Friday Flash: Love the ones you’re with

I received a lot of smart, thoughtful feedback on my post last Friday on iBuyers. One person called me a communist, though, and two others suggested that I am embarrassingly naive to second guess the world-beating financial mastery of those who really understand how to make money from real estate. 

Please rest assured that I am a capitalist. I like money. Naive? I accept that without hesitation to the extent that it leads me to ask stupid questions from time to time.

I think RE/MAX’s acquisition of First back in December was a really good move (and smarter than the booj deal, in my opinion). First uses all kinds of data wizardry to identify the transaction-ready people within an agent’s existing database, then prompts the agent to reach out to them. It also tells the agent when someone in their sphere has transacted without them (ouch). 

Of course, you need to have a sphere to begin with to get any value out of this. RE/MAX agents are still among the most productive in the business, so it’s a good fit. 

A couple bigger picture things here: 

“Predictive analytics” was initially applied in our industry to properties/homeowners. This didn’t work so well. Most of those companies (e.g., SmartZip, Offrs) ended up effectively mothballed. First focused on people, using data to make relationships more valuable. I don’t think we’re done with this sort of thing. 

Second, being smarter about sustaining relationships within your sphere (or, as I like to call it, “loving the ones you’re with”) is any agent’s best defense against disruption. Again, I think there’s yet more innovation to be realized here. 

It’s been three years since Keller Williams announced that it was becoming a tech company. While I view this as a strategic marketing campaign first and tech initiative second, they have made some substantive developments. Keller Cloud is aloft. KW Command is real. Kelle, the agent virtual assistant app, is shipped and being used

Now the company is readying the consumer app they teased at their annual “Family Reunion” a year ago (with a level of grandiosity extraordinary even by real estate convention standards). KW president Josh Team gave Inman a controlled demo a few weeks ago and is now lowering expectations by calling this initial release “table stakes”, which it indeed seems to be. He was smart to frame it in this way. Any time you give agents a consumer-facing piece of technology, the assumption is that it will magically begin throwing off leads. Tricky.  

The larger issue with heading into this territory is that it makes imminent the final battle Gary Keller foreshadowed when he went all-in on the “tech company” play: wrestling with Zillow, Redfin, et al, for first place with the consumer. That’s going to be a hard one to win. Smarter Agent, the company KW bought in order to control its own national MLS data plumbing, spent 20 years providing agents with branded mobile apps they could provision directly to clients, during which time the consumer was “lost” to “third-parties”. 

Keller Williams, like all the big players that have been touting the platform story the past couple years, is nearing the payoff moment. Was it worth it? 

Answers coming soon.

What is a real estate brokerage? A legal construct? A culture? An office or offices? 

Or is a brokerage a vendor to agents? And while we’re at it, what is a vendor anyway?

The answers are becoming less and less clear. 

Case in point is Side, a brokerage that turns top agents and teams into independent companies with their own brands, while providing all the “back-end” stuff like compliance, TC, marketing, etc., from a central location. They are every bit a broker in the legal sense, but aren’t recognizable as such on the surface. They are brokerage deconstructed and reconstituted (in a smart, sustainable way, I believe).

And then, this week, comes Place, Inc., a Ben Kinney venture that partners with teams and provides tech, and also accounting and other services, including business and budget planning. Place is not legally a broker, but feels broker-ish, while really being, I guess, a vendor. 

Blurred lines. 

Check out Bumblebee, a company that envisions living spaces in “cubic feet rather than square feet.” It’s ingenious, trippy, and a good reminder that we are far from done imagining what home is. 

Enjoy the weekend.