We need to talk

For 20 years, the industry has been talking about The Consumer.

What if we stopped?

Is it possible that we’ve been talking about the wrong thing all along?

I mean, really, think about this for a minute:

While we get all sweaty about exposing agent production data, any seller interviewing agents has always been able to get it. How? They could ask for it during a listing presentation (Disruptive, huh?).

For all of Zillow’s success, magnetic brand and “power to the people” credo, how many home buyers and sellers have actually come out ahead in their transactions because they found a house on the site, or got a Zestimate?

And, honestly, there’s a little secret about the real estate category: people buy or sell a house, never see the money they’re paying an agent as it gets shuffled around the table, and move on with their lives.

In other words, people’s connections to the real estate world are widely episodic. They don’t give a crap about changing real estate. And, thus, change… doesn’t happen.

So, hey – que sera, sera – if consumers upend the industry it probably won’t be anything we can prevent anyway. So let’s just focus on running a better real estate business in the meantime.

Talk therapy

I’ve overstated things here to draw focus to something we’ve been thinking about at 1000WATT for a while now. At the same time we carry on about how to communicate and connect with consumers, we still, as an industry, haven’t figured out how to talk to each other.

Here’s what I mean:

Some brokers are in a value crisis. That is, they are finding it hard to show value to agents beyond racing to the bottom on splits. The root problem here usually lies in a weak brand, weak technology, weak staff or an absence of a binding culture.

But it’s also a communication problem.

A lot of brokerages still try to engage their agents via emails that don’t get opened. Others rely on intranets that don’t work on mobile devices and are stuffed full of random links and stale conversations. Many don’t even do this. And of course, while nothing beats face-to-face interaction, the office as a hub of culture and communication ain’t what it used to be.

This can really hurt the bottom line. Services like mortgage, title, insurance and warranty – things that can be real profit centers for brokers – are generally communicated and marketed badly to agents. Tons of money is being left on the table.

This problem is present in the connection between franchisors and their franchisees, too, though there are more good examples here (RE/MAX’s print magazine, Above, is really well done; so is Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate’s Greenhouse intranet).

But all in all, there’s not enough “stickiness” between brokers, brands and their agents. This is a problem more immediate and, I would argue, more addressable than figuring out how brokers and brands can win over The Consumer. Of course that’s a worthy project, but first thing’s first.

And what about agents? The cooperating competitors. It seems like they’re talking all the time. On caravan, at the office, on Facebook, on Active Rain, in the course of deals, through the MLS.

Well, yes and no. Most of the social stuff isn’t transactional. And while I have been told many times that the MLS is more than just a database – that it’s also a living marketplace, a community – the MLS also throttles communication between agents. Yes, there are “agent only” comments. Yes, there’s a roster. But what’s lacking is conversation. It’s a marketplace of mutes just waiting to erupt.

Our part

We write here on this blog. But, believe it or not, that’s not how 1000WATT makes money. We do that by helping brokers, brands and technology companies solve problems, unlock their ideas and do great things.

And every once in a while, we decide to create a product that gets at one of these problems we work on and write about. We have one of those coming this spring.

It’s called Props.

We hope it gets people talking.

[Dislosure: Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate is a 1000WATT client.]