Looking back over my last 11 years in this industry, I have seen a lot of growth, a lot of change and a lot of disruption…I have even been a part of that disruption.
Spending my entire career with two of the top three consumer portals, Realtor.com and Trulia, has been nothing less than ground-breaking and controversial. It is with these two companies, I learned the real estate business and had the opportunity of working with some of the greatest minds in the industry on both the technology and the brokerage sides.
I have always believed in the mission of providing consumers the tools and information they need to allow them to make the most sound and educated decision when it comes to buying or selling a home and connecting them to the right agent. I have always believed that my part in this process was meaningful because if I could help a broker provide the tools to his/her agents that enabled them to sell a house to a consumer who never thought it would be possible to own their own home, then we succeeded.
Real estate has always been the driving force of the economy and the way most of the richest people in the America have built their worth. To be a part of that process, for me, was a feeling of patriotism and success far beyond what I could have ever imagined. I felt good about what I did for the last 11 years.
Trulia, REALTOR.com, and other portals like them are all technology companies that have found a way to capture nearly one-third of all consumers searching online for real estate. I feel proud to know that I have been one of many key pieces in these companies to assist in providing consumers the ability to access the information they need to make the most educated decision possible when buying a home. But more often then not, during my tenure I found myself asking why a broker or agent would not want to provide their listings to these sites when they provide the real estate consumer far more information than what a broker could – let alone an agent? Why would a broker like Edina Realty in Minneapolis (Edina now provides their listings to the portals as of August 2014) or Shorewest Realtors in Milwaukee, WI pull their data from these sites? These are questions we used to ask all the time at roundtables. And the truth is, it never made sense to me until a few weeks ago when I had an epiphany that made me realize why these companies did what they did.
Recently, I left the portal side and moved to the industry side to be a part of a team that would launch a new national franchise, NextHome. It was a decision that took me over a year to make. The idea of being on the franchise side of the industry scared me a lot. I have witnessed some of the brightest minds in the franchising and brokerage space struggle to implement simple consumer driven ideas, to no avail. Not to mention the fact that there are so many of them fighting for brand equity, mind and market-share in every city across America. What ultimately pushed me into making the move was the fact that I could still do what I loved doing with technology, but in a way that actually improved both sides of the equation. I would be working with people that saw my passion as a way to lead, motivate and inspire. We all share the same passion of elevating our industry and a desire to leave it better than we found it. It was my time to go all in and take what I learned on the portal side, to the brokerage side. It would give me the opportunity to lead and grow a company that will effectively change the way we look at franchising forever and raise the standards in our industry for consumers and agents.
It was only three weeks into my new position when I ended up on the other side of the phone with one of the big three portals. The person on the other end was trying to convince me on the value of not paying for our featured listings and allowing other agents to pay to be shown on them instead. The best part… “it would cost me nothing”! I began to laugh inside and then out loud. I think this person forgot whom they were talking to. In only one month on the brokerage side, my views had changed significantly – why would I ever want to allow competing agents to be displayed on my members’ listings and essentially take buyer inquiries away from them. I further explained that our listings would not be held hostage, seeing as they need our data more than we need their service. When I hung up I was taken back by my reaction and how passionately I defended my company and our 800 active listings and 1,000 agents, but more importantly, the homeowners that entrusted us with the marketing of their home. I was now deep into the “syndication debate” from a perspective I never saw coming! I now completely understood what brokers meant when they said, “Without my data you would not exist!” It’s not that I didn’t understand them, but when you think about the consumer reach these sites have it seems crazy not to put them there.
However, there is an essential piece of the puzzle that these portals are missing and it is what I heard being said for years but never really believed it until I saw it with my own eyes! Real estate is local, it is relationship based, and it is very personal. Having now spent the past three months in the field truly learning what Realtors do has been an experience I could have never imagined. The role they play in homeownership across America is vital to families, and the economy. Regardless if an agent has Trulia, Zillow, REALTOR.com, Homes.com or whoever tomorrow’s newest site will be…homes will still sell and they will still be sold by REALTORS®! I am not saying there is no value to these sites because there is. You cannot discount the fact that the consumer looks to these sites to begin their home search whether they are buying or selling. However, if these sites imploded tomorrow, the world of real estate would not end. Consumers will still search online and drive the streets looking for yard signs and open houses. They will still call the number on that yard sign and they will still use a REALTOR® because buying or selling a home can be an enormously complex and emotional process. How do I know this? I have purchased a home twice now, and the statistics prove it!
- Technology has increased 500x since these sites launched and the consumers using an agent to purchase a home has moved from 62% in 2003 to 88% in 2013
- 47% of homes purchased in 2013 were within 15 miles of the buyer’s previous address
- 42% of consumers found their agent through a referral from a friend, neighbor or relative and 9% found their agent on an internet website
Until these portals fully understand that an agent’s job goes far beyond just the marketing of a home, and that online search is less than 5% of the entire buying process, they will continue to chase profitability and retention of agents buying their products. My advice to major real estate portals – stop thinking you actually understand what brokers and agents do as a profession, grab your senior management and product teams and get them out of the office. Challenge yourselves to go beyond your city and spend the next 90 days in the field working with franchises, large offices, small offices, agents, teams and begin understanding the complexity of their jobs. Stop trying to find ways to remove or cut the broker out of the process. Only then will portals truly be seen as industry partners and collaborators. For me, the past 90 days has been the most eye-opening experience of my career. I can’t wait to see how the next 90 days unfold.
Vice President of Sales | NextHome,Inc.
925-271-9102 Direct & Fax