Technology

Looking backward, forward, and around the corner

Author
Brian Boero
No.
806
Please excuse the mess. This page is currently under construction.

Inman’s Real Estate Connect SF show, the World’s Fair of real estate innovation, begins tomorrow. This is an event that gets you thinking. 

Here’s some of what’s rattling around my head as I look forward to the week.

It is 1990, and I want to buy a home. 

I’m looking in the hills of Oakland, California – my home town.

To begin, I call Pacific Union, a brokerage specializing in this area, and ask to speak to an agent I’ve seen on yard signs around town.

I talk to this agent, and tell her what I’m looking for — not just price and location, but the fine grained preferences that are immediately parsed by the algorithm that is her knowledge and experience.

The next day, this agent comes to my apartment and whisks my wife and I away in her S Class to look at homes she’s identified as meeting our needs.

This takes several hours, and we query our agent about every home and about the neighborhood surrounding every home.

After thinking about things overnight, my wife and I call our agent and arrange to write an offer on the home we like best.

It is 2013, and I want to buy a home.

I’m looking in the hills of Oakland, California – my home town.

To begin, I go to Zillow. I see lots of homes for sale. This site is great. But I also see value estimates that are often really different from the asking price. I am alternately encouraged or discouraged, and definitely a little confused.

So then I go to Trulia. I see lots of properties here too, and there are agents all over the site, but I don’t recognize any of them from the yard signs I see around town.

I try realtor.com, and see lots of homes here that I did not see on Trulia or Zillow. Why?

Most of the local broker websites I visit are just confusing, so I bail.

Over the next few weeks, I download several mobile apps to help me find the right home. Some are great, some are crummy and none get me to the point of decision.

So, after eight weeks of downloading, searching, emailing links and wading through celebrity real estate news…

I call Pacific Union, a brokerage specializing in this area, and ask to speak to an agent I’ve seen on yard signs around town.

I talk to this agent, and tell her what I’m looking for — not just price and location, but the fine grained preferences that are immediately parsed by the algorithm that is her knowledge and experience.

The next day, this agent comes to my apartment and whisks my wife and I away in her S Class to look at homes she’s identified as meeting our needs.

This takes several hours, and we query our agent about every home and about the neighborhood surrounding every home.

After thinking about things overnight, my wife and I call our agent and arrange to write an offer on the home we like best.

More than this

It’s been 18 years since listings were placed on the Internet. Billions of dollars have been invested in the online real estate category. Some of smartest people on the planet have built magical technologies.

But has the customer experience – for all this money, for all these brains, for all this magic – actually improved?

People still like using Realtors, so looked at a certain way it appears that we’ve simply added time and confusion to what we always had.

This can’t be where we stop.

What’s next

I don’t mean to diminish the innovations we’ve witnessed to date. I am suggesting they are the prologue to a story that is about to unfold. One less focused on “home search” and more focused on net improvements in the consumer experience.

We can see it coming into focus now.

Finding the right Realtor is still a big unsolved problem. I got lucky in my scenarios above. Most people rely on a referral from someone else (a someone else who usually has different requirements and preferences) or hook up with the first Realtor that returns an email or call.

Dicey. But we’re seeing data-driven solutions emerge. HomeLight, AgentAce and Brokur have all launched in the past six months to go after this opportunity.

The long, email heavy, decision-laden process of working with an agent once you’ve found her is also left to be improved. Zillow’s release of AgentFolio last month, and Move’s recent acquisition of Doorsteps are aimed at this space.

And of course, the mosh pit of people involved in actually closing a transaction – the people who appear, disappear, ask, send, re-ask, re-send and sometimes never even show their faces – still needs to be cleared out. Dotloop, Cartavi and others are accelerating the effort to make that happen.

2020

This week I hope to get a good look into a real estate future from which I will look back at 1990 with less ambivalence.

I’ll let you know what I see.