Friday Flash: What are you saying?

Sometimes you forget, fleetingly or for long stretches, certain unpleasant realities.

Like when I go to bed feeling great, then wake up recognizing, in every ache, every odd twinge, the full toll of my 48 years. 

Or when I focus on sharpening a brokerage client’s value proposition and positioning and become reacquainted with the harsh truth that most companies in this space completely fall down on articulating their difference and worth. Not this client in particular – they’ve done a good job over the years and want to do better – but the brokerage business in general. 

Even many of the companies that could be strongly differentiated mostly fail to communicate their advantage effectively. Those that could provoke a feeling remain cold.

It’s baffling… or maybe not. If you’re a broker/owner, you know that promoting your brand requires the marketing equivalent of a knuckleball to get past agents all too ready to swat away anything you serve up. 

But it is also likely that you view your website, the channel with which you have perhaps the greatest degree of autonomy, as “tech,” or a lead-gen implement, not a platform for presenting your value in ways that people will understand and care about. 

In any event, the result is disheartening. I spent some time reviewing brokerage sites with this in mind, placing myself in a consumer’s shoes. Here’s what they, in effect, said to me:

We have “agents” here. We’re not going to tell you exactly what “agents” are, or how to pick from this long list of them, but, hey, go for it.

You live in the middle of the United States, but we have “international” things that you should care about. 

We are good at selling “luxury” houses. This logo on our website makes that clear. Plus, we say “luxury” a lot. Because luxury. 

We want to help you do something really expensive and important, but feel the need to point out that we believe in “integrity.”

We seem to be like every other real estate company in town, but we’re actually the blue one. 

We’ve existed for a long time. 

We are real estate experts, but you need to “search” for homes on our website because that’s what we heard you want? (Think about it, should it be “search” or “Explore the homes we have for sale”?)

You can do “one stop shopping here” and that’s important for secret reasons we aren’t really going to explain.

OK. You get it. Too many good companies are missing this opportunity. will now promote Opendoor, a service that makes it easy for people to sell their home without a Realtor. 

I can remember a time, not so long ago, when brokers were super pissed when and Zillow made links to a listing broker’s website “no follow” (in other words, not sharing SEO juice).

Honestly, I am glad we have arrived at a point where there are no more red lines to transgress. I used to get revved up about this stuff too. Now, Zillow buys, owns and sells homes, charges referral fees, and yet good agents, teams and brokers continue to do their thing. 

I have come to the conclusion that pretty much every proptech company will end up being a mortgage and title company. There will be a variety of customer acquisition hooks, but they’ll all more or less be elaborate means of getting to those mundane but profitable ends. 

The biggest case in point, of course, is Zillow, which bought a mortgage company in 2018 and began offering title and escrow services late last year. But this week Knock, which had focused on helping people make cash offers, announced that it will now focus on originating mortgages. Orchard, another cash-offer startup, just launched a mortgage division. Both companies already owned title businesses. And both are now much more interested in working with Realtors than they were before. 

This business has a way of circumscribing the ambitions of even the boldest of entrepreneurs. 

Enjoy the weekend.