Editor’s note: This article is Part 1 of a four-part perspective series looking at the impact of new online social media on real estate. See Part 2, “Out of the box and into the ditch“; Part 3, “Real estate and social media spark bright future“; and Part 4, “Blinded by the light.”

The time for argument has passed. There’s too much at stake. Consumers need professional experts, and professional experts need consumers.

Simple. A perfect match. So you would think.

While some real estate traditionalists are moving towards new online platforms in hopes of connecting to consumers, the majority still recoil from the light. They’re still sending brownie recipes in drip campaigns to consumers they’ve “captured.”

Inman News recently published a three-part series on social media and real estate, offering insight into what’s unfolding on the Web. Some of the sources said that participation in this new trend should be a part of your business plan. I believe it needs to be the plan.

Psychology of a Network

A midsummer’s night in the Bronx. Twenty thousand rabid individuals pile into “The House that Ruth Built.” As they push through the turnstiles, they become one. That phenomenon now takes place online in places like MySpace, LinkedIn, FaceBook, Xanga, ActiveRain and hundreds of others. We’re shedding individuality and merging with the tribe.

Internet companies have learned to regulate and extract value from these tribes. Each site has its own mechanism. Feedback was eBay’s. An individual might be an ass offline, but on eBay, he’s an “A1+! will do business with again” guy. Stray, you get reprimanded. Persist and you’re banned.

Trust and altruism mark these networks. Take this U2 forum built around the technical sound and equipment of the band U2. Last year I posted a request for a particular piece of recording equipment. A fellow member in Belgium built and shipped it for half his retail price. Chances are slim he and I will ever meet face to face.

How does this pertain to real estate? It doesn’t. Yet.

Real Estate’s Adult Friend Finder

Social networks work because they’re filled with people who share something — or want to. Adult Friend Finder is a top-ranked site offering the simplest of services: connecting adults who want to have unrestricted sexual relationships with strangers. The site is far more active than Match.com or e-Harmony because the latter two cater to complex sets of behaviors and expectations. Having no-strings-attached sex with strangers is essentially simple, one-dimensional and, as its membership goes, fairly common.

Real estate at its core is also relatively simple. People want to have unrestricted online access to information about homes, communities and schools and relationships with the strangers who provide it. If an Adult Real Estate Friend Finder existed, members wouldn’t stay strangers very long.

Industry traditionalists will roll their eyes. But buyers and sellers — the human, social creatures often referred to as “leads” — would flock to this in seconds. The reason this doesn’t exist is because too many in real estate still want to capture, imprison and drip torture.

One good agent

EBay transacts 4.4 million sales a day between total strangers. Local agents known in their community can’t get someone to fill out a form on their Web site. Here’s why:

Real estate professionals garner little respect from the masses worldwide. Blogs such as The Salt Lake City Blog and bigger operations like Harris Interactive and the BBC Poll show that agents rank at the bottom of most respected professionals list or at the top of lists of the least respected.

According to Littlepinkhouses.com a Realtor-operated blog, the reasons are varied. Most point to perceptions based on misinformation. But it’s hard to question these perceptions when you see the scores of agents who “go the extra mile” on Web sites that don’t have a footstep’s worth of investment, innovation or value.

Everyone amazingly seems to have the one agent they trust. I do, and I swear by him. Add up everyone with a trusted agent and you get a lot of people with a lot of trusted agents that have no means of meeting online and sharing that information with others.

What eludes many traditionalists is that transparent, nonintrusive, totally passive platforms driven by voluntary contributions from network members now make the opinions of strangers more trustworthy than those of experts. The longer real estate companies delay in altering Web sites that offer little transparency, no interactivity and nothing that feels contributory or altruistic, the more they will continue to alienate the next wave of younger consumers.

The future is so bright, I gotta wear shades

For me, the future is blinding. Why? Because letting go and doing the right thing is really pretty simple — and smart. There are tens of millions of people who are already influenced by the networks they belong to. These people are your current clients. They are your future clients.

If you’re tied to the apron strings of a traditional guru who believes this all will pass, cut the chord. Yank off the apron. You’ll probably have to call them on their cell phones and say goodbye because they won’t be checking their e-mail.

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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