I make one little mention of my other interests in Real Estate and well now I guess we'll talk about it a little more.....The online real estate phenomenon is great. It has been lagging behind for some time so it is nice to see that it is catching up. That is thanks in large part to the creativity in mashups as well as some good business minds at companies like Zillow and Redfin.
The real estate industry can change; however, native knowledge is irreplaceable. What I mean by this is any person who understands the local economy, the local housing market, and the cultural nuances of the area are very difficult to replace. That is in large part what is missing in every online housing application. Add to that the lack of visible knowledge about buyer/seller behavior and there are a few things that are seriously lacking.
To move into a better position, there are a few things where the online based applications, low-cost agents, etc can be improved to move in the right direction....
The first thing that most web apps don't know about is neighborhood. For example, if I am a seller listing my house on zillow, redfin, or google, I have no easy way to show potential buyers what my neighborhood is like. Yeah, you can upload pictures, describe it, maybe get neighbor testimonials.....but most sellers don't care about your opinion of the house or neighborhood! They have their own ideas about what is important in life....which means they have their own requirements for the home, neighborhood, etc.
Not quite sure how they are going to fix that, but one missing component from all of these apps is the search capabilities. Dividing traditional real estate searches is hard. Windermere has a great app; however, I still can't cut my searches down to specific streets (for example 15th Ave NW to Greenwood Ave, between 85th & 100th), yes that's specific....but if that's where I want to live why can't I just search that area?
The argument against this search level is.....how can I be so sure that those blocks are the only ones that will satisfy my needs. Well the answer is that I know the facilities there and I don't know the facilities in other areas. Meaning I don't know if there are other areas that will fit my needs. This is nothing more then another opportunity. Adding things like number of blocks to a restaurant, grocery store, gas station, park, or transportation would make other neighborhoods more interesting. If I want to be able to walk to the bus, to a restaurant, and to get groceries....the area above would work, but so would a lot of other areas. Adding these as search terms would begin to move into the neighborhood knowledge.
Speaking of transportation as a search option, adding a capability to see estimated commute times would be huge! For example, inputing the cross streets where you work, you could see from any home you were interested in what the estimated commute time is....Two minutes to walk to bus route (one block), twenty minutes on the bus (per the listed bus schedule), Five minutes to walk to work (two blocks downtown). Alternatively, there are published average drive times between locations, a simple estimate from onramp to offramp could be inserted where the bus portion is, then add the commute time to the freeway or major road.....more time if the arterials are small or congested (as would be the case in ballard, but not northgate).....and voila! estimated commute times!
Now you start to see some neighborhood intelligence.....buyers would be highly interested in imagining what their life would be like in a new home.....but there is a lot more that can be added here that doesn't exist today. The home itself has a lot of details apparent in the pictures and description. Thinking through what the buyer wants vs. what the seller wants can make that process closer to intelligent.
Until these things are available, glancing at these websites is fun sometimes....but doesn't really add any value to my actual search, comparison, or decision making process. Despite the fact that countless hours are spent researching on the internet as a buyer. My real estate agents work hard for their percentage of the transaction (if they didn't I would find ones that did). It still makes more sense to pay them the money and get the right deal vs. try to supplement with technology that is not actually addressing the need.