Editor’s note: This article is Part 4 of a four-part perspective series looking at the impact of new online social media on real estate.

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

Revved up like a duce

Our industry has seen its share of runners, madman drummers, bummers and Indian-in-the-summer opinion leaders pump their way into the real estate hat for too long. They foraged in and tripped the entire real estate merry-go-round. Agents and brokers who bought into their discipline were blinded by the light of a dubious proposition: they were told they could sustain a business by capturing consumers through duplicity, cartoon branding and service techniques from a past century.

Traditional real estate was sold on the idea that its value was gatekeeping. That it should remain a closed platform. That being the center of the transaction was an entitlement and that personal branding techniques would build more value than respecting the time-tested tenets of consumer marketing.

Calliope to the ground

Once upon a time, an agent was the premiere resource for local information. Ask about schools or a neighborhood and they freely dispensed facts with the knowledge that they built their value in the marketplace by doing so. Their only obstacle in providing total service was the restriction on listings. But that never stopped Realtors from letting their clients smuggle “the book” home for a few precious days.

Then came the Internet. Even in its infancy it was about sharing. But somehow real estate went the other way. It decided to build mousetraps. Content became cheese. When the consumer bit, whack. Captured. And the mousetraps themselves: while Amazon built million-dollar technology to sell $20 books, real estate marveled at their $20 platforms to sell their million-dollar listings.

By 2005, the Web was replete with Early Purly agents driving their curly wurly business propositions to record success. They could do no wrong. If you saw the end coming and spoke aloud, you found no one voting for you in the popularity contests. Like I did.

2006: The day of reckoning. Zillow launched after Trulia’s debut in late 2005. Over time, real estate’s little calliope began crashing to the ground. What all these outside forces emerging into this industry have in common is something real estate needs — a proposition that resonates immediately with the consumer, ironically rooted in the core ethic of sharing, an ethic that used to guide real estate.

Boulder on my shoulder

I’ve watched this industry boom despite itself and now struggle because of itself. I’m watching real estate become a caricature of itself as it bellyaches over new models, its media coverage, a groundswell of consumer discontent and a narcissistic sensibility that doesn’t allow it to dig down deep, get real about its problems and reclaim its real value.

Traffic reports indicate dissatisfaction. The California Association of Realtors’ buyer/seller survey indicates 51 percent of experienced buyers and 53 percent of first-time buyers considered not using an agent. The National Association of Realtors’ recent technology survey revealed 35 percent of agents still don’t have a Web site, let alone a blog.

This boulder weighs heavy because as I see it agents and brokers have tremendous value that none of the rolling-stone preachers are teaching them to leverage: their brains. No software can reproduce that. No way can you zestify a seasoned local perspective as if it were a house value. But I do know this — technology can help leverage that perspective to a place where value can become indisputable.

I’ll turn you onto something strong

Facebook announced that it will open its platform up to third-party developers, allowing anyone to create extendable widgets for use on Facebook pages. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told a crowd of developers that the company won’t take a cut of revenues generated by the widgets: “That’s all your revenue. And it’s good for Facebook because, if you’re building great applications, it is a service to our users.”

A service to our users. That’s my point. It’s always my point. How can I help real estate make this point?

Here’s how well that point translates to Facebook:

Facebook grows 3 percent a week (700,000 new members). The fastest-growing demographic is 25 years and older — real estate’s prime candidate. It is the sixth-most-trafficked site on the Web, by some accounts. The site boasts great apps that include invites, photos and plug-ins. At the core is the “social graph” — a network of connections members use to share information.

More than 130 million American consumers weaned on the Web and empowered by contributory social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn are interacting online as effortlessly as people used to offline. This is the path real estate must take. It’s not only the safest, most conventional, inside-the-box thinking there is, but it’s the cornerstone of what real estate always was: one big social network made up of buyers, sellers, voyeurs and agents.

For the 35 percent of those who are not online, for anyone thinking that national listings should not be a part of every agent’s Web site, that blogs about your neighborhood are a waste of time or that user-generated feedback isn’t the holy grail of traffic, you are on the gurney heading off the bleeding edge and into the morgue.

Embracing the ethos of the online social network allows agents and brokers to be the type of individuals they truly are and convey the things technology can never replace — their knowledge, their penchant for sharing information about their community and their desire to help people.

Mama told you not to look into the eyes of the sun

But mama, that’s where the fun is.

Marc Davison is a national speaker and vice president of OnBoard, a real estate data provider based in New York. He can be reached at mdavison@onboardllc.com.

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