Let's just get a lay of the land here:
- ZipRealty, a tech-enabled agent was just acquired by Realogy
- Urban Compass raised a lot of money and pivoted into a tech-enabled brokerage
- Redfin, the original tech-enabled brokerage is likely to expand from the current 27 markets
- HomeSnap - the gimmicky and highly sophisticated app just released a credible 'MLS' app
If I've missed anyone, let me know. It's important to have all the players on the board.
It's also important to note that we're focusing on the US here, as the UK has nothing viable to help agents on the move.
So ZipRealty is now owned by a company that doesn't get tech, but is doing more than most to promote the use of tech (without ensuring all Realogy franchisees are up-to-date). The ZipRealty CRM app (called 'zap') certainly unchains agents from their desks. It's a bigger problem than you think: an agent's work is out winning clients over, yet their crappy MLS software is pretty much desktop-only.
Urban Compass, with their hordes of cash and no credible strategy for growth, are trying to do a bit of everything:
- building a website (which has little traffic or stock),
- building consumer apps (ditto) and
- building agent apps for CRM
Note, the operative word here is building. And they will be building long after the money runs out and the founders have sold out. There were a few moments when I was hoping they would do something 'totally wicked', but they've just got diddly squat idea about the market they are in.
I am not qualified to talk about Redfin. No-one is. They are the single-most credible offering to change the industry. They offer better levels of service for a lower fee. Never has a negative word been uttered, online or off, about Redfin's agents or website.
And that's the spooky thing about it. Redfin is in no way dominant. Actually, they're tiny. So what gives? Why is the 'Redfin-way' not contagious?
If I were to guess: they don't have a 'Spencer Rascoff'. They lack a leader who transcends all reason. When Spencer speaks, Zillow's stock price goes up. When Redfin produce profitable results, no-one notices. That sort of stuff is pretty important in the 'marketing' game. For people to talk, you've got to be heard.
And finally there is HomeSnap. An obscure, yet happy bunch of devs producing surprisingly 'big thinking' apps for the mobile. If they can politic their way into most of the MLSs, there's a good chance that 'Zulia' might have a tanking stock price by this time next year.
HomeSnap isn't tied to a single agent, and their apps look to be very simple. And simple often wins. Android phones are marketed on flexibility. No-one cares. iPhones are marketed on cool factor and 'anyone can use them to have fun with family' and people buy a new one every few years.
If the current crop of real estate agents are to compete (and they are only competing amongst themselves - no one is going to kill off agents, though they might try) then that computer in their pocket is the key.
At present, anyone can be an agent. Some do well, most do OK. Everyone makes money. That's not likely to change.
Unless someone builds a mobile app that allows even more people to be agents. If that happens, the increased competition will force all sorts of changes; chief among them the death of the currently decaying MLSs.
If the MLSs are successfully bypassed, because they wouldn't modernise to be mobile-friendly, then its likely the US could go the way of the UK: 1% commissions to the sales agent, the near extinction of buying agents and the dominance of a single property portal.