A Tale of Two Listings: Foreshadowing of the Future


I recently came across two different listings online, and the difference between the two was striking.

One listing had 16 photos, with good descriptions of each, and the listing detail was 18 paragraphs long and filled with great detail like:

The building is a walk-up and is not handicapped-accesible. There is a flight of stairs to get from the ground to the front door, and then there is another two flights to reach the apartment. Stairs are annoying, but it’s worth it.

The building was gutted to the facade and rebuilt from scratch in 2006 so everything inside the building is pretty new.

The other listing had precisely one photo, which was an amateur shot of the front of the property. No interior photos at all. The description was one paragraph:

OH Sat, 5/10 & Sun 5/11 1-4pm (Photos 5/09). Offers Tues, 5/13, 6 pm. Don’t miss this complete TEN on the scale of desirability! Do the #’s & know you’ll have it all @ a low monthly cost — huge, elegant, endless spaces on 3 levels, plus fantastic 2BR lgl. lower unit at $2200 rent; plus lots of outside spaces; plus FOUR secure pkg. spaces! All in heart of vibrant upcoming Bloomingdale.

That second listing was for a short-term rental, and it’s obvious that the agent didn’t want to bother too much given how little she was going to earn from that deal.

Oh wait, my mistake. That second listing was for a $1.3 million 6BR/5.5BA townhouse in Washington DC. The first was for a $165/night AirBnB listing.

AirBnb For the Win

For those that may not be familiar, AirBnB is a peer-to-peer network where people rent out their own homes and apartments for a day or two to strangers. It recently raised $475 million, putting the valuation at a staggering $10 billion. I think it’s kinda nutty that a company with few assets is worth $10 billion, but that’s beside the point here.

What AirBnB clearly demonstrates is that individuals with zero real estate training are apparently pretty damn effective at doing those things to market properties. Don’t be fooled that because these are just short-term rentals that the fundamentals of property marketing are not covered.

There are photos, and many of them on AirBnB are superior to photos taken by REALTORS. It appears that some consumers are just as good as a REALTOR is at taking photos with an iPhone.


But this untrained consumer knows enough to apologize for the crappy iPhone photo. (Why a REALTOR wouldn’t pay for a professional photographer on a million dollar listing is a mystery known only to the few wise ancients.)

The property description is rich, full, and filled with enough detail for anyone looking to book the place for a few nights to get a sense of what it’s like to stay there.

There is a map, which shows where the property is located. There’s even a friendly little box showing potential renters just how responsive the homeowner/listing person is:


Just… imagine for a moment that every REALTOR has that field next to their name: “Response Time” on a portal like Zillow or Trulia. Oh, the consternation and the rage that would ensue! Imagine if the local MLS would post that stat on a REALTOR, then ask which is more likely:

  1. REALTORS in that MLS area would immediately improve their response times; or
  2. The MLS CEO would be fired the next week.

If you said “1”, you are an optimist of the first order. I congratulate you on your relentlessly positive outlook on life!

The Future Is Grim… If Professionals Don’t Start Acting Like a Professional

If I’m the owner/seller of 61 Rhode Island Avenue, I have to wonder why in hell I’m paying the listing agent at all, never mind $39,000 (3% listing side). To get one crappy photo and a “description” that sounds like it was lifted from a newspaper ad circa 1978?

The single most firmly held belief among real estate brokers and agents is how the consumer absolutely needs the services of an experienced REALTOR in the biggest financial transaction of their lives to prevent utter ruination and poverty. And the industry frets about Zillow and Trulia and spawns theory after theory about how they’re out to disintermediate the real estate agent.

I got news for ya. Zillow doesn’t need to do a damn thing to disintermediate anybody. The real estate brokers and agents are doing a damn fine job of disintermediating themselves with lacklauster, lackadaisical, lackwit service. Those agents who do in fact do a great job might want to clap for joy and hasten the demise of craptastic license-holders, but fact is, they’re going to get caught in the maelstrom if/when it arrives.

Consumers today have every tool they need to market their own properties in a semi-professional way; AirBnB is proof of it. They too can take iPhone photos. They too can write property descriptions (and apparently, better property descriptions than some agents).

The only thing they’re missing today is “the MLS” — a marketplace for property listings. Well, what exactly is AirBnB if not a marketplace for rental property listings?

Do we wait for AirMLS to come about? Or do we just dismiss it with handwaving saying, “Yeah, yeah, FSBO is for losers” and be done with it?

In some ways, a professional was once defined by the tools he had. Because those tools were far too expensive for consumers, professionals could do a job more effectively and more efficiently than a consumer could. Think of plumbers with their specialized equipment, or professional photographers of the past with their $10,000 cameras.

Real estate professionals also had those “professional” tools. The MLS was just one of them, although the most important. REALTORS also had marketing channels like deals with newspapers, arrangements with printing shops, graphic designers, etc. that helped them do the job more effectively and more efficiently than the consumer.

Those days are coming to an end, as technology continues its inexorable march. Differentiating oneself from a layman with tools no longer has a particularly robust shelf life. And I think that is true for all professionals, not just REALTORS. Lawyers, doctors, engineers, designers — everyone who depends on tools to differentiate themselves from non-professionals is in deep trouble.

Going forward, the distinction between a professional and an amateur has to be skill and knowledge. It has to be.

Real estate agents have to be better at marketing a property, from photography to staging to writing cogent, appealing, powerful marketing copy for a listing. They have to be better than some random consumer at pricing, at negotiating, at communication, and responsiveness. A part-time landlord on AirBnB cannot have a better response rate than a professional agent.

Well, they can… but then the future is grim indeed.

There are, unfortunately, a few amongst my readers whose impulse is just to say, “Since you’ve never sold real estate, Rob, shut the hell up!” All I can say is, have it your way… but I have eyes. And the tale of these two listings doesn’t require any experience whatsoever to understand.

One of the listings is really, really well marketed. The other one is crap. Therein lies the future of the industry.

Everything else is handwaving.


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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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