The flame of innovation

As I wing my way to New York City for Inman Connect, there’s a feeling I have had for a few weeks now that I can’t really shake.

I think we’re on the cusp of a very big year for real estate technology – perhaps even a transformative one.

Burning down

The last few years have been, let’s just say, combustible. But there has been a general deflagration in the portal war recently. It’s been a heated, pitched battle, but Trulia and Zillow will soon be one. If I’m honest, this makes me a little sad. Watching these two giants going at it over the last 8-9 years was a big part of what made watching the online real estate category so much fun.

But the combined Zulia beast will be knotted up for a while as they sort through operational and product redundancies. I fear this new entity will be far more weighed down than either were in the past, especially without a strong competitor pushing it forward.

And while is under new (and, some may say, agressive) ownership I think they’ve been knocked so far backwards that it’s going to take them a long while to recover a meaningful market or product position (I hope to be proven wrong here, by the way.)

Project Upstream and a rumored new broker-owned portal may throw some more fuel on this fire at some point down the road, but I’ll reserve judgement on either of those initiatives until we see anything concrete materialize.

The bottom line is that the portals are here to stay. They’re all now massive publicly traded companies. They’ve risen out of the flames to do what they do – generate leads for agents – well. But that’s about it. The truth is, they are, to be frank, a bit boring.

I think we’re going to need to look elsewhere to find the real innovation in real estate now.


For all the fire and fury that’s erupted over portals, syndication, listings and leads over the last few years, there seems to have been an enlightened group of innovators that have been quietly and steadily working on more meaningful products.

A number of companies today, some new and some old, are reaching deep down into the consumer experience of real estate and much deeper into the lifecycle of the transaction to try to make it better.

Companies like Dotloop, Redfin, Sindeo. Companies that are doing the hard work of actually trying to improve what happens after a consumer finds a home they want to buy or close on the home they always wanted.

These are companies that are solving real problems for agents, brokers and consumers. They’re making the transaction and mortgage experiences better. They’re tackling the loyalty problem that plagues this industry. They’re not just building better advertising platforms.

The truth is consumers have more options than ever to help them find a home online or on their smartphone, but what happens next? I don’t think that question has been answered sufficiently yet.

This is the great opportunity for innovation ahead.

And I think 2015 is the year that this side of the business gets hot.

[Disclosure: Keep is a 1000WATT client.]