This week we continue our search for the Holy Grail of Home Valuation. Why? Because everyone wonders what their home is worth. Now or in the future. It’s always the biggest question. And wonder can quickly become hardcore worry when people are facing significant change – like buying or selling their home.
Nothing odd about that. Home is the biggest asset most of us will ever own. And home is also the hallowed bastion of refuge, privacy, comfort and security that nourishes our lives. It’s both a real place and a symbolic place of centering for people. Of course we worry about it!!
When home and the concept of it are in a state of flux, people tend to gravitate toward anything that offers them a heightened sense of certainty. They want as much of it as they can get their hands on or wrap their minds around.
Certainty helps people anchor their hopes. Quantify their fears. Quell those nagging what-ifs. Without a little certainty, selling a home feels like a high-wire circus act. Walking a slippery slope without a net sheet below. Balanced on the precipice of that yawning chasm known as the unknown.
But is there really such a thing as a little bit of certainty? Is it possible to be 20% or even 50% certain? If you aren’t totally certain then you aren’t really certain right? Anything less than 100% certain and it’s all just another guestimate (or quantum probability) – whether it’s offered up through the medium of experienced analysis, intuitive insight, algorithmic aggregation of detail, some ritual form of reading the tea leaves or anything else.
Enter Zillow. The trending poster-child of certainty in the increasingly crowded suburban strip-mall of Home Valuation. The recently anointed oracle of truth and big data sooth-saying. By far the flashiest new player on the national real estate scene – as witnessed by the company’s recent media coup – scoring a town hall-style interview with President Obama on housing policy.
Real Realtors were conspicuously absent for the yahoo’d and much ballyhoo’d Zillow web event. They were busy sulking about their White House snub. Nursing their wounds back in the stately, cigar-filled. mahogany-paneled boardroom of the NAR (National Association of Realtors) which I’m convinced must share the same bunker/headquarters with the NRA (you all know this smoking gun).
They tried to do damage control. Issuing media releases pooh-poohing Zillow as an upstart “real estate entertainment site” while frantically consulting their own programmers about upping Realtor.com’s profile to earn the same kind of street cred that competitors like Trulia and Redfin (& Zillow) have garnered with the general public.
There’s a huge shift that’s happened/happening and traditional Real Estate’s branding is way behind the curve. I’m not sure how many hearts and minds Status Quo Real Estate ever really won, since Real Estate Agents are often considered just a little higher up the food chain than their poorer second-cousins that hawk used cars for a living.
However many hearts and minds we had in our corner in the past… that number is shrinking. People don’t trust us as much as they should or could. The profession and the industry from individual Realtors all the way up to the Regional MLS to the CAR and NAR should own up to it. And change.
Bottom line? The average person sees traditional Real Estate as always trying to sell them something. Industry information geared towards control and “making more sales.”
Zillow on the other hand is perceived as being accurate and free. Direct data and non-partisan information not filtered through salespeople wanting a piece of the action.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As a wise-person said: “Anytime you are on a site and think the content is free, you are the content.” So the other bottom line: If you are on Zillow you are getting sold. Literally and figuratively.
To be continued next week.