The Truth about Real Estate Search Engines
There has been a good deal of media hullabaloo in recent days about web-based real estate information. Talk of Google buying Yelp, and a press release put out by Zillow claiming to have surpassed the traffic of Realtor.com shines a spotlight on consumer access to real estate information. As we enter the second decade of the new millennium who knows what lies ahead in the information age?
Here is what I do know: the likes of Google, Zillow and Realtor.com won’t effectively replace the value of a local Realtor in my child’s lifetime. Speaking as a Realtor, I fully expect the objectivity of my opinions and comments will be scrutinized- and well they should.
The internet has succeeded in making certain businesses obsolete, and/or eliminated many a middle man. Take the DVD and music business for example. Drive to a video store to return a movie? How archaic. In addition to altering the relevancy of certain businesses the internet has spawned an entire do-it-yourself (or at least try-it-yourself) movement. Is there any subject on earth that doesn’t have at least one how-to YouTube video?
The poor economy, coupled with the explosion of on line information drives more and more of us to become do-it-yourselfers. I get that. Last week one of my single girlfriends changed the faucets in her shower down to the stud pipes while following a YouTube instructional video on her IPod. Does this make plumbers obsolete? No it does not. Why? Because, although technical information is abundantly available on how to do just about anything, what is missing from the do-it-yourself-to-save-some-bucks equation is contextual knowledge, education and experience. No website or other source of information substitutes for these irreplaceable elements that a pro brings to the table.
Information is at the core of every decision and choice we make; whether it’s buying a car, selecting a physician or choosing a life partner. Gathering relevant information on any subject has never been easier and more thorough. Any consumer or real estate agent who short-sitedly still believes that the core value of a local realtor lies in their ability to provide information is sorely misguided.
There is no question that web based real estate information has caused a paradigm shift in the way real estate is conducted-and for the better. Empowered, informed consumers are replacing vulnerable ones who once depended entirely on the knowledge, motivations and character of their Realtor to guide them through the maze of buying and selling real estate. What the information age has done for real estate consumers in the last 10 years has shifted the power of access of information. Additionally it has inserted a new level of marketing accountability into our profession. An agent inferior at marketing stands out like a red head in Amsterdam. That is a given. However, I can watch all the instructional videos in the world on how to perform an appendectomy to the point where I am performing the procedure in my sleep. Information is one necessary element of success, but it will never replace contextual knowledge, advanced education and experience.
An additional caveat to web based information is its consistent inaccuracies and faulty, formulaic conclusions. There is simply no way wholesale satellite intelligence can compete with the quality and relevancy of information that comes from a specialist on the ground, talking, walking and listening at the source. That is a key difference between the values of ‘contextual knowledge’ versus linear information. It’s a quantity/quality equation as well.
Advanced education is inarguably what consumers look for in a professional: otherwise, why pay for the services if the so called pro knows about as much as you do? Education isn’t just about technical and legal aspects. In this fast pace, ever changing world, the rules of the games change quickly. And unless you’re living and breathing a profession, you can’t possibly keep pace at the level required to insure your choices and decisions.
The advantages of experience are self-evident. In real estate, when you’re talking about your nest egg, unintended consequences are not something you want knocking at your door. You can’t under-estimate the value of day after day, year after year lifetime of experiences with a particular specialty. “Exactly how many Volvo engines have you replaced?”, but more importantly, “How many have you replaced lately?” So far I’ve compared Realtors to plumbers, doctors and auto mechanics to make a point: saving money is not an immediate gratification concept! Realtors are paid to advocate for your best interest by sharing their contextual knowledge, applying their most current education, and lending their experience of tested theories and skills of flexibility and a Plan B when Murphy’s Laws decides to pitch hit in the stretch inning.
The last simile to make my point that Realtors can’t be replaced by the internet is this: Realtors are like hair dressers. Both are hands on professions. Both can see the current you and the future you from all angels and choices. Both can steer you away from disaster by gently pointing out that the style in the magazine (or the house on the internet) is not in your best interest based on their contextual knowledge, higher education and experience.
Informed consumers have raised the bar on real estate knowledge. I am guilty myself of knowing nothing about what takes place during a tune up on my car. I drive into the dealership and trust they’ll do the right thing. This is dumb, I know. Which is why I personally appreciate having buyers and sellers armed with information and engaged in the process of evaluation and strategy. Most sellers now know what the house around the corner sold for. Buyers know how long a property has remained on the market. They don’t necessarily have to rely on their agents to deliver this kind of information. However, knowing the circumstances surrounding why a house sold for what it sold for, and why a house is still on the market is significantly more valuable than the actual numbers without insight. The what without the why is a dangerous foundation to base a decision on. The what if is another pitfall a Realtor can help you avoid. Lastly, eliminating regret from a real estate transaction is a value that keeps on giving.