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Real Estate Web 2.0, Where Are We in the Consumer Web Evolution?

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Web 2.0, More Than a Party Favor or Shiny Badge

“Web2.0”, originally coined by Darcy DiNucci all the way back in 1999 was brought to debate in 2004 signaling a shift in the way we as consumers will experience the web. Web2.0 is a much debated term, there are several hard and widely accepted identifiers of a truly Web2.0 experience. We’ll attempt to break them down as described and presented within Wikipedia, and attempt to reveal whether Real Estate does, can, or should fit within the mold of Web2.0:

Basic Tenants of Web 2.0

Search
Finding information through keyword search.

Links
Guides to other related information.

Authoring
The ability to create and update content leads to the collaborative work of many rather than just a few web authors. In wikis, users may extend, undo and redo each other’s work. In blogs, articles and the comments of individuals build up over time.

Tags
Categorization of content by users adding one-word descriptions to facilitate searching, without dependence on pre-made categories. This is referred to as “folksonomy.”

Extensions
Software that makes the Web an application platform as well as a document server.

Signals
The use of syndication technology such as RSS to notify users of content changes.

Web 2.0 Real Estate

Applying Web 2.0 hallmarks to real estate:

Real Estate Search
It appears that we have plenty of search ability using keywords (tags) and consumers can narrow or expand by just about any variable imaginable when it comes to home finding, and tagging has been greatly expanded to include agent side website IDX.

Links
Real Estate still seems internal in this realm as agents and brokers have always shared links within the 1.0 era, but what has greatly expanded is a willingness to share competitor sites as well as alternative ideals and principals when it comes to home buying and selling. Through use of the social web and sites like ActiveRain.com, agents appear willing and able to crowd source information for and with consumers, but in comparison to the volume of traditional practitioners versus agents using the social web, consumers are still limited by a very wide margin.

MLSs are still limited in this category. MLSs often limit the number of links an agent or broker can share with consumers, or where they can share them. Consumers are limited only by what the MLS feels necessary to share, and consumers cannot add information on properties found via the MLS, nor link to relevant content that would substantiate or debunk value.

Property Buying, Selling, Neighborhood Authoring
MLSs as well as Realtor.com are not collaborative in nature. Both of these search experiences are static and offer no input from the crowd, leaving sites like Zillow.com to lead in this category. Consumers can claim their home, and update information in real time making it a wiki in nature.

Redfin.com was another leader in the category through its SweetDigs blog that allowed consumers to update information on all homes, review them, and share neighborhood information pertinent to making buyer and seller decisions. (SweetDigs was subsequently fined $50,000 in May, 2007 by NWMLS for violation of rule 190 which prohibits brokers from advertising another member’s listing without permission)

Real estate agents themselves continue to lead overall in information authoring within their own sites and/or 3rd party blogs, wikis, and forums, where others can update suggestions and advice by inserting their own opinions and information pertinent to home buyers and sellers, however, in most cases are not allowed by MLSs to update property information, nor allow property reviews by consumers. Many agents and MLSs believe that this practice remains in the best interest of the home seller, while others continue to argue on behalf of the home buyer’s right to information.

Real Estate Tags & Folksonomy
As consumers are limited in their ability to update real estate information in real time through Realtor.com and MLSs, they are able to share and tag homes via 2.0 sites like Dwellicious using Realtor.com, Redfin, and other consumer search websites, however, they still remain unable to alter the static listings provided by local MLSs.

Extensions
Many 3rd party search sites such as Zillow, Trulia, and broker sites like Better Homes and Garden Real Estate offer mobile web applications, while none may offer API for open source use of the MLS. IDX is the nearest opportunity for developers to expand MLS through use of plugins, but are limited by bylaws in use. Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, and others still lead the real estate industry, including Realtor.com in the API.

Signals- RSS
Most modern real estate websites offer RSS feeds of blog content, as do most 3rd party IDX solutions such as DS Search Agent, offering consumers RSS feeds of updated residential property listings by category, and/or tags, however most 3rd party real estate media companies and real estate brokers still require some form of user registration to obtain updates. Unlike RSS that allows consumers to experience the web on their terms, the ideals of data capture still seem to trump consumer experience where real estate listings are concerned. This is a distinct advantage for search companies like Google, and the local agent that serves local listings by RSS. Currently, sites like Craigslist aggregate listing content, however, content is not vetted and is often deemed inaccurate.

