What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate

For me, the professional highlight of each summer is attending Inman Connect. This year was no exception. While I was there, I was able to fulfill some of my mentoring duties for NAR’s REach® Accelerator Program. The program helps startups tailor their products to meet the needs of the real estate industry. It puts tech startup leaders and real estate leaders in the same room, and gets them to talk to each other. Think: speed dating for business.

twin towersThe meeting was a reminder that organized real estate and the tech industry have a serious disconnect. Most real estate executives don’t understand technology as well as they should, but guess what? Most tech CEOs understand even less about real estate.

Even companies like Trulia and Zillow have limited staff that understand the real estate industry. VP’s like Chris Crocker and Alon Cheever are exceptions in companies full of software engineers, user experience geeks and marketing professionals.  Most of the decisions these companies make are to delight consumers. They often have no idea they will create angst in the industry. Of course, companies like Trulia and Zillow are now big enough that they don’t have to care what the industry thinks. The industry has always mistrusted them, and naturally, that has lead them to feel the same way in return.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

With a resurgence in the housing economy, innovation is on the rise. Start-ups are popping up everywhere. In addition to NAR, Inman News and Realogy have both created programs to help foster these companies. There’s a consensus building in the industry to get it right this time. Instead of worrying about how technology will destroy the status quo, the industry needs to show these companies how to provide value. Instead of trying to block them out, they need to find ways to invite them into the fold. If anything, keep your friends close, and the latest tech startups in real estate even closer.

Communication is mutually beneficial. As tech companies are struggling to learn more about real estate, the real estate industry has the opportunity to better understand technology.

NAR has opened the lines of communication between organized real estate and technology. My hope is that others will continue to follow suit. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Many real estate executives could start by simply reading Drew Meyers’ series of interviews, “Meet the Real Estate Tech Entrepreneur,” or committing themselves to walk the tradeshow floor at their state or national convention. Tomorrow’s Pete Flint, or Spencer Rascoff could be working a booth, and hoping to be a friend, instead of an adversary.


6 thoughts on “What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate

  1. Teresa Boardman

    Very true. To date I have found that the companies that make products for us do not understand what we do nor do they seem to have any interest in it. I wonder if it will ever change?

  2. Becki Saltzman

    I could not agree more.

    If the industry pros dismisses technology, we will lose. If we dismiss ourselves, we will lose worse. While clicking behind a screen will certainly bring helpful industry data to the masses, real estate is ultimately traded on insider information…and so much of that is not about finding the property. That’s a secret for clients.

    Should we embrace technology? Obsoletely.

  3. Andrew Thompson

    I totally agree with your statement: “The meeting was a reminder that organized real estate and the tech industry have a serious disconnect. Most real estate executives don’t understand technology as well as they should, but guess what? Most tech CEOs understand even less about real estate.”

    Do you think this is specific to Real Estate or does it happen across technology businesses in general? If its the latter then there isn’t much to say but if its the former then there’s a really interesting question to answer: “What is different about the real estate industry that is causing this disconnect between technology vendor and real estate agent/brokerage/”

  4. Greg Fischer

    Great post Todd. I recently took on an official role with Doorsteps so this post hit a personal note with me.

    Real estate has such and interesting dynamic with far reaching consequences (being such an important consumer industry) being led on the front lines by independent contractor salespeople. It creates a dynamic of many varied professional practices, technology platforms, and business models. This continually opens the door for new technology companies looking to create a paradigm shift in how business is conducted. The most common misstep is a play to “disrupt” instead of improve the pain points in the industry and I see collaboration as one important way we can set this course in a positive direction.

    I realized early on as I started my brokerage that technology could be a valuable ally in the success of my business. I’ve continuously put myself belly to belly with companies powering the technology platforms I use to run my business, creating a continuously improving feedback loop that gets me the tools I need and provides valuable user insights to the very people I trust to iterate and execute on the tech I rely on to stay productive.

    I don’t think either side is at fault here. Users (agents and brokers) committed to creating dialogue with vendors about what’s working and what’s not, what could be improved, and what could be removed from their offerings end up getting what they want. Waiting for someone to “get it right” will result in a very long and unfulfilling experience. On the other side, technology companies committed to collaborating with early adopters and loyal users will reap the rewards of a focused and effective technology influenced by the very people relying on (and maybe even cheering for) it’s success. Companies with tunnel vision risk creating an offering nobody cares about or finds useful.

    The answer is in the space between.


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