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Opinion Editorials

Won’t Someone Think of the Consumer?

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I attended the Inman Connect Conference in New York City last week and spoke at a workshop. The picture above is from a session called: “Online Real Estate as Media Enterprise“. The panel was moderated by Brad Inman, and the panelists in the picture, from Left to right are: Thomas Evans President and CEO, Bankrate Inc., Pete Flint Co-Founder Trulia, Lloyd Frink, President Zillow, Vikkie Neil, VP Real Estate Scripps Networks Interactive. (HGTV’s Front Door.com)

After a Panel discussion they always open it up for questions from the audience. Not sure why, but only two questions were asked of this panel and one of them was asked by me. Part of the discussion was about property listings on the internet. Zillow, Trulia and HGTV are doing everything that they can to collect property listings, but they each have only a small percentage of the available listings on their web sites.

I am not the CEO or the owner of a big media, or internet company. I am the CEO of a small business, but I have direct contact with consumers and actually sell real estate. My question to the panel was: “Aren’t we doing consumers a disservice by only having a small percentage of the available homes listed on sites like yours?”

No one could give me an answer, so I will answer it for the panel. Yes we are doing consumers a disservice. We are confusing them, and they may even be missing opportunities by looking at the wrong web sites as they search for homes. They go to a site like Zillow or Trulia and search for properties using all of that nifty wiz bang technology but they are only seeing a very small percentage of the available listings. The real estate industry has all of the listings but uses marginal web sites and technology to deploy them, which is why the media companies web sites have gained traction in the first place. Now consumers have a choice they can look at some of the listings on cutting edge sites or go to marginal hard to navigate, poorly designed sites and get all of the listings.

Here in the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota we have plenty of homes on the market to choose from. When consumers come to my web site, they can search all of the available listings . . . well they can’t find all of the for sale by owner listings, but the vast majority of the available homes are listed on the MLS and available through my site. What is the value of having some of the listings on Zillow or Trulia? Are we doing the consumer a disservice? I will answer yes to that, because I deal directly with consumers every day, and they are confused.

Home shoppers ask a lot of questions and many are confused by the number of web sites where they can search for homes. . . . online real estate as media enterprise? To some companies real estate listings are an enterprise. They don’t sell real estate, they are in the media business. I wish they would spend more time talking to people who do sell real estate and who have direct contact with consumers, or more time talking to consumers.

These companies don’t want our listing data so that they can help consumers they want it so they can make money off of it. People like me go out and get the listing and a bunch of companies repackage the information I obtain and use it to make money. The consumer wants all of the accurate information they can get in a pretty, easy to navigate package. Neither the real estate companies or the other cottage industries that have sprung up because of it are giving the consumer what they want.

Full time REALTOR and licensed broker with Saint Paul Home Realty Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. Author of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com, Columnist for Inman News and an avid photographer.

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Chris Griffith

    January 13, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Thank you for saying it out loud.

  2. Mariana

    January 13, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Teresa- Thank you for putting into words what I have been trying to wrap my mind around for some time now. I do not have an issue with businesses (like Zillow) as far as “competition” is concerned. (Some agents tell me that they think Zillow is trying to replace RE agents. HA HA!)

    But I DO have an issue with businesses tout that they are all about the consumer, when in fact they are all about the Benjamins. Sure – we all need to make $$, but NOT AT THE CONSUMERS EXPENSE.

    I wonder if there is a way that they could pool their resources and make MORE of their information accurate. I am sure it can be done and I ma also sure that that answer is right around the corner …’

    Until then and actually FOREVER, it just remains OUR job to give the Consumers – OUR CLIENTS what they want, regardless of what the cottage industries are doing (or not doing).

  3. Lisa Dunn

    January 13, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Teresa-I hope you realize that math was required to leave a comment here!

    The real estate industry got it right when we figured out broker reciprocity; a very good things for consumers. Give consumers all the listings no matter who is the listing broker. This industry is confusing enough to consumers. Companies that offer half the information (half truths) hurt both the real estate professionals who fight for transparency, as well as the consumer.

    The only ones that win are the companies whose wallets are getting fatter because of the almighty advertising dollar.

