Just as with television, parallel paths are shaping up for the consumer when it comes to buying and selling a house — the old way and the new way.

I cut the cord today. No more cable television. Liberated.

Cable boxes

Courtesy of Brad Inman. Pic of cable boxes ready to be shipped to AT&T.

I just bought a new house, so the timing was perfect — the end of a nightmare.

Because buying the house was not an effervescent experience, more like a bad road trip.

It made me want to cut the cord on that process the next time I buy or sell a house. Yes, professional real estate people helped make my deal happen, not unlike the sincere cable installation guy or the sympathetic customer service rep at AT&T. But like the cable industry, the real estate process remains opaque, arcane, tedious, protracted and unnecessarily complicated, with someone else always to blame.

Realtors are the designated project managers for this mess

Bravo for that, but that does not preclude working hard to clean up the messy process.

One point of tension is the communication around accessing the house. From my latest home purchase experience,  I had to call my Realtor, who had to text the seller’s agent, who was on a plane, who, when he landed, had to call his assistant, who had to call my Realtor, to arrange for me to see the house and be present. Repeat a couple of times = insanity. Well-intended Realtors doing their job, the same old way as they always have.

This was as maddening as being passed around — after a 15-minute hold — from a Comcast phone service rep to the “loyalty department” to the “bundle offer” woman.

The decision to cut the cable cord was easy because of the new alternatives made available by the likes of Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. That was impossible 10 years ago, and unlikely as recently as five.

Apple TV

Apple TV

The good news for real estate

When selling and even buying a house, many consumers will soon be able to cut the cord on the old ways. From impossible to unlikely to inevitable, it’s coming.

Take the problem of accessing a house, both during the house hunt and when there’s a signed offer in hand. A new way is emerging, instant home tours are here now.

Zillow is piloting a new program in Phoenix that gives prospective homebuyers access to the online behemoth‘s homes without agents — or even appointments. The feature, called “Tour it Now,” is currently available through Zillow’s app.

Buyers don’t need to schedule showings in advance or bring along an agent. The homes are fitted with keyless locks and motion sensors, dis-incentivizing bad actors. Opendoor offers a similar feature with an app and a keyless lock.

My new house was perfect for this DIY option, it was sitting vacant. It would have saved the agents lots of time to focus on other issues related to the transaction. These technologies are not for everyone, but making some deals more efficient helps consumers and the agents. For me, agents can prove their value by being much more than doormen. The best ones know that.

Opendoor self-guided tour sign

Opendoor self-guided tour sign.

Also in the works are smart contracts, universal instant offers and closings and streamlined title, mortgage and inspections. 72 hours not 72 days. The overall experience is nascent like the early days of video streaming, but the building blocks are being put in place.

This is the thinking behind new CEO and Zillow founder Rich Barton’s bold plan to break with its own past.  He hopes to play a key role in spearheading the new real estate experience for consumers.

Rich Barton, CEO of Zillow

Rich Barton, CEO of Zillow. Courtesy Inman.

For a long time, Z enabled the old ways

Does this mean the industry got duped by Zillow and the company is now becoming a broker? Quite to the contrary. But Barton and company do want to create a new paradigm for selling and buying real estate. And of course, he salivates for a piece of the commission pie.

As Barton told me in an email when he retook the CEO job, “I’m psyched. You’ve been preaching about the latte transaction for a while, and it’s here. That’s why I’m back in this seat.”

Seven years ago, I wrote that buying a home should be as easy as buying a latte. I never imagined it would take this long. But then, I remember seeing internet TV at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas 20 years ago. Finally, the future we were promised is arriving.

Just as with television, parallel paths are shaping up for the consumer when it comes to buying and selling a house — the old way and the new way. The old way seems like the only way until that day when suddenly everyone’s cutting the cord.

The real estate industry will also cut the cord

That means partnering with the innovators and getting on board with new ways of doing business. Unlike cable companies, good agents are agile, quick and smart — there is no hold time in the future. The future needs you.

But make no mistake, it doesn’t need everyone. The cable companies will hold on for awhile longer, coasting on less savvy consumers who haven’t yet realized they can choose their own video bundle from the YouTubes of the world for far less monthly expense. That’s not where I’d want to be building my career in this era, though.

I’d rather be working for liberation.

Email Brad Inman

Brad Inman will be joining real estate’s leaders this April 8-10 for Inman’s annual retreat, Disconnect in the Desert, in Palm Springs. It’s an invite-only gathering, and tickets are limited. If you think we missed you, drop us a line.

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