The Fly in the Syndication Ointment…

Another brief update, before my day of continuous meetings begin….

Regarding my post yesterday on the syndication brouhaha brought on by Abbott Realty Group… first, you need to read Jay Thompson’s take on the subject. He takes longer to articulate the issue than I did, and I think more clearly than I have:

If you feel syndicators are harming consumers by making it difficult to contact listing agents, they you must, MUST, also keep  your listings out of IDX distribution. The exact same issue of not reaching the listing agent that seems to bother so many in syndication also exists in IDX.

Trust me, we get calls and emails – seven days a week – from people searching on this very site who think we are the listing agent for the property they are viewing. Every. Day.

Don’t get me wrong. I **LOVE** IDX. It’s the lifeblood of my prospect generation efforts. 6,742 IDX search registrations in 2011 is a great thing. But if one of your main arguments for pulling your listings out of syndication is because potential buyers are confused and can’t reach the listing agent, then you MUST also pull out of IDX. The same problem exists in both systems. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Pulling out of syndication but using IDX smacks of hypocrisy.

The “syndication debate” will not end with smacking down TruZiltor. It will ultimately end up being a debate about buyer agency, the purpose of the MLS, the purpose of data-sharing. I’ve been predicting we’ll be doing that by NAR Annual in November. Maybe it’ll happen sooner than that.

I think that’s a wonderful, needed debate within the industry. Bring it on, I say, and sooner the better.

The Real McFly

But the real fly in the ointment, it occurs to me, is that the anti-syndication folks — who, by the way, are entirely justified in their frustration — are fighting over an exhausted oil well. Sure, there are a few barrels left in there, I suppose, but the big boys have already moved on to the next arena: mobile.

Consider that a mere ten years ago, Microsoft was the biggest, baddest kid on the block. Today, they’re an object of faintly scornful pity. The biggest rivalry in technology today is between Apple and Google… because of mobile. And Google pretty much owns the Internet. Doesn’t matter. The real battle is over who will control mobile and the apps that have become so important in that world.

I don’t have any privileged access to the data, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that the internal metrics over at Zillow, Trulia, and show that the traffic from their mobile apps are growing exponentially… at the expense of terrestrial web traffic. If any of their reps would care to confirm or deny, I’d welcome it. 🙂

So we could see a situation in the very near future that the brokers (and the MLS) will emerge victorious on the syndication front, pull all the listings from the aggregators, spend millions setting up awesome consumer facing websites, and find themselves well and truly screwed because all the traffic is going to mobile apps.

Sure, consumers will Google “San Diego real estate” and Sandicor will be the proud number one destination that comes up, and will be a close second. Fantastic! Except that by that time, majority of consumers won’t be Googling anything of the sort. Instead, they’ll flip open their Kindle Fire or Apple iPad or Asus Eee Pad, and tap the Zillow App or App.

What now, brown cow?

Check Out Your AppStore…

Competing on Google for keyword dominance in a given location is a wholly different affair than competing for positioning in the AppStore. Doing a quick search for “real estate” in the Apple AppStore just now, I see the following in the Top Ten:

  1. (New Zealand — irrelevant to me)
  4. Trulia
  5. RE/MAX Hallmark (Canadian real estate company. Congratulations! But 1 and 1/2 star rating? Ouch)
  6. Century 21
  7. Loopnet (Commercial real estate)
  9. Redfin
  10. StreetEasy’s app comes in 13th, which is impressive nonetheless, but if I don’t live in Houston, that app is as relevant to me as the New Zealand real estate app. As an interesting aside, here are a couple of comments on the RE/MAX Hallmark app from users:

“My 5-year old can write a more functional app than this. This thing shouldn’t even be free. They need to pay us to waste time using this app. I would be ashamed if I allowed a business to publish an app like this with my name on it. Get it right guys….”

“I live in TN. Looking for a place in IN. Why do I care about what’s ONLY in Ontario? Dumb dumb dumb. Does not even deserve the 1 star I’m giving it.”

There’s no way you can get these people back to even give your app a shot again. In the App-driven world, you either get it right the first time, or you’re done.

So… here are my parting questions as food for thought…

The modern Internet was born sometime around 1996 with the introduction of Netscape. It is now 2012. There are still agent and broker websites that look as if they were designed in 1996, and have the functionality of something created by blind Bangladeshi web designers in a hurry. I personally know of MLS websites that won’t open in anything other than Internet Explorer… of a version Microsoft is about to discontinue supporting.

This is in an area of technology that is so mature that it’s going to join the AARP soon. What makes you think that real estate brokers, MLS’s, franchises and the vendors who work for them could go head to head with the Silicon Valley boys and girls of Realtor, Zillow, Trulia, or <Insert Name Here>-dot-com in the new and developing world of mobile technology and app development?

More importantly, because fact is that there are brilliant people in our industry, if we wanted to compete with actual technology companies… what would such an effort cost? Who could bear such a cost, and how?

What now, brown cow?


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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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