For the past two weeks, Realtors have been in something between a flutter and a frenzy over the purchase of realty data aggregator Trulia by its competitor, Zillow. Zillow and Trulia have been triggering angst in Realtors for nearly a decade now, and the prospect of them joining forces is, for some folks, a little alarming.
Realtors’ worries are rooted in Zillow and Trulia’s basic operating principles. The sites are called ‘aggregators’ because they collect real estate listing data, then use it to attract the eyeballs of house hunters. The data mostly comes from seller’s agents, for whom all those eyeballs are great. Zillow then sells advertising positions to buyer’s agents local to each home listing.
There are a few sources of Realtor worry in all this. Because many agents and brokerages act on behalf of both buyers and sellers, they can find themselves buying ad space next to listing information they gathered themselves, or homes they represent. Galling to say the least. Even worse, though, is the thought that one of a Realtor’s clients or prospects might see an ad for a competing Realtor while searching for homes. Realtors have also pointed out frequent inaccuracies in the sites’ data.
Then there’s the bigger, less specific worry – that as Zillow becomes the shopping destination for a greater and greater portion of the realty market (pretty likely as more digital natives reach homebuying age), it will expand its influence and increasingly marginalize Realtors in ways large and small.
There would be parallels, if that unfolds, to the way Amazon has marginalized booksellers in the last fifteen years, or the way Netflix has put video rental stores out of business. It’s something the internet is very good at – centralizing processes and squeezing smaller players. Realtors are less likely than bookstores to be totally marginalized, since they provide a range of tailored services, rather than just serving as middlemen. But there is plenty of potential for their profits to be squeezed and their relationships with clients to be weakened.
Obviously, Realtors aren’t okay with this. And in fact, nobody should be okay with a scenario where a piece of technology devalues professional expertise. SavvyCard is a technology company, and we love anything that makes life easier – whether we’re talking about searching for houses or buy books. We’re not such big fans, though, when that convenience is being leveraged to undermine or exploit relationships.
But how to fight back? We’ve got a simple recommendation for Realtors who want to prepare for a world with ever more powerful aggregators: Make yourself a technology hub.
There has always been the option for individuals or organizations to build technology to compete with the big search portals, but that’s incredibly expensive. Even a simple mobile application can cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop, not to mention that you’re not in the software development business, and don’t want to be. Still, it’s a path available to large organizations and their members - NRT, the nation’s biggest brokerage, is attempting to build its own lead-generation portal.
But there are other options for smaller players. Digital services are much less expensive to build than they were even five years go, and a new wave of services are offering personally-tailored versions that don’t have to be centrally housed.
The most obvious example is the expansion of IDX services, which dozens of providers can now help you install on your own website. The bells and whistles vary, but it lets you give clients a way to look for houses, just as they would on Zillow, while staying connected to you.
There are also a number of mortgage loan calculators out there that can easily be plugged in to a WordPress website. It’s the kind of small value-add for viewers that will keep them connected to you.
We’re building something similar with SavvyCard for Realty, but tailored for mobile. You share your branded SavvyCard and its integrated MLS search with a client or prospect, and they can search for homes on the go. Then, when they find something that appeals to them, their inquiry comes straight back to you – instead of to whoever’s ad happened to be next to the listing on Zillow.
We’ll be talking about this story plenty more in coming days and weeks, since it has a lot to tell us about the role of technology in the future of real estate, and a lot of other professions, to boot.
Do you know of other individually-branded technologies that can help professionals stay connected to clients? Please share in the comments.