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SquidZipper, Trulia, and HomeDepot: Future Tense

February 22, 2008

Joel Burslem at FOREM (mildly) puts the hammer down on Seth Godin’s SquidZipper:

I think he (and Squidoo) may just be a little late to the party on this one.

I’m just not sure Agents really need yet another place to blog hyperlocally. And Squidoo, for all its promise as a destination for user generated content, has never really taken off.

Dustin Luther follows up (again, in a really nice way):

Anyway, I only remembered this story after reading Joel’s post about Seth Godin’s new product: SquidZipper.

Even two years after my call with Dan, the market for providing a free, quality, and local marketing platform for agents is still largely undeveloped… and while one of the real estate focused verticals like Trulia or Zillow could theoretically fill this niche, it still seems like such a no brainer for one of the big guys like Google, Microsoft or Yahoo to take a page from Seth’s playbook and create a niche-specific platform for their various tools!

Seth’s platform is a great idea… but it is still missing the one thing that could really make a platform like this work: an abundance of consumers!

Funny how that one little thing makes a lot of otherwise crappy platforms work (see, e.g., LoopNet). 🙂

But this isn’t a post about SquidZipper necessarily.  Nor is it a post really about Trulia.

Instead, it’s a post about HomeDepot.

A while back, the wife and I noticed a pretty significant draft coming through our windows.  Considering the house had been built in 1940’s, and hadn’t really had a renovation since then, we thought it wise to invest in some new windows.  So we went to HomeDepot like millions of Americans, and looked into getting windows installed.

Everything pretty much went according to plan.  We bought the windows, talked to the nice people at HomeDepot, and on the appointed day, a contractor showed up at our house and started work.

I noticed, however, that the contractor’s van didn’t look like a HomeDepot van; it didn’t have any colors.  It had some guy’s name on the side (like Joe Romano & Sons or something like that) with no hint of the ubiquitous HomeDepot orange.  Turns out the HomeDepot installation technician who was in my house wasn’t, strictly speaking, a HomeDepot employee.  He actually had his own company that installed windows, and did assorted contractor work specializing in decks and patios.  He was just one of the numerous independent contractors who had agreed to have HomeDepot send them work, presumably in exchange for some fixed rate, and for agreeing to certain HomeDepot rules and standards.

We had a nice chat, this contractor and I.  He installed our windows, and left.  I can’t remember his name, and I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.  I don’t remember the name of his company.

What I do remember is that HomeDepot installed my windows.

What the )(@#*$ does any of this have to do with real estate, Trulia, SquidZipper, and so forth?

Well, since I asked what an agent needed a brand for, it seems more and more to me that various companies out there are targeting at disintermediating not the agent, but the brands.

Let’s suppose for a moment that SquidZipper or Trulia or Zillow or any of these guys do manage to launch some sort of a platform to help a real estate agent do local marketing extremely well.  All of the tools are there: maps, listings, content, data, etc.  Let’s further suppose that one of these platforms manage to acquire an abundance of consumers such that the agent can see leads coming in day in and day out.

Said consumer then has a relationship (or at least an experience) with Trulia or whoever; it’s how they found the house, and found the real estate agent.  Presumably said consumer would have a relationship/experience with the agent himself, since they worked closely with the agent in the whole acquisition/disposition process.

But the brokerage?  Or the brand?  Just like I couldn’t remember the name of the contractor that did my windows, would any consumer remember RE/Max or Coldwell Banker or whatever?

Would said consumer, upon resurfacing seven years later (on average), remember the agent who took such good care of him the first time around?  Or would he remember the really useful website where he found a house and someone to “install” the house for him?

Where exactly is the brand, or the brokerage company, in all of this?


9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2008 3:38 pm

    Excellent post with great observations. One that I’m sure the likes of Trulia, Zillow, etc. would not necessarily like too many brokerage owners reading.

    Your observation seems supported by NAR surveys of repeat buyers, which indicate that although the user liked the initial experience with their agent, yet less than 50% used the same agent, a second time.

    As you indicate, maybe they didn’t remember them, especially since many don’t keep in touch with their past clients. If they can’t remember the agent they worked with during an emotional time over 30-60 days, how would they ever remember the agents office (brand)?

  2. February 22, 2008 4:55 pm

    Hardly a month goes by when we don’t receive this call here in the office:

    “I am looking for the agent that sold me this house x years ago. I don’t remember her name, but she worked with CENTURY 21.”

    Similar to the way you can’t remember the installers name, but you’ll remember for years that you bought the windows at Home Depot.

    When agent don’t keep in contact, which about 90% don’t, having and promoting the brand locally makes the pickins’ easy.

  3. February 22, 2008 5:10 pm

    Excellent post- great insight into how the mind of the consumer gets taken away from the brand of the agent and brokerage with these tech-listing sites.

    Brokers and agents would all do well to read this post and take some time to think about it.

  4. February 22, 2008 8:20 pm

    Good stuff indeed. As an owner/broker and practicing agent, I work hard to create the brand of service that has permanence and lasting local presence.

    However, just to play devil’s advocate….do you think the window installer really cares if you remember his name or brand? Maybe he has a strong local business and a great relationship with Home Depot to continue making a successful living without your repeat business (do you really need windows again anyway?) He may be better served to generate new business instead of repeat business. He also may be better skilled at doing so. Shouldn’t everyone do what they do best?

  5. February 22, 2008 10:23 pm

    #2 – Jessie: If they can’t remember the agent they worked with during an emotional time over 30-60 days, how would they ever remember the agents office (brand)?

    Especially if the consumer didn’t find the agent through a brand website or brand local office, but through some megasite like Trulia, Zillow, or some platform operator like SquidZipper….

    This also goes to Charles’ comment in #4 — today, I think the consumer is going to contact Century 21, because that’s all they remember. And for what it’s worth, my recommendation to the Big Brokerage guys would be to guard that brand and that customer relationship very jealously. Because if it ever should come to pass that the consumer routinely finds agents through Trulia… then Century 21’s days are numbered.

    #7 Brad – First, thanks! Second, with respect to your question… from the agent’s perspective, you’re absolutely right. Because the Home Depot contractor here is not the brokerage company given the way compensation is structured in our industry. But from the broker’s perspective — the guy taking on all the risk, all the overhead, all the liability insurance, and so on and so forth… I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing.

    You see this today in commercial real estate to some extent, where the “platform operators” have immense power. Walk into any reasonably small local brokerage (not one of the Big Kids like CBRE and Cushman) and ask the top producing agent to choose between continuing to work at Joe Smith Brokerage or continuing to have CoStar. You’ll be shocked at the answer.

    If, and this is a big if, the broker is more than happy to become more-or-less the fulfillment arm of Zulioogle, then I suppose that’s a good business model. Focus on what you’re good at — showing houses, shepherding people through the insane real estate closing process, etc. — and let Zulioogle focus on marketing, customer acquisition, and customer relationship management.

    Three things about this plan, however. One, you’d better hope and pray that you never piss off Zulioogle, or there goes your pipeline. Two, you’d better hope that Zulioogle means it when they say they’ll never charge you a 30% referral fee, or set the maximum commission you can charge for any business coming from them, or… you get the idea. And three, understand that Zulioogle doesn’t need you; it just needs your agents.



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