Several weeks ago I delivered a keynote address to the WCAR in Sacramento. I was asked to address prevailing fears regarding the down market and the potential threat new dot-coms pose. A simple raise of hands determined that half the audience had been practicing real estate less than 10 years. That explained half the fear. They’ve never witnessed a down market. They’ve never had to apply the skills veterans have had to hone working through trends, or at the very least, markets that were not frenzied. Their fear going forward is very real indeed.

Several weeks ago I delivered a keynote address to the WCAR in Sacramento. I was asked to address prevailing fears regarding the down market and the potential threat new dot-coms pose. A simple raise of hands determined that half the audience had been practicing real estate less than 10 years. That explained half the fear. They’ve never witnessed a down market. They’ve never had to apply the skills veterans have had to hone working through trends, or at the very least, markets that were not frenzied. Their fear going forward is very real indeed.

The other half were veterans. They’ve earned their stripes succeeding through trends. Different fears possess them. For brokers, it’s losing agents who won’t jumpstart during the slow market. For agents and brokers it’s the shift in the marketplace as consumer demand for more info, more pictures, more data, more service and more technology, challenges their bandwidth and finances. For them it’s the second round of dot-coms distilling their services. These fears are very real and were seen on every face in that room.

Fear is blinding. You spin in circles repeating failed processes. Sometimes all it takes is a facilitator to redirect a point of view and fear will evaporate. I was asked to be that facilitator. My task was to address this and motivate a path towards calm.

Calm

This sounded like a job best suited for Tony Robbins, not I. I’m anything but soothing. But Sacramento in the summer is well…reason enough to at least make an attempt. Besides, I personally don’t see what the fuss is all about. Things were good for 10 years, now they’re slow. I see that as a godsend. A break in the storm to gather up the pieces left unattended during the frantic times and batten the hatches for the next frenzy.

As for the dot-coms, to me they’re like the North Star — a beacon pointing the way when you’re lost. Zillow isn’t anything to fear. They’re showing us how to better connect with consumers. They show us the importance of an immediate and unencumbered result. As for finances, well I come from a different school of thought on that. When an agent tells me that spending $600 on new technology to upgrade his or her service is expensive I think to myself, no…a $68,000 commission is expensive. A $600 purchase is an investment, a path towards another big commission.

When it comes right down to it, there is nothing to fear except what you don’t know, don’t understand or remain stubborn on.

Rewind the tape

During my talk I asked the group to roll back time to 1995, that precarious moment book-ended by 100 years of tradition and a looming unknown. I asked the crowd to erase all knowledge of the past decade and imagine it was 1995 and I am on this podium offering the following predictions:

  • A real estate news site would launch delivering free daily real estate news via e-mail to tens of thousands of Realtors.

  • Realtors would spend a collective $100 million-plus on Internet technology and multiple Web sites.

  • Something called IDX will convert MLS listings to a publicly viewed service that will deliver listings to consumers for free via e-mail.

  • The Justice Department will sue NAR.

  • An auction Web site will emerge specializing in Pez dispensers and collectible stuffed animals. They will successfully auction real estate as well.

  • A Web site will one day allow consumers to view properties from space.

  • A new word will be added to the dictionary: Zestimate (Zes-ta-mit); its translation – a free and inaccurate house value. The Web site that delivers this service will become the most trafficked site in real estate.

  • A company offering lowered commissions by agents zipping around in reissued Beetles would raise $51 million in an IPO and grow to become the most trafficked brokerage in real estate.

  • 1 in 52 adult residents in California would possess a real estate license.

  • A highly trafficked FSBO Web site will be purchased by a newspaper company.

Laughter followed each prediction culminating in a final round of applause. A distinctly different emotion would have occurred had this really been 1995. A fiery stake would have me tied to it burning in heretical effigy. Their levity was a good sign. I asked the crowd to carry that ease into phase two of my speech: 26 predictions for the next 10 years.

26 Predictions

I won’t list the predictions, but they included products, services and ideas not yet invented. One in particular made the crowd uneasy:

Prediction #11: “A Web site service will emerge that encourages homeowners to post homes on the Web that aren’t for sale.” Uneasiness quivered in the air like heat gyrating off hot asphalt. Why would homeowners post a not-for-sale home? Well I suppose if millions of people can post their entire lives on craigslist and MySpace why not post a home? Is it so farfetched to see what possible offers may come in from the marketplace? If that’s hard to grapple, what if these homes were placed on individual homeowner Web sites surrounded by paid-for advertising? Brings me to another prediction: In the future, real estate professionals will pay homeowners to market their services on these Internet listing pages.

Innovation has no borders

Yesterday, I learned about http://iggo.fi. It’s located in Finland. The site, for those who cannot read Finnish, allows prospective buyers to post online offers to buy any property albeit for sale or not. To make this process easy, the company photographed every home in Helsinki. The Web site combines property photographs with satellite images and maps. Finland never registered as a country with a booming real estate market but innovation truly has no borders.

This is not about “I told you so.” That’s not me. Frankly all of my predictions were amassed from particles already in the air. Trust me, there’s no Nostradamus happening on this end. What this is about is how fear can either grip you into submission or motivate you into action. If it’s the latter, then let fear be your friend. If you are defiant, let fear defy tradition and motivate you towards innovation. If fear makes you defensive, fold your arms in defiance of rehashed conventional wisdom and hand-me-down practices. Not outside-the-box thinking. Let fear release the winner in you. Read Guy Kawasaki. Break the rules. Every one of them. That will intrigue the consumer like you cannot imagine.

The Year is 2016

Unthinkable ideas are about to emerge. History says these ideas will come from outside our industry. History says fear inside the industry will fester. Let’s learn from that. A few weeks ago I challenged several hundred traditionalists in Sacramento to shed their fears and amass a new constitution that began with 26 possibilities. I asked that hundreds more be added. That’s just a start. With 2 million members of an industry participating, what a decade this next one could be if everyone unfolded their arms and embraced forward thinking.

In 2016 I’m going to be speaking somewhere. A hologram will project onto the floor beamed out from my Google transmitter, which is also my phone, my computer, my GPS, my stereo, my remote car starter and my espresso maker. I’m going to ask the crowd to roll back to 2006. What I hope to show them is a time when real estate was perched midway through a decade book ended with 110 years of tradition behind them and a looming future in front.

I’ll then remind them of the leap they took, the old ideologies they discarded and the changes they made to an industry that made the decade before seem like child’s play. I’ll remind them of the amazing new services they unfolded, the changes to the commission structures and how they competed with the dot-coms with their own cool service propositions.

I’ll conclude by applauding them for wooing a disenfranchised consumer back from the brink. I’ll praise the real estate brands that grew to become Love Marks. I’ll wrap up with how a 110-year-old tradition reinvented itself and conquered a new generation of consumers.

And then, when I’m done, I’ll press my Google device and beam home, avoiding the horrors of air travel.

Marc Davison is vice president of OnBoard, a real estate data provider based in New York. Davison previously served as vice president of VREO, a provider of electronic signature and Web site software for the real estate industry.

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