Ashfaq Munshi: Thank you, my name is Ashfaq Munshi. I am the CEO and one of the founders of Real Estate Company called Terabitz. I thought I would take a few moments of just share some thoughts about what is going on in the internet, how it affects real estate, how it affects brokers and real estate agents and what I think might be coming up in the next few years.
So, I guess the first thing that everybody tells you and I tell you is 80% of the leads are coming up form the net. That may be true, that may not be true, depending on how effectively you use internet, how effectively your organization uses it, but the reality of it is that most people who are looking, do actually go to the internet to research. So, why do they do that? They do that, because the net has taught people that I do not have to wait. If I want to ask a question I want an answer now. It is not about the generation Y or Z or whatever they call these days, it is about everybody now. Everybody tells you “hey, ask a question?” somebody says, “I do not know the answer, let us look it up on the internet.”
So whether it is housing prices and how much my house is worth, to what is for sale, to what did my neighbors house sell for, all that stuff is readily available and people are expected to be accessible 24 hours a day. The wonderful thing about the internet it does makes everything accessible. The bad thing about the internet is it allows garbage to be available as well and you really cannot tell the difference sometimes. The other very interesting thing about the internet is that it expands the audience. It makes local audiences or local phenomenon into global phenomenon. So, if somebody could be interested in real estate in an area, normally the only way they would get it that information would be to contact the local agent, visit the area, etcetera, but if they happen to be sitting in Japan, they do not have the time, but they have got investment dollars and they want to go and buy something in Colorado. They can now just look at all up on the internet, they can figure out what it is they want to be able to, go do, contact the appropriate person and transaction can happen pretty much site unseen, if they really want to. It just depends on what their appetite is for risk.
So, you get expansion of audience, you get instant availability of data, those are two very very important things. So, we were founded to think about that problem and say “you know what, what is this access, what is this availability doing for agents and brokers. Where is that portal? The traditional broker that I have dealt with over my life in having bought and sold real estate now for probably 20 plus years, is someone who is very familiar with a newspaper. they know how to advertise in a newspaper, they know how to hold open houses and I learned a few things about, but MLS here or there. Started off with, thumbing through MLS books through now looking at MLS online, if I am lucky. In that entire experience over the last 20 years, I have seen one probably major change and that is that the people who have transition effectively from being able to do newspaper base stuff to essentially embracing the internet, leveraging it, if you will. Those people have been more successful, than I have seen some of the others. And that is an outsider’s view entirely.
You have got brokers and agents who build websites for themselves, try do drive traffic to the websites, make them cool and interesting, just so that they can get the appropriate type of attention for there listings or for themselves, so their brand continues. In the old days that brand was all about who I knew the neighborhood, what my office looked like, where the office was located, and now it is what does the office look like on the net, what is the brand that I put forward on the net versus the physical brand that is on the street. It is not so much about the car I drive any more, but it is about what kind of information I can provide you, when I can provide it you and how quickly I can provide it to you. So, those are really-really important distinguishing factors for real estate agents and brokers to embrace.
One of the interesting things that has happened, and I have certainly observed over the years is that, most real estate agents I know are technology phobic. The moment we talk about a computer, “Oh my god let us stop. Let us do something else.” I remember the days when I had have to sit with my agent edit at a machine and type in command line sequences into the MLS, so I could see the listings the way I wanted to see them versus the two way she knew how to do it, and she was afraid. You cannot be afraid anymore, you have to embrace the technology, there is no question about it, but that fear has actually created an interesting opportunity for other people to get into that business and I know most people think about internet listings as probably the first venue, where some of that stuff has taken place and realtor.com is the name that comes up.
I have found very few people who are in love with realtor.com with possibly the exception of people at realtor.com. A lot of people’s view is “hey it is my listings, my stuff and they are extorting money from me for the stuff that I worked really hard to put up,” and then other people in the industry and the technology industry observed this is well, especially with the so called Web 2.0 phenomenon, you had it arise of a bunch of other people, you had the rise of Zillow. Zillow came out and created a lot of attention by doing these valuations, and as long as the markets where going up and everybody was looking at the valuation as a stock ticker, I checked it this week, my house is worth this much, next week “Oh man! I just made an extra 15,000 bucks,” that meant the wife to go on and get that 4 carat diamond, because we can afford it now. Well, things are not so rosy anymore and as a result what you see is that interest in valuations has gone down quite a bit. So, Zillow has got to go and figure out a different model to engage the consumer. What they have come back to is “hey, people want to buy and sell,” what is it people want to buy and sell, it is homes. What is it going about is, it is about listings. So you see them going out and doing deals where they are going to get lots of listings from Colorado banker or whoever else it is, they can talk to, to get their listings online, but the problem with this model again is it is doing exactly the same thing as realtor is doing for the real estate agent and broker. Your property effectively, your listings are being given to somebody else, they aggregate it, they are the ones who put their brand out and then they collect all of the revenue that is associated with the advertising that goes with that.