  4. Larry Yatkowsky

    January 13, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    to my knowledge the math never gets higher than 20. if the answer is more than 10 it gets tricky as I have to remove my shoes to engage the toes.:)

    to the topic at hand:
    Vis a vis the web the consumer demanded our industry to release RE information. We did. Now as opposed to Realtors being the conduit it has fallen to Truilia et al. Access they got – now they suffer until the arrival of a new all encompassing tech-messiah. Wasn’t much different for us trying to sort out how we were going to share information. It took about 15+ years and still isn’t perfect. I chuckle at the irony of them wanting us to carry the load for their decision. Somehow this too became our problem. The quesitions are why are the consumers not taking a run at the Trulia’s – they are the suppliers of the service. Why have we assumed the position of fixers.

  5. Scott

    January 13, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    >> “The real estate industry has all of the listings but uses marginal web sites and technology to deploy them, which is why the media companies web sites have gained traction in the first place. Now consumers have a choice they can look at some of the listings on cutting edge sites or go to marginal hard to navigate, poorly designed sites and get all of the listings.”

    Teresa — I concur! Do you know of any data available that would help us understand what consumers end up doing? Do they search on slick, national sites with limited listings, or on antiquated local sites with almost all listings? Or perhaps both? I’d love to know how the traffic at some of the largest sites (Realtor.com, for example), compares with the sum traffic to all broker and agent web sites. If anyone knows where I can find this information, please let me know!

  6. Teresa Boardman

    January 14, 2008 at 6:00 am

    Scott – not hard to know how much traffic a site gets, try Alexa.com, not very accurate but will give a clue. I think you helped me make the point too. The consumer is just not in this conversations. As agents we are closer to the consumer so we observe.

    The math here isn’t that bad. I think my math skills are improving. . . nayone know what 5 + 9 is? 😉

  7. Frances Flynn Thorsen

    January 14, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Teresa,

    I think that someone on the panel did answer the question, albeit with another question: “Are real estate agents doing consumers a disservice restricting the exposure of their listings?” Additionally, they made the point that they are all actively seeking to grow their property listing inventories.

    Different portals offer different “feels” and different ways to showcase properties and mapping interface. I think it is much about offering a variety of flavors … some consumers gravitate to Trulia for the taste of neighborhood and the RealtyTrac data integration, others flock to Zillow for the taste of Zestimate valuation, and others want to play with wall colors at OBEO.

    Trulia, Zillow, and OBEO have business models that are geared to make money via advertising … and since consumers spend so much time on the Internet, there will be more companies doing the same. In the meantime, they are drawing a solid demographic of consumers who are buying and selling properties, and they are delivering increasing numbers of leads to real estate professionals at NO COST to the realty pros.

    These companies do not profess to be in the real estate business. They are in the media business. I think that the advent of this genre Web player is the best thing to happen in the real estate industry in many years. The tide is changing. I write about some of those changes recently in greater depth based on a session at NAR in Las Vegas. https://tinyurl.com/2n7jhp

  8. Scott Rogers

    January 14, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Teresa — I don’t want to know about traffic to one web site, I want to know how traffic to Realtor.com or Trulia.com or Zillow.com compares to the total of all traffic to all broker and agent web sites. Those national sites have the most single-site traffic, but I hypothesize that they may have less than the sum of all broker and agent web sites.

    I agree that we are definitely closer to the consumer, and know what they really want. So . . . we just need to (as agents and brokers) be able to offer great online search experiences to consumers.

    I believe I have done so with my web site (see this, for example https://www.scottprogers.com/searching/power/), though I welcome any feedback.

  9. Teresa Boardman

    January 14, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Frances Flynn Thorsen – when I talked to them after the panel they admitted that my question was not answered. Yes they are trying to get all the listings and who knows maybe they will suceed. I do have all the listings and the traffic directly to my web site is best for me. I don’t need an outside site to generate leads or traffic.

    Scott, I would guess, that the company web sites combined get more traffic. I am going to see if there is a way to find out. Personally I think the national web sites take traffic from us that would come to us and I don’t have much use for them.

