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2007-10-17 18:34:00

Amazon.com and the MLS - Reading Between the Lines

I am almost certain this will relate to real estate in some twisted fashion, but I haven’t quite thought through the big finish. A little low on the caffeine yet, so I’ll just see where it takes me.

This weekend, Steve and I had one of those rare windows of opportunity. We always have lots of things we should be doing, but at this moment, there was nothing that had to be done. This is when Steve suggested that we hit the local book store.

I’ve talked about my "Post It "approach to organizing my life. The Little Slip of Paper Reminder Method is employed in my personal life as well. At the bottom of my purse this moment, I have a grocery list penned in the ’70’s (Buy More Teddy-Grams), a more contemporary list of songs I really need to download to my iPod (Fergie’s Big Girls Don’t Cry), and a gum wrapper with the note to buy more gum . Steve is no better. He carries a list of the books he has been meaning to buy.

So, we hit the Barnes and Noble. This place was a wall-to-wall Busy Town. Sure, there were the thousands of teenagers rushing to fill their mandatory summer reading shopping cart, but mostly it was a bunch of folks like Steve and me meandering doe-eyed in search of something. We knew exactly what we wanted, well, sort of. We had titles but no authors, and absent a sufficient window of opportunity (the month of August) to employ the popular hunt-and-peck search method, we enlisted the help of the Barnes and Noble Employee to check the Magic Computer. Alas, only two of the three objects of our desire were in stock.

Head slap! Then it dawned on us. We could go home, have a cold one, and order all three, at once, with free shipping, on Amazon.com. It doesn’t matter how many hours a day I spend online (25), I still forget the breadth of the resources at my disposal. We departed Barnes and Noble like two people who just remembered they left their children on the stove, but not before loitering for a few moments at the New Arrivals display. There is, after all, a social element to the bookstore experience.

Many have had a rip-roaring good time comparing the future of real estate and, more specifically, the real estate agent to Amazon.com, and I think it just occurred to me why their arguments are bass-ackwards. Amazon.com is the embodiment of the MLS; their inventory is essentially the inventory. Search by title (number of bedrooms), by author (zip code) or by random words that you think might be in the title if only you weren’t too old and absent minded to remember such things (price). One could argue that Amazon.com isn’t changing our business, but our business has helped shape theirs. The only difference is that the MLS, which has to date been privately held, is on the verge of becoming a public company.

But what about the bookstore? Well, it used to be located in the traditional real estate office storefront. This was the only place yesterday’s consumer could go to find yesterday’s MLS (the magic computer), but the convenience of the Internet is replacing the traditional store. And the employees haven’t been laid off, they are simply working from home now. We still have our window office, but we need a GPS and a note pinned to our collar to find it. Our real work is done to a much greater extent online, with websites and blogs and online ad placement on others’ sites. However, agents themselves are still the bookstore where the Internet is the books.

Has the agent’s value diminished? No, and here is the big distinction. In the publishing world, you are required to buy the book before you read it. In real estate, you will want to read the complete text before shelling out the bucks. You can find your book all day long on our online Amazon-equivalent, but eventually you are going to need to leave the keyboard to make sure it is truly the perfect read. And more often than not, the picture on the cover will have been deceiving or the summary on the book jacket incomplete. As a consumer, you may think you know which type of book you will enjoy most, buy this one purchase is going to have to thrill you for many years to come, so the process is necessarily more thoughtful, deliberate and time-consuming. You will need to see the New Arrivals section, not just online, and you will want to hear the reviews and consider all other offerings in the genre before committing. “People who purchased this also enjoyed this“. As an agent, I have read them all.

Yes, I know this is a simplistic way of looking at it. To make the argument more involved would argue more for the ongoing role of the agent in the transaction. Last time I checked, Amazon.com’s prices are not negotiable, no one is going to sue Amazon.com if they find that they end up hating the story, and as a consumer, you can’t take it back.  Can you buy or sell a home without me? Of course, and it has always been so. But my value has never been about my ability to print out of list of best selling titles; it has always been about the process that follows. I am certain the majority of consumers will still want and need my representation before taking their place in the checkout line. End of story.

(Kris Berg is Associate Broker with Prudential California Realty in San Diego. Her bloggy pursuits on The San Diego Home Blog and The BloodHound Blog earned her recogntion as one the the Top 12 Women Real Estate Bloggers.)

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