Mobile real estate: old battles and new realities

This was Matthew Lynn, writing for Bloomberg, back in 2007:

The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant.

and:

Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry.

Oops.

It’s easy to look back at statements like these and laugh.

But the truth is, no one really expected the tsunami of change the iPhone brought to the mobile space. Only five years ago, smartphones were only carried by geeks, few knew what an “app” was, and for those of us in real estate, “mobile” remained little more than a buzzword.

In 2007, I may have had an inkling that it might be big but I certainly can’t claim any unique prescience:

House hunting seems to me to be an inherently mobile activity but as yet all of the house hunting options we have require you to root yourself in front of the computer. This strikes me as a pretty large disconnect, especially as the mapping/mashup technology already exists. Google Maps and Microsoft’s Live Search for mobile already make good use of it.

What I’d love to see is a mobile versions of Yahoo! Real Estate or Trulia‘s search engine. Something that would allow me to punch in my current location, search criteria and then have it return driving directions to each of the results to me. Maybe even a one-touch ‘click-to-call’ link to instantly connect me to the listing agent.

My wishes came true.

The battle is moving

Debates erupt around the display and syndication of listings online. Rumors abound about efforts by coalitions of brokers to build destination websites that will “compete” with the big portals. MLSes still argue whether they should be launching public facing websites.

Much energy is expended, but I’m pretty convinced it’s all being wasted. While many in the industry focus on websites and web pages, the future lies somewhere else.

Zillow now claims 40% of its weekend traffic comes through its mobile apps. I imagine the other portals see similar trends. There’s little doubt that those numbers will continue to climb to a point where the browser, I believe, will no longer be the primary way we connect to real estate data.

Five years from now the battle for audience in real estate won’t be fought on the web; it will be fought in the app stores.

It’s going to be messy, inasmuch as there are all kinds of form factors to account for. It’s going to be expensive, since there’s multiple platforms that will need to be supported. It’s also going to throw things like traditional SEO onto the back burner.

This reality should be top of mind for any broker or franchise thinking about its digital strategy, its syndication strategy, or its relationship with the online real estate players.

But this future is also going to be a ton of fun. New input methods — multitouch gestures, voice and who knows what else — will open up new ways for us to interact with all this information.

Either way, steel yourselves. It’s time to go all-in on mobile for home search. Get in, or get out – ’cause this is the world we’re heading towards.

Mark my words.

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