When I was at Inman, I believe it was Dottie Herman (although I realize that Altos Research attributes the quote to Burke Smith) who said “Technology won’t replace agents, agents with technology will replace agents“. Regardless of the source, it’s a great quote! That remark struck a chord with me. Except there’s one small problem… There’s not enough “real” technology vendors out there! Let me explain further…
OK, at one end of the Real Estate 2.0 spectrum, you have Zillow, Move, & Trulia. They use cool technology to sell advertising in the Real Estate market. Nothing wrong with that. Being a ‘softie alumni perhaps I’m a bit too set in my ways to fully appreciated the size of the opportunity these fine companies are going after. After all, MS only has a 10% share of the $500 billion/year enterprise IT market. But Google, probably only has a 1% share of the $3 TRILLION/year advertising market. Maybe those numbers are off, but it feels like a good Zestimate to me. Clearly there’s a lot money to made from the death of print media and these guys are at grave yard with their shovels ready. More power to them I say.
At the other end of the Real Estate 2.0 spectrum, you have HouseValues, HomeGain & others. They try to use technology to lure in and sell leads. It’s not my cup of tea, and some people don’t like them, but there’s nothing wrong with that business model either.
But where are the companies that use technology to just sell technology? When I look at the MLS search offerings of my future competitors like Birdview, Wolfnet, Superlative, Logical Dog, and literally a cast of thousands etc, I just cry and smile. The maps are non-existent or very Web 1.0-ish. RSS or KML? What’s that? Foreign langauge support? Is English considered a foreign language yet? Data Visualization? You gotta be joking. Page speed? Maybe if you measure performance with a calendar. And I haven’t even talked about half of the things I want to see or invent in a world class MLS search tool.
Granted, my game still needs a lot more work as well. Zearch is English only still, there’s more to data visualization than pretty Zillow charts, I really have no idea of how bad I scale yet (better than reply.com I hope, otherwise I know I’ll never hear the end of it), and I only support the NWMLS right now, but on the whole I’m feeling pretty optimistic about my chances on the pro tour.
Picture this scenario, here I am, John Q Homebuyer, getting my Zillow fix, Moving around the web, and being Trulia impressed with all this Real Estate 2.0 stuff, and then I click on your ad. I goto your web site, I wanna search for homes (because frankly that’s why people visit your site, unless you’re a famous blogger) and do you know what happens next? It’s reminds me of the guy going for a test drive in the new Volkswagen radio ads.
“This broker’s web site has 3 speeds, and this one is disappoinment. Web site, honk if you suck *honk* Take me to a RealTech or Caffeinated web site”
FYI – I’m leaving out RedFin because there are an exception to this generalization. They are a broker that has developed great technology in house and they are keeping it all to themselves (punks ;)). So most other brokers can’t really compete with them technologically speaking unless they partner with a technology vendor (like RealTech or myself).
I mean, we have all these “consumer portal” companies doing interesting work, empowering consumers, and then when I visit the broker’s or agent’s web site for the full story, it’s a total and complete let down. There’s over 1 million agents in the this country, and probably only a 1000 agents that have web sites worth visiting (I suspect half of which are regular Rain City Guide readers), and hardly anyone with compelling MLS search tools. It feels like all the good software engineers involved with this industry want to sell it an ad or a lead, instead of a killer web site. Maybe the industry needed a few well funded and very talented start-ups to smack it around to finally wake up and smell the software? (sniff, aaaahh, Firefox fresh scent, yummy)
Clearly there’s a big opportunity for developing a good MLS search tool for this industry. Maybe not Zillow, Microsoft or Google sized, but it’s big enough to make me interested in going for it. I’m pretty excited at the thought of all the possibilities, personally.
This is why I cry and smile. I cry because I feel my clients pain. They just want a cool web site to capture leads so they can get off the advertising & lead buying treadmill, and finding a good one is just about impossible. I cry because I feel the home buyers pain. This stuff should be so much better than it is. Many brokers have the money and are willing to do something about it, but it just looks like the current set of vendors serving them are developing products like it’s web circa 1999. I smile, because I’m in a position to do something about this. I feel like a Tiger. Here’s how I break things down on the links…
Jack Nicklaus is still winning most of the major tournaments these days, but he’s the one whose records I wish to break. RealTech has done some real nice work w/ John L Scott, CB Bain (did you guys do CatalistHomes? It looks like your work, but I don’t see your brand anywhere?). He has a few years of a head start over me, and is probably in process of making his other clients very happy. I hope that Zearch will eventually be as well regarded as the work you’ve done.
But after Jack, I can’t see anybody else out on the course improving their game. Maybe they are all down at the club house sipping some buds? Maybe they think the mine field of MLS downloading rules and methods will keep their market shares safe from technology disruptors (and to be honest, they are partly right – I wouldn’t be crazy enough to take this on if I wasn’t so convinced that I could build a much better set of web tools than most of the vendors I’ve discovered). Maybe they’ve never read Andy Grove’s “Only the Paranoid Survive“? But if this industry embraces RETS (or better yet, screw the SOAP and let me get dirty w/ the MLS’s SQL Servers), I suspect a few names on the MLS/IDX web site industry leaderboard will change.
But how can any vendor support all 900+ MLSes in this country! This is a monster challenge, even for a Tiger. We’re talking a 600 yard, Par 3 sized challenge here folks. Sorry, but even Tiger’s Nike golf equipment can’t par that hole. I’ll suspect I’ll just refine my game on the local links until I get really good. (If Dustin would only give me the connection string to Realtor.com’s SQL cluster it would all be so much easier. ;)) Oh well, if I gotta play the game one hole at a time, that’s the way I gotta play. Just keep making pars, make a birdie here or there, no bogeys, and watch the other players fall apart like a Sunday afternoon during a major. I dunno, but it’s starting to feel like the 2nd round of the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach to me.
I’m working out, I’m going to a swing coach, I’m sinking my putts, I’m killing balls on the driving range, and more imortantly, I’m feeling a little faster, stronger, & smarter with each passing week. So all you other players, better step up your game. Tiger’s turning pro soon. Maybe not this year, maybe not next, but soon. And when he does, the game of real estate will not be the same.
Except for Jack, I wouldn’t worry about him too much. We’ve all seen the green jackets in his closet. 🙂
I know Ubertor’s got game, but I consider them more of a Michael Jordon type player. Great stuff, but he plays a different sport than we do. So Mr. Agent & Ms. Broker, are there any good MLS/IDX vendors out there whose game impresses you? (Other than Jack’s & Tiger’s of course?)