Many argue that…

…Web2.0 is a box and is dangerous to growth within any industry, however, I would like to posit two tiny words that should make the tenants of the real estate Web 2.0 evolution a minimum standard:

“Social Web”

As described by Wikipedia, “Social Web is currently used to describe how people socialize or interact with each other throughout the World Wide Web. Such people are brought together through a variety of shared interests. There are different ways in which people want to socialize on the Web today. The first kind of socializing is typified by “people focus” websites such as Bebo, Facebook, and Myspace. Such sites promote the person as focus of social interaction.”

Social Web for Real Estate Expanded:

Consumers and real estate professionals are meeting online more now than ever by bypassing MLSs and static websites and are crowd sourcing on media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and by professional referral on sites like LinkedIn, thus scattering ‘the source,’ a title currently held by the MLS through Realtor.com.

It’s my opinion that ignoring the gap of social web allows for the dysfunctional perception of real estate as a practice as it continues to exclude the natural progression of how consumers want to experience and interact with web commerce, including real estate. This creates a trust barrier that further fuels disruption as 3rd party sites seek to fill the need of consumers to vet opinions and facts to reach decisions, thus bypassing the barriers.

Summary

I was surprised in the comparison of the basic tenants of Web 2.0 and real estate that MLSs seem to be a barrier to modernity within nearly every tenant, as every other tenant within Web 2.0 real estate is progressing with exception to the one main factor in real estate – people.

We as an industry continue to stifle and ignore the opinions and facts consumers can bring to bear by putting those of the property owner first where listing data is concerned.  These value added ‘people data’ are scattered into the wind of the social web, giving rise to relevant people search results within media sites like Twitter.  Would up to the minute facts on a neighborhood or property documented within the MLS as ‘people data’ be a value added benefit in the long term? Isn’t allowing people to tag, share, and voice and allowing people to connect around the product ultimately a good thing? Instead of exploring the benefits of people data, we limit the free and open sharing of simple RSS  even within so-called Web 2.0 sites in an effort to collect data on people. Would they openly share such data to become a trusted source within an MLS for the ability to update and add content?  It seems to work for Wikipedia.

My thoughts and opinions on this subject are wide open, and I’m interested in hearing your opinions on any and all of these tenants, as well as whether or not we should even continue to evolve. Should we take a chance that consumers will get over their need to source the crowd as time wears on, or should we open up the MLS to consumer sourcing and see where it leads us?

My take? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have consumers actually trust and engage us? Oh yeah, they are, within the social web! Isn’t it time the MLS becomes a social web of it’s own, opening up local opportunities for Agents and Consumers to connect?

Web 2.0 for real estate- what say you?

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Brandie Young

    November 17, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Thorough and interesting as usual. Thanks. Benn.

    I’d be interested in seeing this further … 1.0 to 2.0 (conversational/interactive) to 3.0 (semantic) and how we can shape our thinking around that.

    • Benn Rosales

      November 17, 2009 at 6:26 pm

      Well that’s what this article is opening up is a conversation back at 2.0 – have we really reached the point of taking a next step, or are we back at ‘people’? I think we’re back at people.

      What would virtually shift the playing field over night is local MLSs to ease bylaws that stifle the consumer side of the equation. This alone would make MLSs a friend to innovation that is inclusive as I cannot ever see in my mind an MLS opening up wiki style listing data, nor Realtor.com exploring its true potential in this manor. If MLSs would make some strategic changes, an API resource could be created that might just open the gates with the industry along for the ride.

      I laugh every time I see someone speaking of augmented reality in real estate, when we’ve not mastered the basic tenants of 2.0, nor have we even reached a consensus on whether we should.

  2. Matthew Rathbun

    November 18, 2009 at 7:34 am

    Benn this is a great insight.

    You mentioned MLS and SocMed. Our MLS (MRIS) is a very progressive group and not long ago met with Ben Martin and I to discuss things they could do. They are developing tools, but recently at a leadership meeting it was mentioned as a foot note that laws and regulations regarding real estate are typically behind the technology.

    Case-in-point: Virginia requires disclosure of company, address, state and status of license, etc.. in every instance of marketing. Now I don’t always consider Twitter marketing, but if I engage consumers there it does fit the model. There’s no way that I can make my disclosures in 140 characters. I use my profile and add a URL to my webpage to the disclosure, but seeing as it’s never been challenged no one know if it’s the correct answer.

    How do you think MLS and even Brokers should handle the fact that many tools evolve faster than our (at times overly vigilant) industry regulations can keep up?

    • Benn Rosales

      November 18, 2009 at 10:19 am

      “How do you think MLS and even Brokers should handle the fact that many tools evolve faster than our (at times overly vigilant) industry regulations can keep up?”

      I don’t really. MLSs to develop core apps and know how to apply data acquired would be to steep of a curve.

