Real estate's golden prize

The real estate industry is stuck.

It will never progress until it frees itself.

Here’s a push.

The problem

The industry clings to a belief in possessing things it has not, does not, and will never own.

Home search.

“The Consumer.”

“The Data.”

This trinity of false idols pins the industry in place.

Let me explain.

Home search

The industry never owned the home search experience wholly. Before the Web, people searched using the newspaper. Magazines. They walked neighborhoods. Asked friends. People hired agents to make sense of things when the time came. To supply vision. Apply negotiation skills. Handle the details. Provide intellectual and emotional support.

The belief that Zillow, Trulia and somehow appropriated search from agents and brokers has emerged from a hazy nostalgia. ZTR are a new medium for an old behavior. A better, more pervasive, and, yes, cheaper one.

Twenty years ago, the industry paid monopoly pricing to local newspapers for the privilege of ceding the “first point of contact.” Now it can reach nearly 100 million consumers for free.

If ZTR ask for more than a pound of flesh for this exposure at some point, you take your listings and walk.

For now, I’m simply calling for a little perspective.

“The Consumer”

The industry does not own the real estate consumer. It never did.

The only thing any brand can own is a hard-earned trust. Brands that earn it more consistently than others forge lasting relationships with consumers. But the consumer is free. They belong to no one and no entity is entitled to their attention or love.

Great things will come to those who internalize this fact.

“The Data” 

The industry has never owned the data – the bits of information produced as a byproduct of a real estate transaction.

Trace a listing back to its origin. The land developer who owned the lot. The architect who drafted the blueprint. The builder who brought that blueprint to life. The first owner. The first agent who listed the property for that owner. That agent’s broker. The MLS to which they both belong…

If there was such a thing as truly “owning the data”, there would be many, many claimants – each due a royalty on every transaction.

But that’s preposterous.

The images of the home, the video, the details – these aren’t owned in spirit, even if they are kissed with the mark of copyright. Yes, some may add value to these things and derive profit from that.

Let the best competitor win.

Spilled milk

The industry has been seduced and distracted.

It has made itself crazy obsessing over the inaccuracies of others.

It suffers from an inferiority complex evident in its preoccupation with the attention consumers have given its online nemeses.

It is impaired by envying the riches collected by outsiders who capitalized on the stuff it left unattended.

Rather than turning inward to invest in the things it can own, the industry continues to pine for The Way Things Were. What should have been. What could have happened. What might still be possible if, somehow, we can rewind the tape just a little.

With this clouded perspective, too many focus on traffic. Rankings. Visits. Search. Politics.

Things that don’t matter that much.

Things that were never real estate’s true value proposition.

Real estate needs to grab on to the things it can and often does own and hold on tight.

The golden prize

The one thing the real estate industry possesses is what it always possessed, at its best: the expertise and service people require to buy and sell real estate confidently.

What real estate owns is the moment when a buyer stands outside a home, turns to his Realtor and asks, unsurely, “How much should we offer?” Real estate owns the moment when a listing agent prods a seller out of their home before an open house and says “It’s going to be fine – I got it from here.”

Real estate owns the moments when the most important decisions are made. No portal, no apps, no Harvard whiz kids play here. Just professional real estate people working with other people from whom they have earned trust.

Too often lately, it seems like the real estate industry forgets, or chooses to forget, how important its role is here. It has forgotten how much the consumer really needs them at these moments.

The “first point of contact” doesn’t matter that much if you’re good at the moments of weighty finality. If people gravitate to your brand, not just your listings, you’ve got leverage against any portal.

Being good at what really matters is hard. Building a brand people love is hard. But for those agents and brokers who want to own the future, these are the tasks at hand.

“Controlling the data” and such is much further down the list.

The moments of decision the real estate industry creates million times each year are something to behold. Something to be proud of. Something to hold with great pride.

It’s yours and yours alone.

This is real estate’s golden prize to claim.