On the eve of disruption: location and the real estate opportunity of a lifetime

I’m at 38,000 feet right now, thinking about a plain fact filled with beautiful potential for real estate.

That fact is this: The divide separating the Web from the physical world is closing – fast.

For an industry to which location is everything, this is a big deal.

Where you are – and what you are doing there, in that place – can now be effortlessly meshed with the data, media and social interactions on the Web.

I want to explore this a little bit. If you think the altitude has got the better of me, say so in the comments.

Real estate technology and real estate behavior

The Web used to live on our desks. It was remote – we “went on” the Web. As such, discussions of technology in real estate usually took place in abstraction from the “real” business of sitting for opens, touring buyers and building relationships with people in the physical world.

This divide – between ethereal and temporal, digital and personal – made big behavioral change driven by technology nearly impossible to achieve in real estate.

It also provided comfort to those who liked citing what I’ve called “real estate exceptionalism” to argue that the elemental dynamics of the business would never change.

That’s over.

Location platforms, applications and technologies are proliferating. And the Web will soon be ambient, enveloping us like a mood as we move through the world.

This is not futurist bullshit. It’s unfolding before our eyes and presents the opportunity of a lifetime to every innovator, every technologist and every dreamer of wild dreams in this business.



The path forward is being lit more fully every day.


Take StickyBits, a startup that launched just two weeks ago. StickyBits allows you to place bar codes on anything in the physical world: a car, a place of business, a house.

You scan the bar codes with your phone camera and leave your own mark on the object at hand in the form of comments, media, or your profile. You can also view everything anyone else who has engaged with the object left.

So think about this: a buyer scans a barcode attached to a house. They get the standard specs but also all the disclosures, the sales history, comments from other buyers, messages from neighbors, properties others who scanned the code visited and more.

The whole enchilada.

This could be done now, today. An MLS or brokerage could create a barcode stickers for every listing. A little bleeding edge, but not for long.

Let’s take the idea further. Let’s say our buyer has a question. Well, she could ask the listing agent or the seller. Or, because someone has developed a property app based on scannable codes that integrates Facebook Connect, she could ping any of her friends living in the area and see what they think.

Sure, you can do something like this via SMS. But the idea is that we can collapse the distances between us and what we want still further and do it in a way that is open and connected, not siloed.


Of course, this is all just a run-up to the time when every house will have an IP address, a chip, and privacy controls set by the homeowner.

But that’s another post.


A head start


I know. This still seems a little squishy. But those who want to build location-based apps for real estate aren’t starting from scratch.

Both Mixer Labs (which was acquired by Twitter just a few months ago) and SimpleGeo have launched robust location APIs that can quickly erode a lot of barriers.

Double Dutch, which launched last week, is a mobile/local/social app that can be white-labeled and turned into your own real estate Foursquare. Think about how the information from listing “check-ins,” for example, might be used to measure market activity and guide pricing.

my6sense offers an API that streams highly tailored information to users based on their behavior. Think about that, made location aware, as a replacement for the email listing alert.

On the eve of disruption

Online listings. Map mashups. “Web 2.0.”

These things jiggled the real estate checkerboard. But they did not fundamentally alter the behavior of practitioners or consumers because they remained largely remote – detached from the places where real estate really happens.

The coming wave of real estate innovation will be immediate and connected to the people and the places that matter.

That has the potential to change the game altogether.