The rise of Me Economics and what it means for real estate search

I just finished reading New York Times Bits blogger Nick Bilton‘s book I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works.

In the book, Bilton shares his vision of a future populated by interconnected devices, digital natives (Gen-Net that has grown up in a Web dominated world) and consumnivors (those, like me, who relentlessly multi-task and consume content from multiple sources).

From this reality Bilton constructs a theory of “Me Economics” in which he submits that it’s individuals that will be the center of every interaction in the future – individuals who will increasingly expect the products and services they use to provide them with highly engaging personal experiences.

Of course, all of it got me thinking what it could mean for real estate…

A peak into the future

It’s 2013. I’m sitting on the couch with my tablet computer. My desktop PC is gathering dust in my closet. A relic of an earlier time, I haven’t used it in a couple of years. Who wants to stay tethered to a desk anymore?

My dog Maggie is lying next to me. She’s older now and it seems we still haven’t figured out a way to get her off the couch. I fire up the real estate search app on my tablet. The app greets me by name and welcomes me into the experience. With only the slightest gesture, I flick the app towards my TV and I’m now viewing it on the 60″ razor-thin display that’s hanging on my wall.

The tablet is location-aware and so knows I’m at home. The property search algorithm understands that most people buy their next home within 12 miles of their current location, so default search results start to show up automatically according to those parameters. Since the app is also tied to the cloud, it has a limitless memory, and therefore starts to correlate and stack results according to my past behavior and preferences.

Also on the screen are a series of popular properties. I’ve already shared my social profile with the app, so it knows that I’m 38 years old and married. Behind the scenes, the app has crunched the data on all of its visitors and is now surfacing properties that other 30-something couples have been looking at in the area.

Of course, I can choose to redefine the search parameters by drawing the boundaries of a new search query on the tablet using its multi-touch interface. I dive right in however.

I’ve found a property I like. Tapping on the property card, it flips over to reveal the details of the home. Pinching and zooming on the high resolution hero image I fixate on the architecture. “Too 20th Century,” I mumble to Maggie. I flick it aside.

I tap another property. Looks nice. I hit the video button and instantly a high-definition video tour starts streaming of the home. I’m hooked.

Real-time market data is also streaming in alongside the listing details. I see mortgage rates and near-term property valuation trends for the home alongside all the details of my personal finances. I instantly see that it’s priced right and I can afford it.

My social graph has also surfaced about a half dozen contacts to the app that have lived near the neighborhood over the years. I see my old workmate Steve lives there right now so I fire off a quick message to him and ask what it’s like to live there.

The app also shows me that Barbara (my Realtor) is online right now. I see from her status she’s at Starbucks catching up on email. The Facetime indicator next to her avatar means she’s willing to video chat. I speak more clearly this time. “Call Barbara.” She accepts my call and her smiling face pops up on my TV.

With a flick of my finger, I send the listing card over to the dropbox under Barbara’s picture. She’s now looking at the same home I am. We chat briefly and she agrees the house is priced right, is in a decent neighborhood and might be worth taking a look at together.

Another flick sends the property listing to my wife’s avatar. She’s at our daughter’s swim practice. A notification pops up on her smartphone. A few seconds later a message appears back on the screen with the thumbs up. She likes it too.

The app syncs our three calendars together and finds a mutually-convenient time later in the week to go have a look. Barbara agrees to set up the appointment with the listing agent and we wave goodbye.

Steve has just hit me back now and says, indeed, the neighborhood rocks and includes a link to a fantastic restaurant on the corner. We agree to meet up with him after the appointment so we can catch up and then show us around. Reservations have already been made.

As a final step, I flick the compiled itinerary, which includes our night out with Steve, to the icon of my car in the app. Routing directions have been transferred to its on-board navigation device.

I turn off the TV. Power down the tablet. The job is done. Time to take Maggie for a walk.

The future is now

Science fiction writer William Gibson said, “the future is already here… just not very evenly distributed.”

All of what I have just outlined is very nearly doable today with the technology we have on hand. What remains to be seen is who ultimately pulls this all together for us. Is it going to be the brokerages, the MLS’, or the technology companies who rise to challenge and offer up this type of experience?

Something tells me we won’t have to wait long to see.