Kass owns the best local pastry spot in my town. He employs only Dutch bakers — young men with work visas who spend a year under his tutelage then return to Holland and pass the baker’s baton to the next crew.
When he was younger, Kass came here on his own baker’s visa. He decided to stay and pursue an American dream. He took ownership of this bakery four years ago. He immediately gutted the place and remodeled — new showcases, menus. He took the quality of pastry up 10 notches. With two Starbucks within blocks, he knew he had to differentiate.
Now, daily lines form that extend out the front door. On Sundays, musicians are paid $75 to play for patrons. Friday nights, people fill his empty parking lot. Armed with lawn chairs and coffee they carry out from the bakery, people camp out for a while as a projectionist beams a film onto to the side of the Staples building 100 yards away.
This place is my second office. I come here for inspiration. Free wireless access allows me to work for hours in the open morning air. I’m inspired by the shop’s clear notion of what its mission is. Kass doesn’t skimp on anything. He serves Peet’s coffee. Makes everything from scratch. Every employee is competent and cool.
I always find my muse to the clip-clop beat of Kass’s wooden clogs.
I know I wax poetic about Web 2.0 and real estate, but I also like to challenge my assumptions. This morning, I chose that undertaking.
Millions frenetically Twitter. Miles of lines formed for iPhones. Elsewhere, outside of real estate, ideas bloom, crowds amass and habits change. Applications are adopted by millions. Concentrate hard enough and at certain times you can feel the tremor of history in the making. But inside our industry, one can argue that the big story in online real estate at 2007’s mid-point is, after all is said and done, one long and winding non sequitur.
I’m hoping for a runaway app, but right now things seem adrift. Ideas, companies and executives that glistened in the sun of their bright mornings look slightly wilted at midday. Sites like Backfence, YourStreet and StreetAdvisor are either dying, dormant or vacant. Tens of thousands of agent blogs float around the Web like barren meteors visited only by their authors and an occasional space mite. Most practitioners — save for a few ubiquitous, smiling thumbnails — seem more interested in talking to themselves than the consumer.
Where’s the hit app with substance that truly ignites consumers’ desires for a better real estate experience? Or the one that becomes the cannot-do-without tool brokers and agents come to rely on as steadfastly as the MLS? All I see are fragments spread out here and there shape-shifting in an effort to make something work.
Green Eggs and Ham
We had high hopes in 2006. VCs were wiring money to outsiders with great ideas and A-list executive teams. Zillow was the Mac Daddy. It entered with a bang just as the market started to tank and helped roust the industry from its multiple-offer-induced stupor. For the first three months, “Zestimate” was used more frequently than the word “Macchiato.”
But what of it? The Zestimate is fun but in the end it’s just Green Eggs and Ham — a great story you read over and over, and then you put the kids to bed.
Kass’s place is called Utopia. This place is a conclusion that truly does follow from its premise. Stop in sometime and you’ll get a sense Sir Thomas Moore would approve.
A few tables away from me two local agents are having breakfast. We know each other well. It’s funny to me that we’ve never discussed the “industry” together. They’ve never once referred to Zillow. Neither of them blog. Mention any name from Inman’s 100 most important people in real estate list and they might know three of them.
Of the two, one still relies on cold-calling as his main source of business. He’s one of the area’s top earners. He’s about to leave for a nine-month vacation. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have a Web site. The other is as busy as ever doing real estate exactly as it was done before the Big Bang.
After a speech I gave earlier in the week about Web 2.0 and its application to real estate, a top producer explained how buying ads on shopping carts has been his best lead-generation move ever. I had no response for that. It was an awkward moment for me.
Over my half-eaten morning bun I’m wondering if real estate will ever change. If, like Kass, it can enter a new world and create its own version of utopia. Maybe I’m too impatient. But I am still waiting for online real estate’s web 2.0 killer app.
I’m hoping I’ll discover it in a few weeks at Real Estate Connect.