I would like to discuss three seemingly insignificant things that I believe most people haven’t paid much attention to, but contain the seeds of enormous change.

The first seed is Google Android, which just released the 2.0 version, marketed primarily on the explosively popular Verizon Droid phone by Motorola. As I am one of 100,000 to 300,000 estimated buyers of the Droid in the first week of release, I’ve personally had the opportunity to play with the phone quite a bit.

I would like to discuss three seemingly insignificant things that I believe most people haven’t paid much attention to, but contain the seeds of enormous change.

Android

The first seed is Google Android, which just released the 2.0 version, marketed primarily on the explosively popular Verizon Droid phone by Motorola. As I am one of 100,000 to 300,000 estimated buyers of the Droid in the first week of release, I’ve personally had the opportunity to play with the phone quite a bit.

As a smartphone, Droid leaves much to be desired. It isn’t as slick as the iPhone, and the keyboard pales beside the Blackberry. But I didn’t buy the Droid for those things alone … I bought the Droid because of Google Navigation. I can personally testify that Google Navigation is indeed all that and a bag of chips. I decided not to buy a GPS device after trying out Google Navigation on the Droid a few times.

Standing alone, Google Navigation on the Android isn’t a big deal. But herein lies the seeds of something truly significant.

First, as Google is so happy to tout, Google Navigation is always connected to the "cloud." An Android phone has access to the traditional search of Google, the satellite and Street View photos from Google Maps, real-time traffic information, and business listings data. Click here to watch a promotional video.

That voice-activated search actually works. I drove from my house to the Borgata in Atlantic City by saying, "Borgata hotel in Atlantic City" and the phone found it, then gave me turn-by-turn directions to the place.

Second, Google has recently launched Real Estate Place Pages. From the announcement: "Recently, some of us have been working on a particularly interesting project that combines Google Maps and search technology — we’ve been trying to work out if your search query in Google Maps means you’re interested in having current real estate listings returned to you. It’s nice to get to work on some ‘search’ engineering down here!"

The significant phrase there is "Google Maps" — the same Google Maps that powers the Android Google Navigation.

I wrote a few weeks ago on my Notorious R.O.B. blog that the future of mobile in real estate is in business-to-business rather than in business-to-consumer.

The primary reason was the divide between those who walk and those who drive. Those who drive simply don’t (or shouldn’t) use their mobile phones to search for houses while going 45 mph.

The Android and Google Navigation could change that. I can easily imagine a scenario where Droid users driving around just say into their phone, "Find me houses for sale around here," and get a little tour of homes for sale with a turn-by-turn GPS guidance system. And since the Android phones are always connected to the "cloud," listings data, contact information and all other relevant information could be delivered right to the phone. …CONTINUED

Watch for developments on the Android and on Google Navigation. This could be the acorn that grows to be a mighty oak.

Houselogic.com

I wrote about Houselogic.com in an earlier Inman column. And without nitpicking, I really can’t find anything substantially wrong with Houselogic.com.

Because its release coincided with the big news about the Realtors Property Resource (RPR), Houselogic.com never really made the industry’s collective awareness. Both are significant, but Houselogic.com really does have the potential to change everything.

I wrote in my earlier column: "The long-range implications of such a move are staggering. If (the National Association of Realtors) is successful in organizing, activating and then mobilizing even a small fraction of American homeowners, its influence at all levels of government would go from powerful to nearly irresistible."

I haven’t seen too many people thinking about what this means strategically. So let me lay it out even more clearly.

A lot of people in the "RE.net" and within the industry think of NAR as some sort of a quasi-governmental power that controls Realtors with the Code of Ethics, rules of conduct, and various policies governing associations and multiple listing services.

While NAR does do those things as well, too often people ignore the simple fact that NAR’s most important mission is to be a lobbying organization for Realtors.

The recent $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit, which made 2009 a passably decent year for many Realtors, had the hand of NAR behind it.

The extension of the homebuyer tax credit passed the Senate by a vote of 85-2. Think about that for a moment: Our extraordinarily divided Senate — the most partisan it has been in decades, with Republicans criticizing the Obama administration and Democrats’ spending plans — passed a subsidy to homebuyers (folks who aren’t exactly struggling to make ends meet) by a vote of 85-2.

Do you doubt that NAR’s powerful lobbying organization was working hard behind the scenes?

Of all of the initiatives that NAR has undertaken in recent years, Houselogic.com is the only one designed to increase NAR’s political power. If it is successful, then a lot of the fears and concerns about the impact of technology on the role of the Realtor goes away. In this area, politics trumps the market. …CONTINUED

Perhaps more than anything else that happened in 2009, NAR’s actions in the political arena will determine the fate of real estate professionals for decades to come.

Data analytics

There is no doubt that RPR made news in 2009, but most of the talk was over the gorgeous user interface, wrangling over who owns what and who pays whom, and so forth. Little discussed in all of the hoopla was the seed that fell from the RPR tree into the industry about the role of data analytics.

Whether RPR is ultimately successful or not, I believe that data analytics and data monetization are both here to stay within the real estate industry. It isn’t clear who the big players will be, but the downstream effects will likely create a sea change in the role of a Realtor. This won’t happen in 2010; it may not happen for a few years, but the seed has been planted.

One of the continuous struggles for real estate agents is whether they are knowledge workers who happen to provide customer service, or customer care providers who happen to know things. The pat answer that they are both is a cop-out, since it doesn’t address which aspect is more important.

Data analytics, if the field advances sufficiently over the next few years, will swing the pendulum decisively toward "customer service." This has already happened in finance with stockbrokers — they do very little knowledge work, as the various market analysts do that work. They take that information and provide customer service to their clientele.

Hidden within the current vision for data analytics in real estate — still in the very early stages — is the idea that someone (or a group of people) with expertise in economics, data analysis and market forecasting will emerge to provide best-of-breed market information to Realtors.

While this idea perhaps isn’t new, what is new is the scale of the operation, and the size of the players involved. NAR, LPS Real Estate Group, various MLSs — these are large entities with significant power within the industry.

If they start to move the data analytics ball forward, and provide ever-increasing quality of information and reports to brokers and agents, the long-term effects of such a change could be significant.

Good morning, 2010!

On a personal note, 2009 was a year of incredible change for me personally and professionally. One of the more interesting has been the opportunity to bring this column to all of you this year. I’d like to thank all of you for wading through veritable rivers of words week after week, and sometimes even commenting. It is from all of you that I learn something new every week, and it is a privilege to be able to have these conversations with you all.

Robert Hahn is managing partner of 7DS Associates, a marketing, technology and strategy consultancy focusing on the real estate industry. He is also founder of The Notorious R.O.B. blog. You can reach him on Twitter at @robhahn.

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