2014? It's up in the air

It’s 7:30 a.m. here, 30,000 feet above Nevada, and I’ve already talked shop for an hour with the industry people I ran into at my gate.

I’m headed to the Inman show in NYC. When I am pointed back west on Friday, I will have made my way through exactly 28 meetings, 3 cocktail parties, several steaks, and 4 fitful nights in a bed that hurts my back.

It’s a good way to start the year, really.

And what about that year? It’s up in the air.

I won’t even attempt specific predictions. There are too many variables at play. But here’s what I think lies ahead of us:

Competition and conflict.

Lots of it. Which is a good thing. And peace and harmony are kind of boring anyway, right?

Here’s just a sampling:


It’s no coincidence that big brokers went public with their gripes about the MLS in 2013.

They’ve woken up from the downturn on the wrong side of the bed, and it’s time to set some things right.

Many brokers are well out of survival mode. Some are even flush. And money gets the competitive juices flowing.

There’s a strong intent in some broker circles to take care of business they were too stressed to deal with from 2007 to 2012. So whatever you may think of plans for a national broker database and other such initiatives, it’s hard to see the talking, planning and doing on this front slowing down in the year ahead.

In fact, I’m feeling that we ain’t seen nothing yet.

But for all the chatter this will generate in 2014, it’s just a surface matter. The real battle in 2014 is for the future of the brokerage industry business model.

The bust drove many agents to hang-your-license shops like HomeSmart. “Brand lite” players like Realty One vacuumed up others. A lot of broker-centric companies struggled to sustain an agent value proposition that was either compelling or unique. The strategic parasitism of agent teams spread like a rash.

In other words, things were shaken up. And now the market’s back. Game on.

The portals

“TZR.” “The aggregators.” A lumpen mass of doom. Whatever you thought of Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com, there probably wasn’t much daylight between them in your mind.

That’s changing. These three companies are fighting for difference. A defensible niche. Or total dominance.

Zillow is now the company looking to build an “enduring consumer brand.” Trulia, with its MarketLeader acquisition, is aiming to be “real estate’s operating system.” Realtor.com is now better aligned with NAR and focused on a “serious audience.”

For a while there, it seemed like it was the portals vs. the industry. Now, it’s the portals duking it out with each other. This is healthy. More products for agents and brokers. More choice. Clearer distinctions. More effort to deliver unique value to industry partners.

New entrants

By my count there’s about a billion dollars stacked up between the portals and the newly public real estate brands. This is fuel for new real estate innovation, but it’s also going to create controversy. Companies will start. Companies will throw brains and money at problems. Companies will get bought. Companies will deliberately try to pry apart the Way Things Are.

If you’re building real estate software, now is the best of times.

But one person’s innovation is another’s nightmare. The value scramble between brokers, agents and the MLS is only going to get more intense with each new app, each new idea. And there will be plenty.

Let’s get going

I’ve been impatient for a while. The decade-long boom and bust thing caused a lot of pain and disruption, but in some ways it kept the industry in a sort of stasis, moving from fat and happy to broke and stuck, but in either case not really moving forward.

We’re past that, and while what lies ahead is surely to be turbulent, at least we’re going someplace.

[Disclosure: Move, Inc. is a 1000WATT client.]