Mobile Apps, Brokerage and “The Homer” of Real Estate

I was recently interviewed by Mary Ellen Podmolik of the Chicago Tribune for her article, “Mobile apps link home buyers to brokers“.  The full article can be found by clicking on the previous link, but here’s my condensed contribution:

“With the market being the way it is and homebuyers understanding this is a home they’re buying and not just a stock or an investment, they really are spending time to get to know the neighborhood and finding out A, is this a neighborhood that I’d be happy with now and B, is this a neighborhood that would grow with me,” said Matt Dollinger, @Properties’ vice president of strategic development.

Dollinger likens the tech efforts going on concurrently within real estate companies to throwing cooked spaghetti at a wall to see if it sticks. “Times are tough and sales are down,” he said. “Any company that isn’t paying attention to it is walking around with blinders.”

The gist of what I was trying to say in the article is that, “Where mobile apps have a perfect fit in real estate – the home buyer is using them more to get information on the fly and truly explore/research their potential neighborhood.”   This is just my opinion but I think it’s more than just the immediate gratification of real estate information, but consumers can now incorporate the GPS of the mobile devices to see local reviews, news and other location based information that is important since they’re looking to live in this house for 7+ years rather than the 2-3 years of 2004-05.

For the broker, I don’t think that what I was trying to convey was stated exactly as I hoped it.  If you read the article you’ll see that our major competitors are doing exactly what I was saying – throwing every piece of technology against the wall to see what actually works.  QR codes, text messaging and more might seem incredibly cool – but the eternal question still stands… “does it a) produce ROI for the company b) help the home seller sell at a higher price in less time, or c) help the large scale buying audience in their search?”

This mentality of “gotta have it” I often compare to the Simpson’s episode “Oh Brother – Where Art Thou?”  For a full overview of the plot click here.  The abbreviated version is this…  Homer meets his long lost  brother who owns a car manufacturing company.   His brother agrees to allow Homer to design a car that HE would drive and not ask any questions.  Homer goes about designing a car that has EVERYTHING that someone could want including a Squishee Machine, huge engine and a horn that plays ”La Cucaracha“.  All of this is put in place by Homer’s thought of “what the consumer would want” without doing any consumer research.

What I tried to convey to Mary Ellen was that the typical brokerage is so inundated with information on what they “should” do from “experts”, technology and gadgets that they are simply signing on the dotted line.  Most believe the the “next best thing” is what’s going to not only differentiate them from the competition, but is REQUIRED by consumers/agents.  Enter “the Homer of Real Estate”.

The way that I would, (and do), weigh these new ideas are as follows:

  • Will this increase our company bottom line (ROI)?
  • Will this help our agents sell more real estate OR command a premium for service performed?
  • Will this help our clients sell their home in a shorter time at a higher price?
  • Does the consumer (buyer) really WANT this or will a majority actually USE it?
  • What is the Cost vs. Return of technology ($, Branding, Impressions, Traffic, etc.)

Technology is a beautiful thing and has changed the way we will live our lives and do business forever.  But is there really a net worth to being the first in the space?  Zillow (whom we work with closely and I have a huge admiration for) was the first to release the real estate iPad app.  Trulia came out next and took what Zillow could do – then upped it by incorporating amenities maps, neighborhood boundaries and pricing heat maps. (I assume) tried to be the next on the scene and released only a short month after Trulia and brought “draw your search”, review this listing and a notes function.  If I was Yahoo! or Homefinder – I would sit back, see what the adoption rate of these apps really are, glean the most useful features from them, and then if it made sense, release my own based on their $ spent in development.  (Personally… I wouldn’t develop an app, I would call Devesh at Aumnia and have him create a mobile version of my site with all the awesomeness combined of my competition!)

If you happen to be an agent (or broker) reading this post with an infinite amount of capital…  knock yourself out.  Forget what I say above and be the first on the scene and gain that street cred.  However, for those of us with limited capital and resources, I can’t encourage you enough to 1) do your research 2) figure out the cost vs. benefit scale and 3) let the competition find out what’s working – then build a better mousetrap.



  1. Great building , loc is ok.