Friday Flash: The gates of hell

You’re looking for a home.

Naturally, you’re nervous. Unsure. Short on information and seeking someone you can trust.

You come across a web page that offers help, and, perhaps against your better judgement, you fill out the form on this page.

The gates of hell open.

You receive the email auto-response first. This you expect.

Then your phone rings. You don’t answer. Too fast.

30 minutes later a voicemail appears on your phone, but you don’t remember actually receiving another call (marketers can now “sly-drop” a voicemail on your phone – fun!).

Then a text.

And another email…

On and on it goes, 43 touches in all.

That’s one company’s new regimen, as described to me in a meeting I had yesterday with some very smart and knowledgeable real estate tech people. Another kinder, gentler company we discussed finds 21 touches to be sufficient.

How did we end up in a place where we digitally waterboard people looking for help with something as important as real estate?

I believe the online lead frenzy is peaking, and take some consolation from that. The next wave of real estate tech will be focused on helping good agents win business the old fashioned way – referrals, farming, relationships, networking, loyalty – more intelligently and, I hope, more humanely.

There’s a lot going on with real estate data management these days.  

New ways of getting listings, public records, agent rosters and other real estate information into the MLS and back out of it are materializing quickly.

Bridge by Zillow, Upstream, Paragon for Brokers, Trestle by CoreLogic (which launched this week) and Spark are the most notable.

It’s easy to get lost in the tech details on this stuff, but this isn’t a tech issue. It’s a power struggle.

I have likened the movement of listings around the digital world to the global oil business. Whoever effectively controls the tech and pipes that get the oil out of the ground and out to market is in the controlling position, not necessarily the country that owns the ground. It was like this for much of the last century, with big American and European oil companies exploiting oil rich states.                                 

Eventually, these countries got tired of being weak, nationalized oil production, and formed OPEC. The balance of power shifted.

Upstream might be viewed as brokers – who own much of the data – trying to “nationalize” its production and distribution. It’s an entirely rational move.

Trestle, Paragon for Brokers and Spark are initiatives from MLS software vendors. They are driven by fierce competition for MLS contracts, and MLSs need better ways to manage data.

Zillow is driven by risk management. They kicked their shameful dependency on Move/Listhub three years ago and masterfully lined up hundreds of direct data feeds from MLSs. Their Bridge initiative is about locking that in.

The stakes are high all the way around.

So, I think you can ignore most of the technology talk around data. This is a battle royale worthy of captains of industry and Saudi Sheiks.

Three interesting tech bits:

Maersk and IBM are bringing blockchain to the global shipping industry (from PSFK). This is happening, and worth watching closely. Blockchain may have seemed esoteric and fringe a year or two ago, but that’s not really true anymore. The transformative possibilities for real estate are real.

Hey, Alexa, does this look infected? (from Techcrunch). The outer edge of what people are trying with voice interfaces right now. Seems like a stretch, but, hey, I never thought I’d manage my life through a “mobile phone” either.

Voice and the uncanny valley of AI (from Benedict Evans). A more sober take on voice computing and artificial intelligence. His conclusion makes a ton of sense: AI is great when it’s used to do a very small number of well-defined things (e.g., “Alexa, play Beyoncé on Spotify”), and would be world-changing if it did everything (still a long way off), but often fails when it does some things that aren’t clearly defined (e.g., Siri). My takeaway: be really, really wary of the voice-controlled, AI-driven real estate apps just now starting to appear.

That’s it for now. Enjoy the weekend.