Friday Flash: Gas on the fire, deep thoughts at 30,000 feet

DoorSteps, a company that launched about a year ago with a web app that helps agents guide buyers through a deal, has launched a consumer-facing version of its product.

It’s beautiful, simple and smart.

Buyers who sign up get tons of decision support content, tools, timelines, and “inside tips” submitted by pros. When they’re ready to contact an agent, they’re directed to one with a DoorSteps account.

While the teeth-gnashing over listings display grinds on, a bunch of new companies like DoorSteps (BrightNest, Buyfolio, SmartAsset and DotLoop among many others) are working on something far more important: the real estate experience.

HomeLight launched this week. It’s funded by Google Ventures and is the best agent-matching site I have ever seen.

Yet I am torn.

I like companies that shake things up. And I think finding the right agent is among the biggest unsolved problems in real estate.

I also like playing fair.

So while I rooted for HAR’s and Redfin’s doomed efforts to use data to attack this problem, I heaped scorn on MarketLeader for buying a bunch of broker licenses and setting up a national IDX portal with no intention of actually brokering real estate.

HomeLight sits on the edge.

It does a lot well. It’s accurate and well designed. And the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it” approach of showing only those agents its algorithm recommends for a specific consumer query will neutralize a lot of agent objections.

On the other hand, the company secured brokerage licenses in 20 states and uses the MLS data to which it therefore has access to help power its service. HomeLight, like MarketLeader, will not provide brokerage services.

Ambivalent though my take make be, I am certain of this: HomeLight is a shot of gas on a fire burning in the broker community that’s beginning to throw off a lot of heat.

Airbnb, the hi-flying “post-hotel travel” site, quietly acquired Nabewise and launched a new “Neighborhoods” feature. I can see a lot of people using this even if they can’t yet work up the courage to sleep in a stranger’s home.

It’s loaded with stunning photography and good writing.

In the few weeks prior to this announcement, these things also happened:

Google Map Maker, a service that lets users update Google Maps worldwide, focused on “activity streams” within neighborhoods.

Hipmunk, the popular flight search site, launched rich neighborhood guides filled with content from locals.

Foursquare went well beyond check-ins with a new “explore” play that takes reviews, local discovery and hyper local advertising in an interesting new direction.

My point: It seems like everybody but those who know the neighborhood best are staking their claim here. Real estate brokers and brands should follow. Fast. quietly released a new mobile website. It is excellent.

It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a native experience in a mobile web app. The site is super-fast, truly optimized for touch and almost as feature rich as the RDC iPhone app.

HTML 5 has been taking a beating lately in the wake of Facebook’s flight to native, and the web-versus-apps debate is unlikely to end anytime soon. But for most real estate companies, nailing the mobile web experience should come first.

The NAR launched a technology accelerator to help startups focused on real estate get to market. It’s run by the NAR’s investment arm, Second Century Ventures.

It’s not NAR trying to build technology – something at which it seems to have no special competency – but rather a pairing of its market power with the entrepreneurs who can.

I like this.

So, I’m sitting here in a plane drifting in an out of this blog post, and I am starting to think…

What if aggregators, IDX, broker websites and other nodes to which consumers “go” to view listings melt away over the next five years? 

What if discovery replaces search, voice replaces text, location replaces the query and preferences expressed through clicks in the past shape future interactions?

What if a listing, being, you know, out there “on the Internet” simply hit a consumer at the right place, at the right time, for the right reason?

What if something like Google’s Now or Field Trip became mainstream?

What if “data rights” and “scraping” become old anxieties because the barricades of today simply don’t exist?

Should brokers fear this? Why would they?

OK. Enough deep thoughts. Tell me if I’m nuts, please.

Wheels down in 20 minutes.

Enjoy the weekend.

[Disclosures: is a 1000WATT client]