Once upon a time, you "walked in" for real estate services. A pleasant face greeted you. You had questions; helpful people had answers.

It was simple, friendly, and it worked.

You called, someone answered. You were handled, not routed through some invisible air traffic system waiting for a faceless controller to pick you up a day later with a response.

The Realtor was once a servant, performing the heavy lifting and attending to the smallest details. Making sense of things.

Once upon a time, you "walked in" for real estate services. A pleasant face greeted you. You had questions; helpful people had answers.

It was simple, friendly, and it worked.

You called, someone answered. You were handled, not routed through some invisible air traffic system waiting for a faceless controller to pick you up a day later with a response.

The Realtor was once a servant, performing the heavy lifting and attending to the smallest details. Making sense of things.

Clients were afforded the luxury of being serviced. They were unencumbered by the minutia of the process.

When I was young we spent time huddled around the kitchen table — eating, talking, dreaming.

Back then, the only box we all stared into was the Ebinger’s cake box, pale green with brown crosshatching. We craved its contents — sweet and addictive.

In these happy golden days of yore, the customer was king — even though they weren’t "empowered."

If you think consumers are truly empowered today, you are clinging to fantasy

Enter the local yogurt shop. Pick your Styrofoam cup. Pour your own yogurt. Choose and apply your own toppings. The only visible and meaningful exchange between you and the service person is experienced at the cash register.

Fast food. Self service.

Today, you enter real estate the same way. Pick your Styrofoam Web site. Pour your own flavor of search. Apply your own data, sign up, log in, drag, drop, join, calculate and map out your real estate treat. The only visible and meaningful exchange between you and the service person is experienced at the real estate cash register.

Fast food real estate. Self service.

We have all this technology — amazing feats of invention. But if you think leaving it in the hands of the consumer is empowering, you are clinging to fantasy.

The power I see

Technology can be empowering. But what happens when those who license and present it to the consumer are incapable of adding to it the nuance of expertise, the touch of service?

What happens when they have no aptitude for integrating it into a cohesive experience?

What happens when the professional skims the surface of technology, takes the cheap route and makes technology an Achilles heel when it should be a strength?

I’ll tell you what happens. You lose control of your business. You end up with a wary consumer who doesn’t know what to do or who to trust. You end up having your entire value proposition eviscerated by outsiders, your carcass picked apart by squawking crows on the trash-strewn shoulder of your industry.

How empowering is that?

Technology is amazing if used right. If misguided, though, you end up selling your brand down a dry river bed littered with crappy Web sites, crappy search functions and a workforce of spoiled agents who don’t want to work — or even know what work to do.

Empowerment is not conning yourself itself into believing consumers want to do everything themselves. Empowerment sunk when real estate began believing the consumer would have no issue paying top dollar for the privilege of serving themselves.

Where’s mom when you need her?

Today, we all gather around the same dining table. We still dream, talk and wonder about our next homes. The box we all stare into is equally as alluring as the old Ebinger’s. Its contents are just as sweet and addictive. It is filled with empowerment and promise.

What would be incredibly empowering is if real estate started to leverage its contents better. Serve it up like mom used to. She knew exactly when and how. And she was always there when you needed her.

That’s what real estate needs now more than ever.

Marc Davison is a partner at 1000watt Consulting. He can be reached at marc@1000wattconsulting.com.

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