Daily Archives: October 11, 2009

New technology in real estate

Report from California and the evolving on-line tools for real estate agents, buyers and sellers.

But what quickly became obvious to me was that not has the tech revolution come to the real estate business, but that, in fact, there is something of a technology arms race going on right now.

 

This competition is taking place on a number of different fronts.  Some are identical to the changes taking place across all professions – broadband Internet, streaming video, office management tools, financial and productivity software etc.  All were in evidence at the show.

 

But the big tech battle in the real estate business these days, the Apple-Microsoft of the realty game, is being fought across multiple platforms and is for control over the biggest database in the industry:  listings.  It’s the classic story – ten years [ago] , if you were a realtor and you want [ed]  to list a home for sale, you sent the information and a photo to the local multiple listing service, which printed it up in a book that was then distributed to all other agents in the area.

 

Needless to say, this paradigm got blown apart with the rise of laptop computers, the Web and smartphones.  Suddenly, there was a whole bunch of ways to list a house for sale, including mainstream operations like Craigslist, eBay, Google, Yahoo, and specialty sites like Frontdoor, Cyberhomes, Homefinder.com, and RealEstateBook.com.

 

But the traditional multiple listings companies didn’t just roll over under this assault.  On the contrary, having access to far more information (taxes, liens, etc.) and far more members than the Web upstarts, they responded by virtual themselves, bringing heavy computing firepower to bear to create sophisticated websites that not only claimed to be more inclusive, but more complete than non-Realtor® services.  They could also reach out and draw information from their professional counterparts around the country.

 

As with all such tech wars the real winners have been the users.  The big newcomers like Yahoo have been forestalled from merely skimming off the easy money in this field, while at the same time their presence has forced the veteran industry companies to stay innovative.  Meanwhile, the new start-ups have been a source of fresh ideas that the rest of the competition has been compelled to adopt.

 

A case in point is MLS Listings Inc., the service that covers not just Silicon Valley, but much of Northern California.  Just a few years ago, it was a sleepy local multiple listing service with clunky software and not a lot of competition.  These days, it’s one of the most technologically innovative listings services in the country, having at the same time merged with a number of its neighbors in order to maintain competitive mass. 

 

A couple years ago when MLS Listings brought in its president, Jim Harrison, one of the industry’s most innovative CEOs, his mission was to bring the firm into the 21st century.  He’s done just that, with a massive overhaul of the entire company, not least its web presence – from the user interface to privacy protections to new caches of data (such as taxes) to multi-media.

 

Says Harrison, with his Texas drawl, “The simple fact is that we have to run as fast as we can because the competition is always right behind us.”

 

The result is that MLS Listings these days is less a real estate company or printing house than it is a software developer.  And that’s true as well for its competitors.  Meanwhile, the race has only just begun.  The next challenge is deliver data to multiple locations – including social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc. – on multiple platforms, from laptops to cellphones to automobile dashboards.  Sitting right behind that is the integration of all of these vast stores of information and the delivery of it in real time – i.e., as the real estate agent drives a client couple through a neighborhood, that agent is constantly being fed updated information on what homes have just been listed or sold, price changes, mortgage rates, liens, virtual tours, as well as GPS and maps to the next listing. 

 

It won’t be easy.  Jumping aboard the runaway train of high technology is always a scary business.  The train keeps accelerating and forever risks jumping the track.  And you never really know the final destination.  But, as the numerous Web-related companies at California Realtor Expo 2009 suggest, if want to keep playing it’s the only game in town.

Here in Greenwich, the Greenwich Association of Realtors devotes most of its efforts to keeping competition out, rather than making real estate searches easier and more informative. We still cling to the business concept of being the holders of all information; the obsolete listing books still carry a warning that loaning them to a customer will result in a slow, lingering death by burning, for instance, prices and addresses are withheld from advertisements, and we never, ever share our data with realtors from out of town. I can think of no entity, whether a civilization or business, that has successfully defended its existence by trying to hold off the barbarians with walls, rather than innovation. Ask Rome, American car manufacturers or the newspaper publishers if you doubt my word. 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Al Gore: the debate is over when I say it’s over!

Al Gore and taxpayers (right)

Al Gore and taxpayers (right)

Al Gore addresses environmental reporters conference, shuts off microphone of reporter who questions factual accuracy of film. Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

This just in from Scusie

Scusie Gossip, girl reporter

Scusie Gossip, girl reporter

Scene; Riverside resident and sports announcer Frank Gifford was seen the morning of Sept. 26 at Balducci’s in Riverside getting a cup of coffee.

How did we live without that information from September 26 until now? And Scusie, did he take it black or with cream and sugar? Inquiring minds want to (need to) know.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Home owner delusions

The latest Case-Shiller survey reveals that Americans expect an 11% increase in house prices in the next year. Even assuming the survey was restricted to Greenwich real estate agents and their clients, this is amazing. Next week: Elvis will arrive in Santa’s sleigh.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Foreclosures in Greenwich

I am going to subscribe to this Warren Report [ sorry, bad link we'll try to copy results] (no I’m not interested in the grassy knoll – this one reports on foreclosures) but out of curiosity, I checked the free sample to see how many foreclosures we’ve had started in town since January, 2008. Answer: 236. That’s a lot.

UPDATE: Just paid my fee and got access to the full report – boy, are there some folks in trouble in town. We have 151 foreclosures started in town since January of this year and, skimming them, there appears to be no equity in any of them. In fact, there are so many second, third and even fourth mortgages on many of these properties that they can only be sold via a packaged short sale or via foreclosure auction. Next year should see some very interesting sales.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Greenwich prices

A local realtor writes to inquire how many houses have sold this year at prices higher than their assessed value. I don’t have the exact figures but the average sale this year is 1.3 X assessed value versus 2.3 in 2005 (subject to confirmation per Pete the appraiser’s comment, below). Put another way, I’d estimate that 90% of the houses currently for sale in town are priced well above their assessed value and 90% of all houses for sale in Greenwich this year have not sold. Cause and effect? You decide.

Here is a photograph that might illustrate the principle at work here. San Marcos Square in Venice draws hordes of tourists, even in October. Responding to those crowds and the opportunity they present, the cafes lining the square have set up tables and offer a single espresso at 5.7 Euros (vs. 0.9 Euro on the mainland) 8.5 E for a cappuccino, and a 5.7 E per head “music charge” for sitting. We were there on a bright sunny day when tourists crowded the area and presumably would have liked a coffee while sitting and observing the scene. But with Greenwich’s own Mad Monkey in charge of pricing, the crowds did without. Wait ’til February, MM, when cold rain drives these people indoors – then you’ll have them!

No pigeons here!

No pigeons here!

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Malawi inventor runs into the local equivalent of Greenwich luddites

The radio show “Living on Earth” ran a fascinating story this morning about a young guy who made a windmill out of scrap junk to bring electricity to his home. Naturally, he was accused of being a witch by his neighbors and his windmill blamed for chasing rain clouds away. His neighbors would feel right at home here in town, yelling about cellphone towers being erected within sight of our precious children. 

KAMKWAMBA: After I did all this, people started coming to charge their mobile phones. There was also another time when we experienced the drought in 2005 and what was happening is that people started pointing to my windmill, saying that this is the witch tower that is chasing away the rain, it’s not science.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized