The blue ocean of real estate

A while back I addressed large group of agents, members of an elite force handling estates, plush portfolios and families with trust funds, crests and insignias. My discussion covered current innovations in marketing — blogging and social networking in particular. These topics seemed to be of no interest to this group of high achievers. In fact, despite all the hoopla surrounding these tools, it appeared altogether clear that this group has done a pretty darn good job of doing business without them.

While many in our industry wade in the receding tide pools of the estate’s red ocean, these folks loll in the currents of the deep blue.

I decided pretty quickly into the speech to move beyond these topics. I wasn’t bothered. It gave me an opportunity to reconsider much of what is being brought to real estate, especially technology. To this group of top producers much of it, while clever and socially trendy, does little to really enhance their business.

This stuck with me on the flight home. Is the bulk of what’s out there — ideas built in the spirit of innovation — really addressing the core needs of all real estate professionals or have they merely been the product of some bright ideas, venture capital and hope?

Stroll through the vendor alley at NAR. Idea after idea that "only costs $9.95 a month" is sold on the premise that "if this helps you get one more listing or sell one more home it will pay for itself 10x over."

Well, multiply that by hundreds of vendors, hundreds payments of $9.95 and the hundreds of hours it takes for agents to learn how to use and leverage these things into their business and you realize that it’s not just one house they need to sell, it’s many.

The most successful members of our industry shy away from these tools. As cool as they are, they simply can’t and don’t replace good, old fashioned hard work, smarts, image, savvy and a book of referrals culled from years of networking and building meaningful relationships.

These high-end agents aren’t syndicating their listings to dozens of sites. They are not blogging.  They aren’t socially networking. They aren’t creating map mashups. They don’t use transaction management systems and they aren’t spending tens of thousands of dollars on personal tri-fold brochures.

These pros see the masses of agents playing with their widgets, building their profiles on Facebook and tweaking their websites while at the same time complaining about commissions, fretting over dwindling sales and stressing over the rigors of dealing with difficult clients.

I thought about my tenure in real estate and technology and the discussions I’ve had with peers about the trials of creating and selling products to mainstream of real estate. The place where we see the volume business. Where charging pennies above cost will all pay off.

It’s a bloody red ocean full of competition, special deals, whimsical products, empty promises, unmet expectations and a revolving door of unskilled clients that may not be worth servicing any longer.  Perhaps the uncharted blue ocean of opportunity for vendors is really occupied by the minority of agents with the majority of sales and wider bandwidth for learning, growing and investing in things they actually find valuable.

Granted, their numbers are smaller. And they’re harder to reach. And picky. But sailing the waters of the blue oceans of real estate and building meaningful tools for the cream of the crop might not be such a bad strategy in the years to come.