A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum…

Actually it was a great evening at the MIT Enterprise Forum program last Wednesday (3/15) on the topic of Online Real Estate. I was on the volunteer program development team that put the evening together, and I got tagged to put together this note for you 🙂 And my own personal thanks to all who helped us with insights and contacts to build the program, including Dustin. There’s already been a lot of great timely comments on the program in this blog, so this note is primarily to report some of the stats and survey results, and a couple of my own comments on disruptive technologies and market inertia (or active resistance, as the case may be).

Attendance at the dinner/program meeting was a sold-out 400 people, one of the highest numbers ever for an MITEF program. The program panel was made up of three local online real estate companies – House Values (Niki Parekh), Redfin (David Eraker) and Zillow (Spencer Rascoff), plus a broker, Real Property Associates (Gordon Stephenson), and an Internet savvy agent, who was also our moderator (Jim Reppond, Coldwell Banker). So it was a good crowd, and a good spectrum of players on the panel. The program consisted of introductions of the players and their companies, key questions and panel responses led by the moderator, and open Q&A from the audience.

Wednesday morning (3/22) we reviewed the results of the online survey we sent out to the 298 attendees that we had emails for – we got 96 responses back, which is a pretty good sample. Here’s some highlights of the responses:

  • 63 % were there because the program was relevant to their work or job – usually not that high; lots of Realtors present, as expected. For over 60%, this was their first time at an MIT Forum event. The other large segment was more the regular MIT Forum attendees who follow, and lead, tech-driven companies and their business issues.
  • 87 % said the topic was relevant to them; 78 % said the program met or exceeded their expectations.
  • 69 % said the level of detail was just right, but 31% said it was too general – higher than we would have liked.

Enough of the stats. Here’s some quotes from the comments that show more of the flavor of the event, and some of the mixed reactions it generated:

“Having Zillow, Redfin and House Values in the same room at the same time was the reason I decided to attend. Not necessarily the speakers themselves, but the companies they represented.”

“I was expecting to hear about more revolutionary technology. It seems the real estate industry is still in the technology dark ages.”

“The topic was “The New World of Buying and Selling Real Estate”. The moderator and the audience of R.E. agents didn’t allow for a real discussion on the future because they feel so threatened by these new technologies. Boos from the crowd of R.E. agents and a moderator who encouraged it stifled an open and honest discussion.”

“It is difficult for businesses to share the future directly as competition is present and they cannot release product plans before they are ready to launch.”

“It was good to hear the stories on the companies’ background and how they work. Although, at times it almost seemed as though I was at an infomercial.”

“Great topic; always fun to hear the spirited discussion that an industry in transition generates.”

All of the above once again proving that it is very difficult to satisfy all of the people all of the time, and that divisive subjects generate divisive reactions. It would be fun to do this again a few years from now, when more of these companies are bigger, and public, and have more visible business strategies.

So now I get to put in my nickel comments, based on my own background as a tech exec, seven years working with the MIT Forum on these kinds of programs, and now full-time realtor for several years. I think that this is an industry in the very early stages of being hit by disruptive technologies and the new business models that they enable. The mass and momentum of the industry are huge, and the consumer market is highly diverse. It may take quite a while for the new business models to clarify and engage their target segments of the market and start to get real (no pun intended) traction. The players we see today may not be the players of the future (for example, see Dustin’s earlier post about Google Base vs Zillow). But some will get traction, and as they do we will see a lot of resistance and delaying actions by those whose market is being disrupted. Some resistance will be tightened corporate policies, some will be PR campaigns, and some will be lobbyist-driven regulation. Anything sound new here? We’ve seen it in industries as diverse as airlines and telecoms and travel and books and so on … Delaying change is worth $billions to the incumbents, and they are pros at the game. But it still looks to me like the technology train is on the tracks, and gathering speed. Personally, I will take every advantage I can of the technology-driven changes… and I will continue to welcome ‘old-fashioned’ people-driven referrals 🙂

18 thoughts on “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum…

  1. Chuck,

    Thanks for the post….

