate sites in Sacramento. You haven’t taken it to the next step and provided anything particularly useful to your potential clients. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the goal of your search site is to tease your potential clients so that they will call on you to find out whether or not a particular home will work for them. And I don’t blame you for any of this because the coding required to build a more interactive site that would really serve your clients is very tricky. In reality, you are running on a business model that has been very successful and easily replicated all over the country.
I want a real estate search site that provides more useful information? I want recommendations. I want to know if the home is a good value. I want to know if the neighborhood is appropriate for me. You’re website provides none of that… and I’m not a good enough coder myself to implement any of these improvements. I think the search site that you offer lacks so much consumer friendliness, that I don’t even bother putting a link to my version of it on this site’s sidebar. Making interactive websites that improve with user experience is what gets the self-proclaimed web geeks all excited and sure that Trulia represents the first example of real estate entering the next version of the web.
[photopress:polina_vasily_stalin.jpg,full,alignleft]While the times are changing in the real estate industry, I think the majority of people WILL always want some expert advice before buying a home. It is not like buying a plane ticket, and consequently, the internet will not replace real estate agents in the same way it has replace travel agents. A home is simply too big of a purchase for most people to feel comfortable making it over the internet.
Onto another of your points, I wish I could say that I had more respect for a real estate license, but I don’t. (Considering you are from California, you might be interested to know that I’m licensed to practice traffic engineering in your state.) Recently, I decided it might be useful for me to have a real estate license, so I spent $250 and took an on-line course. It was the “60-hour” course that is required before you can take the Washington state exam. It was so easy, I doubt I spent 30 hours in total reading through their material and answering the multiple-choice questions. For comparison, I had to get a four-year degree and spend month’s studying before I was ready to take the all-day traffic engineering test. For me, all a real estate license means is that the person meets a minimal level of competency. It is all too common to find a licensed real estate agent who is simply not knowledgeable enough to do a good job. You have to search much harder to find a licensed lawyer, doctor, or engineer who simply cannot do their job.
Reading through the rest of John’s comments, I only have one general “big picture” comment. Nobody owes real estate agents anything, least of all their clients. That is an important enough comment to repeat in a different form. Home buyers and sellers do not owe real estate agents anything. Maybe it’s just the engineer in me that hates inefficiencies, but if someone else can provide a tool that makes home buyers and sellers better off, it is the real estate agents that need to adapt. Buyers and sellers should not have to adapt to an inefficient system designed by real estate agents for the benefit of real estate agents.
[photopress:hurley_patterson_cousins.jpg,thumb,alignright]So where does this leave us…
It won’t take long for the industry to see some major changes. It may be through Trulia and their opt-in database. It may be from some type of Craigslist on steroids (think Google Classifieds). It may be the product of a dream from Rich Barton or Barry Dillar. Whatever the solution is, it is being created right now and it will provide huge benefits to home buyers and sellers. All this is happening while NAR still has it’s head in the sand and is worrying about whether or not discount brokers can get access to MLS listings…
Does this mean that every real estate agent is going to be out of a job in a year? No way! There are still so many people that require the expert handholding of a well-informed agent. However, it does bring up some interesting questions for real estate agents who rely on the internet to get clients:
Are you preparing for a time when everyone will have access to better information? How? Are you just planning to fight these changes? Most importantly, do you have a web strategy to take advantage of these changes?