wreckingball1 300x161 The Demolition of Virtual Bricks and MortarI’m really torn.

Coldwell Banker® is about to launch what we think will be the best real estate website in the industry.  This site will have new search functionality that takes learning from search ideas outside the industry (Pandora, Google, Amazon, iTunes) and applies this to home and agent search.  It also has the best design, hands down, of any site.  We think it’s VERY cool.  And as the official “virtual bricks and mortar” for Coldwell Banker Real Estate, we couldn’t be more satisfied.

But we’ve sensed for some time that real estate websites  seem to be heading toward obsolescence or irrelevance.  Think about it.

  • Real Estate websites include the same “9 photos, 3 paragraph” property description for each house for sale, so whenever you go to one of the many real estate websites out there, you are getting the same content for that house.  That’s why we are focusing on search functionality, to help you find that content quicker and easier than anyone else.
  • While maybe 500,000 homes are sold in the US every month, there are TENS OF MILLIONS of monthly visitors to real estate websites.  Who are all these people?  Bet you the majority are agents, brokers or office managers checking to make sure that newly listed,  “9 photo, 3 paragraph” property description showed up on everything from realtor.com to craigslist.com.  But again, it’s the same content across the thousands of websites.  Nothing different.  Is that what consumers want?  No it’s not.
  • More and more companies have started driving consumers to brand pages/channels on Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites.  In fact, Honda is now sending you to its Facebook site through national advertising instead of its .com site.  We’re even sending some of you to Coldwell Banker On Location instead of our website so you can access videos of properties and agents.  And here, the content is different from real estate websites because it goes beyond the “9 photo/3 paragraph” clone and is for the first time, fresh real estate content.
  • Apps.  We believe about 5% of all web browsing in the US will be done on mobile devices.  Have you ever gotten frustrated because you tried to a access a website on your Blackberry that was not enabled to the Blackberry screen?  Same with iPhone…I don’t even want to be bothered shrinking and expanding a website that was not set-up for the iPhone.  But, I know an App will be set-up for my device, and more and more folks are using apps instead of a traditional website.  The trouble with real estate apps, though, it is usually the same content as the website.  But, the sky is the limit on what it could become.

There was a very interesting post on the Death of the Website where the author brought up a great point…how many people are accessing Twitter through apps vs. twitter.com?  Over 80%!  An app can also provide a better experience for eBay, he argues, than ebay.com.

So I see the chaos theory coming to Real Estate.  The consumer is not best served on websites alone.  This is causing new opportunities to arise to serve up more and better content that offers information, guidance and support to people looking to buy and sell real estate.  It’s exciting times and Coldwell Banker is on the front line of this new adventure.

But we are launching a new website.  Is this like launching a new 8 cylinder, non hybrid SUV into the automotive marketplace today?  Is this a truly transformational period like in the 80′s when we went from vinyl to CD’s, or the past decade when our CD collection moved to iTunes?

Not quite yet, but in a few years, I am concerned for the survival of the real estate website and the virtual demolition of our industry’s virtual bricks and mortar.

Photo by Flickr user F33