    So was there really people booing during the discussion? What were the topics being discussed that prompted the booing?

    Interesting… Did anyone read the survey done by the NAR http://www.realtor.org/crtweb.nsf/pages/CRTsurvey?OpenDocument

    The survey states that 63% of agents think that public MLS websites are bad for their business. This is talking about public MLS access that their broker provides. So it is certainly no surprise to me that any RE technology faces a huge uphill battle in the days and years ahead.

  2. The only booing was from agents after David Eraker made a comment that the terms and conditions of the offer were more important than presenting the offer in person.

  3. I read the NAR survey and I found the dynamic between MLSs, brokers, and agents fascinating. It’ll be interesting to see how this civil war will play out.

    Although, I when I read the survey I thought agents were against public MLS websites that MLSs themselves provide (such as NWMLS), and not necessarily the ones their broker provides.

    Frankly (at least in this area), I wouldn’t worry about MLS websites. The web tools for the public use are so poor, that most brokers and many agents have better tools for home finding that our local MLS does.

    (Apparantly the MLS has better stuff for the private use of it’s members, but I’ve yet to see it for more than 2 minutes when an agent or broker would show it to me)

  4. Did you catch this quote, Robbie?

    “While many MLS respondents see MLS public websites as a positive, REALTORS® do not appear to share that view. MLS respondents believe MLS public websites provide broader exposure to listings,
    neutral site for consumers and help builds the REALTOR® image in the community, while helping to compete to against other websites from third party lead resellers. While some REALTORS® believe they do increase exposure for listings, 43% believe there is no benefit from a MLS public website. They continue to believe MLS websites
    compete with their own sites.”

    There’s a reason why the nwmls public site is so poor. And boy is it poor. It meets the “requirement” that there be one, but doesn’t compete with the large broker sites.

    They don’t have the choice of “none”, so “poor” seems to be the consensus of at least 4% of REALTORS (that’s not agents; that’s REALTORS only). The non-REALTOR agents probably wouldn’t agree that the public site be so poor, so they can utilize it better for their clients. It’s only the BIGcompanies that control the data, as they have the big competing for attention sites. LOL

  5. Great word choice Robbie… “Civil War” is very appropriate for what is going on in this debate.

    What brokers, Agents, MLS’s, and the likes should figure out that while they bicker of the details it is giving RE tech guys an opportunity to grab market share from Brokers and MLS public sites.

    And yes Robbie us Realtors have some pretty powerful tools to search through the MLS data. Pretty much every type of feature you could ask for. It is typically not very pretty (Propsmart, Trulia, Redfin) but very functional if you know what you are doing.

  6. Personally, though I was yawning every time Niki Parekh from HouseValues tooted the HV horn, he did make a valid point that Zillow’s 5-10% accuracy was too large to provide any tool of value, whereas the real estate agent that knows that market usually gets within 1% of accuracy. Every agent knows that price and condition are the two keys to getting a house to sell fastest and for the most and that starts with that knowledgable agent and not an set of formulas that provide such inaccurate information.
    There’s only so much you can get from online information. The rest is just plain experience.

  7. The MLS is temporary, such is life. Stop waisting time and energy on the MLS Quagmire and look outside the box. Look how technology effects countries who have it and those who dont. Its an exponential multiplier and the delta obviously favors ‘those who do.’ The average age of a realtor is in baby boomer ranks. Guess whos retiring, guess whos coming and guess who will be left behind. Embrace it, dont fight it.

    Derek Rey

  8. LOL Derek…that’s what WE used to say! We all turn into our mothers when we replace them 🙂 By the time we do replace them with our “new” ideas, there’s a younger crowd with “newer” ideas. And in the end the most important idea is the oldest in the book, good ethics.

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