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Our industry is to blame for holding individual real estate agents back

Technology is often blamed for holding back the real estate industry, but perhaps it is the industry itself holding agents back.

Changing times

The web has ushered in an era of micro-publishing success for almost everyone but real estate agents. Bloggers armed with nothing more than a free blog and a twitter account, have helped topple governments, brought to light injustice, and generally up-ended the business model of the newspaper industry. EBay turned hoarders with an internet connection into entrepreneurs. Yet the individual performers (good agents) that drive the real estate industry with their hard work have largely been left out in the cold.

If someone in the backwoods of Tennessee can turn their collecting hobby into a profitable business on eBay, why has it been so hard for an agent with overwhelming market knowledge of one specific neighborhood or locale to turn that knowledge into a profitable online real estate niche? While some agents have succeeded at this, most fail. And while there are plenty of sloppy agents who have no one to blame for their failure but themselves, there are plenty more who have failed because our association and industry policies have intentionally stacked the odds against their individual success.

How the stacks are stacked against agents

Are you an agent that wants to feature listings for a neighborhood on your website with an IDX feed? Unlike the blogger or eBay entrepreneur that can just start a site and start building a business, a real estate agent faces numerous hurdles to getting a quality IDX feed that contains that neighborhood listing data.

First, that agent has to find an IDX vendor that actually works with their local association’s MLS system. I’m not aware of one IDX vendor in the nation that supports every association in the nation – if there is one, please let me know in the comments. So if you are at all like me, you’ve probably found a highly desirable IDX solution (yeah, Diverse Solutions, I’m talking about you), only to discover that they don’t work with your association at the agent level, have no interest in going through your association’s vendor approval process, and generally aren’t going to give your market any attention until there is enough business in your geographic region to support their startup costs.

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At which point, you could recruit five or ten agents in your area to demonstrate the market potential. But seriously, what’s the point of recruiting five or ten agents that will then compete with you for search results and website traffic? Even if you “win” by getting the IDX vendor to support you, you’ve decreased your chances of success because those five or ten agents will be competing against you for website traffic.

Then the next hurdle… but for what?

Once you’ve gotten past the hurdle of finding a vendor (a hurdle large enough to deter all but the most determined and technologically savvy agents), you are then left to your own devices to actually get it integrated with your website. Unless you are a website expert with a solid knowledge of your publishing platform (I’m a WordPress fanatic), and web publishing technologies (CSS and HTML), you will almost certainly end up hiring a consultant to integrate your IDX solution with your platform. And consultants, regardless of the industry, are never cheap.

And guess what? In the same amount of time you’ve invested in struggling with your website that blogger I mentioned at the beginning has managed to help topple a mid-east government. Meanwhile, the eBay entrepreneur has hired the neighbor’s kid to be their assistant because they can’t handle their growing business alone. And all you wanted to do was demonstrate neighborhood expertise….

The little guy loses

It’s ridiculous! While it may sound counter-intuitive, as I’ve said before the little guy (or gal) can only win with technology when there are industry standard platforms that support a healthy ecosystem of developers. Without the industry standard, there are no solutions that are widely supported and inexpensive (I’d even settle for reasonably priced at this point).

Agents are the engine that drive real estate. We invest our time and energy in demonstrating our knowledge, helping consumers list their homes for sale, and helping buyers find the right home for their needs. And yet, for all that work, we make it almost impossible for an agent to easily demonstrate their knowledge and expertise on the Internet while we make it ridiculously easily for large companies like Trulia or Zillow to profit from our hard work. Shame on us.

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Written By

Matt Fuller brings decades of experience and industry leadership as co-founder of San Francisco real estate brokerage Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Matt is a Past President of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. He currently serves as a Director for the California Association of Realtors. He currently co-hosts the San Francisco real estate podcast Escrow Out Loud. A recognized SF real estate expert, Matt has made numerous media appearances and published in a variety of media outlets. He’s a father, husband, dog-lover, and crazy exercise enthusiast. When he’s not at work you’re likely to find him at the gym or with his family.



  1. Paula Henry

    November 12, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Matt – You are spot on! It is becoming more difficult as agents give away their knowledge, listings, back links and money to have a featured spot on one of these sites. It is rather bizarre that we work so hard to gain the market knowledge, the buyer or sellers trust, then give it away, only to buy back leads that are a result of our hard work.

  2. susanisaacsrealtor

    November 12, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Ha ha, this is so true! Wait a minute, what am I laughing about?

  3. ubet426

    November 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    This is what's wrong with so many agents and why they're failing. They look at a problem and ask "why can't someone fix that for me?" I've been successful simply because I'm willing to work hard and get the job done. You don't have to spend money for an IDX solution to show listings in your area. Our local MLS gives us this option in our membership. If not I can direct the reader to a link where I've pre-selected these homes on any of the local or national search sites. Too many Realtors want everything handed to them, I watch those around me with much more time in the business folding up shop because "you just have to work too hard these days." That is what the American Dream was once about… being able to work hard & get ahead. Now everyone wants all the success & glory without any of the pain.

  4. eramus

    November 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Most agents are NOT that tech savvy and that is their downfall right now. I am a broker, and techy geek so I have an advantage. I create all my own wordpress sites, and have sites I set up then teach my agents to run for themselves. But the IDX feed is still the pain. We must find one that works with our small rural MLS (yes the local Board solution sucks so I convinced IDXBroker to get in here too). Thank God they helped me. And we must PAY our local board for the priviledge then of the feed ($20/mo extra). And pay the IDX fee (another $30-50 maybe). So once again everyone's hands are in our pocket. The best agents pay it or find a workaround. But it takes real tech skills to succeed at this.

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