  10. Brad Nix

    January 14, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Amen. I would like to point out some of these statistical short-comings by directing everyone to Kris Berg’s post: https://sandiegohomeblog.com/2007/01/12/where-do-you-like-to-shop-surfs-up/

    She does a great job of breaking the quantity of listings available at different real estate search portals. The local agent ‘should’ always win this competition – aren’t we the ones who did the work for the sellers?

  11. Scott Rogers

    January 14, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Teresa – let me know if you find any research on the sum of company sites versus the large national sites. I have contemplated doing some research in my local market (phone survey?) to find out which sites consumers are using to search. If you (or anyone) knows of any such research in other markets, let me know…

  12. ines

    January 15, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    I just cringed at the comment added by Frances Flynn Thorsen – “Are real estate agents doing consumers a disservice restricting the exposure of their listings?”…..so now we’re the ones doing the consumer a disservice? GEESH!

    I always wonder why the consumer thinks they will get more information from bigger sites instead of individual agent sites – could it be that they feel the information in agent sites could be biased?

  13. Marlow Harris

    January 17, 2008 at 3:21 am

    The fact that these websites are inadequate only emphasizes a Buyers need for a professional real estate agent to assist them to negotiate the homebuying process.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

BIPOC Gen Zers are using TikTok to create cultural awareness

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) TikTok has become a platform for younger generations to share their cultures, paving the way for a more inclusive society. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Black person's hands holding a phone loading TikTok above a wooden table.

When scrolling on TikTok, you might come across this question posed by a BIPOC creator (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color): “How old were you when you realized you weren’t ugly, you just lived in a predominantly White space?”

Growing up in predominantly White spaces myself with immigrant parents from the Middle East, I had a warped perspective of beauty. Straight light hair, fair skin, Western features, a stick-thin figure – I internalized my physical otherness as lack.

It wasn’t until I moved to a diverse city for college that I realized this. I saw others speaking different languages, eating ethnic foods and dressing however they wanted without fear of losing their proximity to Whiteness. Exposure to others who didn’t fit “the mold” was transformative for me.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I came of age with social media like Tumblr, Facebook and, ultimately, Instagram. But I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t wish TikTok was around when I was a kid.

For reference, most TikTok users are between 16-24, meaning that many are still in high school. While content on TikTok is really all over the place and specifically catered to your preferences (you can feel the algorithums at work as your scroll), one facet that I find integral to the app’s essence is Gen Z proudly showcasing their cultures – aka #culturecheck.

Besides the countless ethnic food tutorials (some of my favorite content on the app!), fashion has become a main way for BIPOC or immigrant TikTokers to fully express their identities and share their culture with other users on the app, regardless of physical location.

Take the #FashionEdit challenge, where creators lip sync to a mash-up of Amine’s “Caroline” and “I Just Did a Bad Thing” by Bill Wurtz as they transform from their everyday Western clothes into that of their respective culture.

In her famous video, Milan Mathew – the creator attributed to popularizing this trend – sits down in a chair. She edits the clip in such a way that as she sits, her original outfit switches to a baby-pink lehenga and she becomes adorned with traditional Indian jewelry. Denise Osei does the same, switching into tradition Ghanaian dress. If you can think of a culture or ethnicity, chances are they are represented in this TikTok trend.

This past Indigenous People’s Day, James Jones’ videos went viral across various social media platforms, as he transformed into his traditional garments and performed tribal dances.

Though the cultures and respective attire they showcase are unique in each video, the energy is all the same: proud and beautiful. Showing off what your culture wears has become a way to gain clout on the app and inspire others to do the same.

The beautiful thing about cultural/ethnic TikTok is that it isn’t just Mexicans cheering for other Mexicans, or Arabs cheering for other Arabs – the app sustains a general solidarity across racial and ethnic lines while cultivating an appreciation of world cultures.

But just how deep does that appreciation go? Some users think (and I agree) that “liking” a video of an attractive creator in traditional dress is hardly a radical move in dismantling notions of Western beauty.

While TikTok trends might not solve these issues entirely, it’s important to note that they are moving things in the right directions – I certainly never saw anything like this when I was growing up.

For whatever reason, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers seem to have a lot of shade to throw at Gen Z. But one thing is for certain – this young generation is paving the way for a more inclusive, more respectful society, which is something we should all get behind. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in March, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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