The long, slow demise of listing search

Something struck me when I watched Zillow’s new television ad last week. Let’s rewind and cue it up…

Fade from black. A mother and her elementary school-aged son are sitting on the couch looking at their iPad. Cut to close-up of Zillow app. She draws on the app with her a finger and highlights a neighborhood she’s interested in.

The ad’s hip emo track got me a little sentimental, yes, but it also brought to mind this old military saying:

Generals are always preparing to fight the last war.

I’m beginning to think that brokers and agents might as well give up on IDX and listing search for their websites. That war is over.

Teresa Boardman, in a recent column for Inman, picks up on the same vibe, but she’s coming at it from a different angle:

“When they were introduced, IDX listings were a big deal, because they allowed brokers and agents to display not just their own listings but all of the listings represented by brokers participating in IDX in their market.

But the buyers who contact me today have already started looking for homes for sale on the Internet, and they rarely need my help finding homes. Some get into my car clutching a piece of paper that has the logo of the largest real estate company in these parts on it.”

Bottom line, visitors to her website aren’t coming for the search experience she offers.

My take is this: Listing search activity is moving almost exclusively to apps.

The latest numbers I hear from the portal folks I’ve spoken with is their mobile traffic is ticking upwards of 30%. Zillow claims over 50%. The trend line is clear and it makes sense. It’s much more comfortable to surf for property on an iPad on the couch than to crowd around a dusty desktop in the corner. It’s much more relevant to pull up listing details on a smartphone while in the car, than to “log on” to a website at home.

Messy, complicated, expensive and uncomfortable

The uncomfortable fact though, is that many agents and brokers cannot compete in this app-dominated world.

I believe we’re really moving to a place where listing search will be the domain of the big real estate brands and the technology players in the space. They’re the ones with the resources, know-how and dollars to invest in building these tools.

Tangentially, this reality is what makes a program like Move’s white-labelled app such a brilliant strategic move.

So, rather than focus on listing search, which, as Teresa points out, has become a commodity, brokers and agents may be better off shifting their digital efforts to what they can do better than any of the big national players.

Local content is an obvious candidate.

I could be wrong with the hypothesis that the app is the future of listing search, but the fact that we had lines around the block around the world for the launch of a five-year old phone, that sales of iPads are absolutely crushing PC shipments quarter after quarter, and that there are 1.3 million Android activations every day, paints a pretty clear picture.

I think it’s time to look up and start fighting the battle at hand. Think differently about your website. Focus on what you as an agent or broker are uniquely positioned to win.

[Disclosure: Move, Inc. is a 1000WATT client]