So, the beautiful part of their whole scheme is, you take somebody else’s property, you put it all together in one place, people are dying to give it to them, because they originally generate interest and then they turn around make more money on it, and then of course they say “Hey, if you want to be noticed, we will charge you money to put your name up their,” that is a very sweet deal, very-very sweet deal. Then there is Trulia which did not start of with a gimmick, but they started of by saying “hey, it is about listings and effectively all of them have gone down the same path.”
So, in the future what I see is may be three of these guys battling it out or there might be others, but everybody is going to have a listings, everybody is going to wined up trying to get a 100 % of the listings and everybody is going to look at it and say “hey, we got to put the MLS out of business, because we are trying to create a national MLS,” but what does that do to the realtor and what does that do to the broker? It put some disadvantage, but I think what you guys got to think about is not that this is a disadvantage, but this actually an advantage. Let me explain that in a minute.
Each one of these guys is going to have different people visiting, Trulia will have some people visiting, some people visit Zillow, some people visit realtor.com, may be some people who visit all three. I think you have to leverage that, just like you leverage newspapers. Imagine that you are living in an area, you got three different newspapers. You advertise all your listings in all the news papers? No, you look at which market segment is going where, you take the type of property that is likely to appeal to the users of that or the readers of that newspaper. You put one or two up that grab peoples attention and then they draw them to you. The focus is you, you are the local expert. So, what you need to do is figure out how you are going turn this availability of these mega sites, if you will, into your marking advantage.
I would submit that it is not in your best interest to give them all your listings, but it is in your interest to take some of your listings and put the teasers up in all these different places. So, it is like the old car dealer. The car dealer does not list every single car he has got. What he does is he takes the one that has got the best deal or the sexiest car or the one that is the fastest car. Something that is likely to draw interest and the moment it draws the interest it brings them to the dealership and the reality is you never buy the car that you read about. You buy the car that the guy sells you and then that is where you come in. Your ability to sell, your ability to position, those are the things that are valuable, your expertise, how you connect with the people is what is going to deliver that sale to you. So, you need somebody to be able to make that call.
Now in the old days that call happened on the phone, in the new days that call is not happening on the phone, it is happening on the net. So somehow or the other that lead if you will, I really hate to call it a lead, because it is not. That expression of interest, that somebody provides by essentially going to Trulia or Realtor or something and clicking on one of your listing, and coming to your site. Whether it is your broker site or your own personal site, it is simply that an expression of interest. Your job at that point is to take that interest and build that into a relationship. The way to build it into that relationship is to create an experience that is going to be engaging and more importantly it is going to be open. In this day and age hiding data is a very bad thing, because people are going to find it out anyway. Give the user the information that they need, if they have the information they need, it is easy to use and accessible. You know what? They will never click back and go back to Trulia or Zillow or Realtor or whatever else the other sites are called, they will stick with you, once they stick with you, you now have the ability to follow up create the personal interaction, because let me tell you, I do not imagine myself buying a piece of real estate as the biggest asset that I have got from somebody site I have seen. If I do not like the person, if I have not met them, if I do not respect them, I am not going to do that transaction.
So your job is to take that relationship you built on the net, convert it into a personal relation ship, that personal relationship turns into the sale. And of course you guys all know that a lot of your leads actually come from referrals. So, the more information that you actually provide to these people and the better the interaction they have, the better the sale process goes through, the more referrals they will provide you and they will provide you refers not just to you and say “hey, call so and so,” they are going to say “go to my agents site, check it out and if you like what you see, if you find something you like, call them up, because I guarantee you, you are going to have a great experience.” That I think is the future of the brokerage and the real estate sites that are out there today.