This post was brought about by a thread on my local association blog about whether or not we should be feeding our listings to Zillow.
I’m not going to re-open that debate here. (so let’s try not to hi-jack the comment thread with Zillow diatribes 🙂 )
I want to discuss what I see as a schism developing between the attitude of consumers and the attitude of real estate professionals. I hope that by addressing this issue, the industry can avoid what could be a very messy break-up with the public.
We Need to Change Perspective
By “we,” I mean real estate professionals. It seems to me that, sometimes, industry professionals act surprised, even indignant, at the success of sites like Zillow and Trulia. The objections are many, and they usually begin with something like, “but their data isn’t as up-to-date as the MLS!”
Protestations like that one (and the many others) miss the point, and come from the wrong perspective. As real estate professionals, we approach these sites as, well, real estate professionals. We are comparing it to the tools that we already have available (the MLS). Consumers aren’t can’t do that. They don’t have access to the MLS like we do.
I can hear some of you now, “well sure, but they could go to REALTOR.com.” Of course they could, but again, the perspective issue rears its ugly head. REALTOR.com is a site that displays listing information to the consumer for the benefit of brokers. It is not a consumer-centric site. It is designed entirely around the goal of driving leads to agents and brokers. I’m not saying that this is a necessarily bad thing. When a site is built this way, however, that philosophy will, at some point, become apparent to the consumer. When it does. . .
The Consumer Can Walk Away
The Internet is the land of almost infinite choice. When any of us surfs the net, we get to control our user-experience almost completely. We choose what content we do, or don’t want to see; we get to search for the things in which we are interested in any way that we choose. If we find what we want– great! If we don’t– we move on.
When it comes to real estate-related sites, consumers now have the ability to move on. There is enough choice out there for access to the information that consumers seek that they can move freely amongst these sources and choose the one that best fits them.
Getting the Consumer to Commit
The thing that sites like Zillow, Trulia, RealSeekr, etc. do better than most is that they engage the consumer. By this, I mean that they recognize that the consumer is in control of the experience and they are tailored to enhance that experience, not take back control.
All of these sites offer numerous ways for the consumer to participate in the process. There are comments, there are Q & A forums, there are custom searches, saved searches, heat maps, the list goes on. . . All of these features are designed to recognize the power of the consumer to control the process and make it easier for the consumer. It should also be noted that many of these features encourage interaction between the consumer and the agent/broker. This not only engages the consumer with the information, but the consumer with the professional. That is a good thing for everyone.
What to Do: It’s Time to Pop the Question
Rather than looking at sites like Zillow and Trulia as fight-to-the-death competitors with public MLS and agent/broker sites, industry professionals would do well to learn some of the valuable lessons that these sites offer when it comes to consumer interaction.
Lesson #1: GET ENGAGED!
It is time for the real estate industry to take the plunge, make the commitment, and get engaged with the consumer. For far to long, the industry has talked about engagement, only to have cold feet when the time came to get down on one knee. That cannot continue if the industry wants to remain relevant and grow moving forward. There are far too many potential suitors out there clamoring for the love and attention of consumers for real estate professionals to rest on their laurels and expect consumers to remain committed.
So whaddya say? How about we go pick out a ring. . .