      The vision is more simple – strategically ease certain bylaws that stop the idea that innovation is an enemy and open the same data up to innovation. (I gave an example of one idea that the bylaw of displaying another brokers listing was used to stifle property and neighborhood reviews.) Rather, open innovation up to the tech world, provide an api and incentivize it, actually be a partner- what we’re building to isn’t so much social media, but (to coin a phrase) ‘semantic real estate’ results. The current realtor.com online compound would be the ideal conduit as it is the central hub for real estate search, there is no need to revolutionize every mls, just a few strategic bylaws need some review.

      I’m not saying that my way of going about any of this is the way because I dont know everything involved, but to at least explore it?

      So to answer your direct question, it really is about bylaws at the end of the day, and all boards are equipped to deal with them, but more often the desire to remain the same is stronger than the need to worry about whether an agent can use social media.

      MLSs are a co-broke tool, we get that, and that’s fine, that doesn’t mean innovation will change that if they’re a partner in the actual innovation thru grants and funding of ideas that operate along side MLSs in beta form.

  3. Matthew Rathbun

    November 18, 2009 at 7:37 am

    BTW: My opinion on MLS feed widgets on the side of Facebook is softening as well, do you think that agents should integrate more service marketing into their profiles?

    • Benn Rosales

      November 18, 2009 at 10:24 am

      Technically no. I could make a case within most MLSs that the agreement is not that you can display idx listings anywhere you want. To say you can display idx feeds on facebook is equal to saying list other agents data on craigslist (because it is a new media platform, it is not your website), nor is it displayed by a broker, on a broker profile, it’s being displayed on an agent profile- now their own listings? sure!

      Now ask me if I think the bylaw is ridiculous!

  4. Joe Loomer

    November 18, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Benn – how would you apply that to co-marketing within your own firm? If the IDX feed you’re using on FB or other places can limit what’s displayed to company listings – would that be within the concept of the bylaws? KW agents can co-market other KW listings, if the list agent so agrees.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • Benn Rosales

      November 19, 2009 at 10:31 am

      Well I’m pretty sure that falls into whatever local bylaw or broker policy says in your mls, share away whatever listings you have actual permission to share- but that really isn’t what this post it about.

      What this post is about is that we’re entering a semantic phase of web search, and we’re no where near prepared for the competition in that mls limits innovation and limits the true potential of realtor.com in the process.

  5. Matt Stigliano

    November 18, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Benn – I read through your thoughts and of course had several of my own to reply with. That is until I hit the end of the article.

    Isn’t it time the MLS becomes a social web of it’s own, opening up local opportunities for Agents and Consumers to connect?

    Isn’t it time? Yes. Will it happen? Doubtful.

    Without being able to monetize that connection via the idea of a MLS-social-web model, I can’t see it happening. Am I happy about it? No. It boils down to the similar fight over who gets the buyer lead – the listing agent or someone else. I can’t see the MLS opening up a non-monetized way for us all to connect and build the relationships (that we all know are necessary). And I can imagine a lot of agents who would stand up against a sort of free-market relationship builder (the MLS-social-web), as they would be guaranteed their own listing’s leads anymore.

    Do I think it’s a great idea and a vision for the future? Yes. I’m one of those that doesn’t care about whether I get to double side a transaction and have even stepped up to outright refuse to do it. I know plenty disagree with me and plenty agree with me on that, but I still think that those who would double-side a transaction far outweigh those that wouldn’t. And because of that, I don’t see an open MLS-social-web as being liked by many.

  6. Benn Rosales

    November 18, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    @rerockstar the answer we need to hear is what you said “Do I think it’s a great idea and a vision for the future? Yes.” Now we just need to bring to bare every reason TO do it, and see how the scale tilts 🙂 Every objection has a solution, but there has to be a willingness to at least explore the potential in being a partner and an influencer in innovation.

  7. Matt Stigliano

    November 18, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    @bennrosales I think the “reasons to do it” are pretty simple and answered in your own article. It is being done…by everyone but us it seems. Sites like Trulia, Zillow, and Dwellicious are working hard to try and socialize the experience. And in most cases, they’ve invited us to the party as well. Of course, as they’re for-profit companies, they’re also looking for ways to monetize and that includes the fee-based models that ask us to upgrade, buy-in, or enhance. I don’t blame them for that either. Capitalism at its best really.

    As the model stands, I don’t think the MLS (generic terms referring to all of them) has the interest or incentive to truly help us grow. If we grow (as individuals), they don’t earn any extra off the data they provide us access to. The only growth that helps them is in numbers. The more of us there are fighting for the same piece of pie, the better off they are.

