Why Have Realtors Ceded Local Services?

Michael Arrington at TechCrunch takes note of a new startup called GenieTown that is aiming at the local services space.  From his post:

The company says they are addressing the long tail of local services. The GenieTown site allows local service providers (plumbers, dentists, whatever) to put up a web presence. Users looking for providers can find them, based on their location and user rating.

Arrington thinks GenieTown is in for a pretty rough time, with competitors like Google Local, Yahoo Local, and Yelp, as well as the venerable Yellow Pages.  That’s mostly techie talk.

Here’s my question: Why has the real estate community ceded local services to the various webbies?

I remember my first day in my new suburban house a few years back.  The real estate agent we worked with was very nice — she sent us dinner for our first day in our new home from the local Italian place.  It was delicious.  She left us a couple of magazines — I think Modern Living maybe.  But ultimately, neither was particularly useful to us as newcomers to town.

Why didn’t she leave us a personalized, branded directory of local service providers?  Why doesn’t her company’s website offer a list of providers who have passed some sort of certification as a Trusted Partner or some such?  We trusted her enough to have her be involved in the biggest financial decision we’ve ever made.  She could very easily have leveraged that relationship to tell us about the best health clubs in town and nearby, which diners have the best brunches, where to take your kids on a rainy Saturday afternoon, etc. etc.  But she didn’t.  Why not?

When someone is new in town, and hasn’t yet met any neighbors, the only person he is likely to know is the agent who arranged the home purchase.  That homebuyer is also very likely to be facing a variety of needs to make the house into a home.  Which plumber is trustworthy and responsive?  Which handyman is good, and which one is to be avoided?  Who should I call to get my yardwork done?  Which auto mechanic should I use?

I’m sure there are agents out there who step in and become a trusted advisor to their clients’ local service needs.  I’m just curious why no major brokerage has managed to do this successfully.  I know Coldwell Banker used to have (still has) a program called Concierge, but apparently, it wasn’t hugely successful. 

Just seems to me that local services is one of those areas that real estate people should simply dominate based on their initial trust relationship with the consumer.  Maybe someone should look into it… because venture capitalists apparently have….


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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