Tea leaves, lost voices and real estate

Reuters recently published an interview with Zillow economist Stan Humphries. His tea leaf set of predictions and forecasts for real estate. From the interview:

“The best advice is to use a set of numbers to triangulate a trend. If you look at a whole bunch of numbers, you find a pretty positive picture – such as rents are up 3.2 percent nationally while home values are down 1.8 percent. That is the makings of stabilizing prices.”

Good news…presented to America, courtesy of Zillow.

Lost voices

Stan’s information is the basic nuts-and-bolts forecasting that rolls off the tongues of most real estate professionals when asked “how’s the market?”.

But most professionals aren’t sourced by the national media. In fact, they hardly ever are.

What America does hear or see are the oddball ad campaigns, shallow taglines, sales pitches, ubiquitous pie charts, complex market graphs and light-hearted, conversational newsletters — things that are overshadowed by the personable, straightforward Zillow.

While Zillow charms the pants off America, the rest of the real estate industry confuses. While they talk to America, real estate professionals talk at it, rendering the industry’s voice inaudible.

If you think syndication is the biggest threat to traditional real estate, think again.

The real disruption facing our industry is Zillow’s unique connection to your customers and the subsequent influence they have acquired as a result of a social CEO, an engaging Vice President of Communications, a team of brilliant developers and designers, and a choir of harmonious marketers. They compose a brilliant symphony of real estate life that drowns out the sound of mainstream real estate.

As a result, traditional real estate isn’t heard. Not often. Not enough.

Simple proof is evidenced by the din of many begrudged agents who complain that their CMA and professional opinion appear less credible to consumers than a Zestimate.

Zillow, despite its inaccuracies, lack of complete data and long list of imperfections, continues to grow, resonate and influence your customers.

You can complain all day long about it and fill streams of Facebook posts with hundreds of comments. But that won’t change anything.

Striking back will.

Start talking

There are two ways to deal with a competitor: wish them gone or beat them at their own game.

I opt for the latter.

Want to beat a competitor? Understand them. Marvel at their abilities. Focus on your own weaknesses by comparison. Then redirect your energies.

If I were a broker, I wouldn’t stand by while a national economist gets to entertain America with my data. Here’s exactly what I would do:

1) Email every agent under my brand requesting they send me their local market forecast. They have 24 hours to deliver. I’d read every one, and split them into two piles: accurate vs. inaccurate reports.

2) Create a PDF of the accurate reports and link them to a forecast I write, which I publish on my corporate blog. Like Stan, my post would contain straight talk. No pie charts and frightening trend graphs. People understand simple numbers.

3) Leave a respectful, non argumentative comment on the Reuters article suggesting that real estate trends cannot be summed up in a national report. I’d follow up with a thumbnail view of my local market in the same matter-of-fact, veridical tone Stan used.

4) Conclude my comment with a link to a corporate blog post that contains my deeper report and the PDF of individual reports from my agents.

5) Email every broker friend, association economist and agent listed in my national database, cajoling them to do exactly what I did: represent their local market and offer it to the public.

Tea leaves

This defines my first 24 hours. Next would be a serious overhaul of my PR and marketing team driven by a new strategy redefining my brokerage as a media center replete with its own ninjas. I’d confront the agents who failed to provide an articulate view of the market. If they can’t tell me how their market is doing, they don’t belong in my company.

This is just the beginning. Connecting with consumers in a way that makes them take notice will require an overhaul of many other departments and assets. But one thing at a time.

In looking at the tea leaves amid the battle for relevance every cylinder must fire red hot.

These days, anything less just won’t cut it.


Image via visual.dichotomy