    As I commented in my article about the RPR, I think the MLS system needs to start looking at their business model and their income generation. We failed to do that in the music industry when the signs were there and we took a beating for it. The MLS could easily face the same sort of change in the way business is done at anytime – and if that happens, and they’re caught unaware, it could be a bad time for them.

    Perhaps by being forward thinking and looking at ways to continue to generate income outside of their typical business models, without alienating the membership, they can view these sort of off the cuff ideas and theories as probabilities and possibilities.

    My opinion is that we have no choice but to move in these directions. If not, we will become irrelevant. Would you (going back to your commission article) want to pay a commission to someone if you felt that you couldn’t engage them? As the world moves into technology more and more everyday, that engagement has to come in a digital form just as much as a handshake. If you can’t engage in the digital realm, someday (in a Jetsons like future) you won’t be able to engage. The handshake is a formality of human nature – we do it to say hello. I see handshaking all day long online, just without hands.

    And before anyone thinks I have some crazy vision of the future where we as humans don’t interact, let me be clear – there will always be a need for human interaction. Face to face won’t die, but it won’t exactly be necessary to build a relationship (I don’t think it is now, but it is still relevant and useful).

    • Bob Wilson

      November 19, 2009 at 11:43 am

      Matt – your opinion on this is diametrically opposed to the biz model you work under. Are you forgetting that what launched your RE persona online started offline?

  8. Rob McCance

    November 19, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Benn:

    Great thought provoking post.

    My take regarding the MLS is NO, the MLS does not need to be some social site. MLS is DATA.

    This data can be wrapped in Agents’ social sites, but I don’t see the need or benefit to have the actual MLS become a social site.

    • Benn Rosales

      November 19, 2009 at 10:35 am

      Do you see wikipedia as a social site?

      • Rob McCance

        November 19, 2009 at 10:59 am

        No, do you? Is there blogging, twittering, etc., going on there?

        Wiki is it’s own category, don’t you think? The data presented and the way it’s collected and “regulated” is fairly unique.

        The MLS is a highy accurate (hopefully), time sensitive, well regulated (local and national) factual information database. It’s content is provided by licensed professionals using strict rules and forms. In this vein, it has a small resemblance to Wiki, but the data is too different, and the regulation is not comparable.

        MLSs have their purpose. Wiki has no official purpose. If it went away tomorrow, we’ll miss it, but that’s about it.

        AgentGenius is a social site. It resembles both Wiki and a MLS database in no way at all.

        • Benn Rosales

          November 19, 2009 at 11:12 am

          Erm I agree with you up to the point of wiki has no official purpose, but your point is well taken, although, personally, I would absolutely miss it, I use it probably twice a day if not more in research. Wikipedia is often a starting point within the web when I am collecting all information on a given subject from the web, and typically it is the first result in Google in relevance.

          Currently I’m just exploring this so I’m not here to argue your points, I’m simply gathering thoughts, so don’t be shy! 🙂

          • Rob McCance

            November 19, 2009 at 11:30 am

            You don’t start with a Facebook search for all your internet needs?

            LOL, just kidding! (I know that’s probably a shot to some, so sorry)

            Hey, on another topic: I hate to be a whiner about something that’s FREE, but are you seeing the AG site latency issues on your end? I’m seeing looonngg page load times on this end. Reloads are not any faster, sometimes slower.

  9. Bob Wilson

    November 19, 2009 at 10:52 am

    @Rob – You are right. MLS is only about the data. It isnt about connecting buyers and sellers and agents. That is the job of the agent.

    I am amazed at how everyone wants to monetize data that isnt theirs, and those who do own the data seem to be the only ones who don’t realize the value of this data.

    • Benn Rosales

      November 19, 2009 at 10:56 am

      What’s the life expectancy of the data and also the market position of realtor.com remaining in it’s current trajectory?

      • Bob Wilson

        November 19, 2009 at 11:39 am

        Life expectancy isnt an issue in this instance because the mls is the reservoir where this stream of data is is collected.

        R.com life expectancy is an unknown. If they partner with FirstAm, they’ll once again slap down cyberhomes as a competitor. If they do nothing, there is still no reason to think that R.com will die anytime soon because it still does what RPR does not do, and that is provide public access to the largest pool of listings.

        The thing to remember here is that none of the entities out there give a damn about the consumer getting information. While they publicly chant “information wants to be free”, they understand that attention is what gets monetized. Info is just the bait.

    • Rob McCance

      November 19, 2009 at 11:02 am

      BW – Well stated.

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