I had a very interesting conversation with a large Midwestern brokerage a few weeks ago.

Their lead volume had dropped off the table and was on a seemingly irreversible downward trajectory. They’d done their analyses, tweaked things, tested things — all to no avail. It was a mystery.

Or was it?

Together, we dug a bit deeper. What we found should not come as much of a shock to anyone who’s followed this blog for the last couple of years.

It wasn’t that they weren’t generating leads. Their conversion rates were still good. It’s just that a good chunk of their Web traffic had disappeared entirely. The suspicion voiced by the brokerage, which I confirmed, was that these people had all shifted their search activity to mobile.

In practice, this means they are using either the Zillow, Trulia or Redfin apps.

The enormous, inexorable shift to smartphones as our primary computing devices means, increasingly, that the Web is being left behind.

Think about it for a second. How much time do you spend in your Safari app or Chrome app on your phone, versus the amount of time you spend inside Facebook’s app, or Twitter’s app or Yelp’s app, or whatever? You get the picture.

Now apply that behavior to several million active real estate consumers. It’s today’s reality.

Zillow’s CEO Spencer Rascoff has been banging this drum relentlessly for the last couple of years as well. He’s right. Zillow is now a mobile company. I strongly suspect Redfin thinks of itself as a “mobile first” company, too.

But I’m not sure many brokerages think of themselves as being mobile businesses.

Nor should they, in my opinion.

The great leveler that was the World Wide Web, where an agent or broker with a WordPress site could go head to head with a Web portal in the search results, is going to be a fond memory of the Golden Years of Real Estate 2.0.

This frame of mind puts a couple of recent announcements from NAR in perspective:

Consider first their announcement of $5 IDX websites for all members. This feels to me a little like free bobbleheads being handed out at a baseball game. IDX websites for agents have reached commodity status and are barely worth the code they are written in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that an agent or broker isn’t going to need a presence on the Internet. I just think the underlying reasons why are shifting. In the years to come it will no longer be about trying to present a deep property search to compete with the portals; rather, it might a decision-support tool for consumers researching an agent or company or market online. Or, perhaps, a hi-def display of a brokerage’s own listings free from the blurry mess of MLS photos.

Highly targeted microsites around lifestyles or neighborhoods — like the one we built recently for Partners Trust — will become a much more effective use of limited resources. And consumer reviews will be front and center.

Second, there was the NAR MLS Policy Committee’s decision to allow brokers the ability to display up to three years’ worth of sold data and finally be able to commingle IDX results into a single experience. Great. While I applaud the decision … talk about fighting the last generation’s war. Too little, too late. This all should have been decided years ago. The mobile train has already left the station, and the portals have largely gobbled up all the available track. Choo-choo!

Bottom line, the market now values IDX near $0 and IDX policy has shifted to where it should have been 10 years ago.

So what’s the play here?

I think it’s pretty simple. First, work with the portals to make sure you stay in front of their consumer eyeballs on mobile. I know this opinion isn’t going to win me a lot of friends, but trust me when I say they are doing you a favor by tackling the mobile question.

Take one look at these images of Android device sizes and tell me if you have any idea how you’d try to tackle it. Sure, there’s the mobile Web, and you’ve got to nail that, but as I point out above, consumers are largely in native app land.

Couple this with a growing iOS ecosystem, and a small but dedicated Windows Mobile user base, and simply stroking ZTR a check to get some featured listings on their apps starts to look pretty good. Negotiate hard on price and terms. Watch them like a hawk. If you don’t like something, walk. But you’ve got to account for this audience. And let them do the heavy lifting.

Second, get creative. The fact that you don’t have to worry about property search anymore means your website can be so many more things!

Let’s face it: IDX was an anchor that pulled everyone down to the same level.

Free yourself from the chains and now you can compete using your creativity, ingenuity and imagination to create meaningful differentiators for your brand online.

Have fun with it. Try new things.

And let’s all celebrate IDX’s quiet demise and move on.

Joel Burslem is with 1000watt, a marketing, design and strategy firm focused on real estate. Reposted with permission from 1000watt blog.

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