NEW YORK — A lot is happening in Flipperland – the home buyer I’m repping wants to put in a $2 million offer, and I hit an inflection point with my partners.

But you’ll have to wait a week for those stories, because everyone (including me) is in the middle of Real Estate Connect, a three-day conference at the Marriott in Times Square.

And, you know, it’s a conference – there are panels and networking and give-away pens and everyone is starting to run out of business cards and it’s all very fun (excepting the 8 a.m. start time).

In the middle of this swirl, it looks like the Internet is going to take over the universe. You’ve got people from this dot-com and that dot-com. Rich Barton of Zillow is here, he’s got $32 million and 75 employees, no one even knows what he does yet. (Doesn’t that smack of the early ’90s? He quoted one of his friends as saying, “it’s a pity you have to launch in beta.”)

I talked to a lot of brokers about this, and Sally Daley of said it best: in this new world, how do we defend our commission?

Traditionally, brokers got 6 percent because we provided a marketplace. That’s certainly changed; you can sell off craigslist now. So now brokers are trying to add value as “negotiators” and “counselors.” It’s the consigliere model, if you will.

But that vision of adding value through a high level of personal service seems at odds with a world where people don’t have face-to-face meetings anymore. How do I convince you you need me, not just anyone, but ME, if all I am to you is a reply to your e-mails?

And I worry most about where this leaves women. Real estate sales has traditionally been a good field for women – maybe it plays to traditional feminine strengths of being empathetic and nurturing, I don’t know.

In a world where technology allows for less personal contact, does that advantage evaporate?

Also, if the business restructures so that it’s more about management and less about selling, does that block women from being able to get good seats at the table? These tech-friendly whiz-bang gadgets impress me as much as the next person, but I think of the Silicon Valley gangs as the boys of summer. The only techie female manager I can think of is the co-founder of Zipcar, and she’s out of the company already.

Let me give you some real-estate industry examples (and I’m sure these are incomplete, so please write me with others.)

Cendant, the parent company of NRT, is an old-school corporation. Franchises that trace back to Cendant sell one out of every four single-family homes in the U.S. The company has $7 billion of real estate and related revenue, and five of its 16 directors are women.

Google, founded in 1998, is a new-school corporation that is changing the way real estate is presented (if only because everyone who had founded a Web site in the mid-1990s now has to worry constantly about their Google score.) It has $3.1 billion in revenue (I’m using year-end 2004 figures because 2005 isn’t out yet) and none of its 9 directors is a woman.

Inman’s 100 most influential people in real estate has plenty of super saleswomen:  Dottie Herman’s the CEO of Prudential Douglas Elliman; Barbara Corcoran founded the Corcoran group; Shari Chase founded and runs Chase International. But of the 23 people highlighted in the Inman list’s “real estate and technology” category, none are women.

I don’t know what the answer is: Start a Chicks-Only Internet Club? Send John Doerr pink roses? But it is a challenge to be aware of – in 2006, to become adept at the tech while still retaining the personal touch.


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