Person to person or person to pixel?

Disruption. Almost daily we hear about a new technology aiming to “disrupt” the way things have always been done. In real estate, Zillow and others have been touting disruptive technology for years. And realtors hear about new, more disruptive, concepts all the time. Superior technology will finally overcome the realtor-client relationship altogether and render realtors obsolete!
Or not.
There’s nothing wrong with technology. Like much of the rest of life, it makes the practice of real estate easier and more efficient than it used to be. But tech is only a tool. And a tool is only as good as the person using it.
So, how do we look at real estate tech disruption? The past is instructive. Thirty years ago, when Macs were new and I was in the marketing business, an amazing new thing called “desktop publishing” hit the industry like a tidal wave. It enabled graphic designers to create everything from spot ads to multipage publications on their computer screens rather than on paper, saving hours of tedious labor and enabling an unprecedented level of precision.
Many marketing creatives were certain we’d all be ruined. “Now, anybodycan be a graphic designer,” they said. Well, yeah, sorta. As it turned out, good designers were still good, only faster. And lousy designers were still lousy, only faster. Excellent creative chops were, and still are, essential.

So, how does all this apply? A few thoughts:


Houses and shoes aren’t the same thing
I sometimes buy shoes on Zappos. The process is usually satisfactory, but the real key to Zappos is selection, not process. They offer astounding variety. Why else would you buy something as fit-sensitive as a shoe without the chance to try one on? But houses are not shoes, and selection isn’t really the issue. Anybody can find a house online these days. But, if it doesn’t “fit” you can’t send a house back (free shipping, anyone?) to the seller once you’ve bought it.
Think about online dating
Online dating absolutely works. I know several happily married (or permanently attached) couples who met online. But the tech connection is only a start – like finding a shoe on Zappos. Or a house on Zillow. After the connection is made the couple has to go through the dating/mating dance to get to a long-term relationship. And tech can’t do that for you.
It’s the human connection
Realtors love tech! It makes marketing and/or finding a house so much more efficient than it used to be. But working the deal once a buyer and seller have connected is a different thing altogether. Tech can’t replace a human being when it comes to thinking through needs and wants, negotiating a sale price, avoiding potholes on the road to closing, and soothing jangled nerves and/or wounded feelings. That’s what human beings do for each other.
So, bring on the disruptors! Keep those new algorithms coming! As long as human beings need to relate to one another – need a steady hand, or a creative idea to get around a roadblock, or a good laugh, or a cup of coffee and a good cry – realtors will be here. 

And this realtor just might make you a nice cocktail …