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.
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.