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How many apps did it take to find the house for sale next door?

Today’s consumer experience is far from ideal

Being in the real estate video technology and marketing business for the past seven years has been quite an eye-opening experience for me. I have specialized in working with major dot-coms, national franchises, large brokers, small brokers and agents of every type. I have had the privilege of interacting with people who are much smarter than me while also interacting with real estate agents who told me that they don’t even know what an MLS is.

In short, this industry … is interesting. As interesting as it is, though, there is one thing that became apparent to me recently: The real estate industry is its own worst enemy when it comes to forward progress.

Since entering the industry almost a decade ago, there was still one critical thing that I had not experienced firsthand … buying my own home. I have been renting for the past several years, and although I know all about the marketing side of the proverbial real estate fence, I was incredibly ignorant about the consumer’s side of the fence.

This past year, I turned 34 and realized that even though I’m still a bachelor (who is currently accepting applications from eligible and pretty ladies!) and a workaholic, it may be time for me to start growing up and establish roots in a home where I can build value for years to come. Entering the homebuying process has made me feel like a “secret shopper” of sorts, taking all my behind-the-scenes knowledge of how the industry works and applying it to my own process.

During this process of looking for a home, I came to one very immediate conclusion: The homebuying process is a totally fragmented and horrible experience for the consumer. To put it bluntly, I found myself somewhat embarrassed to be part of the industry.

First comes frustration

The first thing I realized was that I had to download apps for Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com … then toggle between all three of them, while using the same search parameters, in order to get the best overview of all the properties for sale within a given area. It was a very time-consuming and frustrating way to start the process, and it didn’t seem logical to me that some properties would show up on one app but not the other.

I like to explore neighborhoods as a semi-hobby that I never seem to have time to indulge. So I made a list of all the properties within my search area that were showcased as “for sale” on the apps above and planned a Saturday afternoon drive-by. I cruised around in my truck to assess their surroundings to help me decide whether or not to keep them on my list of top prospects — those that met my criteria for a decked-out bachelor pad that would be well-suited for entertaining eligible and pretty ladies.

To my surprise (and simultaneous dismay), I passed an awesome property that had a “for sale” sign in the front yard and was listed by a local broker, but it did not show up on any of the three apps that I had downloaded that same week. Surely, I thought, this must be because the property was recently listed and hadn’t yet worked itself through the local MLS and onto all the major listing portals.

Second comes mortification

Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to pull up the local broker’s app and see what I could find out about the property. Once downloaded, I was mortified to find five additional properties on the broker’s app that were clearly within my searchable neighborhood, but not to be found at all on any of the “big three” apps! Not only that, but all properties had been listed for at least one month and had plenty of time to run through the system. They should have been listed on all the major portals.

After all was said and done, I had to download four different apps in order to view all the properties for sale in a given neighborhood! How could the real estate industry possibly consider this to be a good thing when it comes to collective forward progress? After this experience, I had zero confidence that I was even aware of all the properties for sale in that area via those four apps — and that there wasn’t a fifth or sixth app that I needed to download in order to cover the remaining inventory.

Third? I give up

Because of this, I gave up on my quest to purchase a home and decided to continue renting for another year. I simply didn’t have any more time or energy to put into it. This decision eliminated the ability for a real estate agent or company to collect a commission, and everyone lost out in the process. Why?

Greed and politics are hurting the industry more than anything else, which is the first thing I came to realize as a result of this experience. I have reached the conclusion that our industry is no different than the party polarization we see in our federal government, where nobody seems to want to work together for the common good of the consumer, who are the ones that truly suffer as a result.

As the owner of a real estate technology and marketing company, I would like to consider myself fairly savvy when it comes to how to best search for a home on the Internet in an efficient manner. As a 34-year-old man, I also represent the No. 1 homebuying demographic in this country. If I have to download four or more apps in order to search for a property prior to contacting a real estate agent to view a home, then we obviously have a major problem. Notice what I said there. I want to do my own searching first, and then contact the agent. This is how 93.76352 percent of people my age and demographic think. Our preference doesn’t devalue the role of an agent. It merely changes it, and makes their job easier.

On the flip side, the average real estate agent is 57 years old and speaks an entirely different language than me when it comes to marketing. The people who were part of the industry before the Internet age made money the old way. The new way is scaring them, threatening their old way of making income, and causing them to erect barriers to progress. In my opinion, they are only postponing the inevitable, which means that nobody wins.

In order to help all parties (the buyer, the seller and the agents), we need to embrace the change in dynamics. They say there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and negotiation, depression, and finally … wait for it … acceptance. So let’s move past all the anger and resistance to the changing process of marketing and selling real estate and accept this new system. We hear some agents and brokers saying, “We don’t want to give those sites access to our data. It’s our listing.” This selfish mindset will lead to fewer sales for those professionals if they continue down that path — a path that seems to contradict the overall concept of the role of assisting buyers and sellers in the transaction process.

Consumers aren’t coming to real estate agents for help searching the MLS anymore. They’re now coming to agents so that they can unlock the front door to the consumer’s dream home, which they have already located via a search portal. My generation wants the agent and broker to serve as a concierge and hand-holding consultant during the property transaction process and to be an expert regarding all things located within the local area. The moment the industry embraces this new business model and stops fighting it is the moment we all win.

Open the door.

Stephen Schweickart is the founder and CEO of VScreen, the leading video content provider within the real estate industry.

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