A long, long time ago I can still remember the tools used to practice real estate. A legal pad, Selectric, Bic Clicks, an MLS book and a poodle. The most pressing expense was the dog food.

Times changed. PCs replaced typewriters. Bics were replaced by convention giveaways. MLSs went digital. Alpo was replaced by designer kibble.

Moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone

Between 1996 and 2006, homes sold before yard signs stabbed the front lawn. The first wave of dot-coms ushered consumers onto the Web. The nickels Realtors invested into Web sites returned hundreds of millions of dimes in commissions.

During that decade rookie agents joined brokerages for a $75-a-month desk fee and sold homes to friends and family who in turn got licensed and became part of the growing real estate debris littering the fertile market.

Life was great.
Moss grew fat on a rollin’ stone.
As with all good things, the end loomed.

The day the music died

In 1966, Cream emerged as rock’s first super group. Many followed. The combined revenue from albums, concerts and swag enticed outside entities.

The years passed. Dozens of major indie labels conglomerated into the current Big Four: Universal, EMI, SONY and WEA. Men with “ears” who discovered, developed and produced art were replaced by Harvard lawyers and Yale bean counters that produced musical fast food.

Consumers were ignored.
Artist development ceased.
The day of great music died.

Real estate followed a similar trajectory. It had its own specialists signed to its version of indie-label brokerages. But home equity rose. Revenues from transactions amassed. Million-dollar clubs ensued. Indie companies were bought up and conglomerated into the Big Four real estate corporations. The business lost its ear for talent, for development. It was all about recruitment. New agents funneled into the system, many of them talentless, unskilled, just transacting volume.

The consumer was ignored.
Volume replaced innovation.
Bubbles burst.

With the jester on the sidelines in a cast

In 1999, the music industry’s brakes squealed. Many of its cars Amtraked. Debris flung in all directions. Eight miles high and falling fast.

Eight years later, real estate’s bird flew off with no fallout shelter. Its debris: the unskilled agent, the boiler room brokerages and the computer illiterate all landing foul on the grass. They have no sales, no listings and no funds left to invest in building their business. In many ways, they appear to many simply as jesters lying on the sidelines in a cast posing with their poodles.

However, there are some who view things differently. They see this industry as more alive than ever.

The players try to take the field

Following the trajectory of the music industry as a precursor to real estate we find that in the late ’90s interlopers like BearShare, Gnutella, Napster, Kaaza and Limewire, all built by disenfranchised music consumers decided to usurp the labels and deliver their perception of value. The message they sent to the conglomerates spoke volumes about a global shift in the marketplace. The marching band of record labels refused to yield. They sued. The more they litigated the more publicity they created and the more popular the new entrants became.

The conglomerates never considered joining forces, but instead acquired and built new services of their own. They fought to protect a traditional turf that few wanted to play on.

Do you recall what was revealed the day the music industry died?

A monster sprung from the shadows.
Devoured the pie.
Apple iTunes

Is there a monster lurking in real estate? Are there interlopers who have engaged this industry with the same desire — to deliver a value set not offered by that status quo? You bet there is. And all of them are members in the 2.0 fitness center. They’re lean, mean and buff, and consumer-centric. Many conglomerates never consider joining forces, acquiring or building equivalent services of their own. They ban, sue, rant, rave and shout unfair.

I offer all these analogies because that approach never works regardless of the vertical. You cannot stop progress. Not when the masses are pushing it.

New players have taken the field. Their marching bands refusing to yield.

Drove the Chevy to the levee and the levee was dry

A long, long time ago, a few simple items purchased in a stationary store sustained a lifetime of real estate practice. Today a furious tide of change washes over those sand castles of tradition.

The tide recedes.
The castles flatten.
You build a new one.

You don’t stare at the washed up castle and will it back up again.

It’s still anyone’s game.

What would a real estate Napster look like? Or a Realpod? The answer is in the minds of 18-year-olds texting each other today in Business 101. They represent your future customer. Join them and go build your own great interface to connect with them.

The music labels ignored the consumer.
Today, their levees are dry.
That’s their epitaph. Let it not be yours.

Marc Davison is a national speaker and 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. He can be reached at mdavison@onboardllc.com.

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