Marketing

The customer has left the building

Author
Brian Boero
No.
166
Date
03/05/08

Last month, the Financial Times reported that Google’s search numbers coming from the
iPhone were so
high the company’s engineers thought the data were bogus.

Further on in the article the company’s head of mobile operations
asserts that "the number of mobile searches will overtake fixed
internet searches ‘within the next several years’.

I’ve spent the better part of the past five years making the case
that real estate brokers and agents need to ditch the office and its
menagerie of paper based, profit eating animals like the copy machine,
fax machine, and file cabinet.
Adoption has been slow.

But consumers are moving rapidly to relocate the real estate
experience away from the desk. And so far, neither the real estate
brokerage community or the online real estate industry seem to be
taking it all that seriously. Perhaps it’s denial. Brokers just
getting used to the fact that they need to offer tons of free data and
information on their company Websites with no strings attached must
grapple with how to serve it up to go. Online media companies
challenged to monetize destination websites must now figure out how to
monetize a mobile platform.

That’s rough, but the customer has left the building. It’s time to hit
the road with her. There’s no choice: She’s going with or without you.

Here’s an example: If my local brokerage company doesn’t offer me an IDX app for my iPhone I’ll
simply subscribe to a
search on Trulia
via RSS and view listings within the absolutely amazing experience that
the mobile version of Google Reader delivers. That’ll be great for me,
but tragic for my brokerage and something of a half-win for Trulia,
both of which will have conceded an important brand touch point.

Consumers can easily get sports
scores

and weather on their mobile phones. Where are the homes?

There are some bright spots. Realtor.com launched a Windows Mobile app last year. SmarterAgent,
a great little company that survived the online real estate dark age of
2001-2004 just closed a round of financing and is gaining traction for
its mobile home search offerings. TextBound, a new venture backed company offering SMS
apps
to Realtors, launched last week. Zillow has offered Zestimates via SMS for nearly a year and a half. The New York Times and a few other newspapers offer
mobile versions of
their real estate sections. U.K. based Properazzi unveiled
mobile property alerts late last year.

But these are largely small gauge or isolated efforts amid a sea
change in consumer behavior. Here are some things I’d like to see soon:

  1. A major IDX vendor release a suite of mobile IDX apps for all major platforms (Windows Mobile,
    Blackberry, Android, etc.)
  2. True mobile versions of Zillow, Trulia, Frontdoor and Roost
  3. A bunch of real estate iPhone apps unleashed shortly after Apple opens up its platform later this month
  4. A real estate website vendor roll out a brokerage web platform optimized for mobile
    use
  5. A real estate specific version of the Yahoo! onePlace service announced today
  6. The NAR to redirect every dime it is planning to indulge in the
    Gateway delusion toward development of mobile applications for
    practitioners.

Listings are nearly everywhere. The major search sites are reaching
parity. IDX is widely adopted. The winners in real estate search will
win on experience and service. The small screen will be a key
battlefield. Those who ignore the writing on the wall will be pretty
lonely back at the office.

Brian Boero