Kris and I had another one of our great debates (actually just a spirited discussion) the other night, this time about the value of all of the information available to the consumer on the internet. This may be, in part, what stimulated her most recent post (below) about “Amazon.com and the MLS”. I am taking a slightly different path. As our resident technology wizard, Kris is always seeking (and finding) new and better ways to expose our listings to the world. She has not only found and uses just about all the real estate websites known to mankind and created this weblog that links to the website, but she is now on to adding “widgets” to our own website and weblog. I digress for a moment – For those of you who may be more at my level, widgets are no longer those old business school examples of anything that’s made or produced. In terms of today, widgets are those little things located in the sidebar of a website or weblog. Ours includes a little widget for statistics and a widget portraying the location of our listings on a little map, the listings shown as little pins. They’re cute. Click on a pin with your cursor and voila, it sends you to the featured home section of our website.
We are all racing to get the next and better widget and we are all seriously anticipating the next revolutionary add-on that will come from Zillow, Trulia, Google, Yahoo or some site we have not even heard of yet. We get so caught up in this race for more and better technology, that we may be losing sight of what our buyer or seller really wants or needs.
No worries, though. It takes a relatively low-tech guy to bring all of you back to the basics. That would be me. No, I’m not suggesting that technology isn’t great. But I am suggesting that many of us may be placing a bit too much weight on what we like to call the “empowerment” of the consumers. I am personally getting a bit weary of the overuse of this term. Buyers are empowered, sellers are empowered, agents are empowered. Everyone is so darn empowered that I think we all cancel each other out.
Empowerment is simply an opportunity. It only works if it is used and used properly. Not only that, it may be used for good or evil. Through empowerment, one may seek and retrieve information and try to use it to their advantage. It may also be construed in a way to be used against someone.
Here’s the challenge and, by the way, my value (or lack, thereof) proposition:
1. Time – So much of “The Market” is already fairly well teched out now. Most buyers and sellers are very capable of using the internet to empower themselves. We know that millions of people are aware of and peruse the many real esate megasites and weblogs. But based upon our own experiences as well as the many anecdotal references from other agents, the information gleaned by many buyers and sellers results in knowing just enough to be dangerous, but not quite enought to be really empowered. So why don’t they fully exploit the internet? Because they are busy. They and their families actually have a life (which is orders of magnitude better then Kris and me) . And most are smart enough to know the difference between information and knowledge (see #2, below).
2. Information versus knowledge – The other critical factor is that most astute consumers understand that it would take an enourmous amount of time and effort (see #1, above) to be able to filter and tranfer the information they acquire into a meaningful knowledge base. Kris recently wrote an eloquent piece about this here. The difference between information and knowledge is enormous. The internet really only provides the information without the knowledge. Astute consumers understand and respect this. This ability to understand the difference is also what creates value in experienced agents.
I’m not suggesting that as technology evolves, the knowledge gap won’t close. It probably will. But there will always be gap.