Looking outside of real estate
“As a company, we are culturally pioneers, and we like to disrupt even our own business.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, in a November 2011 interview with Wired Magazine.
I’ve been in a real estate for a decade, and I can’t imagine a statement even close to that coming from any “leader” of the real estate industry. NAR, state, and local real estate associations have spent the past decade doing everything they can to preserve the status quo. As a result, pretty much all of the innovations that consumers have come to rely on have come from outside the industry, reinforcing a consumer view that the real estate industry is a dinosaur that isn’t aligned with the wants and needs of today’s consumers.
Did our industry disrupt? No.
Did NAR, state, and local associations want to do anything to disrupt the word-of-mouth referrals that many agents depend on for their business? Absolutely not. Instead, it was a little San Francisco company – Yelp – that started out with a focus on restaurant reviews. Consumers quickly used the Yelp infrastructure to review pretty much everything and anything, real estate agents included.
Did NAR, state, and local associations do anything to disrupt how consumers search for homes online? Absolutely not! Instead, companies like Zillow and Trulia built-out best-in-class consumer sites with a nationwide reach that put tons of information (accurate or not, that’s another story) about homes for sale at the fingertips of interested consumers.
Did NAR, state, and local associations do anything to disrupt how the industry polices the behavior of its members? Nope, of course not. In an age when you can find information about almost everyone and everything online, Code of Ethics complaints and other arbitration matters continue to take place behind closed doors.
Unwilling to reinvent
I don’t want to start sounding pedantic (or bitter), so I’ll summarize: The real estate industry has been unwilling and unable to reinvent itself. Our failure to disrupt the status quo and re-imagine what real estate could be hasn’t stopped others from doing it. Instead, we’ve handed opportunity after opportunity on a silver platter to others, leaving “the industry” to play catch up and look defensive and outdated.
And here’s the sad part: As websites have sprouted and technologies have been developed that make it easier for home buyers and sellers to do their research online, our state, local, and national association leaders missed the opportunity to put the agent at the center of that conversation. Want to connect with home shoppers? Trulia will gladly sell you a package – for about $80/month that will do exactly that. Want to appear above any agent’s reviews on Yelp? They will happily sell you an advertising package to make that happen.
We’ve arrived at a time when we are now arguing about whether or not it makes sense to syndicate our listing data to third party websites like Zillow or Trulia. Whether or not we will share our listing data with others isn’t the important question to me. It’s an interesting question, and I can see both sides of the argument. But I think it’s a distraction from the more important question: Are we going to find the courage to disrupt our industry and build the tools consumers demand, or will we continue to let others shape the future of our industry?