The future does not belong to the collective, long-term agent

I’ve been having an interesting dialog (via email) with a real estate agent who I completely respect. He brings up some interesting issues that I thought were worth bringing to the general public (these ideas want to be free instead of locked up in Google’s email archive 🙂 )

…I can certainly appreciate their (Trulia) desire to ‘break the monopoly’ but keep in mind that the MLS is just a compilation of broker-represented listings. Brokers own those listing and ultimately decide where they go for marketing purposes. ‘Breaking the monopoly’ would mean one would either have to get consensus of a critical mass of the Brokers (90%+) or become a broker oneself and start listing lots of homes. Both are unlikely… Much better to find a way to accomplish the goal of improving search within the ground rules of existing copyright law (think old Napster, new Napster)…

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I really dislike the inefficiencies in the current MLS system, and yet, I can see how everyone benefits from the increased information sharing. If the choice was between the current MLS set-up and a situation where agents all held onto their own data, I’d definitely prefer the current MLS situation…

sunflowersBut that’s not the choice anymore. Before the advent of the internet, it was only logical that agents needed to work together and form a cooperating system so that they could share listing information. And I can totally understand that agents needed listing rules in order to ensure that one rogue agent (or homeowner) didn’t screw up the whole listing situation. I can completely appreciate this history…

But what I’ve described is the historical legacy of the the MLS, not the future. The internet has changed the situation dramatically by making the sharing of information extremely easy! Rather than protecting themselves from one rogue agent or one greedy home owner, real estate agents now need to protect themselves from an onslaught! There is no way that a company that aggregated listing data from agents (as in Trulia) could have been built 10 years ago. And yet today, it seems shocking that such a site wasn’t available a week ago.

I think the comparisons to between Trulia and the old Napster are misleading, and ultimately wrong.

But first the similarities: The old Napster was fought by the recording industry because they facilitated the sharing of valuable information (music), just as Trulia will likely be fought by the real estate industry because they are facilitating the sharing of valuable information (listings).

But the way that music and listings gain value could not be more different.
The value of music is embedded in each and every song and can be easily monetized for consumers (Recording industry: “that song will be 99 cents!”). The value of listings are embedded in the entirety of all the listings and each individual listing cannot be easily monetized for consumers (Real estate industry: “that listing will be 99 cents!”).

Flag over waterBut far more important… The ultimate client of the recording industry (musicians) benefit only if a song is sold and not if it is illegally downloaded. In contrast, the ultimate client of the real estate industry (home buyers and sellers) benefits every time a listing is seen (illegally or not!). As these aggregating services become more and more popular (options like Trulia, Craigslist, Ebay Real Estate, Google Classifieds, and Zillow), real estate agents are going to be constantly challenged to decide between their individual AND short-term interest (list the home as widely as possible) and their collective AND long-term interest (keep their monopoly on listings!).

In the battle of individual/short-term interests vs. collective/long-term interests, I’d put my money behind the former every time.

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