I recently was at a luncheon which featured an economist as the guest speaker. Among his very interesting observations and comments he commented that it was too bad that the car industry was in such trouble now because for years they have told us as consumers what kind of car we want to buy (see how that worked out!:. Now ironically, even as they swim in a sea of economic turmoil, they are finally listening to what we really want to buy and beginning to produce those products. Is it too late for them?
As I reflected on that comment I realized that the real estate industry isn't so very much unlike the auto industry. For years we have told consumers how they should buy and sell real estate and have protected the information pipeline to force them to find information and assistance in very limited form. We have been afraid of providing what they wanted for fear of being irrelevant. Now we are finally realizing that consumers are demanding more transparency and access to the data and will go elsewhere to find it if we aren't willing to provide it.
Just as the auto industry is reaping the results of their business practices, we in the real estate industry are as well. Competitors have inundated the internet in attempts to capture those eyeballs and to provide what is wanted. Our practices have caused the consumers to go elsewhere for their source of information.
What we have come to realize is that the information is available in multiple places and consumers know how to find it. Does that make me as a REALTOR® less relevant and important to the transaction? No! Anyone can obtain information but it's the interpretation of that data, the nuances of the neighborhoods and communities and the perspectives I have that create value for my clients as they buy and/or sell property. The consumer needs to be aware that just because the information is available does not make it true or valid in their situation. Through the experience of many transactions I can assist my clients by avoiding the common mistakes, helping them find suitable financing in this difficult financing climate, and keep them informed of market trends and consumer behaviors. My value is still very relevant when I sit at a table with a troubled family trying to work through a potential short sale situation or, worse, a possible foreclosure. No access to data and websites will help that family navigate the troubled waters they will row through in the months and weeks ahead.
Marty Frame of Cyberhomes was recently quoted as saying that only a small percentage of the millions of visitors to real estate portals are actually in the market to buy a home any time in the near future. The takeaway may be that while listings have always been the main attraction for visitors, now those visitors are looking for information and gravitating to those sites that provide the information and make it easy to find. Since buyers begin to explore the real estate world as much as 12 months ahead of their actual search they are taking time to get familiar with the market, finding and returning to the places where the information is most helpful, consumer centric, and easily accessed. No longer are they interested in messages about our individual listings being "shouted" at them....they do not want to be sold....they want to be educated.
The question then remains....are we becoming relevant in time?