NEW YORK – Alas, we’ve entered the age of user-generated content on the Web: blogs, message boards, online communities, classified services, social bookmarking. And the change is beginning to be felt in real estate.
Ten years ago most people used the Internet to find information, but very few people actually posted things themselves, Rich Barton, CEO of Zillow.com, pointed out during a panel discussion Friday morning at Real Estate Connect.
But today, more people are leaning in and typing, participating in newsgroups and message boards, creating their own blogs, and sharing news stories and links through social bookmarking services like Digg and Delicious.
“Instead of everyone kind of observing the Web, they are contributing to the Web,” said Barton, whose Seattle real estate startup has not yet launched.
Barton and others discussed what the real estate industry looks like from the outside. He fielded questions about Zillow, which has everyone watching and talking. Barton in a previous interview said there’s a feeling in the industry that something big is about to happen and he thinks that feeling has something to do with all the attention his company is getting.
“It’s going to be provocative, but we’re not going to be an agent,” he said Friday morning. Barton feels that industry professionals are long-term, and if Zillow succeeds, “all the brokers and Realtors in this room will be utilizing Zillow.”
Zillow will be consumer-focused and use an advertising-driven model, he said, pointing to the serious shift in successful advertising on the Web. Keyword advertising on search engines, for example, has enabled people to buy advertising words and get business from it.
Barton created the online travel service Expedia in the ’90s before it was sold to Barry Diller’s InterActiveCorp, which later spun off the company on its own again. He talked about some similarities between travel, real estate and the stock market, saying each industry is a very large business and each is characterized by the speed of changing data.
“In each of these businesses, you didn’t have to scratch far into the pool to find consumer frustration,” Barton said.
“We see in real estate right now customers are beginning to take control and habits will start to change,” he said. Barton noted a California Association of Realtors study that showed a person using the Internet to research homes spends just under two weeks on average with a Realtor before entering a transaction, while the traditional buyer not using the Web spent about seven weeks with an agent.
“Consumer behavior has changed and the business model has not changed,” Barton said, adding that this will change.
Buyers today show up to see an agent with a list of houses they want to see, Barton said. “When someone shows up with a printout you need to be thinking aggressively about what your business relationship will be.”
He predicts that as the Web becomes more of an information-sharing database, “new kinds of arrangements will emerge” and the current commission umbrella will begin to fragment in real estate.
“We don’t presume to have it figured out,” he said, but he does predict a wave of innovation ahead.
Barton also said that Zillow would launch in beta before the next Inman News conference in July.
Craig Newmark, founder and customer service representative for craigslist, talked about how brokers use craigslist to list properties and find buyers. “People used to predict disintermediation (caused by the Internet) … but if you add value we need you.”
Craigslist, an online community that includes local sites for cities around the globe, is an example of a user-generated content Web site. The site includes classifieds and message boards where people can connect with each other, sell stuff, find an apartment, and find a job.
Newmark recently sold and bought a new house and used a broker in both transactions. “A good broker of any sort adds value,” he said.
Another way users are involved in content on craigslist is by policing other users. For instance, users can flag listings when they feel someone is abusing the service.
Lockhart Steele, publisher of Curbed.com, a real estate blog that launched in New York in 2004, commented on how brokers are becoming more involved in the conversations that take place on Curbed.
“The biggest trend I’m excited about is getting people into this (blogging) community,” Steele said.
Buying a house or an apartment is a scary decision, he said, and the Web gives people a place to talk about it. “My view of the real estate market is it’s crazy, it’s wild … and everyone wants to talk about these things.
“A lot of what happens on blogs and these communities gives people the chance to talk about this stuff.”
Tony Lee, publisher of the Wall Street Journal‘s RealEstateJournal.com, also talked about end-user participation in online discussions on his company’s site.
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